It is so unfortunate that we Indians so conveniently label anyone belonging to the Mongoloid race as North Easterners. The North East is a very diverse and heterogeneous place. Each of the ‘Seven Sisters’ have their own languages, tribes, dialects, culture and history. Any write up focusing on the north east points at how that particular geographic locale has remained largely inaccessible and how and why it has never been able to break into the national psyche. I wish to instead redirect the attention of how it is the ‘mainland’ Indians who haven’t been able to reciprocate the feelings of inclusiveness and fraternity with our fellow countrymen from the ‘north-east’.
With the accumulated baggage of cultural stereotypes and tradition of the dead generations weighing like a mountain upon my mind, I travelled to Shillong. Shillong is a 2 hour drive up through the hills from Guwahati which is the sole city accessible to other parts of ‘mainland India’ by road, air and rail. The drive to Shillong is a surprisingly good one, with the drive interspersed by stops to gorge on fresh pineapples. To state the cliché that the people are extremely friendly and welcoming would be to state the mundane and would also be an understatement.
Meghalaya is one of the most prosperous and peaceful states among the Seven sisters. The common misconception of the north east is that of a highly unsafe, underdeveloped and remote place. For a local the most irritating thing has to be the constant questioning of tourists particularly the fellow Indians regarding the security situation in the region. The best response I heard to that question was the cumulative crime rate in the entire region was lower than the crime rate in New Delhi. The mainstream Indian media has to bear the large portion of the guilt in the false depictions of the security scene in the region which adversely affects tourism. Just like any other region in our country the north east too has its fair share of problems but instead of aiming at diffusing the security situation incorrect portrayal only results in greater alienation of the people of the region.
The city of Shillong is a particularly beautiful one, with picture perfect hills as its backdrop and scenic valleys. True to my expectation the cultural atmosphere of the city is similar to a rock band’s album cover. The Christian Missionaries brought along with English language to the city also the cultural heritage of the west. Shillong is placed uniquely in the list of those cities having a delicate balance between retaining their tribal ethnicity and incorporating other traditions too. Cherrapunji, arguably the wettest place on earth (some say Mowsinram), is an hour’s drive from the city and what a drive it is! With gurgling springs, grassy gentle slopes, children playing football on the carpeted grass, older folk smoking a cigarette and gently ambling along the road, the entire drive is akin to a visual orgasm. All along the drive there are countless waterfalls small and big. For an eye accustomed to view only tasteless malls and large glass covered skyscrapers, the drive provides an alternate way of living in sync with nature.
Shillong is connected to all other important cities of the region, even to Tawang by helicopter service. Its infrastructure is sufficient to handle the tourist influx. Accommodations vary from the luxury hotels to the budget ones. For those literarily inclined, they might want to try staying at Tripura Palace. The place has both historic and literary weight to it, for it was here that Tagore completed Shakuntala. Meghalaya also has the country’s lowest tax on alcohol, for those who enjoy their drinks you are sure to have a great time. Enjoy your Happy Hours 24/7. For a unique tourist experience devoid of any commercialization and to breathe in air as pure as you are likely to get anywhere in the world, visit Shillong.
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfoto/2044674039/]