Clouded Hills of Mawsynrum
Eco-Park near Seven Sister Falls
Cloud and the hills
The paradise on earth where clouds come home. Relax and enjoy the pleasant climate, the captivating beauty of the green clad hills, milky white waterfalls, the flora and fauna and the warm hospitality of the Khasis, Jaitias and Garos. Meghalaya means ‘the abode of clouds’. Cherrapunjee, the rainiest place on Planet Earth, had been the inspiration for the name. These undulating green carpeted hills were nostalgically called by the British as ‘The Scotland of the East’.
Meghalaya is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘Abode of Clouds’, and its seven ranges of hills are all swaddled by cumulonimbus clouds which disgorge water from the Bay of Bengal, drown the valleys, cover the hills with vegetation, feed the Brahmaputra River, and make Mawsyn, south of Shillong, one of the wettest places on earth. Two distinct ethnic groups inhabit Meghalaya; the Proto-Australoid Hynniewtrep people, including the Jaintias and the Khasis, in the east, and the Tibeto-Burmese Achiks, also called Garos, in the Garo Hills in the west. The British stomped through Meghalaya, but not before Welsh missionaries had already settled down in the 19th century. Between them, they converted Meghalayans in large numbers (75% are still Christian), who managed to blend their new faith with their indigenous tradition of nature worship. 25% of the population still worships indigenous gods. The British found Meghalaya reminiscent of St. Andrews, Scotland, so they built an 18 hole golf course in Shillong and made it the capital of Assam.
Meghalaya became a modern political entity only recently, attaining separate statehood from Assam in 1972, but many of its tribal traditions have been very liberal for a long time. Democracy, for one, has old roots here. Regional Syiem (kings) have long allowed and encouraged popular self-government through public discourse and referendums. Gender egalitarianism, too, is longstanding, sustained in part by a matrilineal system of lineage and property inheritance.
Most people come to Meghalaya not to study its tribal systems but to savor the cool weather of Shillong and the neighboring spots in the Khasi Hills. Several wildlife sanctuaries in West Meghalaya are approached by bad roads from Shillong and better ones from Guwahati. Unrestricted tourism in Meghalaya has been opened in 1995.
Living Root Bridges
These are exclusive to Meghalaya in the whole world. The Secondary roots of a species of Indian Rubber Tree – botanical name Ficus Elastica – are trained over 20 to 25 years to form these living bridges to cross fast flowing rivers and streams. Some of these bio engineering wonders are 53 feet, 70 feet even 100 feet long. The Double Decker Root Bridge has two levels. They are very strong, can carry many people at a time and can last upto 500 years. They grow in strength by the day. These bridges are reachable on foot throughout the year and are used by villagers everyday.
All of the lips, teeth, and gums in Meghalaya, are stained orange. Everyone – men, women, children – chews Paan. Here, it is made not from the processed, shredded supari of the plains, but with the unadulterated betel nut that is grown locally. A Meghalayan myth connects the ingredients of paan with the characters of a dastardly drama, steeping the spittle of paan in social significance.
The story goes that a poor couple found themselves with a a guest but without any food to offer him. Unable to bear the shame, the husband and wife said, ‘please sit down, just a moment,’ went into the kitchen, and killed themselves. The guest, after waiting and waiting, became alarmed and wandered into the kitchen to find his friends bloody and dead. Realizing he had been the cause, he killed himself as well. Soon afterward, a robber showed up and was shocked to find, instead of loot, three dead bodies. Overcome with panic, he mopped up the blood and hid in the house.
Now, paan consists of three parts: kwai (betel nur), shun (lime paste) and tympew (leaf). Kwai is masculine, and represents the husband. Paan-eaters chew kwai first, jast as it was the husband’s blood that was first shed. Shun is feminine and represents the wife. Tympew, again is masculine, stands for the guest, whose arrival wraps the house in disaster. The robber finally is represented by the masculine dumasha, or tobacco leaf, which Khasi women use to wipe the red stains from their teeth. It is said that Meghalayan hosts will never again have to commit suicide! Because even the poorest can afford to offer their guests kwai tympew shun. Paan exceeds even chai as the standard offering in Meghalayan households. If your host tempts you to orange your mouth, please, sit down – Meghalayan paan has a kick that’ll float the unaccustomed sky-high.