Meghalaya, one of India’s smallest states, occupies the plateau and rolling hills between Assam and Bangladesh. Its people are predominantly Christian, belonging to three main ethnic groups, the Garos, Jaintias and the matriarchal Khasis – throughout these hills, women do most of the work and the household management. The state has a high literacy rate and teaching is in English. Much of Meghalaya (“the land of the rainclouds”) is covered with lush forests, rich in orchids; these “blue hills” bear the brunt of the Bay of Bengal’s monsoon-laden winds and are among the wettest places on earth. Stupendous waterfalls are a standard feature of the state, many to be seen on the outskirts of the capital, Shillong; however, the most dramatic of these plummet from the plateau to the south, around Cherrapunjee.
Meghalaya’s hills rise to almost 2000m, making for a pleasantly cool year-round climate. The Jaintia Hills offer good walking and caving, and the state is laced with historical sights such as Nartiang near Jowai, which has an impressive collection of monoliths. Elsewhere, the sacred forests, crucibles of biodiversity to be found throughout the Khasi Hills, remain jealously protected. To the south of Shillong, walks through pristine forests and across one of the most intriguing features of the region, the living root bridges around the village of Mawlynnong, make the East Khasi Hills one of the highlights of the Northeast. Although the state has seen its share of political turmoil since its inception in 1972, all in all Meghalaya remains a charming land of misty forests and hospitable people.Read More
With its rolling hills of conifers and pineapple shrubs, SHILLONG was known to the British as “the Scotland of the East” – an impression first brought to mind by Barapani (or Umiam), the picturesque loch-like reservoir 23km from town on the Guwahati highway, and the sight of the local Khasi women wearing gingham and tartan shawls. At an altitude of around 1500m, Shillong became a popular hill station for the British, who built it on the site of a thousand-year-old Khasi settlement and made it Assam’s capital in 1874.
Sadly, with uncontrolled growth, choking traffic jams and water shortages – despite the rain – the city today has lost much of its charm. Some of the original Victorian town around the centre, known as the European Ward, however, is still preserved, with garden villas and the sylvan environs of Ward Lake. North of the polo ground is one of Asia’s oldest golf courses, founded in 1898 by a group of British civil servants.
A local sport and popular gambling tradition, siat khnam involves teams of Khasi men firing arrows at a target while punters throughout the city bet on the final two digits of the total. Daily games start around 3.30pm opposite Nehru Stadium. Of the town’s markets, including the busy Police Bazaar in the centre, the Iewduh (Mon–Sat) or Bara Bazaar, is Meghalaya’s oldest and most traditional market, run mainly by women. The Shillong Autumn Festival (w shillongautumnfestival.com), held at Umiam Lake every November, combines traditional cultural dance and music from all over the northeast with contemporary music and culminates in a rock concert by the lake.