Falling In Love With Shillong, The Second Time Around
As much of a nature-lover and urban antagonist I am, there are some places that cannot be fully appreciated unless you surrender to its chaos. Shillong tops that list, and also has a musical bedrock that influences its entire culture. It took me a second visit, which involved a stay at Shillong B&B, to embrace it in its specific peculiarity of old-world charm and modern trappings.
Sitting on the quiet Upper Lachumiere hill, off the busy Loretto Convent crossing, Shillong B&B is housed in an old Shillong bungalow. The ninety-year-old building belonging to the Kharpuri family has been painstakingly restored to bring to travellers the Shillong of yore, recreated in its wooden floors, high ceilings, teak beds and floral upholstery. I settle into my ‘city view’ room in the new wing adjacent to the main heritage bungalow soon after checking in. My room comes with a spacious balcony from where I can view the city and the sweeping valley. The comfort of wooden flooring extends all the way from the stairs to my room, complimented by the chic bathroom stone. A small desk and chair in the corner immediately become my workstation, but it is the folding door that merges the room with the balcony that is a winner.
I wander back to the main building for a cup of tea and potter around the main lounge, a spacious room filled with local and global artefacts, books, and inviting sofas. After a lazy evening, well-deserved after the long journey to Shillong, I call it a day. The next morning, I enjoy a big breakfast spread in the garden (also the only meal served here)
before heading out. I decide to ditch the taxi and hop on to the local bus to go down to Police Bazaar. The driver turns the speakers on, and to my utter delight, they belt out Lady Gaga, Guns N’ Roses, and Simon & Garfunkel.
For a music lover, Shillong is the antidote to all that you would ever associate with a small town. Music is an inherent part of the northeast Indian hill station that has produced some of India’s finest homegrown bands like Soulmate and legends like Lou Majaw who need no introduction; Majaw is credited with reviving Shillong’s live music scene over a decade ago. I walk to Shillong Café, the sister concern of Shillong B&B to meet the effervescent co-owner William Diengdoh, ‘Will’. We settle down over a coffee to talk all things Meghalaya, starting from its matrilineal structure and ending with Shillong’s unique music scene. The B&B belonged to the family of his wife, the granddaughter of the late king Olim Sing Syiem of Khyrim, the undivided erstwhile kingdom of Shillong. It’s perfectly normal for him to live there and run it; “Does anyone question women moving in with men? Well, I’m a proud matriarch!” he laughs. Will’s café was opened by Majaw, who hangs out here every Sunday to handhold young artists and give them a platform to perform live. The biggest music events have also taken notice of Shillong’s music connect in the recent years.
Our discussion steers towards gastronomy, and Will insists I try their spaghetti a la northeast, pasta with a traditional spin. He takes the liberty to cancel my ‘blasphemous’ veg thali lunch plan and takes me for a binge at a jadoh stall, small eateries frequented by locals that serve gentle fare such as soya sesame and meat balls to more hardcore non-vegetarian items like fermented fish and the actual jadoh, pig blood with rice, which I politely decline. I am impressed though by the cleanliness and order of these tiny eateries—two good ones include the Jaintia stall at Laitmukhra and Trattoria at police bazaar—that have amazing all-you-can-eat meals under a hundred rupees!
After the rollercoaster culinary ride, I decide to walk back to my snug B&B to digest the indulgence but decide to stop at a café, dedicated to Bob Dylan. I can hear a familiar voice, and upon entering, see Majaw crooning his originals and Dylan covers. I’m hooked, and stay till the end of the performance. After an awkward chat with Lou that befits meeting an icon, I walk the length of the path leading to my accommodation. I plonk myself onto the cushy balcony seat, and hear distant banter and the soft strains of strumming guitars. The mellow notes float down the valley studded with the twinkling lights of an ever expanding Shillong, and I strangely feel at home in this urban tangle.
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