What are the things that come to your mind when you think about, Meghalaya, ‘the abode of clouds’? Wettest place on earth? Cleanest Village of Asia or Living root bridges (tell me in the comments!). To what I can remember vividly, our virtual world always serves us with exactly these places as the USPs of Meghalaya. To be honest, till about a week before I ventured into this mystic land, I had myself, never given a thought to visiting this land. I knew, there was something more, something exotic, less explored and perhaps life changing, but I just didn’t know what it would be. So, when I finally made up my mind to travel to Meghalaya, I signed up with Journeys with Meaning, a responsible and earth-friendly travel organizer which places emphasis on environmental issues, community building and sustainable tourism through a 11 day trip- ‘Into the Wild- Meghalaya.’ Away from the civilization, (there are hardly any mobile networks that work in the whole of Meghalaya, except in Shillong). This network less feeling meant, I was making perhaps some of the best moments of my life.
Below is my humble attempt to put a comprehensive guide on travel to Meghalaya, beyond the usual touristy stuff and inspire you to explore beyond what Google tells you about Meghalaya:
Leaving the to-do list behind: If you have been following my travels for some time now, you’ll realize that over the years, my travel style has evolved greatly. From living in posh 3/4/5 star luxury resorts, to camping in the wilderness, I am trying it all. I have started to discard my bucket-lists to immerse myself in more meaningful experiences, that stand to impact me deeply. And Meghalaya did not disappoint at that. Situated in the mysterious remote north eastern corners of India, Meghalaya has largely been off the average tourist grid. But times are changing fast and how! However, it is still very much pristine, wild and exotic if you trail off the much known places. We traveled to the East Khasi and War Jaintia hills, mostly and for the first time, I did not want to tick off places from my to-do list. I did not beat myself into visiting the places, that Google insisted I should. Instead, I decided to give the little hidden waterfalls, beautiful rock pools, edgy cliffs and abandoned trails, a chance to take me on a memorable journey.
Sky- gazing: Oh the beautiful, sometimes blue, sometimes pink, sometimes crimson canopy that lay over us. I don’t remember having seen such a star-studded night sky back in Mumbai or for that matter any other place I have traveled. I have had all the sunsets, sunrises and moon rise all by myself. The pollution free skies teased me into the vastness of the universe and its expanse.
Not knowing swimming, did not stop me: The 11 day routine, consisted of long, treacherous looking hikes by day and dipping my swollen feet in the cold waters of the rivers of Meghalaya, almost by noon. The soothing waters, caressed my feet and promised to keep my spirits up for the rest of the day. I couldn’t swim, but I could still feel the waters kissing my feet and moving me into another world of serenity, peace and calmness. The gurgling water sounds, interspersed with the natural cuckooing sounds of birds unknown, pacified me that there is hope beyond our daily frustrations, struggles and imaginations.
Cultural immersion in Meghalaya
As of now, I can safely say that, I have traveled quite a lot of my own country. However, I often ended up craving for more personal interactions with the locals, trying to understand their customs and traditions first hand. Slow travel, inevitably offered me an opportunity to do just that.
Learning stories of a generation: Since the focus was not on closing on a bucket list, Meghalaya offered me a glimpse into the life of Khasi tribes, upclose. Our time in Meghalaya, revolved around meeting locals, understanding their way of lives- how they were born, how they were raised, their love stories, kids, etc. The sheer kind of people I met- traditional yet progressive, blew away my mind. Belonging to a so-called ‘less developed’ world, did not stop them from thinking about issues such as global warming, inclusive growth, sustainable development, etc. And this is not a phenomena of today. Even the elders of the tribe, seem to have found the success to man’s true growth!
Understanding the local governance system: One of the experiences of this journey included, an interaction with a Headman of a cluster of villages in Meghalaya. Chewing red juicy betel nut, the guy veered at us intensely. He observed us carefully. Speaking in his local dialect, the man exhuberated a different sense of wisdom which was passed to him through his ancestors. His eyes, oozed a sense of pacification- as if he said- “I know you belong to the city. But I’m glad you are exploring my village. God bless you.” Unlike other villages in India, I learnt, Meghalaya doesn’t have any gram panchayats. Meghalaya, instead follows a system of ‘Durbaars’ represented by men of the villages. Each village has its Durbaar which eventually, forms a cluster of different villages reporting into a headman.
Weekly Local Bazaars: Every village has a weekly local bazaar, where they sell their organically grown fruits, vegetable, pickles, betel nut leaves, etc. to the near by villages or the plains of Bangladesh. Each village holds this bazaar on a different day, allowing each village to trade and make a living. One night, post dinner, I also had a chance to bundle together a few stacks of betel nuts for the ladies in a family. Those were then sold in the market next morning! That experienced revealed the agility of the local women as they quickly created stacks one after another, while I- the city girl, still struggled with my first ever stack of betel nut leaves! Oh, lord 😉
All good and bad things come to an end. Eventually my trip did too. However, something has moved me forever. Perhaps, in my evolution of travel, this would mark as a turning stone for my future travels. As I met some awesome people (a local named Morning Star, Lakhmi, our village homestay host or James Perry, a Canadian who married a Khasi woman and was another homestay host), meandered aimlessly with strangers from a different country (my co-travelers on this trip were 3 German ladies!) in some of the country’s deepest jungles, I was forced to ponder on my travels and the impact they are having on people surrounding me. I was reminded of discarding the plastic forever as I was pushed to try the local food, grown by the local farmers. I was left pondering about the rural-urban gap and whether my privileges really mean anything. The idea of homestays to immerse myself in the warm of a place, perhaps is one of the strongest thought that was born through the journey.
On the other hand, little things matter and charity begins at home were some of the other thoughts that were served hot. Why do we have to Instagram all the things we eat? Why name all the places, unexplored trails, hidden villages and risk spoiling the environment. Serendipity! Ah, perhaps this trip truly taught me the meaning of bumping into unseen, untouched pearls of this wonder called earth!
So, why do I recommend Journeys with Meaning?
Since, I am not an active proponent of solo traveling and understand the need of having somebody to share our travels, memories and journeys, I usually travel with groups of different people, philosophies, age and sensibilities. However, one that stood apart from the lot, is definitely this company. First, because I believe in what the company is trying to advocate- Eco friendly and sustainable travels which lend meaning to our life. Second, off course the fact that, the ideology further perpetuates concepts such as community preservation and community building. Third, the philosophy intends to go off the tourist grid and introduce people to meaningful travel concepts that will help us build a long-term sustainable world, one where everyone benefits.
Last but not the least, Vinod Sreedhar, the founder himself is an interesting guy 😉 He has been extensively traveling and shaping the new young Indian travelers mind and psyche about travels that keep the environmental harmony, fun and communities intact. He knows the places he travels to very well and personally enlightened me with concepts, I would never usually care to think about.
So, what about you? Have you ever traveled to a place which completely shook you off your heaven? Have you ever traveled to a place which charmed you, just as this did to me? 🙂