Shillong is supposedly a wonderful place but I don’t like it much. I arrive late on a Sunday afternoon and I have a tough time finding accommodation. Finally I settle down in a room at Payal Tourist Hotel. As if the climbs in these hills are not enough I am having to climb many floors to my room. The hotel is above a cinema theatre but fortunately the sound proofing is good enough to keep my room fairly quiet.
The main life of Shillong, where the crowds gather in the evenings, is Police Bazaar. One road that leads to it is named Jail Road. Another is named Thana Road. I must say it is quite a place. Criminals locked up will have no trouble enjoying this popular tourist spot. Gangtok was far better. The streets are narrow and drab in appearance. Weekend crowds are too much for comfort. Another bazaar in town is Bara Bazaar. It is worse with clogged roads and slow moving traffic. Even walking on these streets is a nightmare.
I step into a restaurant for dinner. It takes ages to get the menu. It takes just as long to place my order. I have to send reminders into the kitchen to check on my order. No one bothers to tell me that the order has been ignored and it’s going to take longer for me to take my first sip of the clear vegetable soup I ordered. This is a posh looking restaurant on Jail Road. I cancel my order and walk out. I try a Bengali restaurant further down, the Suruchi Hotel. Their menu is painted in large bold letters on the wall. There is an entire array of fish items but plenty of vegetarian options as well. It is a place without any pretensions. Items are authentically Indian without strange fusions or fancy titles. The emphasis is on plain food and prompt service, not the ambience. It is the way Indians have been eating all across the country for decades. I enjoy my meal here. Prices are rock bottom.
Shillong has lived up to its reputation. It has rained all through the night. When morning comes, the sky has cleared. The air is refreshing. The crowds of last night are not on the streets. Best of all, there are no flooded streets or overflowing drains. This is the beauty of living in the hills. Water drains down to the valleys. Rains do not disrupt normal life.
I had not imagined Shillong to be as big as it is. Apparently it was the North Eastern summer capital of the British those days. Darjeeling was just too far and Shillong was a cool place among the hills for those stationed in Guwahati or what is now Bangladesh. The town is spread wide on these hills and in the valleys. Each part of town has a name of its own, perhaps indicative of the hill on which it stands. City buses ply from Bara Bazaar to all these places that make up Shillong and its suburbs. These old buses use the chasis and body of lorries. They have an old age charm and I quite like them. Although the town has many nice buildings, its size and messy sprawl has robbed it of the charm that is still preserved in Jowai. Jowai to me is a quieter destination than Shillong.
One of the tourist spots in town is a golf course. I wonder why such a banal thing should be tourist spot. It is perhaps because in any capital city open spaces are a rarity. They bring relief to citizens living out of boxes, walking through congested streets and breathing smoke-filled air. The golf course is a pleasant place for a walk, although you have to be careful about golf balls flying through the air. Near Police Bazaar is a lake but it is nothing spectacular. I skipped the museum for want of time.
The only beautiful thing I found in Shillong is the Presbyterian Church of India located at Police Bazaar. Built in 1904, it has a wonderful facade with a striking entrance porch and a gable above it. To the right is a little spire with little inset windows. The church was closed when I visited it but I could make out a nave and little transepts. Lancelets windows bring in light. So too the clerestory windows on top. Around the building runs a wonderful garden bed with blue hydrangeas and agapanthus. Nearby is a iron structure with a ringing bell. This scheme of having a bell tower separate from the church building is a common feature in Megahalaya.