Friday, November 12, 2010

DAY 40 – Guwahati to Shillong

I had widely varying estimates on the time it would take to negotiate the 100 kms to Shillong; 2 hours to four hours. I started out at 7 am, hoping to beat the morning rush. The movement of freight is heavy on the Guwahati-Shillong two lane NH. There were numerous breakdown of vehicles and many accidents leading to innumerable hold ups en route. It took me more than four hours to reach Shillong. The density of trucks and the pollutants they spew along the way harm the environment. The trees and shrubs seem weighed down by the carcinogenic influence they have no option of being exposed to. Since all consumer items have to come from Guwahati and other parts of the country, the State should seriously consider the rail option, which is more eco friendly and fuel efficient. It will also give a fillip to tourism. En route to the city of Shillong is the magnificent Umiam Lake. It is hydro electric project, a water sports location and an adventure training centre for the Armed Force. There are fantastic views of the Lake to be had all along the way; the best I felt is the one on the road to the SOS Village.
My first destination in Shillong was the Don Bosco Centre for Indigenous Cultures – I was least prepared for what I experienced there. It is a seven storey Museum, symbolic of the ‘seven sisters’ of the North East. The Museum, which was opened in 2003, is well laid out, descriptions are vivid, lighting is superb, the collection is exhaustive and the figures on display are life like. Every floor has toilets and drinking water. Photography is prohibited except in two places – one is at a seat made of elephant bones and the second is at the ‘skywalk’, which affords a 360 degree view of Shillong. I saw some visitors struggling there without warm clothing and in leather shoes. Such modern Museums, showcasing local culture and heritage, should be done up in every State capital. It requires painstaking efforts by some organizations as the Don Bosco Salatians. Corporate entities would be more than willing to take up such an initiative, as part of their Social Responsibility. 
Meghalaya, ‘The Abode in the Skies’, has three major tribes – Khasi, Garo and Jaintia. The Khasi ladies wear a pinafore, called ‘Jain Kyrshah’, over the normal clothes they wear. This meets the twin objectives of modest dressing and keeping the inner dress clean. I was told that the local liquor brew is called ‘Ka Kiad’, a Vodka like drink, and very potent. It is officially prohibited. Betel leaf and areca are standard ‘consumption’ of ladies and gents alike. It stains their teeth and affects health in general. Beef and Pork with Rice is the staple. Khasi is the most widely spoken local language, but the lingua franca is English and Hindi.
In the evening I addressed a press meet at the Shillong Press Club. The response was quite encouraging and a couple of media persons wanted a follow up done over the next two days. I have now completed 40 days since I set out from Cochin on 1 October. This is effectively one third of the schedule and in the process I have covered 7500 kms.

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