After the Raïka, the Poraja and the Santals, here I am with the Khasis, a community settled in the Meghalaya, a region of very humid hills that borders Bangladesh. As soon as we set foot in Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya, it was impossible to ignore that we are in Khasi land as most restaurant signs indicate the presence of Khasi dishes on the menu. I do not promise to taste all the local specialties, like the Jadoh, rice cooked in pig blood!
The saris are also rarer, often replaced by dresses, skirts or a checkered fabric shorter than a sari, knotted differently. Shillong is a wonderful city, but is very, very cold here! This is a kind of mantra that feels a bit everywhere here in the North East, but the city is actually much less beautiful than what is described. After 3 hours of travel by taxi, we arrive when it is already dark and we quickly choose a hotel. After a night spent, we explore Shillong.
After a good meal in a downtown restaurant, we take a Taxi to tour the city and visit interesting sites. Anyway I spent there a week of pleasant idleness, fooling around the town. I especially liked the young and carefree atmosphere, very different from the typical Indian cities. I met many interesting people, tourists from Calcutta, clubs, students, military, and I ate really well.
Shillong is the state capital which was long the headquarters of the British colonialists in this area, which at the time was all in the state of Assam. The British famously resented the tropical climate of the Indian plains and found Shillong a very similar place like Northern Europe, with a cool climate in summer and quite cold in the winter and an almost alpine vegetation.
After independence the city unfortunately rapidly transformed into the classic Indian concrete jungle and many of the historic colonial-style buildings were practically swallowed up by the forests of ugly apartment blocks or adapted to barracks or government buildings. No doubt, however compared to other Indian capital cities, it is very enjoyable and still retains a British tone, with beautiful parks, tree-lined streets and a few colonial-era villas.
What attracts tourists here is primarily the modern, fresh and civil atmosphere. The main attractions are the numerous waterfalls. On my first day in Shillong, I was struck by the ubiquity of churches and Christian symbols. I could see that the mass was held both in English and Khasi in the cathedral of the city.
There is still a museum to visit, the Don Bosco museum. It highlights the tribes of the northeast and is the largest museum of this type in this part of Asia. We visit the Shillong Peak that offers a panoramic view of the city followed by the Elephant Falls is a waterfall nearby, the Catholic Church and several other less interesting stuff like the Lady Hydari Park Zoo and the Wards Lake.
We visit the extraordinary bara bazaar market interlacing with lanes which each has its specialty like fruits, vegetables, tobacco, iron, fish, meat, textile, bamboo and sugar. Here is played a unique game called the Siat Khnam which means pull-bow in Khasi language. Every day thousands of players bet a number on each round. There are 2 rounds. At each turn around 20 players simultaneously shoots dozens of arrow on a bamboo target for about 3 minutes. Then each arrow that reaches the target is grouped and then counted, and the last two digits of the total of all the arrows is the winning number.
We also attend the Nongkrem Dance festival, the annual big festival where the Khasis thank God for the harvest, with many songs and dances, as well as sacrifices of roosters and goats. The unmarried girls wear magnificent silk garments for these dances.
As the driver offered us a competitive rate and he was friendly, we leave with him immediately to Cherrapunjee.