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Meghalaya: The Abode of Clouds

Literally known as 'the abode of clouds', Meghalaya is a hilly state landlocked between Assam and Bangladesh, abounding breathtaking scenic beauty coupled with a bracing climate.

india Updated: Feb 20, 2003 13:35 IST

Literally known as 'the abode of clouds', Meghalaya is a hilly state landlocked between Assam and Bangladesh, abounding breathtaking scenic beauty coupled with a bracing climate. But it's the diverse cultural heritage and distinctive features of its tribal community life that bear the testimony of unity in diversity.

This 22,000 sq kms of lush green land,with the undulating Khasi, Garo and Jaintia hills and barely navigable rivers, is quite unlike other hill stations.

Meghalaya is a source of inspiration to any poet, a dramatic canvas for an artist's dream, and the ideal retreat for people in search of beauty and solitude.

Tucked away in the hills of eastern sub-Himalayas is Meghalaya, it has been blessed with virgin forests, high plateaus, tumbling waterfalls, crystal clear rivers, meandering streamlets and above all with sturdy, intelligent and hospitable people.

Emergence of Meghalaya as an Autonomous State on 2nd April 1970 and as a full-fledged State on 21st January 1972 marked the beginning of a new era of the geo-political history of North Eastern India. It also marked the triumph of democracy, negotiations andvictory over violence and intrigue.

It is bounded on the north by Goalpara, Kamrup and Nowgong districts, on the east by Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills districts, all of Assam, and on the south and west by Bangladesh.

Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya is located at an altitude of 1496 metres above sea level. Shillong, which was made Assam's capital in 1874, remained so till January 1972, following the formation of Meghalaya. The capital city derives its name from the manifestation of the creator called Shyllong.

Meghalaya is subject to vagaries of the monsoon. The climate varies with altitude. The climate of Khasi and Jaintia Hills is uniquely pleasant and bracing. It is neither too warm in summer nor too cold in winter, but over the plains of Garo Hills, the climate is warm and humid, except in winter.

The Meghalayan sky seldom remains free of clouds. The average annual rainfall is about 2600 mm over western Meghalaya, between 2500 to 3000 mm over northern Meghalaya and about 4000 mm over south-eastern Meghalaya. There is a great variation of rainfall over central and southern Meghalaya. At Sohra (Cherrapunji), the average annual rainfall is as high as 12000 millimetres, but Shillong located at a distance of about fifty kilometres from Sohra receives an average of 2200 mm of rainfall annually.

Meghalaya is the homeland mainly of the Khasis, the Jaintias and the Garos. The Garos inhabit western Meghalaya, the Khasis in central Meghalaya, and the Jaintias in eastern Meghalaya. The Khasi, Jaintia, Bhoi, War, collectively known as the Hynniewtrep people predominantly inhabit the districts East of Meghalaya, also known to be one of the earliest ethnic group of settlers in the Indian sub-continent, belonging to the Proto Austroloid Monkhmer race.

The Garo Hills is predominantly inhabited by the Garos, belonging to the Bodo family of the Tibeto-Burman race, said to have migrated from Tibet. The Garos prefer to call themselves as Achiks and the land they inhabit, as the Achik-land.

Struggle against British

The British came to Sylhet in 1765. At that time the Khasis used to come at Pandua on border of Sylhet to trade in silk, cotton goods, iron, wax, honey and ivory in exchange for rice, salt and dried fish. Limestone from the Khasi hills used to fulfil the demand in the then Bengal. Soon British officials of the East India Company began trading in limestone and thus came in contact with the Khasis.

In 1824, the Burmese invaded Cachar and also appeared at the border of the Jaintia Hills. The British sent a small force to reinforce the Jaintia Rajah’s troops. On 10th March 1824, a friendship treaty was signed by the Rajah accepting the protection of the British. Other Khasi chiefs also allowed the passage of the British troops through their territories.

After the Burmese invasion, British demanded a corridor through the Khasi and the Jaintia Hills to connect Assam valley with Surma valley. Most of Khasi chiefs agreed, and the road was completed in March 1929, but only after quelling an upheaval by U Tirot Sing. The story that followed after putting down the uprising by U Tirot Sing was the signing of several treaties with different Khasi chiefs. In 1862 the Jaintias revolted under U Kiang Nongbah. By virtue of these treaties, the British gradually took control of the mineral deposits and side by side subjugated the chiefs and also took control of judiciary.