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Meghalaya, India: Paradise above the clouds

February 4, 2013 - Graham Land

VISITING somewhere with the monickers “the wettest place on Earth” and “the Scotland of the East” may not be on top of most people’s list when deciding on an exotic adventure holiday. But the state of Meghalaya in northeastern India offers rare charms and a notable lack of foreign tourists. Starting to sound better already? Then read on…

Barapani Lake. Pic: Tharaq Andrews (Flickr CC).

Forget package tours, beaches and luxury hotels. This is a DIY vacation in a largely unspoiled environment with a terrain and culture of which little-known is outside of the subcontinent. It’s a place for eco-tourism, hiking, trekking, nature exploration, mountain climbing and water sports. The forests of the region are exceptional in their high biodiversity for both flora and fauna.

Get there by flying into the state capital of Shillong or taking the train from Calcutta to Guwahati in Assam state (100km from Shillong) and then catching a taxi or bus.

Even if you like rain, you’ll want to plan your trip outside of the monsoon season, which runs from June to September. The northeast of India gets the most rain in the country during this time and parts of Meghalaya, notably the tourist hotspot of Cherrapunjee, can receive over 20 times the yearly rainfall of London.

Cherrapunjee (aka Sohra), like much of the state, is hilly and very green. It is famed for its tree root bridges, which pass over rivers and gorges. The bridges are constructed by local tribals out of the living roots of a type of ficus and can last up to 500 years. If the roots were not alive, the bridges would soon rot in such a wet climate.

From an informative piece in the Guardian:

We followed the path, turned a corner and entered Middle Earth. There before us was something from the set of The Hobbit, a bridge made out of a living tree. Its twisted roots formed the base, sides and supports of the 20m span across the river. It looked completely natural and completely insane at the same time, as if the tree had decided one day to go on an unexpected journey. I half-expected to see Bilbo Baggins scuttle across on his way to Rivendell.

Cherrapunjee. Pic: t.saldanha (Flickr CC)

Another curiosity about Meghalaya is the matrilineal culture of the majority of its tribal peoples, particularly the Khasis. In a country where female infanticide and sex-selective abortion are rife, female births in Meghalaya are welcomed, partly because women traditionally inherit familial wealth, land and property. There is even a movement for men’s rights in the state which opposes this system. Its president is quoted in a BBC News article:

[We] do not want to bring women down. We just want to bring the men up to where the women are. [...] If you want to know how much the Khasis favour women just take a trip to the labour ward at the hospital. If it’s a girl, there will be great cheers from the family outside. If it’s a boy, you will hear them mutter politely that, ‘Whatever God gives us is quite all right.’

Things are not completely topsy-turvy gender wise, however. Men still control most of the politics in the region.

Meghalaya facts and tips

  • Meghalaya is home to extremely dense sub-tropical forests, 2 national parks and 3 wildlife sanctuaries.
  • The forests are home to the rare and fascinating slow loris along with deer and bear.
  • It is one of the wettest places on Earth, receiving 12 meters (39 feet) of rain annually.
  • Meghalaya’s society is matrilineal. Women control family finances, inherit the property and children take their mother’s name.
  • The majority (70.3%) of the population are Christians, with the remaining practicing Animism (11.5%), Hinduism (13.3%) and Islam (4.3%).
  • Though considered the safest state in the northeast, there are concerns about crime and tribal insurgency. However, these are mostly confined to the western part of the Meghalaya.
  • Water sports are a popular pass time, and visits to several beautiful waterfalls (as well as hot springs) are encouraged.

For more information on Meghalaya check out these sites:

Official Meghalaya Tourism site

Meghalaya Forest & Environment Department

Find accommodation in Meghalaya to suit your budget at Agoda.com

Tribal dancers. Pic: Tharaq Andrews (Flickr CC)

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