Meghalaya – Overview
A beautiful state situated in north-eastern India, Meghalaya is most conducive for long holidays. Literally meaning, the ‘abode of clouds’, the enchanting state of Meghalaya presents many hues of nature. Amongst the variety of attractions, the hill station of Shillong has always been a hot favourite for tourists. Besides, over 300 varieties of orchids, two national parks housing some rare species of flora and fauna and the gentle hills interspersed with rich meadows and pine forests, add more to the mystic beauty of the state.
Looking like a hilly strip in the eastern part of India, Meghalaya has a total area of around 22,429 sq.kms and it is 300 kms long and 100 kms wide. The state is bounded by the Indian state of Assam on the north and Bangladesh on the south. Meghalaya consists of seven districts that include East Khasi Hills, West Khasi Hills, East Garo Hills, South Garo Hills, West Garo Hills, Jaintia Hills and Ri-Bhoi. According to 2001 census, the population of the state is 2,306,069. Shillong is the capital of the state, which has a population of around 2,60,000.
Take a trip to this magical land coming vacation and discover plethora of natural jewels on your own. On your trip, you will see the unique carnivorous plant – the Pitcher Plant, the blue vanda, lady’s slipper and other rare orchid varieties in the flower gardens of the state. In addition to these, the trek routes of the state will surely amaze you with their challenging paths and spectacular views.
Meghalaya – History
Earlier history of Meghalaya is mostly unknown. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Khasi, the Garos and Jaintia tribes had their own kingdoms in this region. In the 19th century, these kingdoms came under the British administration. Later, in 1835, the British incorporated Meghalaya into Assam. Due to a treaty relationship between the kingdoms and the British, the region enjoyed semi-independent status for several years.
Further, the Lushai tribe entered India from Burma and became the dominant tribe in the Lushai Hills region. In the early 19th century, the Lushai tribe came into conflict with the British and in 1895 the region was annexed to British India. The missionary activity was encouraged by the British among the tribes, as a result the Lushai and many other tribes converted to Christianity.
On 16 October, 1905, Bengal was partitioned by Lord Curzon and Meghalaya became a part of the new province of ‘Eastern Bengal and Assam’. Next, on 3rd January, 1921 in pursuance of Section 52 A of the Government of India Act of 1919, the Governor-General-in-Council declared the areas now in Meghalaya, except the Khasi states, as ‘backward tracts’. However, the Government of India Act of 1935 regrouped the backward tracts into two categories namely – ‘excluded’ and ‘partially excluded’ areas in place of ‘backward tracts’.
In 1947, at the time of India’s independence, Meghalaya constituted two districts of Assam and enjoyed limited autonomy within Assam state. The Assam Reorganization (Meghalaya) Act, 1969 provided an semi-autonomous status to Meghalaya which came into effect on 2nd April 1970. A semi-autonomous state of Meghalaya came into existence and the state had a Legislature in accordance with the 6th schedule to the Constitution. In the year 1971, the Parliament passed the North-Eastern Areas (Reorganization) Act, 1971, which conferred full-statehood to semi-autonomous state of Meghalya. On 21st January, 1972, Meghalaya attained statehood with a Legislative Assembly of its own.
Meghalaya – Tourist Destinations
Meghalaya is home to a number of picturesque destinations which offer a number of attractions for tourists. State capital, Shillong is a good tourist base as it is connected by air with Guwahati. In addition to this, Shillong houses several tourist attractions namely – Ward’s Lake, Lady Hyadri Park, Lewduh Market, Shillong Peak, Sohpetbneng Peak, Spreak Eagle Falls, Sweet Falls, Bishop Falls, Beadon Falls, Elephant Falls, Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians, All Saints Church and Butterfly Museum. Recommended tourist circuits for Meghalaya include Kaziranga- Guwahati – Shillong – Cherrapunjee – Shillong, Shillong – Mawphlang- Weilloi – Maysynram – Shillong, Shillong – Smit – Nartiang – Thadlaskein – Jowai – Thlu Umwi – Shillong and Guwahati – Dunai – Bajengdoba – Anoggre – Tura – Barengapara – Baghmara – Siju – Balpakram – Shillong.
Meghalaya – People & Culture
As per the census of 2001, the population of Meghalaya is 2,306,069. The tribes make around 85% of the state’s population which goes up to 97% in some interior reaches of the Garo Hills. About 15% of the population is non-tribal which include Bengalis and Shaikhs. The Jaintias, the Khasis and the Garos are the three main tribes of Meghalaya. Other groups include the Koch, Hajong, Dimasa, Hmar, Kuki, Lakhar, Mikir and Rabha. One of the unique features of Meghalaya is that majority of the tribal population follow a matrilineal system where lineage and inheritance are traced through women. Meghalaya is also one of three states in India having a Christian majority, other two are Nagaland and Mizoram.
Music, Crafts and Costumes of Meghalaya provide a glimpse of rich cultural heritage of the state. The tribal people sing folk songs during various occasions such as birth, marriage, festivals, love and heroic deeds accompanied with various types of drums and flutes. Beside, they also sing songs to praise the nature like hills, lakes, waterfalls, rivers and also to express their love for mother land. From ancient times, the tribals of Meghalaya are known for weaving cane mat, stools and baskets. The Khasis make a special kind of cane mat called ‘Tlieng’ and they also extract iron ore to make knives, utensils, guns and other warfare weapons. The Garos weave the material used for their traditional dress called the ‘Dakmanda’, besides, the Khasis and the Jaintias also weave their costumes. The tribes of Meghalaya have distinct type of costumes and jewellery, however, with the change of time the males have adopted the western code of dress while the ladies still carry the tradition of ethnic sartorial elegance.
Meghalaya – Cuisine
Most of the people in Meghalaya are non-vegetarian and they like cuisine prepared from meat, particularly pork. In fact, pork is Meghalaya’s staple meat and it is called as Dohsniang and beef Dohmasi. Jadoh, a spicy dish prepared from rice and pork is favourite among the people of the state. Shillong is famous for the local pork delicacies cooked in Khasi style. Besides, you can savour a variety of authentic Chinese food in Shillong. You can also taste Kyat, the local brew prepared from rice, at any bar spread all over Shillong.
Meghalaya – Fairs and Festivals
Fairs and festivals form an important part of Meghalaya. People of the state celebrate large number of fairs and festivals all through the year. Fairs and festivals of Meghalaya differ from district to district. People of Garo Hills celebrate festivals of Wangala Dance (November), Doregata Dance, Chambil Mesara or Pomelo Dance. Nongkrem Dance (November) and Shad Suk Mynsiem (April) are popular festivals of Khasi Hills. Important festivals of Jaintia Hills include Behdienkhlam (July) and Lahoo Dance. Other festivals celebrated by people of the state include Durga Puja (October – November) and Chritsmas (December).
Meghalaya – Caves
Meghalaya has more than 1000 caves, many of them unmapped and unexplored. Of the ones surveyed, five are amongst the longest caves in the Indian sub-continent. Krem Laitprah/ Um Im-Ladit is the longest cave which is 22.2 kms long and is located in Nongkhlieh Elaka of Jaintia Hills. Some of the important caves include Krem Mawmluh, Krem Phylutt, Soh Shympi, Krem (East Hills) Dam, Krem Kotsati, Krem Umshangktat, Krem Um-Lawan, Krem Lashing Krem Sweep, Siju Dobakkol, Dobakkol Chibe Nala, Telengkol- Balwakol and Bok Bak Dobakkol.
Meghalaya – Wildlife
About 9,496 sq.kms area of Meghalaya is under forest cover, which comprises 42.34% of the total geographical area of the state. Meghalaya is mostly covered by subtropical forests which are considered among the richest botanical habitats of Asia. The Meghalayan forests receive abundant rainfall and is home to a huge variety of floral and faunal species. A small portion of Meghalaya’s forest area consists of ‘sacred groves’ that harbour several rare plant and animal species. Meghalaya is referred as ‘orchid country’, it houses about 300 of varied species of orchid. Some of the rare species include the insect-eating Pitcher Plant, Wild Citrus and Pygmy Lily. You can see the orchids in forestland, gardens and nurseries of Meghalaya. Meghalaya Tourism Corporation has adopted the orchid as its symbol. Meghalaya also boasts of over 250 species of butterflies, about a quarter of all species found in the country.
Meghalaya has two national parks namely – the Norkek Biosphere Reserve and the Balaphakram National Park. Situated in the West Garo Hills, these wildlife sanctuaries are considered the most biodiversity rich sites in Meghalaya. In addition to these, Meghalaya has three wildlife sanctuaries – the Nongkhyllem Wildlife Sanctuary, the Bhagmara Sanctuary and the Siju Sanctuary. In the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries of Meghalaya you can spot a variety of wild animals that include elephants, deers, bears, civets, mongooses, weasels, gaurs, wild buffaloes, wild boars, lizards, crocodiles, tortoises and bird species like Magpie – Robin, Red-vented Bulbul, Hill Myna, Large Pied Hornbill, Large Indian Parakeet, Peacock Pheasant, Common Green Pigeon and Blue Jay. Meghalaya also houses a large variety of bats, the limestone caves in the state, such as the Siju Caves provide shelter to some of the rarest bat species.
Meghalaya – Adventure
Adventure is one of the important tourism aspects in the state of Meghalaya. Trekking and caving are two most popular adventure options which attract adventure seekers from all over the world to the state. Old mule track is one of the popular trekking routes in Meghalaya which had been built by David Scott. Popularly known as the David Scott’s Trail, it runs from the Borders of Assam, across Khasi Hills to the Bangladesh border. Other interesting options are Cherrapunjee to Pynursula or Krang to Pynursula. Jaintia hills offers a trek route from Nartiang to the plains of Bangladesh, the Balapakram national park also has a variety of treks which are ideal for wildlife treks. In addition to these, Meghalaya has a number of other trek routes. You can organize trekking in Meghalaya with advice from either the Tourism Department, Guides and tour operators.
Caving is another interesting adventure option in Meghalaya. For those who enjoy caving, Meghalaya is just the place for it. Over the year Meghalaya has become a dream destination for cavers from all over the world. In fact, caving is an art which need the skills of rock climbers and swimmers and plenty of physical fitness. If you are looking for caving in Meghalaya then you have to contact experienced cave guides.
Meghalaya – Shopping
Meghalaya is known for rich tradition of handicrafts which make for good shopping in the state. Weaving is an important part of the lives of the tribes which can be seen in the cane or cloth. Meghalaya has a huge forest area, since long past the tribes of the state have developed a heritage of woodcarving, cane and bamboo work. Some of the must buy include Wood carving, Jewellery, Pineapple fiber articles, Cane and bamboo work, Carpet and Silk weaving.
Bara Bazaar in Shillong is the best place for souvenirs. Here, you can buy mounted butterflies, handwoven shawls, Khasi dresses for women, black mushrooms, orange honey, pineapple, orange and other fruit products. In fact, Bara Bazaar is not just a shopping place but also a tourist attraction. Mounted butterflies are available at the Butterfly Museum at Mawkhar. Other shopping destinations are GS Road, Jail Road and Police Bazaar. Some of the popular shopping outlets are Meghalaya Handloom & Handicrafts, Manipur Emporium, Nagaland Handlooms & Handicrafts, Assam Emporium and Khadi Gram Udyog.
Meghalaya boasts of a moderate type of climate and it never becomes harsh. In summer, the temperature ranges from 15oC to 25oC and the weather remains pleasant. Winter is much colder, with the temperature ranging between 4oC to 16oC. The monsoon season drench the state from June to September. The hills of Meghalaya often remain covered by fog during this season.
Best Time to Visit
From September to April.
Meghalaya – Transportation
Airlines: Guwahati airport (Assam) at a distance of 128 kms is the nearest airport from state capital Shillong. From Guwahati airport, airlines operate several flights for important places of India. Taxis are available at Guwahati Airport for Shillong, the journey takes about 4 hours and it costs around Rs.1100.
Helicopter Service: A helicopter service operates daily between Guwahati, Shillong (30 mnts) and Tura (60 mnts). Some helicopter services to Shillong land at the ALG in Upper Shillong, while others land at Umroi airport, 35 kms away from the downtown. The Helicopter service is convenient and economical and the permitted baggage is 10 kg.
Railways: Guwahati railway station (103 kms) is the nearest railhead from Shillong. Several mail and superfast trains connect Guwahati with rest of the country. Meghalaya Transport Corporation (MTC) has bus services co-ordinated with train arrival at Guwahati railway station. Buses leave Guwahati from 6 am to 5 pm and the journey takes 3.5 hrs. Reciprocal services from Shillong also leave at the same time. Taxis are also available at Guwahati railway station for Shillong.
Roadways: National Highway No 40 and other state roads connect Shillong with Guwahati. Meghalaya State Transport Corporation and private operators have bus services to various places in Meghalaya and to the neighbouring states. Regular bus services are available from Guwahati to Shillong. In Guwahati, the buses leave from the main bus stand close to the railway station. The taxi stand is nearby, from where taxis and shared taxis are also available to Shillong. In Shillong, the bus terminal is located near Centre Point, the heart of town.