India's best-kept secret, Shillong

Travel the off the beaten track of India's northeast for amazing beauty. Photo: Foggy morning at Lake Umiam

SHILLONG, India, March 14, 2012 — Tucked away in the far northeastern Indian hills in between Bangladesh and Assam, sits the barely noticeable state of Meghalaya that is home to many tribal populations.
Most people traveling to India will choose to visit the standard Golden Triangle region (Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra). While each of these well- known cities creates unique experiences for all, I have found the most solace in the harder to reach nooks and crannies of this magical subcontinent.
When I arrived at the closest airport in Guwahati, Assam, I wasn’t sure what to expect. From here, I hopped into a prearranged, private Assam tour vehicle, which happened to be a spacious minivan, and began journey to Shillong.
We were informed that based on the traffic, it could take us anywhere from four to seven hours. You will feel like you’re in a game of Mario Kart, except you don’t win points every time your driver hits something. I highly recommended dosing up on some Dramamine to keep motion sickness at bay.
Because Shillong is slowly attracting more tourist visibility, there are no shortages of places to stay; however, even just decent hotels charge slightly higher prices because of the lack of nicer options.
For the Hotel Polo Towers, which I would describe as a 2.5 star hotel, it cost us around $200.00 per night. Regardless, the service was great and the staff was really accommodating, which made the smaller hotel seem more comfortable.
The hotel is also located in the middle of a Bazaar, so walking around in the evenings when the crowds pick up can yield some interesting experiences, including witnessing the beheading of your dinner.
If your time in Shillong is limited, you may not have time to go see Cherrapunji, a city located about 60 kilometers away and known to be the second wettest place on earth.
If you do manage to take the two-hour drive there, you can experience waterfalls, the wilderness, and an endless green everything from the same viewpoint that the clouds enjoy. It will definitely be worth the day trip.
If you want to stick to some sights around Shillong, visit Shillong Peak, which gives you a panoramic view of the entire city. A couple of kilometers further into the hills you will find Elephant Falls, a famous tourist destination that displays waterfalls at a much smaller scale than what you will experience at Cherrapunji. Though not as breathtaking, you will see some smaller attractions on the way including a naval base, a potato farm, and tea gardens.
Finally, you must stop and see Umiam Lake, a magnificent manmade reservoir. You can kayak and rent other water sporting equipment so that you can actually enjoy your time on the lake.
Shillong is definitely one of India’s best-kept secrets. As the Khasis would say, “Leit Suk!”