To protest against people being unwillingly sent back to the north east, we decided to willingly go there. Actually, we had booked the tickets quite a while back. It had been a while since “Gang talk” happened, and since D seemed to be acquiring the taste from Zingron, we thought now was as good a time as any to go Shillonging!
Early we woke – 3.45ish – to catch the cab at 4.15 and reach the airport in time for the 6.40 AM flight to Kolkata. 6E is known to be punctual to a fault and we had no intention of taking any risks. We arrived early enough and true to form, the flight took off right on time. Kolkata airport was exactly as we remembered it, but then 2 years is hardly time enough for that phenomenon to change! We thankfully didn’t have long to wait since the connecting flight to Guwahati was just a couple of hours away. Breakfast was at Subway! Kolkata is not the kind of airport that gives you a wide array of choices, so you can probably stop smirking now!
We had been informed by the tour operators that a person would be at the Guwahati airport to collect the balance amount, and with him we would find our driver, Ajmal. We saw a person carrying a placard with D’s name. In just 5 minutes, we were able to establish, with the help of a passerby, that D was indeed the D he was waiting for, and in turn, he was reasonably sure he was Ajmal! Introductions done, we started our journey towards Shillong. From the massive bovine presence on the road, we figured out how Cowhati got its name! Lots of greenery dotted with brick kilns and markets. We seemed to have arrived just in time for one of their celebrations, which involved people trying to spit on moving vehicles, including our own. White cars were given preference – probably more points.
The person who was supposed to meet us for the payment finally met us outside town, and wished us a pleasant journey after he counted the money. We stopped to fill petrol at a station that had its own complex patterns of how differently sized vehicles should exit. Just to spice it up a bit, they also used a larger board for smaller vehicles. But Ajmal was smarter by a league, and used the entry path to exit. Ha! In fact he was so good that we didn’t even know that we had already crossed into Meghalaya. 4 states in about 6 hours. 2x Chetan. We stopped soon at the L.C Woodland Dhaba and dug into rotis and Chicken Butter Masala, which actually turned out to be quite tasty. My friend from previous travels – the splitting headache -announced itself immediately after. Ajmal celebrated by playing Silsila. (Hindi, not Malayalam)
We slept most of the way to Shillong, though we did wake up in time to catch the amazing scenery as we climbed. Though the journey is a 3 hr one, we took double that. Part of it was the last mile traffic jams in Shillong. That’s a story in itself! Once we crossed that hurdle, it was time for Ajmal to do his bit. Having no idea of where our hotel White Orchid was, he promptly took us to Orchid, parts of which were white in color. It was also the home of the village idiot who proclaimed that he had been living in Shillong since 1979 and there was no place named White Orchid. He played the same sentence in a loop until I said I could pay him to shut up. While he considered that, we called up the hotel. They were very helpful and gave Ajmal directions to get there. But Ajmal, whose IQ cannot be measured by petty human standards, rebelled against directions, and stopping near a petrol pump gave that as the landmark to the hotel people. The hotel staff said they would be there in a couple of minutes. In subsequent calls, he also created a fantasy world nearby which had a hospital and a bridge. I used Google Maps and urged Ajmal, but he silenced me with a glare that would have made internet watchdogs proud! Finally I made him move in the direction that Google gave me and voila, there was another petrol pump. Ajmal complained about what the world was coming to when a town could have two petrol pumps.
White Orchid was a tiny guesthouse but we were given a warm welcome by Chetan Kumar (aka Chintu bhaiyya) who would prove to be a godsend many a time in the next few days. We skipped dining there and asked for directions to one of the many places on our list – Sesame in Laitumkhrah, just over a km away. We used the most common transit form – the Rs.10/head taxi, but just couldn’t find the place. We finally settled for Cafe Shillong.
A cosy little cafe on the first floor, a few buildings after the famous Jadoh. We were the only customers though the only big table had a ‘Reserved’ sign. Tiny tables on the balcony gives you a good view of the street. From the not-so-elaborate menu, we asked for a Pork Momos with soup, and for the main course, a Shillong beef steak with mashed potato and a Chicken Bastenga. The soup was thin but flavorful and the momos, tasty, though not a match for the Delicacy ones in Bangalore. The Shillong beef steak was well, a beef steak in Shillong, with a tangy sauce and well cooked meat. The local rice wasn’t available for the Bastenga, so they used white rice instead. It had a spicy chutney and a very strong bamboo+other shoots flavour and smell. To wash it down, we asked for a Hot Chocolate, a reasonable drink. The bill came to about Rs.700.
We took the taxi back to Malki Point, home to White Orchid, and slept in a spartan room after watching Kung Fu Panda for a while.