Growing up in the gateway city of northeast Guwahati, I still carry vivid memories of my escapades to the neighbouring hill station of Shillong, the Garo Hills and beyond. The northeast I must say, is a region blessed with countless impeccable Christian missionary schools – Don Bosco, Carmel Convent, Loreto, St.Edmunds, St.Anthony’s, St.Paul’s. I was a student of Don Bosco Guwahati until my 9th standard, and what a time I had in those formative years of my life in the northeast! Pure wow for sure.

In the good old days, we had these annual school reunions and believe me, we used to have a blast with Bosconians from all corners of the northeast assembling in Shillong – one of India’s best known hill stations, which again was a British invention.

Shillong, incidentally, is also India’s rock music capital and the legendary rock musician Lou Majaw’s hometown. This is one place in the whole of India where you, as a visitor, can truly indulge in your love for music – heavy metal to jazz! They have it all here.

The city’s eclectic clubs and bars have had a huge impact upon my appreciation for Western music and what an incredible feeling it was to be a part of that “musical history” on the night of December 12th, 2007, rocking the night out with the world renowned German heavy metal band the Scorpions, who bypassed mega Indian cities like Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore to launch their India tour from Shillong.

It was an epoch-making concert for the Northeast in terms of the message of “Peace & Harmony” that reverberated from Scorpions’ lead vocalist Klause Meine’s voice, which left the delirious crowd of 30,000 absolutely stupefied. I still have a paper cut-out of the next day’s Hindustan Times’ report entitled “Scorpions leaves Shillong dazzled”, which goes like this :

An estimated 30,000 people thronged the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in state's capital as the German heavy metal group belted out their all-time hits and classics for close to two hours in temperatures that stayed in single digit.

Shillong, the capital of the north-eastern state of Meghalaya, is ideally positioned at an altitude of 1,496 meters and this quaint hill station is a year-round holiday destination. The tourism benchmark is a grade higher than other hill stations of the northeast in terms of tourist hotels/motels and home stay accommodations, breath-taking mountain panorama, warm and hospitable people, fluttering clouds, stately pine trees and majestic waterfalls, all of which makes this mountain city an incredible destination to explore.

Historically, Shillong used to be the summer capital of the British East India Company and, from 1874, served as the capital of undivided Assam. This picturesque hill town was completely devastated in the earthquake that occurred in 1897, but, true to the spirit of highlanders – The Khasis, indigenous settlers of Meghalaya; they worked tremendously hard to once again reposition Shillong as the queen of hill stations in eastern India.

The day of 21st January, 1972 was a red letter day for this picture perfect hill station, as the Government of India decided to create a separate homeland for the indigenous Khasi tribes – “Meghalaya”, carved out of undivided Assam, and Shillong became the capital of this newly formed the north-eastern state. Although for centuries together, travellers from the world over have sung paeans of praises on the ethereal beauty of Meghalaya’s mountain panorama, the native settlers or indigenous people – The Khasis, too, have carved a niche for themselves in the world’s Indigenous Tourism Hall of Fame by virtue of being the last remaining Matrilineal societies. Incredible, isn’t it by any standards?

The Khasi origins and social orientation

Cheers to the power of women! Cheers to feminism! Out here in the undulating hills of Meghalaya, the Khasi tribes have been inhabiting the Khasi and Jaintia Hills and anthropologists are of the opinion that they were the earliest Mongoloid invaders, speaking an Austric “Monkhmer” dialect and this Austric language is still prevalent in far away Asian countries like Java, Cambodia and Nicobar Islands.

Anthropologists all over the world are awed by the remarkable Matrilineal social system of the Khasis and their belief system is so strong that in spite of the advent of modernity, the Khasis have never abandoned their centuries old practices. So much so, that even after marriage, if there is a breach of exogamy, it entails excommunication from the society!

The social networking of the Khasis might appear strange to the contemporary man about town – for instance the practice of cross-cousin marriages, termination of marriage or divorce through mutually acceptable compensation, their reliance on endogamy, etc...

Would you for once believe that the practice of “couvade,” which essentially denotes that when a woman is pregnant, the husband does all the household chores and upholds certain age-old superstitious beliefs like not going outdoors for a certain time span, not crossing a river etc.... which are thought to bring disaster and misfortune to the family?

The position of male in Khasi society

Contrary to outsider views that the males of the family are ill-treated, the fact of the matter is that a beautiful family harmony can be observed wherein the males aren’t the dominating ones; someone who calls the shots, or neither is it that they are suppressed, ill-treated, or offended.

Far from this, the quintessential Khasi men are respected and wield tremendous authority in the smooth running of the family after marriage. In fact, the rightful place that men are given in the Khasi scheme of things is apparent in the very manner in which the Khasi woman addresses her husband – “kinrad” – literally meaning “You are my Lord”.

Ancestry, birth right and succession

The Khasis seek ancestry or descent from the mother’s side, which literally means that after marriage, the Khasi men adopt the wife’s surname. So strong is their inherent belief in their matrilineal ancestry that in certain popular Khasi folklores, even the Supreme Being or God is given the feminine attributes.

When it comes to the question of birth rights or inheritance, the Khasi society clearly spells out that the male of the family has no rights whatsoever over ownership matters.

The youngest daughter, referred to as “Ka Khaduh", is the cynosure of all eyes as she is bestowed with all ownership rights from her mother. She plays the pivotal role in religious ceremonies of the Khasis as well. With regard to successions or appointing the Chieftain, referred to as the “Siem” in Khasi parlance, it is through his sister’s son. Typically, when a Khasi chieftain dies, he is succeeded by the eldest son of his eldest sister. Ironically, it appears that in terms of Chieftainship or “Seimship”, only male members are nominated.

Garo Hills and beyond

Since Shillong, the bustling capital city of Meghalaya is urbanised. It is advisable for first-time visitors desiring to savour the Matrilineal societal structures of the irresistible Khasi tribes to travel further ahead to the undulating Garo hills for a more immersive cultural experience. A good idea is to fix up a home stay option with the expert advice of the Dept. of Tourism, Government of Meghalaya. The picturesque town of Tura could be an ideal launching pad from where to explore the matrilineal cultural contours of Meghalaya.

Very similar to the Khasis, but a bit more village orientated than their brethren, these hill people live in their signature bamboo and thatch hutments, usually on hill slopes and they have kind of mastered the art of water harvesting to an altogether different level through their indigenous bamboo piped water supply system. The sight of water being piped through bamboo to a place of convenience reminds me of the community baths that are prevalent in Scandinavian countries – geothermal hot springs to be precise!

Sustenance and livelihood

The Garos depend solely on agriculture for sustenance. One great spectacle for visitors to Garo Hills is the sight of native Garo farmers engaged in “Shifting Cultivation” or “Jhum Cultivation” as it is referred to in the local parlance.

During the months from December to January, the village folks choose a particular stretch of land for cultivation and the village chieftain allot plots of different sizes to the families concerned, bearing in mind the size of the family. Once the plots are allotted, the land is cleared of jungles and by the time it is March to April, the entire village gathers together for a harvest festival and thereby set in motion the process of cultivation.

Although the practice of Jhum cultivation is an ancient one, it requires huge tracts of agricultural land because one particular land plot after undergoing Jhum cultivation has to be left fallow or uncultivated for two to three years in order to regain soil fertility.

Thus, to further compliment the farming industry’s efforts to produce bigger crop quantities, the governments of all the north-eastern states have introduced Terrace cultivation alongside Jhum, with the insistence on multiple cropping being the cornerstone.

Costumes and dressing gear

If you venture into remote villages surrounding Tura town, the costumes of the Garo people will take you off guard! Menfolk can be seen wearing a piece of cloth “Gando”, usually worn between his thighs, while the women use an intricately embroidered cloth “Rinking” around their waistline, leaving the upper part of the body uncovered.

However, the sense of dressing amongst the indigenous Garos have undergone subtle changes in conformity to contemporary invasions of fashion and these days the Garo womenfolk adorn themselves with their signature “Dakmande” wrapper.

Staying and savouring traditional Khasi hospitality

Ri Kynjai Resort is by far the best upmarket hospitality property not only in Meghalaya, but all the north-eastern states taken together. This one-of-its-kind resort entices the new age travellers with breath-taking mountain panorama and the undulating Khasi Hills provides the picture-perfect setting for the holiday of a lifetime.

The Resort is ideally located in the midst of stately pine trees and there is also a tea garden, which is 100% organic.

The architecture is a blend of contemporary with the traditional Khasi huts found on the outskirts of Shillong. Every effort has been made to maintain the local architectural tradition and a majority of the rooms provide bewitching window views of the shimmering Umiam Lake, considered to be one of Meghalaya’s most picturesque lakes.

The restaurant Sao Aiom offers the very best of gastronomic delights and it has been pioneering the promotion of northeast cuisines in particular, which the outside world is unaware of.

The Spa at the Ri Kynjai Resort - "Khem Janai" is unique in the sense that apart from the usual rejuvenation therapies, it has also introduced the traditional Khasi massage, which has become very popular with the resort’s discerning guests.

Apart from breath-taking mountain panorama, refreshing walks and treks through intriguing Khasi hamlets, the resort has an exclusive articulation agreement with the 18 – hole Shillong Golf Course, which happens to be the second oldest Golf Course in Asia, having been in existence since 1889.

To lure the discerning international traveller, the resort offers a wide array of package holiday options, and the rates are competitive.

If you opt for a package holiday, which may range from a minimum of 2 nights and 3 days to a maximum of 6 nights and 7 days, you do get value for money. And it is quite possible for you to experience the most authentic holiday of Northeast India. For instance, if you opt for the fascinating 6 nights and 7 days package you get to cover the world famous Kaziranga National Park, A UNESCO designated World Heritage Site along with Cheerapunjee and Shillong.