Virat Kohli, Imran Khan and Feeling Indian in Shillong, Meghalaya
Zin traveled to Meghalaya for two weeks and she’s creating a series of posts where she pens down her most cherished experiences. This is the post one of NatnZin’s Meghalaya series.
It’s Eid. I’m with Anne. One hearty breakfast and two cups of coffee later, we are still talking about the matrilineal system of the Khasi people in Meghalaya. Anne, my host, is a local Khasi woman. Sometimes you connect incredibly well with strangers that even after hours and hours, you are full of things you want to tell each other. I’m an introvert, but I love conversations. Conversations that are deep, awaken my senses and make me think.
I love conversations with a deep analogy, maybe mixed with a little humor, those that touch your heart. Those conversations that will be a cherished memory in a tiny corner of your heart. I love them. All of them. At eight, when Phill, Anne’s son called me for breakfast, I walked to her gracefully varnished dining table. A table which became her school, where she learned stories from far corners of the world. Anne, married to a Dutch, is a mother to two boys. One studies in Chennai. Phill, her second, who’s good at music, is still at school and takes care of the Airbnb.
We talked until it was one at noon. Until Khraw came to pick me up, to take me to my next home in Mawsynram. My solo self was determined to hop on a shared sumo. Turned out, it was the local elections and none of the sumos worked that day. Two weeks later, as I sit in my well-lit living room in my parents’ small house, I’m glad none of them worked on that day. I’m glad I got to know Khraw, an incredible human who taught me a lot of new things, and one who became a friend.
Virat Kohli was a stranger to Anne. He was a stranger to Khraw. Anne knew Imran Khan. “He looks good,” Anne laughs, “and I love Jemima. They looked good together,” I take a sip of my freshly brewed hazelnut latte. I think of the monochrome pictures I once posted on my cricket Tumblr, of Imran Khan, the Pakistani prime minister, who led Pakistan to their only cricket world cup win in 1992. Boy, isn’t he a heartbreaker? He is, and I’m in an India where Sachin Tendulkar was a complete stranger to an Indian, but Pakistan’s Imran Khan was her idol.
“You’d be Khar Colombo,” our conversation has now shifted to a new direction. “Who knows maybe you’ll fall in love with a Khasi man…it’s love. It happens and there are no boundaries,” Anne offers me a chocolate chip cookie and explains to me how a non-Khasi woman can start a new clan if she gets married to a Khasi man. Her name changes. She now is the beginner of a new clan. Her clan name begins with Khar, to imply outside. “Maybe they’d name her Khar Idli if she’s from Chennai,” Anne laughs. “I’m glad I already have a boyfriend,” I take another cookie from her tiffin box.
“Anne, do you feel Indian?”
“I do. I do because I’ve been to other places in India,” our conversations knew no direction. They flowed just as same as the beautiful Umngot River in her monsoons, visited by a few in her slightly green, slightly muddy shade, but still admired by the first-timers.
“But if you ask many people here who’ve not been to other parts, they’d tell you they don’t feel Indian,
They’ll tell you that they’re going to India when they are going to Delhi,” Anne continues in her slightly considerate tone.
45 minutes past one, I’m with Khraw in his small Alto car. We were heading to Mawsynram, with a halt at Mawphalang Sacred Forest. Cricket was one of the first few subject matters of our conversations.
Days later in my second last night in Meghalaya, as we were sitting by the Umngot River in a cute village named Shnongpdeng near the Bangladeshi border, I asked Khraw if he felt Indian.
“I do, I do feel Indian. Of course. I am Indian,” Khraw tells me, with his eyebrows slightly raised.
Of course, he does. He knew Sachin Tendulkar.
I thought as I dozed off in my shared taxi to Guwahati.
I traveled to Meghalaya with Greener Pastures. They are a responsible travel company that organizes tours in Northeast India and contributes to community development in the region. Greener Pastures organized some of my stays in most warm, welcoming places. I was lucky to stay with locals and learn a lot of new things about the life in the Khasi hills in Meghalaya.
Where to Stay in Shillong
I stayed my first few days in Shillong at Russet Homestay hosted by Anne, located in Nongthymmai. You can book her place here. Her place was a cozy English-style cabin with a tiny kitchen where you can prepare your own food. The place is filled with tiny details which I loved the most. It’s only 20 steps from the main road and close to many eateries.
In my last night in Shillong, I stayed at Kynjai Homestay, a spotlessly clean, elegant place for an affordable rate located in Moti Nagar. A 7-minute walk downhill will take you to the main road where you can find many eateries and shared taxis to many parts in Shillong. You can book Kynjai Homestay here.
If you sign up for Airbnb using this link, you get $25 off.
Things to Do in Shillong
You can either take it easy and explore all the cafes in Laitumkhrah or shop for cheap prices in Police Bazaar. Anderson Shopping complex is another good place for ladies’ apparel.
For sightseeing, I hired a taxi which cost 1500 INR. I went to Laitlum Canyon in Smit (15 km from Shillong). You can trek down to Rasong from Laitlum, a tiny hamlet in the ridges of the lush green gorge. I also went to Elephant Falls, Don Bosco Cathedral (free) and Don Bosco Museum (200 INR). Shillong Peak offers you a beautiful view of the Meghalayan capital.
I stopped by Mawphalang Sacred Forest on my way to Mawsynram. If you aren’t heading to Mawsynram, add Mawphalang to your trip in Shillong. I paid 300 INR for a half trek with a guide and learned a lot of things. You will have to take a guide as it’s a forest and there’ll be no one once you’re in. You can also stop by Lake Umiam on your way to Shillong from Guwahati.
How to get around Shillong
There are buses, shared taxis and private taxis from Police Bazaar to any place in Shillong. Shared taxis are the most common method. Hop onto one and expect to pay 20-50 INR for your journey. They are small cars and at once, about 6-8 people sit in one car so expect to be squeezed. I traveled in one with my over-packed backpack and found it okayish! Highly recommend them if you don’t have luggage. They save a lot of money!
Shillong has a huge traffic problem. So if you don’t like to be stuck in one place for too long, walking is the best way to cover small distances. I enjoyed walking in Shillong as I people-watched and dropped by tiny cafes for quick snacks. By snacks, I meant momos. Try them out!
Other things to note: All the tourist attractions usually cost 20-50 INR apart from the prices I have mentioned here.
Shillong is (highly) fashionable so feel free to dress up well! Even if you wear cheap hippie clothes, no one really cares as it should be. Your personal space is well-maintained but if you need any help, smile and politely ask a local person, I found all of them to be super helpful.