Struggle in Meghalaya - Shillong
How me and my friends failed to find a bed in Shillong on Christmas day.
It has been a long-awaited trip to Meghalaya. I always wanted to visit the states far in the east and experience their culture. In the December of 2021 by booking tickets for Meghalaya, me and three of my friends decided to explore this state navigating our ways by an i20 car that we took from Guwahati. Since our entry and exit point was Guwahati, it made sense.
Meghalaya is a small hilly state with apopulation of around 75% Christians. This was one of the reasons that we had planned a trip during the last days of December to celebrate Christmas Day. The day around which this story pertains is the same day that we wanted to celebrate and came here for.
Trekking in Mawryngkhang Trek
On 25th December 2021, four of us decided to do a nature trek in Meghalaya around 50km away from Shillong where we were staying till now. Today was the day for which we didn't have any bookings done as we were not able to find any hotels online. A unanimous decision pointed towards "we'll see when we are there" was taken on a conference call and today, here we were, taking the risk of booking the hotel at night after we return from the trek. Mawryngkhang Trek is considered the scariest trek in India due to its "fragile-looking" structure of bamboo trees and the signs that says "only one person allowed at a time" on a lot of bridges. The trek has been a path for local residents who travel on it once a year at a festival. The rest of the time, it's open with a nominal 100 INR entry fee.
Mawryngkhang Trek in Meghalaya
Mawryngkhang Trek was a unique experience. With maximum journey covered on bamboo sticks, it had been something that we never did before. In return, it took away our energy and reminded us of the shape we were in. We returned from Mawryngkhang Trek later in the evening 15 minutes before sunset. This achievement called for a couple of red teas and a couple plates of Maggi.
Mawryngkhang Trek to Shillong
With nowhere to go, we had a lot of options to consider. We could optimize according to the itinerary and travel and stay in any direction.
"How is Chherapunji?", asked Harish Sahu while sipping from the red tea cup.
"Cheerapunji is far from here. Maybe you should consider something else." reminded the shop owner - a child.
"Dawki is far too and the road is not good. Traveling there at night is not good."
With a few more opinions thrown into this bonfire, we finally decided it was the shortest, quickest, and most convenient to just go to Shillong right now.
"We can ask hotels on the way as Shillong is completely packed and we may not get any rooms.", I said and my friends nodded.
The road to Shillong was fun that night. It was Christmas day and the whole state was lightened up from outside as well as inside. The buses crossed us in which students were singing songs. Tractors were set up as tableau and singers were singing carols on the way. We encountered four or maybe five hotels on the way but all of them were completely occupied. They were 20 or 30 km away from Shillong and therefore we got a gist of what was about to come when we reach Shillong. If highway hotels are full, I don't think we have a chance in Shillong. However, my friend Shashank was quite optimistic and wanted to rent a room in the city center. With no choice in hand, we reached Shillong to try our luck.
Christmas in Shillong
Shillong was decorated from one end to another to celebrate Christmas. Usually, the city would shut down at around 8 PM but today was an exception. People will celebrate till midnight or even longer. This was a good thing for us since we reached around 8 and there were a lot of options to eat. That would not have been the case the day before.
The first priority was to find a room in Shillong to stay for the night. But we could manage with street food in our hands. So, we ordered some street food and started the hunt. First, we went to the hotels that were close and the owners we knew since we ordered food from there. Next, we increased the radius and thought to keep it close to Police Bazaar (image) in Shillong. After searching in around ten hotels, we found no luck but just the name of another hotel where we should look. Everywhere we went the owners would say, "You can check in that hotel, they generally have rooms available."
Shillong City Center
Our legs were not in good shape due to the trekking and to top it off, none of the hotels had an elevator. We had to climb four floors each time we entered the lobby of a hotel. This was taking too much of our time. We thought of optimizing our search and so we decided to divide a team of two where Hemant and I went together and Harish and Shashank went the other way. Since Shillong is a hill station, we found a lot of stairs between the roads and a lot of slopes. Then again, as I said, a lot of stairs to climb to the hotel lobby. We were experiencing a whole year's leg day at the gym (and yes our legs pained till four days later). After an hour of rigorous search and gradually lowering the benchmark of the hotel (from three stars to lodge to dormitory), there was nothing where 4 beds could be found. I called Shashank and their luck was no different. Although, since clock was running, he asked me to order food from some hotel as they would close soon. Unfortunately, we couldn't find food anywhere either.
Around 11 PM on this beautiful Christmas day, Hemant, Shashank, Harish, and I were eating sweet corn in the center of the city deciding what to do next. The only option we could see was to stay in the car for the night. Since it was already 11:30, we just have to spend 6 or 7 hours in the car. In India, it is not a rare spectacle to witness a man sleeping in a car. Even if those men are hired drivers, we both were taking this step in compulsion. Around 11:45 we brought the car out of the designated parking space on to the road side a little away from the center and took our seats.
Driver seat was occupied by Shashank. The passenger seat beside him was occupied by Harish. In the backseat, Hemant was sitting beside me. While we were calculating and re-calculating our chances like a cricket fan seeing India lose and still praying for some miracle, Hemant was busy on the phone. I don't remember how long he was talking but I am quite sure he missed all the discussions that the three of us were having. Now that our car was parked and the seats were set, we went back to eat another cup of sweet corn. Here, Shashank told me he will be leaving to his home town tomorrow morning. I guess he was frustrated by the experience we were having and worried about the experience that awaited him in the car. It would be a long night, we all knew that but whatever we could say, I could read his face, and unfortunately, he had made up his mind.
Finally, all set to sleep, we went back to the car and took our positions. Hemant was still on the phone. We turned on the AC for a while to evaporate all the hard work we had done and thousands of stairs we had climbed. I looked out the window. A very old woman was selling cigarettes on a street stall. A headscarf on the head, she was looking forward to make complete use of Christmas. But she didn't scream to attract customers. She just waited for people to come and buy a few cigarettes from her. On the background, I could hear Hemant's caller. She was a girl. She laughed and said, "I left my job. I don't do anything now."
To this Hemant said, "You must be doing something."
She giggled again and said, "No I don't. I just sit."
To this Hemant said, "What do you do while sitting all day?"
In between their talk, my eyes got heavier and heavier. My neck surrendered to the falling weight of my head and as soon as I was about to bang my head on the front seat, somebody knocked on my window with their knuckles.
A policeman with mustaches and a cap in his hand was staring with his big eyes and broad eyebrows. Two more policemen were accompanying him. He asked me, "What are you doing here?".
"We couldn't find any room anywhere. We decided to sleep here for the night."
"Ohhh! You don't have money?"
"No, we do. We just couldn't find any rooms."
"You know this is not a safe area. Do not park your car here. People threw stones last Christmas and you will get hurt. Do one thing. Go to the parking and sleep there. It is safe there."
We thought if that is the case, it is better to take his suggestion. We went to the parking area which was inside a building but open from all the ends. They charged 500 INR for the night. When we went inside, we found two more cars in which people were sleeping. This was definitely relieving. We were not the only ones who were celebrating Christmas inside a stinking basement. We turned on the AC and I could still hear Hemant's voice in the background. I was half-sleepy by that time. I slept within 2 minutes.
The Next Day...
I woke up a couple of times in between due to heat and sometimes pain in my legs. The front-seaters were having a sound sleep. They had the dashboard to keep their legs and that's what they were doing. I looked beside me and Hemant's face was buried inside his rucksack. The next time I woke up, I saw Shashank in a different t-shirt standing outside the car. I thought the night that was supposed to be the toughest, is gone. He was preparing to leave. I dozed off again. The next time I opened my eyes, we were at a bus stand where Shashank was hiring a cab to go to Guwahati. He left around 6 AM. The exchange of words was minimum.
Shashank's trip ended with that night in the basement. I took the keys and ignited the engine. The next step was Dawki where a transparent river flows across India-Bangladesh border. It was a night to remember. Something that was not so comfortable at that point but in retrospect, definitely something to smile at. It was complete silence outside as well as inside the car. Hemant was asleep and Harish did not say much. We halted at a viewpoint 30 minutes into the ride and then resumed the journey. A few minutes into the way Harish said, "my mood is off" and I nodded in agreement. But I knew we could not have stopped him from leaving in between. I said, "a lot of the trip is still there. We will enjoy it."
"Yeah, I guess. It is what it is." He said and smiled.
We went ahead with that trip after creating memories of a night when we slept in the car. We all knew these things happen when you are in a strange city. A lot worse had happened with mewhen I went for Bhutan. A couple hours later, we were back to what we were a day before. We knew there could not be a worse night than yesterday. And as it turned out, the next night was the complete opposite of what we experienced the night before. It was the most memorable and unforgettable night of the complete trip (obviously in a positive way!). But that's a story for some other day.
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