It is all alien. The moment you enter into the uncharted territory (for me) of North Eastern India. It happened when in Guwahati, albeit on a smaller scale. Meghalaya was different.
My travel in Meghalaya was limited and included only Shillong, Sohra and its surrounding villages. Primarily what comprises of the Eastern Khasi hills. The language, culture, people all are different and definitely rich. Meghalaya comprises of two prominent tribes – Garo and Khasi. The Khasi people who we interacted with, are unique unto themselves. One of the last matrilineal societies, it is the youngest daughters who become the head of the family. Post marriage, it is the groom and not the bride that leave their homes. The society is truly connected to nature, though you see young people getting disillusioned and moving away from traditions. But that is the reality of today, isn’t it. No matter how far you travel, where even cars cant go, you are bound to find Coca cola and Pepsi being sold.
Our first stop was Shillong, the capital city of the state. A typical hill station, it is still far from the madness that is Mumbai. High slopes, bungalows, coniferous trees and smiling people, Shillong was the hill station I dreamt I would retire to. Steeped in music, the bands of Shillong are known across the country and we were lucky to witness the same. But most important were the conversations with the locals. Beyond the media are some people doing great work in Meghalaya. One works to preserve the local tradition and the other protects children from working illegally in rat hole mines that dot the landscape. It is hard to imagine, a land so beautiful, so pristine is blotted with the black of greed for coal, one that does not stop people from manipulating even the most innocent of hearts.
But not all world is dark, that innocence can be still found in the heart and eyes of the simple village folks whom modernization has touched but little. 2000 steps and more lead you to villages that still live among nature, hold forests that are sacred and build root bridges. These root bridges, living in true sense, are guided lovingly for years till they are strong to let child and man alike walk on them. And these living root bridges put man made steel suspension bridges to shame. The living root bridges near Cherrapunji are a delight, since only hardened travellers can reach there. On the other hand, the root bridge at Riwai village, now a tourist spot, has become nothing more than a photo opportunity of tourists who think if they are not in the picture is not a trip worth taking. The difference is ghastly, the raw natural beauty of the double decker living root bridges is contrasted in the plastic strewn root bridge at Riwai. If you have seen both, you would wish man had never learned how to travel. And yet, Meghalaya is one of the cleanest states in India. the village of Mawlyngong, near Riwai is not only the cleanest village in india, but Asia. Though you have to wonder whether it is because of the money that any wandering tourist has to pay or because of underlying feeling of being close to nature.
Meghalaya made me wonder, made me think. The beauty of people, the difference of opinion. The closeness to nature that is lacking in us, the city dwellers. What is real and what is false. Are we leading the right life or they. It is a hard question, it has its own perspectives, but one thing is for sure – If I was to be born again, Meghalaya would be on top of my bucket list.