The NF Railway ORH and Holiday Home were constructed in 1938 in the Labang area of Shillong, which has many colonial buildings in good condition. However, concrete is everywhere. The extension to the ORH and the Holiday Home was done in 2005. I vacated the ORH a day in advance on account of a VIP visit. Alternate accommodation was arranged in the Silk Route Hotel by the COM, NFR.
The Elephant Falls was originally called the ‘Three Steps Water Falls’ by the Khasis because the water falls in three levels. The British later named it the Elephant Falls as there was a rock by the side of the Falls that resembled an elephant. The name stuck, despite the fact that the rock was destroyed by an earthquake in 1897! The Falls must be an imposing sight during the monsoon. At the entrance to the Falls there is a shop where they will dress you up in a Khasi dress and give you instant photographs. Seven ladies from Dhuliajan were also there for a group picture. By the time I got dressed, four of them also got dressed. Apart from an individual photo I also got one done with four of them – a Raja with four Ranis, according to my guide, Francis!
The Shillong Peak at nearly 6000 feet is where tourists head for an impressive view of Shillong. The entrance to the Peak is controlled by the Air Force. I understand that an alternate road is under consideration as the controls imposed by the Air Force have led to clashes in the recent past. On a clear day, the snow capped mountains of the Arunachal Range can be seen from the Peak. On the approach to the Peak vegetables like Knol Knol, Potato, Horse Radish, Cauliflower and Cabbage are grown. The work in the fields is mostly done by women. While returning from the Peak I picked up some fresh vegetables – straight from the fields – for friends.
Mr Donald D Ingtty was the Commissioner of Customs in Cochin when I joined DP World. An unassuming person who shares my passion for travel and friendship, I struck a positive chord with him almost the instant I met him. The number of path breaking initiatives he put in place in Cochin is normally only a matter of dreams – the Pre-stage, the ON-wheel examination ramp, the movement to Concor, transshipment procedures, et al. Once he was convinced that it is the right way to go, nobody could come in the way. He was posted to the NE last year and got promoted as Chief Commissioner for the NE in Shillong. I visited him in the CC’s Office; he gave me valuable inputs on the places to visit and clarification of certain routes in the NE. Mr Ingtty had also committed the services of Tashi, Inspector, and Francis, Sepoy, to guide me around in Meghalaya. I accepted his dinner invitation, which he promised would be a fare of ethnic cuisine.
The PCN TV is a popular local channel. They cover 4 of the 7 districts of Meghalaya. Martin, the PCN rep, had participated in the Press Meet. He wanted to do a proper feature with additional shoots and an interview. I had planned to visit Lumshohpetbneng, which according to Khasi belief is the alimentary canal that connects Heaven to Earth. Martin and his camera man joined me for the trip. Even though it was only five kms from the highway, the drive was most adventurous through jungle and almost non-existent roads. But once we reached the top of the hill I understood the reason for the Khasi belief – the sky seems just a handshaking distance away and the clouds waft below you! The Orchid Hotel in the JN Park premises is where we went to for a cup of tea and some sandwiches. I was appalled by the poor service and hygiene, especially since the people of Meghalaya are service oriented. I guess government employees, anywhere in the country, have the same attitude to work and customers. The interview was done in the JN Park, with the scenic Umiam Lake in the background. The questions ranged from my experience on the road to impressions on Meghalaya. Returning from Umiam we hit the most impossible traffic blocks in Shillong. All my plans for the evening went haywire. I somehow managed to visit the Cathedral – a beautiful church, getting readied for a wedding, and an excellent grotto of Our Lady. The Delhi Mistan Bhandar is a must visit in Shillong. I was told that Jawaharlal Nehru used to get his jalebis specially flown in from Shillong, which was then the capital city of undivided Assam. When I tasted it I knew why Chachaji developed the taste for it.
Awesome, is the only way to describe the evening with Mr Ingtty and his family. His brothers Percy and Francis (the eldest of the brood, as he is referred to), Peter (his brother in law) and their families made the evening so memorable. Chivas Regal (the only non-ethnic item served in the evening; I should have tried the local ‘Kiad’) set the tone for the rest of the evening. The warmth and affection shown by the entire family made me feel as if I had known all of them for years, whereas I was meeting them for the first time. I felt a part of the family. The conversation with the family enriched my knowledge of the NE, in general, and Meghalaya, in particular. The accompaniment for Chivas was Doh Snam (Blood Sausage), a fantastic preparation of Pork and an excellent short eat. Ms Ingtty served up a superb feast of local dishes. And what was most interesting is that none of the dishes had masala in it – only local herbs and roots are used as ingredients. I started the feast with the cold pork salad in ginger and onions, Doh Khlieh. Horse radish with white sesame seed, Tungrymbai (fermented beancurd cooked with high fibre ginger – the smell is strong and the taste is great) and Knol Knol with dry fish with white rice and Pork and Yam with Cooking Soda were the first to populate the big plate, and vanish. More white rice with Pork in Bamboo Shoot was the next to follow. I was, by now, oblivious to anything other than food – must have given the impression of a famished traveler, even though my looks told otherwise! Chicken cooked in tomato with yellow rice was yummy. Next, the yellow rice was combined with Chicken Kappa, a preparation with chilly and ash water – a tantalizingly hot dish. Fruit truffle and fruits and cream brought the feast to a close. Ms Ingtty took special care to explain each and every preparation. As Peter said, what was on the table is only the tip of the iceberg. He suggested that I stay on some more and try the rest! I had so much to eat, but I did not feel uncomfortable. It must be because masalas were not used in the preparations. Photo sessions followed and the Ingttys presented me with a fabulous Naga shawl (Chakesang). It was difficult taking leave of this wonderful family that made me one of their own. But all good things….