"Abode of the Clouds”, this is
Meghalaya, the destination which soothes the minds of weary travellers.
Clouds are always found during the monsoon season nestling in the
tropical forest valleys of Garo Hills or in the temperate pine forests
of the Khasi and Jaintia hills. Situated in the North Eastern corner
of India, Meghalaya is bounded by Assam in the north and east, and the
plains of Bangladesh in the south and west. The state covers an area
of 22,429 sq. kms with a population density of 78.5 per sq. km.
The name describes the
climatic phenomenon that brings torrential rain to its hills and
forests, these same hills and mountains are responsible for this
climatic experience as they force rain clouds coming in from the Bay of
Bengal to move up - resulting in heavy rain. The Cherrapunjee belt
receives the highest rainfall in the world.
The higher ranges of the Khasi/Jaintia
hills enjoy a cool, bracing, temperate climate while the winters can be
cold. The Garo hills on the other hand, is at a lower altitude, and has
tropical vegetation. The summer months in Tura, the administrative
capital of Garo hills, are warm and humid whereas winters are pleasant
with a slight chill.
Meghalaya became the 21st State of the
Indian Union, when it achieved full-fledged Statehood in 1972. Home to
the Khasi, Garo, Jaintia and some lesser known tribes, Meghalaya boasts
of a unique matrilineal lineage system practiced by all the three major
tribes with some degree of variation. Property is inherited by the
women, and the youngest daughter is the heiress of the ancestral
property in the Khasi/Jaintia tradition. The Garos have a slight
variation, if the youngest daughter is found not worthy, the property
may be given to any of the other daughters.
The Khasis and the Jaintias
predominantly inhabit the districts of Eastern Meghalaya. They are known
to be amongst the earliest ethnic group of settlers belonging to the
Proto Austroloid, Mon-Khmer race. The Jaintia Kingdom was a known
kingdom in bygone years with mention in the Ahom chronicles. The Garo
Hills are predominantly inhabited by the Garos, or as they prefer to
call themselves, the Achiks. Belonging to the Tibeto-Burman race, they
are said to have migrated from Western China via Tibet.
Traditionally, the Khasis believe that
their religion is God-given and not founded by man. It is Mono-Theistic
based on the belief of One Supreme God who is called ‘U Blei Nongthaw’.
Respect is paid to ancestors as they are believed to keep a watch over
the family. To the Khasi, life is God’s greatest gift and he therefore
has to account for it in the hereafter.
The Garos, like the Khasis, believe in
One Supreme God called ‘Rabuga’ who is the Sustainer and Commander of
the world. The spirits connected to the agricultural life are very
important to them and are appeased only by sacrifices and never
worshipped. However, many members of the Khasi, Garo and Jaintia
communities profess Christianity which was introduced in the middle of
the 19th century. Today one can see churches, temples, mosques,
gurudwaras and monastries in Meghalaya. By nature, the people of
Meghalaya are cheerful, hospitable, peaceful and social; something
reflected in their music, dance and sports.