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Ok, the only reason I’m writing this post is because I wanted to write a post sitting in Meghalaya. Also because I woke up at 6am because someone in the floor above me seems to be jogging on the spot. Which is no doubt lovely for his quads and other muscles, but thanks to wooden flooring, my ceiling is creaking with every step he takes and every move he makes (with apologies to The Police). So I figure, I might as well blog.

The name Meghalaya means “the land of clouds” and it’s known, apparently, as the Scotland of the East. I’m not sure if that’s a reference to the landscape or the locals’ willingness to drink and get drunk. Whichever it is, the tagline isn’t off-base even if it is somewhat weighed down by colonial baggage.

I’ve never been to Northeast India and I don’t know much about the area. Large parts of it are mined with separatist violence and one of the states (Nagaland) seems to have pretty much become Chinese territory. Meghalaya, however, is not one of the troubled areas at present. At least I don’t think it is. One part of the family was from Shillong and left a few decades ago. Not that you’d guess if you spoke to them. They keep talking about Shillong with a fond affection, as though they were in the hilly city last week instead of about 50 years ago. But they weren’t really the reason Shillong rang a bell when the opportunity for this mad dash of a trip came up. Given I’ve not seen any part of the Northeast, I’d have leapt at the chance to go to even Chinese-encroached Nagaland (that’d be very interesting actually. Hm…) but Shillong had an extra little caress of recognition because of Janice Pariat’s book of short stories, Boats on Land. Highly recommended if you’re looking for something to read. Like all collections, it has its ups and downs but Pariat’s language is mostly beautiful and very evocative. Her characters and the way they see the world linger with you. Charming stuff. Not a book that you’ll want to donate to charity once you’re done reading.

So yes, courtesy Boats on Land, Shillong seemed an excellent idea. And it was. Let’s be clear: the city is ugly. It’s just a crowded mess of hideous modern architecture. Everything seems crammed into each other and ready to topple. But walk around town and suddenly, you notice little dabs of violet in the sky and between the trees. The colour looks almost like a flitting shadow, rather than leaves or flowers; or like a bit of fairy dust that’s been sprinkled so that you don’t lose heart at all the terrible concrete that has besieged Shillong. I’ve no idea what these flowers are, but they’re so, so beautiful.

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The thing to do in Shillong is leave. Because once you’re out of the city, within minutes, you’re surrounded by breathtaking greenery. (This is why seeing the hollowed out rock faces — mining scars — look particularly… murderous. The soil is red, the stone is often marbled with pale pink lines. It’s strangely reminiscent of flesh. Illegal mining is a serious problem in Meghalaya, I’m told. It does seem to have made the state rather prosperous though. Anyway…) The landscape here isn’t just beautiful, its quicksilver. One moment, it’s misty. A few minutes later, you’ve got raindrops the size of your face crashlanding on your windscreen. And just as unexpectedly, it all disappears and the sun’s out and everything’s bright and shiny and green and gurgly.

I’ve got about 200 photos to resize and compress — not to mention a 12-hour, westward journey that I need to embark upon in about 45 minutes — so I’m just going to end this post with a photo I took on my first drive out of Shillong. This was taken by doing that really expert thing of pointing the camera at the scene outside the window on the other side (why do I always sit at the wrong window?) and clicking confidently. Because when it’s that beautiful, all you need to do is point and click. Really.

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Many more pictures later. Now, back to Mumbai. Gah.

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One thought on “The Scotland of the East

  1. A beautiful place that has gone wrong post the madness called modernization?! The beautiful and elegant old secretariat was replaced by a clumsy building, the police bazaar point is dirty, cramped up, beautiful pine trees were cut down to size. But some nice food if you want to walk down a little and visit an old Oriental/ Chinese restaurant called New World. Regarding Chinese occupied Nagaland (?), I think you have mistaken or I missed the pun. The Red Army encroached huge land mass in Arunachal Pradesh around MacMohan Line. This is post 1962 war when Chinese took over Tibet and Tibetan people, led by their spiritual guru Dalai Lama, walked into India through Arunachal Pradesh. Another beautiful state that has remained ‘paradise unexplored.’

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