For two hundred years, the British ruled over India, and during that period, they constructed a number of lavish architectural wonders across the nation, including the Northeast. The prospect of tea brought them to Assam, and since back then, the capital of Assam was Shillong, a lot of officials resided in and around the city. Now a part of Meghalaya, universally known as ‘Scotland of the East’, it was a favourite among British officials due to its cold and pleasant climate. And so, it is not surprising that Meghalaya is home to quite a few striking bungalows, many of which have been preserved well. One such example is the Dak Bungalow, now known to travellers as Café Cherrapunjee.
The Vintage Appeal
Café Cherrapunjee is a popular place among tourists visiting Sohra (Cherrapunjee). And why not, the main building that houses the restaurant is a vintage beauty. After all, it used to be a Dak Bungalow, built about 125 years ago. Dak Bungalows or Dakhouses were bustling government buildings under the British Raj.
‘Sohra, also known as Churra in the present East Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya was the kind of place that the British were looking for in the region,’ shared Alan West, the owner of the cafe. Sohra originally held the title of being the wettest place on Earth and is famous for its annual rainfall. High above the foggy valleys and foaming rivers and hidden under the clouds and floating on a headland, lies Cherrapunjee, 4,500 ft above the sea level. The destination is a spectacular location with year-round rain. Here, the rainfall can be recorded in feet rather than in millimeters. ‘Sohra is the place where British Christian missionaries first came in contact with the Khasi tribal community, and converted them to Christianity in the early 18th century. The British also gave the Khasis their script, English, and helped them systematize their grammar,’ he added. Located on the highlands in Sohra, the bungalow has a special charm that cannot be overlooked. The fireplace and retro posters depicting the 125-year-old history tends to take travellers back in time. Apart from the bungalow, another relic that has survived for a century is the gramophone that is on display.
While narrating the history of the Dak Bungalow, Alan mentioned, ‘The Bungalow was used as a post office by the British back then. It served the areas connecting Bangladesh and the Northeast. Use of horses was common by the messengers. Hence, this was one of the many Dak Bungalows w here official horses were changed while en-route from Dhaka to Assam by the British officials. The bungalow became a major point for horse exchange. The operation in the post office was at its peak during the Second World War. During the Quit India Movement, the British used the post office for emergency purposes.’ He further explained that many significant meetings by senior British officers also took place at the Bungalow before the Independence.
From Government Building to Tourist Spot
Meghalaya government decided to renovate the bungalow and transform into a circuit house, like in the case of most bungalows under the Tourism Department. However, the plan was dropped after the government proposed another circuit house in Cherrapunjee.
‘For years, the place was abandoned. The bungalow stood deserted for many years after the Independence. The locals finally decided to restore the place. I proposed the idea of starting a café at the bungalow. As Sohra witnessed a huge number of national and international tourists every year, the idea of a café cum resort right at the bungalow, while keeping the old heritage ambience intact, seemed like a superb idea.’ The location of the Bungalow, halfway between Shillong and Cherrapunjee, served as an ideal pit stop for travellers on the lookout for tasty local food. ‘The bungalow can be described more as historical wealth, and we will try to preserve it to the best of our abilities.’ Alan, a native of Sohra himself, feels that the bungalow is much more than a tourist spot. ‘The bungalow has provided a scope for expansion. Along with the café, it has evolved into a tourist spot, which has in turn provided employment to the local youth. We hope that it will keep attracting tourists, and we also hope to preserve the heritage of the bungalow for years to come.’ Next time, you are en route to Cherrapunjee, make sure to stop by and experience the vintage bungalow that has many stories to tell.
Disclaimer: The information in the article was provided by the management currently running the establishment. We do not claim responsibility for any false claims about the organization or ownership of the same.