|Overview of the destination|
My family and I went on a truly memorable trip to Meghalaya this May 2010. The cliffs and gorges bent over backwards, the falls tumbled down, the streams stayed with us, and the hills towered like eerie, unreal castles built on cloudy nothingness - if you love your camera, this is the place to give it a treat!
Food, sight-seeing and shopping
Traveling with a 2-year-old kind, our 10 nights' trip was at a leisurely pace - it could be done in a couple of days less. We stayed at the well-known Khasi hills' destinations - Shillong & Cherrapunjee, and also at the lesser known Jaintia hills headquaters, Jowai.
The Meghalaya Tourism website (http://megtourism.gov.in/welcome.html) is better than most of such 'govt' websites that exist in this country. The places listed there actually exist, most are accessible, and wonderful for sightseeing.
Unfortunately, 'sightseeing' hogs all the limelight in the tourism mind scape of Meghalaya - both for tourists and for tour operators. In the districts, the food is nothing to write home about - but the taste, and the variety does get markedly better in the capital, Shillong. Ask your local taxi-driver about a good, traditional Khasi meal - he would probably just point you to some typical Indian/Chinese restaurant, with the warning that Khasi meals would not suit your taste. That said, we found a delightful little Khasi restaurant just a little distance from the main Police Bazaar chowk in Shillong. This is just a few paces from the famous Delhi Mistan Bhandar shop on Khyndailad, and calls itself 'Trattoria'. For the life of us, we could not see the Italian connection, but the place is run by a nice lady, who made us some kind of an assortment 'Thali' out of the various kinds of Khasi meat on offer - it was simply out of the world!! But be warned - this place is not for a lazy, late lunch. There's always a heavy rush, and the speciality dishes run out too fast almost every day!
Shillong also has some delectable bakers and confectioners - all near the Police Bazaar 7-point crossing. Ee Cee on the Jail Road side, and Bread Cafe on G.S. Road are a couple that come easily to mind.
Again, Shillong is the only place that could qualify as a 'shopping destination' - and again, everything along Police Bazaar. You could try picking up some local North East stuff in one of the small shops dotting the place - like the Nagaland Handlooms shop almost bang on the crossing itself. Or you could try some of the larger 'Hanumanbux' cloth stores a little farther away along G.S. Road.
Activities & things to do
The sightseeing activities around Shillong and Cherrapunjee are well-documented. What should be stressed are that there are hugely interesting places and things that normal, run-of-the-mill tourist operators would not take you to. For example, while on the Cherrapunjee circuit, do not miss the Dainthlen falls, which are a little out of the way. And if you are staying overnight in Cherrapunjee, and are fit enough to trek, do try to see the living root bridge at Laikensew. But remember, the route is long, and slippery and treacherous - so, take the words 'fit enough to trek' really seriously - I would say a no-no for the elderly, and the very young.
While in Shillong, dont miss the lovely Umiam Lake (a.k.a. 'Barapani') some 18 kms from the town. More importantly, Shillong can be used as a base for visiting some off-beat locations - take a taxi to Mawsynram, the real 'wettest place on earth', or a dip in the hot-water springs of Jakrem. En route, stop at the sacred forest groves of Mawphlang - not a place all taxi drivers know, but not a view you would be likely to forget. And, finally, do take a break from the cliched Khasi hills and try something different - stay near Jowai and visit the Jaintia hills, and get positively startled when you find even one other tourist around. The Narthiang monoliths, the Thadlaskien lake, ... above all, do make the short trek from the main road to the Tyrshi falls. The way to the falls are so desolate, and so free of human interest, that you begin to wonder if the end of the world will reach you, before you reach the falls. But once you reach the falls, you will realize that this is the crowning glory of your Meghalaya trip - do descend the 260 steps to the fall landing, and catch the falls splash on your face before it goes crashing down to the valley below. You will start wondering what's the fuss on Shillong's Elephant Falls about. While in the Jaintia also take a taxi to Dawki on the Indo-Bangladesh border - and remember the journey is the destination!
Travel tips, How to reach, travel warnings etc.
The most reliable way to reach Meghalaya is to land in Guwahati (airport or railway station), and get a transport to Shillong. The transport would most likely be in the form of a taxi, either shared or reserved. For sight-seeing around Meghalaya, hiring a taxi would be the best option - but this would, of course, be quite expensive. If this cannot be afforded, plan all trips from Shillong only - the MTDC offers package tours on tourist buses. But this would, however, leave out many of the far-flung, off-beat places mentioned in this post. Also remember - outside of Shillong & Cherrapunjee, the tourism industry is not really well-developed. So, do your research and print your maps - you may even have to guide your taxi drivers with these implements!!
Finally, it may be easy to forget while taking in this fantastic beauty, the unfortunate truth that the North East hills are as fragile as they are bewitching. Read the newspapers, and be well-advised of any trouble brewing in the area. The first day we landed at Guwahati airport, there was a general bandh call, and it was complete shutdown. We heard thrice 'aage na jana hi behtar hai' - once each at the airport, in Shillong, and in Jowai (even the day after). Each time, we took a calculated risk and went ahead - and did not live to regret it!