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Rashmi Bansal went on a trip to Shillong and came back captivated.

It is my first evening in Shillong. I’ve just had dinner at a restaurant called ‘Bombay Bites’ (would you believe it!) and decide to take a stroll in the famous Police Bazaar area. It’s close to 9 pm and the place does look a tad deserted. But to my Mumbai mind the night seems young.

Then I get a call from the only person in Shillong who has my cell number. A person I have never met but am hoping to interview the next day. “What? You are in Police Bazaar at this time?? Wait right there.. I will drop you back!”

And true to his word, Z lands up a few minutes later and I sheepishly get into a well-worn Maruti. “Is it really unsafe?” I ask my new found friend. “Well… probably not”, he says.”But just in case. Why take a chance?”

And sure enough Mahesh – the one man receptionist/ caretaker/ cashier who holds the fort at the Bonnie Guest House – is relieved to see me. “I was going to call and find out where you are…” he grins.

Okay! So lesson # 1 in Shillong. Early to bed and early to rise – in the North east consider that wise!
And quickly, I learnt a whole lot more.

Like Shillong is a small town but small is truly beautiful. I have been to many ‘hill stations’ and they are generally over run by tourists, touts and terribly unplanned new developments.

Shillong still has that untouched feel to it. Beautiful wooden bungalows, old-style churches, wider-than-expected roads! And oh, it is SO clean everywhere.

Old timers complain that Shillong is now crowded and even experiences traffic jams. Mujhe to bhai kaafi khaali aur khula khula laga. But then my point of reference is you know which crazy city!
And the air – it is so heavenly that I wish you could bottle it and take it home! Cool and crisp but without the chill factor, because there are no icy mountains anywhere near the place.

So what did I do? Well. Since I had only 2 days to spend in the city I decided to skip the various ‘peaks and points’ which tourists visit and just get to know the city. I walked around. Met some interesting people. Tried out stuff!

Like red tea. Sounds intriguing but it’s really only lightly brewed black tea with lemon. Tastes better than it sounds, up there.

Things that struck me

Shillong is far more cosmopolitan than I would have thought. The area I stayed in – Laban – had a fair mix of people from different communities. The shop signage is interesting to say the least!

Another thing you notice is the long shadow of the Indian government. All over the place! From rozgar yojanas to public sector banks (the Khasi language which uses English script adds an exotic touch to their names!).

And of course, at every turn, there is the Army.

There is no local bus system in Shillong (or perhaps I failed to notice it!) but there is a very efficient share a cab facility. Black and yellow Maruti Altos and 800s crisscross the city, constantly picking up passengers and dropping them off. They charge you ten bucks wonly unless your destination is out of the way or you want to ‘reserve’ the entire cab.

I wonder if the base model nano might eventually replace them. You really don’t need an air-conditioner here!

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