It’s Christmas, and Meghalaya has opened its borders to tourists. After restricting tourist entry for nine months once lockdown was imposed in March, the north-eastern state has decided to ring in the festival with visitors. The borders were opened on December 21.
“The Home of Clouds looks forward to welcoming you,” Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma recently tweeted.
Church bells are ringing, and people from the state and elsewhere are marking the occasion with carols and feasts. Villages and towns decked up with lights for pre-Christmas celebrations. Midnight mass was held in the churches — big or small — across the state.
I embraced the festivity in a remote village called Nongspung A, about 95 km north from state capital Shillong and close to the Assam-Meghalaya border, and adjoining Unmowe. Nongspung is in Umling Block in Ri Bhoi District, and just about 50 km from the Guwahati airport.
The local language in this tiny village of 82 houses and about 500 people is English. Most villagers are members of the Garo community, an indigenous Tibeto-Burman ethnic group practising Christianity.
Life is idyllic — or even hard — here. The roads inside the hamlet are kuchha, and villagers have to trek 10 km to catch the nearest public bus. If you are looking for modern amenities, this is not the place for you — it has hardly any mobile coverage and there are no ATM kiosks or banks.
But the village is up on the table of human development indices. The sex ratio, for instance, is in favour of females, and there is 75 per cent literary in the village, which has government and private primary and middle schools. Villagers go to Nongpoh, which is about 55 km away, for high school and secondary school education. For all other facilities such as medical care and courts, people have to travel to Shillong.
Mostly villagers depend on farming and animal husbandry for a living. The village has power supply, treated tap water supply around the year and covered wells as drinking water sources. There is a community toilet complex as well. Villagers gather at the community grounds, where three shops take care of their daily needs. For the children, there are playgrounds.
And, of course, there is a church. And the bells are ringing.
Images and text by Partha Pratim Sharma