An interesting fact about Shillong (or the entire Meghalaya state) is that here you find a matriarchal society. The female member is the head of the family. It is the women who bring home their husbands after marriage. The children adopt the surname of their mothers and not their fathers. The womenfolk are more active and do more of the outside work.
Mother of All Caves - Krem Marai
About 16 kms away from Shillong, on the way to Jowai, further on top of the Army Public School, is an intriguing cave, called 'Krem Marai' (Cave of Marai). Vehicles go up to the base of the hill which is the source of Umiam river. Thereafter, there is a steady climb amidst vegetation, rocks and cultivated land. The hill continues towards, and forms part of, Shillong Peak.
From the base itself you can see a few large boulders, with another large one on top of them, forming a cave-like structure. The climb takes about 20 minutes, one way. A clear view of Shillong awaits you on one side while the rolling lowlands, studded with buildings of the Assam Regimental Centre, may be seen from the other side.
Folklore has it that the descendants of the Syiems (rulers) of the kingdoms of Mylliem (Shillong side) and Khyrim (Nongkrem side) came from this cave. In a period, lost in time, shepherds once saw an exquisitely beautiful maiden there. When they reported the matter to the village headmen of Nongkesh village, their story was met with disbelief. Only one man, U Sati Mylliemngap, believed them and ventured to find out for himself. Going up to the cave, he lured the fair maiden by offering her flowers. He brought her down to the village and named her 'Pah Syntiew' (lured by flowers). The Syiem clan is believed to have sprung from her womb. The locals revere this cave as the fair maiden was supposed to be the only daughter of the reigning deity of the sacred peak of Shyllong, known as U 'Lei Shyllong.
Bengalis of Shillong
The Bengalis constitute a very large population of Shillong. Many eminent personalities like Nobel Laurette Rabindranath Tagore had his house here. One of his masterpieces " Sesher Kobita" or the Last Poem was composed here during monsoon. Famous movie personality Utpal Dutt was born here. So is Arundhati Roy. Movie actor Victor Bannerjee was also had his eduction here in St.Edmunds and so on. This had been a favored destination of the Bengalis.
Most of the Bengali houses are built on the pattern of British Bungalows, with fire place, gardens and tinned roof.
The first settlement of Bengalis in Shillong took place in 1864. The British administration in India, especially in the eastern and northeastern parts, came to depend significantly on the Bengalis as they had been the first to receive English education. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, a large number of Bengalis went to Shillong (which was then the capital of Assam) to work for the British government from the adjoining states of eastern India. It was the Bengalis who up to 1897 dominated as the 'native employees' of the govermnent. The leading provision and department stores, book stalls and so on tended also to be owned by Bengalis. Bengalis constitute the third major linguistic grouping in Meghalaya (8.95 per cent), next to the two native tribal groups of Khasi (47.14 per cent) and Garo (29.87 per cent).
Viewpoint - 3 religious hills of the Khasis
There is a grand viewpoint almost at the top of Lum Mawlengkreng (Mawlengkreng Hill) in Sadew village at a distance of about 41 kms from Shillong. The trek is somewhat strenuous as the gradient at most places is 50-60 degrees. However, the view from the top is simply breathtaking on a clear day.
From Shillong, you drive down to Umsning Police Out Post. Then, instead of proceeding towards Guwahati along NH-44, you take the right hand-side road towards Sohliya village, which nowadays is famous for its strawberries. After driving for about 2 kms past Slalung Tea Processing Unit Plantation at Mawrong village, you come to a junction. The signboard indicating the right fork reads, ‘Strawberry Hills 3 kms.’ That road ends at Rtiang village. You take the left hand-side road which goes to the ‘Eco Adventure Camp’, 5 kms away. After about 2 kms, take the right fork indicated by the signboard, ‘The Farm, Strawberry Hills, Entrance’.
If your vehicle does not have enough clearance and is not a 4x4, park it at Sadew village. Thereafter, proceed to the Eco Adventure Camp on foot. It’s about a kilometer away. If on a vehicle, you have to drive through Umran river as there is no bridge for a vehicle. If on foot, you cross the river by a narrow bamboo bridge and enter the Camp. From there, request for a guide and trek for about an hour uphill for the next 3 kms. On the way up, large rocks and boulders form interesting patterns.
Once you reach the viewpoint, you can stand on a large flat boulder and see the 3 religious hills. The left-most one is U Lum Sohpetbneng. Folklore has it that at this ‘Navel of Earth’, 16 families descended and ascended from Heaven till 9 decided to stay in Heaven while 7 chose to settle on earth. The Khasis believe that they are the descendents of these 7 huts or families (Hynniewtrep). Towards your right in the middle, you will see U Lum Shyllong, the presiding deity of Shillong. At the corner on the right, you will see U Lum Diengiei (Mawmih), the site where mankind repented and cut down the mighty tree which was causing them such untold misery brought about by their own misdeeds.
The rolling hills, the clear blue sky, the distant horizon, the solitude, the utter tranquility, the peacefulness – all more than make up for the arduous trek. It’s contentment at its zenith. Take out your victuals and munch away as you drink in the scenery.
On the way back, you can enjoy the picturesque tea plantation. The play of light and shade amongst the tea bushes make for interesting photos. As you descend further, you may also see strawberry fields. During January-February, they are in full bloom and may rival any tulip field.
The Eco Adventure Camp is located within Hercules Farm. The Camp had 10-odd mountain bikes with 16 gears. During the dry season, competitions are held up to the hill top of Lum Mawlengkreng and back, a distance of 16 kms. Besides this, the camp has 3 good rooms with attached bathrooms. Tents, hammocks, binoculars and telescopes are also available. This is a nature lover’s paradise with the river Umran close enough for you to hear. If you are an ornithologist or interested in observing the night sky or unravelling the mystery of orchids, you will love this spot.
The entire journey from Shillong and back should take you roughly 6 hours.
Shillong- The Scotland of East
"Tired of Busy City Life, Welcome to Heaven"
The first thing which you realize when you reach Shillong is the Serenity in the place. Though a Bustling City in itself, this place robs your heart at the first site itself. The overcast skies, the small lanes and the combination of the traditional Shillong with a spice of the Western Culture.
This city is one of the smallest cities in India where it almost starts and finishes, however it leaves a mark on you.