Little wonder that the Meghalaya hills (so aptly 'the abode of the clouds') have
continued to mesmerize the itinerant traveler down the centuries. Clubbed with
its extravagant expanses of natural beauty, the hospitable people and their
fascinating culture, it is perfect for an extended sojourn. It's also the reason
why Shillong, the state's capital, is such a popular holiday destination for
people from home and abroad.
Meghalaya, one of India's youngest states after its split from Assam, shares borderlines with Assam and Bangladesh. It may be a dazzling mosaic of cross-cultural diversity today in its busy townships, but its original settlers made their homes in habitations that clung to the misty heights and verdant lowlands of the Garo, Jaintia and Khasi hills. The Garos of the Bodo family of Tibeto-Burman stock reside in the Garo hills, the Khasis of the Mon-Khmer group and famed for their great stone memorials and the Jaintias who migrated from Southeast Asia settled in the northern and southern plains.
The people of this 'abode of the clouds', are deeply wedded to their ancient traditions, despite the influence of invasive societies down the centuries. Today, the people may speak English and a majority of the populace practice Christianity, but the music of the Khasi and Jantia Hill is a seamless blend of western and tribal culture - a befitting message of the yearning to return to ones roots in a rapidly changing world.
Agriculturists by tradition, the people of Meghalaya are also reputed for their weaving skills. And though hard working, they also know how to enjoy themselves with an excellent repertoire of music, dance and good food. The finest moments of these pleasurable activities are showcased during the run of festivals all year round, when the music is at its sweetest and the rice beer flows freely. The deep attachment the people of Meghalaya have to their land and ancient traditions is best represented by the common cultural mores, of which the most unique is the matrilineal law, which governs lineage and ancestral inheritance through the female line.
The colonial influence on this lovely land run deep even today. When the British ruled India, Shillong in the mid-1800s became a refuge for them from the heat and dust of the plains. Its misty hills, verdant glens and glassy lakes were a welcome reminder of Scotland to these homesick expatriates. In time, this British garrison town became a great education centre and as the Christian missions came to be established amidst its people, Meghalaya built up a dazzling tradition of church music, which married well with the people's natural affinity to song and dance. With the arrival of the British, the state saw an influx of Bengalis who came in as administrators; the Nepalese, who served in the military and the Marwaris who cashed in the commercial elements with their expertise as traders.
It comes as no surprise that Meghalaya with its dazzling vistas, intriguing caves and sacred groves, over 300 varieties of orchids - some of them rare, two national parks harboring world - endangered species, pleasure-giving water bodies and being home to one of the wettest places on earth, holds all kinds of enticements for the holidaymaker. Add to this, the run of colorful festivals, music and dance, shopping possibilities and a friendly people - and you have the makings of a superlative holiday destination.