Shillong was known to the British as “the Scotland of the East”, an impression first brought to mind by Barapani (or Umiam), the picturesque loch-like reservoir 23km from town on the Guwahati highway, and the sight of the local Khasi women wearing gingham and tartan shawls. At an altitude of around 1500m and with its rolling hills of conifers and pineapple shrubs, Shillong became a popular hill station for the British, who built it on the site of a thousand-year-old Khasi settlement and made it Assam’s capital in 1874.
Sadly, with uncontrolled growth, choking traffic jams and water shortages – despite the rain – the city today has lost much of its charm. Some of the original Victorian town around the centre, known as the European Ward, however, is still preserved, with garden villas and the sylvan environs of Ward Lake. North of the polo ground is one of Asia’s oldest golf courses, founded in 1898 by a group of British civil servants.
A local sport and popular gambling tradition, siat khnam involves teams of Khasi men firing arrows at a target while punters throughout the city bet on the final two digits of the total. Daily games start around 3.30pm opposite Nehru Stadium. Of the town’s markets, including the busy Police Bazaar in the centre, the Iewduh (Mon–Sat) or Bara Bazaar, is Meghalaya’s oldest and most traditional market, run mainly by women. The Shillong Autumn Festival (w shillongautumnfestival.com), held at Umiam Lake every November, combines traditional cultural dance and music from all over the northeast with contemporary music and culminates in a rock concert by the lake.