Sunday Monitor

Tales of two cities: Gangtok an example for Shillong in urban management

Nabamita Mitra

It was the winter of 2021. Like the rest of the country, Meghalaya too was recuperating from the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of the healthcare and sanitisation regulations were still in place. But the streets of this beautiful hill city were already littered and there was no restriction on spitting. I also noticed some audaciously careful citizens who removed their masks to spit on the road and diligently put the masks back.


December 2022. I have always heard about the strict hygiene and cleanliness rules in Gangtok and yearned to experience the exception to the rules in most of Indian cities. So, there I was, at a time when the entire state machinery goes on holiday. At the peak of the tourism season, Gangtok was buzzing with people. And yet the streets of the city were as clean as an Indian could expect. There were no plastic wrappers or PET bottles along the road. The 500-ml water bottles are not sold anywhere in the city. Instead, one can buy a glass bottle.

While the locals were well aware of the cleanliness rules, it was surprising to see that even tourists were not spitting around. At MG Marg, which is equivalent to Shillong’s Police Bazar, there was no garbage on the road as all visitors were mindful about using the rows of vats kept on footpaths. With no vehicles passing by, the market precinct was a pleasure to walk on. It reminded me of the honking and rush of vehicles, both four-wheelers and two-wheelers, in the lane in Police Bazar that was once reserved for pedestrians.

There were no smokers on Gangtok roads and only a handful of gutkha users were to be found. Hence, cigarette butts and gutkha packets were hardly seen on the streets. There are designated places for smokers and one is compelled to abide by the instructions because rule breakers are either warned or penalised.

But what was most relieving for a woman visitor was a public toilet that was clean enough to be called decent. The lack of a clean public toilet in a tourist-heavy city like Shillong is a major problem, especially for women. While several measures have been taken by the Meghalaya government to beautify the city, not much thought has been spent on basic amenities like toilets.

Both Shillong and Gangtok are favourite tourist destinations in the North East. But while the former has been haphazard in maintaining its urban pockets, especially those frequented by tourists, the latter has set an example by implementing strict rules in the urban areas and making its citizens aware of the value of cleanliness and hygiene.

As Meghalaya prepares to take its draft tourism policy forward, it should also focus on urban planning, cleanliness and basic amenities. There should be restrictions on vehicular movement along the Police Bazar precinct to not only maintain the beauty of the place but also allow pedestrians, especially visitors, to walk without hassles.

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