Christmas was near and Police Bazaar in Shillong was brilliantly aglow. Tourists from various parts of the country had come here and the hotels prepared themselves for the holiday business by putting their best foot forward. The only problem for us was that all the decorations and attention-grabbing activity had made lodging expensive. We landed at Hotel Broadway and we got ourselves a room at Rs. 850. This was to be the costliest stay on tour, but given the circumstances, it was acceptable.
Shillong too has an armed force base. Air force has a significant presence. There is a pattern one gets to see in these sorts of towns. The Brits while ruling
India chose all the pleasant places for their officials. Shillong was one of them, and there is a certain sense of organization which can be attributed to the presence of defence bases.
Since the north-east has a lottery structure which is widely famous in
India, we were surprised to know that SS Music, a south Indian music channel, had an office here. They would regularly telecast lottery results and it was only now I understood the connection.
A Tamilian ran a vegetarian hotel in Police Bazaar. He was from Tirunelveli and knew not more than ten words of Hindi. After we got friendly with him, he would make Sambar Vadas especially for us. From him, we got to know about organized travel in Meghalaya. With no interest in carrying out backpack operations from here, we decided to take it. At that point we didn’t know it would be a mixed bag.
TheMeghalaya Tourism Center was running a daily package to Cherrapunjee. We were the last to board the bus and at Rs.200 per head, it seemed a steal. Cherrapunjee is 56 km from Shillong and the period from November-February is dry. It has ceased to be the region with the highest annual rainfall. Mawsynram, also in Meghalaya and also 56 km from Shillong is also supposed to see heavy rainfall.
Cherrapunjee, despite receiving heavy rains looked a dry place. Vast open spaces with few houses here and there, it isn’t exactly a “beautiful” town. Monoliths can be found either scattered or stationed in front of buildings.
We were accompanied by 20 other tourists; most of them Bengalis. One rather garrulous trio of friends made up the backbenches of the bus with us. One of them was a subject of much fun for his portly figure. He earned the wrath of our guide for that day, Freddy, after caught smoking surreptitiously.
In between their many antics, we saw the Mausmai Cave. It has been made specifically for tourists of all ages and gender. Easy, lighted and short, it is a very good exhibition piece. For first-timers, it can be a good experience.
Ramakrishna Mission has a school here and is regarded as the biggest obstacle for religious conversion. It houses a museum on the various aspects of Meghalaya and is worth a visit.
Apart from these, the rest of the places were very “tourist-friendly”. Had this been the first segment of our trip, we’d have pulled out our hair in frustration. But that day, it felt good to be spoon-fed.
When back from there, we enquired for the helicopter to Guwahati. It would cost us Rs.975 for the trip and it was only in the morning. So we banished the thought of high-flying in a helicopter and decided to take a look around Shillong in one of the package tours of MTC. It was one embarrassingly boring day as that package was appropriate only for couples since the places were of the most disappointing quality. After traveling to Manas and Kaziranga, we saw three leopard cubs in an excruciatingly small cage in theLady Hydari Park and it was depressing enough. The next day, we were off to Siliguri, in a direct bus.
Reaching that bus was not entirely uneventful. The Sardarji at the counter of Deep Travels put us in an auto which took us to another bus stand. After a few tense phone calls, we somehow managed to beat traffic to board the bus. Next morning, Siliguri was bright and sunny.