Meghalaya State Information
Meghalaya or megh- cloud; alay- home; is a picturesque but tiny state in the northeastern region of India. As the state remained cut off from mainstream India for a long time due to some ethnic problems, it has been able to survive the onslaught of crass commercialization that has taken over other famous tourist centers of India. As is the name, the state receives heavy rainfall and two of the world’s wettest places are located in Meghalaya. Full of vibrant culture, tradition, great scenic beauty, and tranquility are some of the attractions of the state that can pull any tourist in.
Geography of Meghalaya
Meghalaya is located in the northeast region of India, and extends latitude 20°1’’N-26°5’’N and longitude 85°49’’E-92°52’’E. It extends for about 300 km in length and about 100 km in width. It is bounded on the north and east by the Indian state of Assam and on the south and west by Bangladesh. A compact and isolated state in the northeastern region of India, Meghalaya extends to 22,429 sq km of land. The landscape of Meghalaya is mostly rolling plateau with south-facing slopes being extremely steep. With the hill rising to 2,000 m, the state is cool despite its proximity to tropics. The state abounds in lakes and waterfalls. Meghalaya lies in a severe earthquake belt and it has already faced some of them in the centuries gone by.
Around 30% of total land in Meghalaya is under forest cover. Depending on the varied scales of rainfall at different parts of the year and at different altitudes and places, both tropical and temperate vegetation occur in Meghalaya. Different parts of many plants growing in Meghalaya have been put to medicinal use.
Brief History of Meghalaya
There is not much information on the history of Meghalaya apart from accounts of the more important Khasi kingdoms in the chronicles of the neighboring Ahoms and Kacharis.
The first written history of the state came into existence only after the British tried to construct a rail line through this area to connect Bengal and Assam that ultimately led to a treaty with the Khasi principality of Nonkhlaw. However, with the treaty came opposition, which forced the ruler to repudiate the treaty in 1829. This led to direct confrontation between Khasis and the British and by 1830s, the local rulers had submitted to the latter. The tribes continued their practices in seclusion until rulers of the region acceded to the newly independent country of India.
The region was included in the united province of Assam for administrative reason, which led to the agitation by the local population. The region was accorded full statehood on January 21, 1972.
Districts of Meghalaya
Meghalaya currently has 7 districts. These are: East Garo Hills, East Khasi Hills, Jaintia Hills, Ri-Bhoi, South Garo Hills, West Garo Hills and the West Khasi Hills.
Agriculture is the single largest source of livelihood of the majority of the rural masses and is the mainstay of the state’s economy. Besides the major food crop of rice and maize, Meghalaya is renowned for its oranges, pineapple, banana, jackfruits, and temperate fruits like plum, pears, and peaches.
Forests of Meghalaya are a treasure house of valuable products such a timber, fuel wood, fodder, resin, tannin, gums, shellac, fiber, latex, essential oils, fats, edible fruits, honey and a large number of medicinal plants. Timber trade forms an integral and vital element in the economy of Meghalaya. The forests of Meghalaya are a rich source of timber and the bulk of timber for trade originates from private forests. Some of the important tree species, which yield valuable timber for trade, are Khasi pine, sal, teak, and bamboos.
The Meghalaya is a storehouse of richly varied and colorful orchids with as many as 325 species, which grow all over the Khasi, Jaintia, and Garo Hills in the meadows, hill-slopes, and swamps, even on the wayside.
Bakeries, furniture making, iron and steel fabrication, tailoring, knitting, etc., are the major industries of Meghalaya.
Meghalaya Travel Information
Shillong, capital of the state and the largest city, is situated in the Khasi Hills. Shillong is the place to enjoy everything, starting from events, sightseeing, recreation, shopping, or unwinding oneself in a bar.
The city has a character which can be felt only after exploring around the city. Cherrapunji (58 km from Shillong), about two hours south of Shillong, was once the wettest place on earth. This honor is given today to Mawsynram, a stone throw further west. The area is lush green with waterfalls and an extensive underground cave network.
A popular picnic spot is the Mawjinbuim Cave (55 km off Shillong) where there is a stalagmite in the form of a Shiva lingam receiving steady drops of water from a stone formed like a breast. Jowai, the second biggest town in Meghalaya, is situated in the district of the Jaintias. It is the gateway to Nartiang, a delightful village further north that has a bizarre collection of druid stones. Today, it is an interesting park but a decade ago, human sacrifices were carried out.
The most dominating piece rising up to the sky with red spots on the gray granite carries the story of a boy who was tricked into a trap, offering his life to please the gods. Take a walk through the charming village. There is a monument dedicated to the first freedom fighter hanged by the British in 1862.
It is situated by a river surrounded by fields and pine forests and is inviting for a relaxing day’s walk. Other places to visit are Jakrem (66 km from Shillong), Nawphlang, Ranigodam, and Balpakram National Park.
Rivers of Meghalaya
In the Garo hills, the important rivers of the northern system from west to east are the Kalu, Ringgi, Chagua, Ajagar, Didram, Krishnai and Dudnai. Of these only the Krishnai and Kalu are navigable. The important rivers of the southern system are Daring, Sanda, Bandra, Bhogai, Dareng and Simsang. Simsang is the largest river in the Garo hills and navigable only for about 30 Km . Other navigable rivers are Nitai and the Bhupai. In the central and eastern section of the plateau the important northward flowing rivers are Umkhri, Digaru and Umiam and the south-flowing rivers are Kynchiang (Jadukata), Mawpa, Umiew or Barapani, Myngot and Myntdu.
It is also lies buried under the alluvium deposited by the Ganga-Brahmaputra system of rivers. This gap is known as Malda gap (between Raj Mahal hills/Chhota Nagpur and the Shillong Plateau
Education in Meghalaya
Meghalaya has an overall literacy rate of 63.31% according to the census conducted in 2001. The difference between the male literacy rate and female literacy is small with male literacy at 66.14% and female literacy at 60.41%. There is North Eastern Hill University, which has many affliated colleges. Other educational institutes of repute include Tura Sacred Heart Theological College and Mawlai St. Anthony College, Jowai Polytechnic, Shillong Assam Rifles Public School, St. Anthony's Higher Secondary School and St. Edmund's College.
Meghalaya people are very fond of Jadoh, a nourishing Biriyani clone. It is prepared with rice and pork. Another important cuisine is Pukhlein, a bland rice cake taken with piping hot tea. Ktungrymbai is a pungent mix of fermented beans and spices that adds the flavor to the simplest meal or festive spread.
Arts & Culture of Meghalaya
The people of Meghalaya are famous for their weaving skills and creating cane mats, stools, and baskets. They make a special kind of cane mat called tlieng, which guarantees a good utility of around 20-30 years. The Garos weave the material used for their costumes called the dakmanda. Khasis and Jaintias also weave cloth. The Khasis have also been involved in extracting iron ore and manufacturing domestic knives, utensils and even guns and other warfare weapons.
Dance & Music of Meghalaya
The Garos generally sing folk songs relating to birth, marriage, festivals, love, and heroic deeds to the accompaniments of different types of drums and flutes.
The Khasis and Jaintias are particularly fond of songs praising nature like lakes, waterfalls, hills, etc., and expressing love for their land. They use different types of musical instruments like drums, duitara, and instruments similar to guitar, flutes, pipes, and cymbals. Both males and females perform the Lahoo Dance. Attired in their best finery, usually two young men on either side of a woman, holding arms together, dance in step. In place of the usual drum and pipe, a cheerleader, usually a man gifted with the talent of impromptu recitation, recites couplets to the merriment of the audience.
Doregata Dance is another interesting dance where, while dancing, the women try to knock off the turbans of their male partner using their head. If the women succeed, it is followed by peals of laughter. The Chambil Mesara or Pomelo Dance is a solo dance-form that requires skill. The performer dangles a pomelo (a cord tied to the waist) and then hurls it around without any perceptible movement of the hips. Expert dancers can hurl two separate fruits hung on a cord.
Festivals of Meghalaya
Wangala (or dance of hundred drums) festival is an important event of the Garos. This festival marks the end of a period of toil, heralding a yield of good harvest. It is performed in honor of ‘Satyong’, the God of fertility. People, young and old, dressed in their colorful costumes and feathered headdress, dance to the beat of long cylindrical drums. Held annually in November, the festival lasts for a week.
Nongkrem Dance is a religious festival marked by thanksgiving to Almighty God for good harvest, peace, and prosperity of the community. It is held annually during October/November at Smit, the capital of the Khyrim Syiemship near Shillong. Men and women, both married and unmarried, perform the dance in the open. The women dressed in expensive silk costumes with heavy gold, silver, and coral ornaments dance in the inner circle of the arena. The men form an outer circle and dance to the accompaniment of music of flutes and drums.
An important feature of the festival is the ‘Pomblang’ or goat sacrifice offered by the subjects to the Syiem of Khyrim, the administrative head of the Hima (Khasi state). Ka Syiem Sad, the eldest sister of the king, is the chief priest and caretaker of all ceremonies. The festival is conducted along with the Myntries (ministers), priests, and high priest where offerings are made to ancestors of the ruling clan and the deity of Shillong. One of the most important festivals of the Khasis is Ka Shad Suk Mynsiem (or dance of the joyful heart). It is an annual thanksgiving dance held in Shillong in April. Men and women, dressed in traditional fineries, dance to the accompaniment of drums and the flute. The festival lasts for three days.
Costumes of Meghalaya
The three major tribes of Meghalaya have distinct costumes and jewelry. The traditional costume of this place is the ‘Jainsem’ and the ‘Dhara’, though the younger generation has now taken to Western clothes.
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