In these miserable times when we are cooped up in our homes due to the raging second wave of the pandemic in India, memories provide relief while browsing through photos of travel in normal times. Thanks to Facebook, Memories surface weekly. This week I was surprised by posts of our trip to Meghalaya, one of the North Eastern states, exactly 6 years ago.
Meghalaya means ‘Home of the clouds’! Megha is a cloud and Alaya means home! And it literally is that. It rains almost throughout the year. A little town called Cherrapunji located in the East Khasi Hills district in Meghalaya is credited to have the maximum rainfall in the world. We had visited Cherrapunji earlier about a few decades ago. In that visit we stood on a hill overlooking another hill which was supposed to have a waterfall! But we could see nothing as a dense layer of clouds engulfed the hill and us. This is a common phenomenon in that area. My father-in-law said he had been there many times, but never got to see the water fall. We waited patiently for almost a hour enjoying the beauty of nature and suddenly the clouds lifted! We could see the beautiful waterfall not very far from us on the opposite hill! Megha-Alaya for sure!
As we entered the hills of Meghalaya, we were greeted by the lash of strong winds and rains. The entire trip and the beauty of the hills reminded of the title of the 1939 novel by Richard Llewellyn, ‘How green was my Valley’! How green were the hills!
On our trip 6 years ago we did not visit Cherrapunji again, but had the good fortune to visit and experience the beauty of another waterfall. The Elephant Falls! Unlike Cherrapunji, there was no cloud cover and the falls were very much visible and beautiful. Not to mention the extremely pleasant weather! We experienced the beauty of this waterfall from the bridge on top of the fall. Then we descended into the little stream formed by the waterfall. Why Elephant Falls? Probably because the rock formation around the fall looked like an Elephant!! This was a three tier fall and we were at the third, the lowest and steepest part of the fall, where it formed a little lake and flowed downstream.
We visited Kon (Sister) Hilda In her home in the East Khasi Hills district, south of Shillong, if my memory is right. Her home, like most houses on these hills, stood on stilts. My guess is it allowed the rain waters to flow below the house and not destroy it in the strong currents as it rains most of the year. At Kon Hilda’s home we had two little hosts as well. The mud floor was covered by a hand woven mat of grass or bamboo. There was a smoking Chula (wood burning stove) behind the kids. The little girl helped her mother to make and serve tea to the guests.
The house on stilts had very interesting places to store things. We noted wood pieces of various sizes, firewood perhaps used in the Chula, stored under the roof. In the verandah in front of the house there was an interesting shoe stand under the roof, very safe indeed. The toilet with a septic tank, constructed with government subsidy, was at a distance from the house on their homestead.
Our host Kon Hilda cultivated broom grass and made brooms for sale. She gifted us these brooms which we proudly hold here. We and the men, proudly holding on to our newly acquired brooms, did not join the AAP party. AAP is a political party, currently in power in the state of Delhi, whose election symbol is a broom! The AAP party had just done well in the state and that was our group’s joke when this photo was clicked.
As we travelled around the area we saw few hills having terraced cultivation. The slope of the land and the effort involved perhaps restricted the use of this method of cultivation. We were also sadly witness to the environmental degradation with deforestation showing up as brown patches on the hills.
To add to the man made disaster, there were quarries on the hills and road construction all adding to deforestation. Since the few decades of my last visit to Meghalaya, ‘How Green WAS my Valley’ and ‘How green WERE my hills’. is the reality
And so ended our wonderful visit to Meghalaya. We were glad to see the natural surrounding, meet the local people and learn about their lives. But we were sad to see the destruction being created by man in his search for wealth and ‘development’. Now I am happy to share these memories with you my friends.