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Following my quest of “Chasing Monsoons”, this July I visited the state famous for its clouds and rains. For years, Meghalaya captured my imagination and when I finally got to visit, I was blown away by its beauty and how! If you thought Meghalaya itself is offbeat, wait until you read my post. ☺
Here are 10 things about Meghalaya that I found to be very interesting.
No? How about “Impossible” or “Be Patient”? I was surprised to know as well, that these are the names of people here. While I didn’t get to meet any of these guys, Yarana, from Samrakshan Tours, our host in Garo Hills, told me about these weird names. Apparently words have been picked up from the Bible and children were named after those words without even knowing what they meant.
We all know Cherrapunji as the world’s wettest place, a claim lost long time ago but the fame still remains. Locally known as Sohra, Cherrapunji is exactly like grasslands of Western Ghats. But the little patches of forests between the folds of the grasslands are few and far in between. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that the wettest place on earth suffers from water shortage during the dry months. The rains wash away all the soil and there aren’t trees to hold and let the water seep into the ground. All the water floods into Bangladesh and Sohra suffers.
Meghalaya is bounded by Assam on the north and Bangladesh on the south. But what’s a bit surprising is the proximity of the flood plains of Bangladesh to everywhere else in Meghalaya. You can see Bangaldesh from almost everywhere, Meghalaya being on a higher ground. Many times, we were so close that an hour’s trek would take you across the border. We would walk till the edge of the hilltop and the slopes would gradually even out to form the flood plains below. Later in the trip, we actually crossed the border but more on that later.
Yes, they do. Women inherit the property and the children take on the mother’s name. Matrilineal system is prevalent in Meghalaya, across the three tribes of Khasi, Jaintia and Garo. However, talking to the women there, I figured this system doesn’t empower them much. Matrilineal societies are different from Matriarchal societies. Even though property rights stay with the women here, it is still the brother or the maternal uncle of the lady who takes all the decisions. But the girl child is favored here and women keep giving birth to children until they have at least 2 girls because the son won’t take care of the parents, as he will move away to a different house after marriage. Read this article on Tehelka to know more about how women aren’t that empowered here - http://www.tehelka.com/raped-in-a-safe-state/?singlepage=1
Surprised again, I had no idea Meghalaya was famous for butterflies. I would’ve seen so many different kinds of butterflies in those 10 days than all the other days of my life put together. It was like a different world, as we walked through the forest, we would pass by groups of fluttering butterflies of all shapes and colors! Garo Hills of Meghalaya has recorded 300+ different species of butterflies.
|Living Root Bridges of Meghalaya, in the valleys several of these bridges are still in use|
One of the finest examples of Bioengineering, no amount of reading is going to prepare you for your first encounter with this exquisite creation. It takes 10 years of the Ficus Elastica(Rubber) trees to grow roots and a hundred odd years for them to grow into a strong bridge. Hiking in Meghalaya, it was easy for me to see the need for such strong structures. We had to cross several streams several times between villages. Earlier bamboo bridges were constructed which would either rot or get destroyed in the monsoons, but these living root bridges only get stronger every year!
Traveling in the remote Garo Hills, we came across many elephant corridors. I had no idea again, that Meghalaya had elephant population at all. When we were cutting across the very important Siju-Rewak Corridor, we encountered a herd of 7 elephants. Seeing wild elephants at close quarters in an unexpected place like Meghalaya was precious! However, loss of habitat and man-animal conflict is rising by the day in Garo Hills. I hope both the people and the elephants get to live peacefully.
During monsoons, one gets to see a very interesting sport here in Meghalaya, fishing! Well, with so many streams flowing through these pristine mountains, it makes sense that locals do fish a lot for food. But it was surprising to see the scale in which fishing was taken up as a hobby. By late afternoon people would settle by the banks of the many ponds and fish. There are fishing tournaments conducted with prize money to be won up to 7 lakhs! Not just in the towns but also in the remote villages, monsoons are synonymous with fishing.
This didn’t come as a surprise as I knew already that Meghalaya was famous for caves. There are several explored and even more unexplored cave systems in this state. Caving is getting popular by the day and the caves here are some of the longest in Asia. We went to the spectacular Siju cave in Garo Hills, thought to be more than 3kms long. The entrance was flooded with water and we waded through the knee-deep stream in pitch darkness towards the end of the long chamber. The sound of water flowing in the darkness was freaky but also cool in a weird way. I’m not that into caving but if that’s your thing, Meghalaya is where you should be.
The biggest revelation of this trip has to be Garo Hills for me. Very rich in bio-diversity and wildly beautiful is how I remember Garo Hills. The muddy waters of the raging Simsang River flow through the heart of Garo and enter into Bangladesh where it is takes a new name, Someswari. Along the sides of the river are pristine forests and undisturbed ranges of hills. Clouds move in and out of the valleys and when it rains, it pours. Due to rampant insurgency and its remoteness, Garo Hills is a very difficult place to visit but totally worth it.