We arrived to Shillong after spending a few days in the jungle and the small town of Sohra. At first the crowded capital of North-East Indian state of Meghalaya felt like a place we wanted to escape straight away and to get back to the peace of nature. But slowly we warmed up to it. During the two days we stayed there we got to deepen our knowledge of the local culture through art, handicrafts, food and by getting to know the people living there.
First world problems upon arrival
We arrived to Shillong super tired after trekking in the forest for three days. All we wanted was a hot shower and a good meal before getting into bed.
Well, we didn’t manage to figure how to get a warm shower. In the end the manager told us that the hot water is normally only available certain times, but that he will turn it on for us. Our dinner wasn’t a success either. We ended up having the worst pizza in our lives that was also the worst food we’ve had on this trip. But who the hell orders pizza from an Indian fast food stall anyway?! Also, the whole city felt stressful, dirty, cold and unfriendly (especially the taxi drivers).
At least we found a really nice hotel, Rainbow Hotel. The owner and workers were super friendly, and we got a good night’s sleep.
A better morning with fresh laundry
The next morning was sunny and everything felt better. We hadn’t been able to do laundry since New Year’s. It would have been impossible to get it dry due to humidity and/or coldness, and the few laundry salons we found on the way would have needed several days to return the clean clothes. After already declaring our laundry problem a laundry crisis, we finally managed to wash our clothes and to hang them to the sun to dry.
Getting to know the “peace silk”
The first time we heard about eri silk, or “peace silk”, that is produced in Meghalaya, we got really interested in this material. It’s the only silk in the world that is made without killing the silkworm. We were planning to visit a silk making village in Meghalaya, but as our Indian visas would soon run out, we needed to skip some program.
Luckily, we found out that a company named Muezart is producing eri silk yarn and products in Shillong. We contacted them and the folks at Muezart welcomed us to visit their office. We got an interesting tour in their studio and learned about the process of eri-silk making, as well as about the company and their products (which we reaaally liked). In our next story we will tell more about this sustainable and animal friendly material and our visit to Muezart’s office.
Don Bosco Centre for Indigenous Cultures
The Don Bosco Centre in Shillong is a museum showcasing cultural artefacts of various indigenous cultures of North-East India. It was located far from the city center and it took ages to walk there, as we had decided not to support the rude taxi drivers of this city anymore (for the way back we found a local bus). On the other hand, we got to see another side of the city. As soon as we got out of the busy centre, the people seemed more friendly again, greeting us and coming to ask where we are going and if we need some help.
During our first days in Meghalaya we already got to know some things about the culture of Khasis, one of the indigenous groups of Meghalaya. Visit to the Don Bosco museum was a great way to learn still more about Khasis, as well as about the other indigenous groups of Meghalaya and the whole North-East India. Especially the arts and fabrics showcased in the museum were impressive.
At the end of our visit we watched a long and cheesy music video about North-East India and will probably never be able to get rid of the ear worm. You can watch the masterpiece here.
Even though we would definitely recommend visiting the Don Bosco Centre in Shillong, what makes North-East India so special is the fact that you don’t necessarily even have to visit a museum in order to learn about the local traditions. Indigenous cultures and traditions are still strong here and you can see examples of it just by walking on the streets or talking to people – even here in the city.
Visiting the local market
Talking about the local culture, what better way to dive deeper into it than visiting a local market. The one in Shillong consisted of dozens of maze-like, dark and narrow alleys. One could find there anything from clothes to vegetables and freshly chopped animal parts, but the most popular products were areca nuts (betel), betel leaves and tobacco leaves.
A tip for all the smokers: you can also find heaps of loose tobacco at one corner of the market, a good that is not easy to find around here. It’s cheap (100 grams for 100 rupees) and tastes good.
Food in Shillong
We already mentioned the worst pizza of the world, but besides that we luckily managed to find also excellent food in Shillong. These were our favorite restaurants:
A nice South-Indian restaurant (for a change) where we had one of the best thalis of our whole time in India.
You & I Arts Café
This place was really cosy and not only a good place to eat, but also to learn more about the local arts and culture and to take part in communal activities. There are often different kinds of workshops or music evenings organized, for example. Unfortunately, there were not many options for vegetarians on the menu, though. We had some sweet sticky rice and traditional lemon grass and orange blossom teas. Their list of delicious-sounding teas is excessive.
New friends upon leaving
Our bus from Shillong to Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, was late. Therefore, we had to wait at the bus stand for around two hours. The tiny stand was run down and at first the people hangin out behind the desk seemed a bit rude. But once again, it just took some time until we got warm with each other. Soon we were talking politics and ended up drinking whiskey with the workers. When we finally got into the bus, one of the workers followed us to tell the driver to take good care of us, before we started our towards Mizoram.