The idea behind the “Q&A Series with Locals” is to get insight into different countries from a local’s perspective but then I thought why not also explore my own country extensively. INDIA is known worldwide for its diverse cultures and regions. 28 States and 8 Union territories constitute India. After Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Romania, In my fifth post of Q & A Series With Locals, I interviewed Mickydee Te’gite Sangma from Meghalaya. Meghalaya is one of the Northeastern States of India. During my solo trip to Northeast India, I met Mickydee via Couchsurfing in Shillong(The Capital City of Meghalaya). After our brief meeting, I was really impressed by Mickydee’s conviction, honesty and knowledge. Thanks a lot for being part of this series, Micky and all the best for your first solo trip!
Q & A WITH MICKYDEE FROM MEGHALAYA, INDIA
Please tell us about yourself.
I am a native of Tura, a small valley town nestled in the Western part of Garo Hills District of Meghalaya, one of the sister states of North-East India. I have spent more than 10 years of my life away from my hometown in pursuit of my education and career. Having completed my bachelor’s and master’s degree in tourism management, my belief in learning from the grass-root level and a desire to enhance my communication skills has led me to pursue my career in different travel and hospitality firms as a tour coordinator in Kolkata, food and beverage associate in Pune and a part-time faculty in Tura. However, there has been a drastic shift in my career owing to certain situations and I am currently working with the Secretariat Office under the State Government in Shillong. I am also an active member of a Couchsurfing Community and have been hosting surfers since 2018. It has become a major factor in keeping me connected to the world of passionate travelers. I have developed a deep passion for traveling and am on a new expedition of gaining insights into the realm of solo traveling (backpacking) and the overwhelming blessing it has to offer. I am an avid reader, an amateur writer (my writings are mostly short stories and excerpts from a scene) and a big-time foodie (I have been learning a lot about different cuisines from travelers and other sources and I have also been trying out few of those which can be made from simple available ingredients).
How many Countries/States have you visited so far?
My travels have mostly been related to my work or studies and it has been mainly non-touristic. I haven’t made any International trip so far. However, I have been to the borders of Nepal. The States I have visited within India are West Bengal, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Goa, Assam and Nagaland.
How would you describe people from Meghalaya?
It is difficult to describe the people of Meghalaya as a whole since we have three main tribes namely Khasi, Jaintia and Garo which contributes to the majority of the State population as well as some other minority tribes such as Koch, Hajong, Rabha, Bodo, Dalu, and Baite. Every tribe has its own indigenous dialect and customs which has made Meghalaya into one of the diversified States in the Country.
Nevertheless, if I were to personally generalise Meghalayans, I would love to highlight a few points. Meghalayans are generally a close-knit community and this can be evidently seen during times of funerals or weddings where, apart from the clan members of the family who actively contribute towards the occasion, even distant relatives, friends and the neighbours come together to make the event a successful one. The people are very traditional and most of us still stick to our traditional practices even in the midst of the modern lifestyle. The people are superstitious to a certain level and believe in the existence of some supernatural beings thus giving rise to mythological folklores in the region.
Meghalayans are also known for their warm hospitality nature although the experience may differ from one visitor to another. If you come across a Garo wedding or any sort of celebration in a Garo house, you are in for a big feast of authentic Garo dishes though the options for vegetarians are quite less.
How would you describe Meghalaya?
Meghalaya is one of the fastest developing states in the North-Eastern region of India. It is relatively diverse in terms of its topography, people and culture, which makes it one of most sought after tourist destinations in the region.
The State is known for its abundance of waterfalls, caves, the beautiful landscapes, the Laitlum canyon, the world-famous living root bridges, the cleanest village in Asia in Mawlynnong, the various monoliths, the picturesque valleys and lush green hills, the crystal clear rivers and turquoise coloured natural pools. Apart from the physical beauty, the depth of the folklore and traditional culture will leave a person spellbound.
Shillong, the capital city, is also home to many established educational institutes such as IHM, IIM, NEHU, NEIGHRIMS and many other colleges, which has turned the city into one of the finest educational hubs in the region. Hence, one can find diverse races prevailing in the city.
How well does people in Meghalaya speak English on a scale to 1-10?
I would say 6. English is the official language of the state and is widely and eloquently spoken mainly in English medium schools, Universities, offices and in the markets of town areas. However, in smaller town areas, the language is understood but proper communication can be a tad difficult as the folks there don’t regularly converse in the language and thus, lack fluency. And the interior villages stick to their local dialects and are not usually exposed to the English language.
How to say some key phrases in local languages?
- How are you?
Namengama? (Garo), Kumno? (Khasi), Kamon Phi (Jaintia), Kingka ase toi? (Hajong), Beganda pangta ka nwng? (Koch)
Am/de (Garo), To (Khasi &Jaintia), Hobo de (Hajong), Donga de (Koch)
- Thank you
Mitela (Garo), Khublei (Khasi & (Jaintia), Dhunobaad (Hajong), Kwnchikwn (Koch)
Which is the best/essential local food to try in Meghalaya?
The people of Meghalaya are heavy meat eaters and there are very few options for vegetarians if one is looking for local food. Jadoh, doh jem, tungtap and thungrymbai are the best Khasi dish which is available at tea stalls or Kong’s shop as we call it here, in every nook and corner of Shillong and across Khasi Hills region. Pork cooked with black sesame seed is also a must-try.
If you are in the Garo Hills region, try out the minil and bandal combo. Be﮲en/ na﮲tok kappa, be﮲en pura, wak / na﮲tok galda, brenga, o﮲tepa or we﮲tepa and nakam chutney are a must-try for the tourists.
Sakin, jakkep, pita, putharo, pumaloi and pu doh are some of the local snacks in the State. Meghalaya is also home to various organic seasonal fruits and vegetables which can be bought from the local vendors. Some of these are very native to the area and rarely found in other places.
Which is the best/essential local drink to try in Meghalaya?
The fermented rice beverage locally known as chubitchi or chubok of Garo Hills is loved by many who have tried it. However, the availability of this beverage is mostly confined to the rural areas of the Garo Hills.
Khasi tribe also has its own rice beer locally known as Kyiad Um available in Smit but the selling of this beer has been recently banned for commercial use by the Community.
Besides the rice beverages, the State has been producing a variety of fruit wines with great finesse and is widely available during the wine and cherry blossom festivals.
Which is the best/essential festival to attend in Meghalaya?
Meghalaya hosts many festivals throughout the year such as International Cherry Blossom Festival, Autumn festival, Winter Festival, NH7 Weekender, 100 Drums Wangala, Nongkrem Dance, Behdeinkhlam, Seng Kut Snem, Pushna, Charantala mela and Pabuni mela. The first four are theme-based festivals and the last seven are cultural or religious ones. Each festival has its own significance and grandeur.
Christmas and New Year are considered the most significant festival in the State which is also a period for family gathering and feasting apart from the religious significance it holds.
Which sport are people in Meghalaya crazy about?
Cricket and football are loved in the State. Recently, Meghalaya Football Association in collaboration with Tata Trusts and with the support of the State Government has taken up an initiative to organize baby league tournaments for children starting from 4 years of age and above.
Other than that, sportspersons from Meghalaya have represented the country in various sporting events such as Karate, Judo, athletics, basketball, etc. and have even won accolades.
Which are the best cities/places to visit in Meghalaya?
Cherrapunjee or Sohra is an ideal hub for the popular tourist hotspots of Meghalaya followed by Mawlynnong, Dawki and Shnongpdeng. A tour of Cherrapunjee will cover places such as Noh Ka Li Kai, Dainthlen and the Seven Sister falls, Mawsmai and Arwah caves and Thangkarang Park.
I would also recommend tourists not to miss out the following places on their visit though covering these places would require one to extend their duration of stay and taking few of these trips can be a tad challenging.
- Nongriat village and rainbow Falls: If one is making this trip, do not miss out the single-decker bridge on your trek down to the double-decker bridge in Nongriat village.
- Laitmawsiang, popularly known as the Garden of caves used to be the hiding place of the Khasi tribe from the British.
- Wei Sawdong is a mesmerising three steps waterfall near Dainthlen falls.
- Mawryngkhang trek (Wankhen) is well known as the scariest trek in Meghalaya. Definitely not meant for acrophobics.
- Mawphlang Sacred Groves is believed to be the home of the local deity, Labasa. This forest has been safeguarded and preserved for centuries by the local Khasi tribes. One must strictly abide by the rules of the place if one wishes to enter the sacred forest.
- David Scott trail is a historical trail used since the British rule. One can take up this trek from Mawphlang to Lad Mawphlang and take a cab or hitchhike to Cherrapunjee.
- Mawphanlur is a small village of rolling hills and lakes which is every camper’s paradise.
- Laitlum Canyon, an hour drive from Shillong where the wide gorge seemingly engulfs you, is one place one should not miss out on their trip. This is my most favourite place near Shillong. I have visited Laitlum for six times but it’s magnificent beauty never ceases to amaze me.
There are many more breathtaking places if one delves deeper into the wilderness of the State- Rongdong falls, Imilchang dare, Rongbang dare, Pelga falls and Simsang river to name a few.
What are the landmarks and hidden gems of Meghalaya?
Balpakram National Park, Nokrek Biosphere Reserve, Dombe Wari, Syndai village, Krem Puri cave, Siju Cave, Siju Wildlife Bird Sanctuary, Sadolbra and Mawrynkhang are some of the hidden gems of Meghalaya.
The State is home to many hidden gems which will leave you overwhelmed and curiosity-driven at the end of the trip. Some of these places are relatively non-touristic and are most ideal for explorers, not regular tourists, as reaching there requires a fair amount of struggle and patience and comfy beds would merely be a mirage. These places are also home to many local myths and legends.
Meghalaya is one of the rare regions in the world where matrilineal society is practised by its three main tribes. The term ‘Matrilineal’ is often confused with matriarchal practice but the ownership of the decision-making or the supremacy still belongs to men in the matrilineal system.
In matrilineal culture, the lineage of the family is passed on through the women in the family and hence, the family/clan name of the women holds an important place in the society. Besides the name, the inheritance is passed down to the daughters from one generation to another. This responsibility of preserving the family/clan name and the inheritance is taken up traditionally by the youngest daughter of the family known as “nokna or nokrom”. But over the years, this system has become considerably flexible and a daughter who has more compatibility with the parents can take over this responsibility. Traditionally, the husband of this “nokna” after matrimony is required to move in with the wife and her family and unanimously abide by the custom.
Another interesting fact about Meghalaya is, the place is immensely rich in folklore and mythology and these are still strongly believed by the old folks. Many places of tourist interests are in fact named after the characters or incidents of the mythological tales such as Noh Ka Li Kai falls, Dhanthlein falls, Dombe Wari and Balpakram etc. The State can in fact have an exclusive tourism circuit solely based on myths.
What are the most popular stereotypes/cliches about Meghalaya?
Meghalaya is deemed to be unsafe for tourists due to its history of insurgency. However, this misconception is gradually fading away and regions like Garo Hills have begun receiving tourists.
Like any other people from the North-Eastern region, Meghalaya is mistaken to be a part of China or other South East Asian Countries due to our Mongoloid features and our distinctive dialects. There are instances wherein I have personally been asked by fellow Indians from mainland India if we use a different currency apart from the Indian rupees or if Visas are required to visit the region.
The natives of Meghalaya are known to be territorial at times which is a generic behaviour of the entire Northeast region.
Which is the best time to visit Meghalaya?
Spring and autumn are ideal times to visit the State. However, those who love monsoon should visit from June to August to visit the wettest place(Mawsynram in Khasi Hills) on Earth and experience the large cascading waterfalls.
Are there any local customs a visitor should be sensitive to?
There is no such local custom as such that a visitor should be sensitive to. However, if you are buying anything from a local Khasi market, one should be mindful to hand over the money to the vendor in a respectful manner by holding it between the thumb and index finger otherwise they do not accept the money as it is deemed offensive to the person and his/her work.
Like every tourist destination, a tourist or traveller is expected to be respectful towards the host community and extend their warm friendship without much interference with the local ambience.
This picture was taken at Laitlum Canyon on my third visit. It has a funny story to it. Being acrophobic, even going near the cliff of the canyon is very challenging for me but the adrenaline rush has always helped me to make it to one of the cliffs. The same happened on that day and I was excited to get a perfect shot of me as even the weather was being favourable. However, the friend who had captured this picture got frightened to see me standing there since his sole concern was my safe return and in such nervousness, we landed up with a zoomed-in picture with no evidence of me standing on the cliff.