‘What all places to be seen in Meghalaya? What are the essentials to carry?’ I typed on Quora one after another. So excited I was to make my travel plans for Meghalaya. On my wall beside the bed in hostel, I had put a note stating ‘Meghalaya- October 21’. The excitement was not only for a new place but for the new experience, a new ‘me’ in that place, in that space. I was happy that somehow I managed to convince my close ones to send me to this trip with 3 volunteers (who were strangers until I met them). I think somewhere deep inside I was happy as a woman. I felt like it was a big achievement. No doubt, I was being warned and cautioned about how tough it is for a woman in India to travel alone or with people unknown. I was narrated multiple cases where women were raped, molested and seen with wrong intentions in the places known and unknown. Like anyone else, listening to all of them scared me too but may be this time I wanted to take a trip for myself. More than trip, I wanted to experience that space for myself. The thought itself that I am going on a trip alone was so much powerful. In that moment I experienced freedom. I experienced independence.
The train journey was of 50 hours from Panvel (Mumbai) to Kamakhya (Guwahati) and 3 hours from Guwahati to Shillong. It was a special train running once a week. Watching the fields from window for hours, engaging in conversations with people, trying different food at different stations, listening to music, reading a book and penning down thoughts had its own beauty. The closer we were to our destination, the more excited we were. It was the time for sun set when we reached Kamakhya station. A cup of Assam ki chai was a relief.
Meghalaya is known as Scotland of the East. Also, ‘megh’ in Hindi means clouds and ‘alaya‘ means home which makes Meghalaya as ‘home to clouds‘. The organization with which I volunteered assigned us a task to conduct Science experiments in the schools majorly in the rural parts for which we received a two day training in Pune few months back. Initially we had 5 schools out of which 2 got cancelled because of their exam schedule. The remaining 3 were in a town called Jowai. This pretty town was 3 hours away from Shillong. We took a car early morning. Ear phones plugged into ears, the touch of cold breeze on face, eyes peeping outside the window of car on the lush greenery and huge mountains- I felt as if 3 hours passed away in few minutes.
We were facilitated by a guide. His name is Lomi. One such fun loving and amazing person. Trip would have been incomplete without him! Jowai was his hometown but he got married to a girl from Shillong hence, Shillong is his new home [Yes, you got it right, in Megahalaya husband’s go to their wife’s home after marriage]. Plinda, his wife is a pretty lady. To communicate with her our actions needed to be loud enough as she only understood Khasi. Khasi was the language of Khasi tribe. Garo and Khasi are two of the main languages spoken there.
In Jowai, while walking on street I was fascinated by houses! Rohit, my fellow traveller, being a designer by profession and an artist by heart would talk about structure and colours of those houses. He gave a different perspective to the things I otherwise would have looked at. Lomi took us for a walk to make us meet his sisters and friends. And at every 10 meter he would make us introduce to a new person. At the end of the day, we couldn’t keep a count of how many people we met! Such a friendly gesture it was. One thing was of clear notice, on the street I could see majority were women who were doing business. Some were selling fruits, some had paan shop and others were selling clothes. Also, all the ladies tied a cloth over their dress [yes, every lady, not a single one I could see without it!]. “What is this Lomi?”
“It is called Kyrshah, sister.”
“And why is every lady wearing it?”
“It is the traditional dress over here. From a young one to old lady, you will see everyone with this.”
“I like it! can I also wear it for next 2 days of my stay over here?”
“Why not? I will take you to my sister’s shop. She will choose the best one for you.” And for next two days I wore it. [yaeee! I felt so a happy and somewhere by wearing it I felt like a part of their life]. Lomi also tried to arrange local food for us everytime possible. I had saphoh– local fruit, saud– local dry fruit, ladew– Bananas in Khasi and how can I forget rice for almost every meal with vegetables as raw as possible.
We went to interiors of Jowai for next 3 days to cover 3 schools. Every school offered a different experience. As we didn’t know Khasi and students knew only little English, communication was fun. Again, we had to be loud with our actions. Also, as it was science experiments, language failed to be a barrier. While interacting with teachers separately, they mentioned their problems of lack of motivated staff, insufficient funding and not much emphasis on extra-curricular. Thus, they were really happy with our presence and said that students had lots of fun. It was such a nice feeling to get a feeling of home at a land miles away from home. It was rare for students to see people in their classroom from different parts of country. We actually had to draw map on blackboard and show which state we came from.
Tried to cover the places which I wrote in my list made from Google and Quora. Cheerapunji (place which receives or used to receive maximum rainfall in India), live root bridge (bridge made by roots of trees which is strong for around 500 years), Mawlynnong (cleanest village of Asia), Dawki (river on the border of Bangladesh and India with water so clear that you can see pebbles!) and many other places. In Mawnlynnong, I wanted to talk to a local person to know their version of cleanest village. Randomly asking a lady if we can visit her home, she agreed. She shared, “Tourists have increased after this village was declared cleanest village by one survey. Actually the sewage system is very good here. The population is not much.Now we earning by the way of tourism. It was a quiet place before that.“
“What is your name?“
“Property.” (She said laughingly) .
We also laughed with her an asked why. She said ” Because I am the youngest daughter of house and property in will is in my name. Thus my parents named me property.” Her hospitality touched us. Last 3 days we spent in Guwahati. One entire day we spent at Kamkhya Temple. Every person we met there was like ‘You must visit Kamakhya’. Thus to see what is so special there we decided to visit. We stood in queue at 8 a.m. in the morning and got entry inside the temple at 3 p.m! All these hours I had conversation with people from different places, observed Rohit drawing random sketches and read book. The moment we reached stairs, I could see how in every 10 minutes, one goat was sacrificed. It gave me goosebumps. Rest days we saw few temples, went to a Bird Sanctuary called Deepor Beel. Though there were no birds at that time but there was peace and silence. One could listen to the chirping of birds, the voice of stone when it thrown in water and see ripples. In the evening we visited few local bazaars.
The trip ended with a return journey of 50 hours in train. This time the compartment comprosing 8 people became like a family.
Meghalaya, you are beautiful. It is good idea to gift something to oneself. May be this trip was a reward to me for who I am, for the ups and downs I have faced in life, for all the failures and successes, dark days and happy ones.
(Khublei- Thank you in Khasi)