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With its rolling hills of pine conifers and pineapple shrubs, SHILLONG was known to the British as "the Scotland of the East" – an impression first brought to mind by Barapani (or Umiam), the stunning loch-like reservoir on its fringes, and the sight of Khasi women wearing gingham and tartan shawls. At an altitude of 1500m, Shillong became a popular hill-station for the British, who made it the capital of Assam in 1874.
Sadly, the town has lost some of its charm and the surrounding hills have suffered severe deforestation. The influx of settlers from the plains has strained natural resources, especially water, and growth is haphazard. Much of the original Victorian town, however, is still evident. Rabindranath Tagore visited Shillong between 1919 and 1927, writing Raktakarabi here; it features in his masterwork Shesher Kobita.
Life in Shillong used to revolve around the decorative Ward Lake and the exclusive European Ward next to it, with its large bungalows in pine-shaded gardens, and the governor's official residence, Government House. The ambience here is in stark contrast to the narrow streets of Police Bazaar, packed with vendors, or, further west, Bara Bazaar, where Meghalaya's oldest market, Iewduh, is held every eight days: in the days of the Raj, a British officer on horseback patrolled the market to ensure no one littered.
Shillong is peppered with small booths filled with punters betting on siat khnam, an incredibly popular local sport in which Khasi men fire arrows at a target and spectators bet on the final two digits of the successful total. Daily games start at 3.30pm opposite the Nehru Stadium, beyond the golf course.
For some respite from the city, head to Tripura Castle, from which a short uphill walk takes you into pine-forested hills, while Shillong Peak (1965m), 10km west of town, also offers great views, as well as being home to the last four ilek khasima, a high-altitude tree on the verge of extinction.