URBAN CHARACTER OF SHILLONG
After two days in Guwahati, the next stop was Shillong, capital of the beautiful state of Meghalaya. We drove from Guwahati to Shillong and it took pretty much the entire day as we reached Shillong in the evening just as it got dark. We were staying at a hotel called Centre Point and as the name suggests, it was right in the centre of the town. After checking in we went out to the town square. It is a busy commercial area with shops, restaurants and hotels. The thing that strikes almost immediately is how commercialised the place is. One of the first things I saw was a Subway and a lot of other branded shops and restaurants. The rest of the evening was spent in the hotel as we had plans to go to Cherrapunji the next day.
Cherrapunji is about 50 km from Shillong and is the traditional capital of the Khasi tribe. It was known as Sohra originally and is known for the amount of rain it gets. It receives more than 400 inches of rain every year and was once the wettest place on earth, a title now held by Mawsynram. Despite so much rain, Cherrapunji has an acute water shortage problem. The rainwater is not harnessed and hence its maximum potential is not utilised. Much of it drains off due to the terrain.
The most popular places of attraction are the waterfalls. Most were dry or reduced to a trickle as a result of winter.
We passed by an eco park and stopped to look at it. There was nothing much there. Either it was unfinished or nobody put any effort into it. Overall it was a very uninspired, generic park with nothing going on for it.
We didn’t spend much time in Cherrapunji and came back to Shillong where we met a couple of musicians playing in our hotel who took us out for drinks and let me pick their brains about the culture, language, traditions, etc of Meghalaya. They told us about a few interesting places to visit and even arranged for a local guide to show us around the next day. I am glad we ran into them as I learnt so much that day.
THE LIVING ROOT BRIDGE
The next day we were going to Mawlynnong and to the living root bridge. The living root bridge is not built but grown. There is a particular rubber tree with a strong secondary root system which grows from its trunks. The War-Khasis, a tribe from the region recognised this particular characteristic of the trees and directed the roots with a reinforcement system made of betel nut trunks to form bridges. Some of these bridges are about 500 years old and still thriving because they keep growing and get stronger with time. There are two such bridges in the area, a double decker and a single decker. The double decker was a few kilometres away by walk but since we were short on time, could only manage to see the single decker. It was fascinating. A bridge made of roots and yet so strong.
Next was Mawlynnong village. It is declared the ‘cleanest village in Asia’. The villagers were awarded this title after they took initiative to clean up their home. This has done a lot to boost tourism in the village, which in turn is increasing the standard of living of the residents. There were a few children playing in the park and I went to speak to them. There was one girl who was eager to tell us about herself. She was visiting her grandparents for the winter vacation. She lived in Shillong with her parents and siblings and plans to be a doctor one day. Hearing this made me feel very very good. A small village tucked away in the hills in a remote part of the country decided to do something to move ahead and have succeeded greatly. It was a very informative and eye opening trip.