Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tourism Potential of the Jaintia Hills District

Jaintia Hills District in a Nutshell
Jaintia Hills is one of the three original District of the State of Meghalaya, it was carved out of the erstwhile Khasi-Jaintia District of the Composite State of Assam in the year 1972. It is situated between 25o 3” to 25o 45” North Latitudes and 91o 58” to 92o 47” East longitudes. It covers an area of about 3819sq kms and located in the altitude between 1250 and 1750 meters above the sea level. The District shares its border to the North with Assam, to the South with Bangladesh to the East with Khasi Hills and to the West with Assam again. People who live in this District are called Pnar with the exception of those live in the Southern slopes of the District called War, while the War call the people and the Jowai town they live PNA. Although the people are called by different names and they speak a slightly different language, the people share similar culture and follow common traditions. This takes us to the next the most important subject of this write up which will help us understand the people that we are concerning and that is the Culture of the people.
People for so long has this misconception about Jaiñtia Hills. The District has more often than not been associated with Coal - the so called Back diamond and of course wealth. Well I’m not trying to say that this ill-conceived notion is not true but what I mean to say is; neither does it represent the complete picture of the District. Apart from the spoilt environment polluted by drastic coal mining, Jaiñtia Hills has a huge scope for developing tourism in the District. The District indeed has some incredible sites and it also has in its possession some unique flora and fauna distinct only to this part of the Country. Apart from the flora and fauna and the tourist spots, Jaintia Hills also has many historical monuments and of course a rich culture, from traditions to food, from dress to pottery, you name it and they have it.
While the district is preparing for the annual tourism fest, perhaps it is not out of place to try exploring the tourism potential of the District Jaintia Hills.
I would rather not start with the familiar tourist spots that one must have already read in the Meghalaya Tourism brochure, but as the theme of this article suggest, the object of this write-up is to discover the vast tourist potential of the District which has otherwise remain unexplored.

Cultural Village
If at all the Tourism Department is planning to promote certain village as a cultural village, then Lyrnai in Jaintia is one village that can be a strong contender for the honour. This hamlet small and in-accessible it may be; is the keeper of a unique Pottery tradition distinct only to this village and its suburb. If any young person tells me that he had never ever heard of Lyrnai Pottery; that’s fine by me, it will not surprise me; not a wee bit. But I will be dumbfounded or even shocked if anybody would tell me that he had never ever tasted ‘Pu Tharo’ in his life time. One may ask what exactly does Pu Tharo has to do with Lyrnai ? Well to start with there won’t be any Pu Tharo if it is not for Lyrnai Pottery or as it is commonly known “Khiew Ranei” in Khasi and “Kchu Lynrnai” in Pnar. The pots for baking Pu tharo are made in Lyrnai only and nowhere else.
Lyrnai is a small hamlet of a little less than 100 families about 6 K.M from Ummulong village, and though the village is only 6 K.M from the NH 44, it is still in-accessible by road. People still have to walk for few hours to reach the village. Though the main occupation of the villagers is farming, yet the village is famous for the distinct art of making pots that they inherited from their ancestor. Incidentally in my travel around Jaintia Hills, I found that Lyrnai Village is the only place where people are still involving in the art of making pottery; I think even in the whole Khasi Jaintia, Lyrnai is the only place where the art of making earthen pots is till being practiced albeit at a diminishing rate. Nosibon Lamare an old lady of about 70 years told me once that they have been practicing this art since time immemorial and she took part in many Expo and Exhibition conducted by the District Industries to showcase this distinct art of the village. The old lady who can barely move out of her house then (when I last visit the village), told me that; once she was even put to some kind of a challenge somewhere in Shillong in a place she could barely remember. The test was to try if Putharo taste better using utensils other than the Lyrnai pots. After a brief silent, the old lady continued, “When it comes to Putharo or Pumaloi, they just can’t beat Lyrnai pots you know.”
Lyrnai pots; does not only include pots that are used for baking Putharo and Pumaloi, but there are some pots of a different shape and size that are used for other purpose also. Some of the pots made in Lyrnai have religious significant; these pots are still being used by the Doloi of Nartiang to perform some rituals. Without these pots the ceremony will be incomplete, so the Doloi will order them much in advance and in huge quantity. Another type of pots make at Lyrnai is also used by the people in the traditional animist religion for the purpose of keeping a piece of the cut umbilical cord that connect newborn baby with its mother. This particular body part of the mother and the baby is needed for a ritual that is normally being performed during the welcoming ceremony of the baby.
The process of making the pots is time consuming, the first part of the process is to collect the necessary earth from Sung valley, and soil is available only on this valley. Making Lyrnai pots is seasonal because the process of drying the pots and burning them in fire pit can only be done in an open space and of course during dry season. The colour of the pot derived from the bark of a certain tree.
Lyrnai pottery or ‘Khiew Ranei’ as it was commonly known in Khasi, is a dying art, very few people in the village involve themselves with the art of making the variety of pots, fortunately other villages like Tyrchang adjacent to Lyrnai has learned the trade and are now making the earthen pots. Saving Lyrnai pottery is also saving the Pu tharo and pu maloi, the two unique and exquisite delicacy of the Khasi Pnar. The Tourism Department can start by doing some kind of a survey and move towards making Lyrnai a cultural village, by doing so; we are also helping in protecting and preserving this unique tradition. Lyrnai is also on the way to Nartiang so a tour comprising of Lyrnai village, Nartiang and Thadlaskein can be identified as one tour circuit.

Religious Tourism: Nartiang unexploited tourism potential
For so long Nartiang was merely promoted by the Tourism Department for its famous Dolmen and Menhirs as a monolith park. The Monoliths was erected by the famous Mar (giant) U Marphalangki of the Phalangki clan. The unique standing stones park which is under the auspices of the Archeological survey of India, is the only place where one could see the largest collection of these distinct culture of the Khasi Pnars. Otherwise the dolmen and menhirs can be seen dotted almost in every beautiful landscape of the hills. Nartiang Park is also fortunate to have in its possession the tallest monolith in the whole of the Khasi Jaintia hills, but that’s not all. Nartiang being the summer capital of the erstwhile Sutnga monarch of the Jaintias, is also blessed with monuments that people of those era build for posterity. Sad to say that while Sajar Niangli’s lake at Thadlaskein is very well preserved and protected, Sajar’s lakes in Nartiang unfortunately failed to get the same attention from the power that be. The Sutnga dynasty was not only success in building and creating historical monuments in its former summer capital, but the last of the Sutnga rulers has also achieve another feat and that is converting the tribal population in the village to Hinduism.
The Pnar of Nartiang has successfully adopted and follows Hinduism. The main deities that they worship are Maa Durga and her male counterpart in the Hindu pantheon -Shiva. The remarkable thing is that they were able to blend their adopted religion beautifully with the culture and ethos of the people in the area. Legend have it that the erstwhile king of Jaiñtia use to perform human sacrifice in the famous Durga temple to appease Durga and her many incarnations. It is also believe that the severed head of the sacrificial human fell directly to the Myntang River through a secret passageway and the priest claimed that the temple is in possession of the sword used by the Kings in the yesteryears to perform human sacrifice. The Durga temple could be the star attraction of the proposed religious tourism at Nartiang, but the Shiva temple in the same village is no less significant. The last time I visit the temple along with Erick Miles a friend from USA, the pujari told me that the Pnar of Nartiang have special name for Shiva and his Pnar name is u Sahmai. The young Pandit even told me of a legend that once u Sahmai left his abode and stayed in the forest near by till he was persuaded to return back to his abode in the temple. The distinctive local architecture of the temples and the unique image of the deities both Durga and Shiva could also attract worshippers to Nartiang.
With this huge potential, Nartiang can also be promoted as a Religious tourism destination. If thousands of believers dare to face the bullets and bombs of terrorist to undertake a pilgrimage to Amarnath, Nartiang; if it is properly packaged, can be marketed as a religious tourism destination. Few years back Central Puja Committee from Shillong has initiated steps towards making Nartiang a destination for religious tourism. Let’s hope that good sense will prevail in the Tourism Department and it will generously encourage and support CPC initiative.

Discover Southern Slopes of the District
In the earlier write-up; I had suggested that one tour circuit in the District can start from Jowai then proceed to Thadlaskein and from the Lake the tour can continue to Lyrnai, the proposed cultural village famous for its unique pottery. From Lyrnai the conduct tour can proceed to Nartiang where we have the famous Monolith Park and the temples for those who are interested in religious tourism. Less we forget Nartiang being the summer capital of the erstwhile Jaintia Kingdom; the village also has in its proud procession the other important historical monuments like the lakes dug by Sajar Niangli and his followers and other important monuments. The tour will take one whole day to complete. However that’s not all that this District has to offer to the tourists, the next tour circuit can be south bound and as usual it will start from Jowai.

A tour circuit the feasibility of which the Department of tourism can explore is a tour towards the sounther slope of Jaintia hills in the Amlarem sub division. If a tourist will head south on the Jowai-Dawki road or rather Jowai- Muktapur road, the first stop will be at the Thlumuwi. River Thlumuwi used to be famous fishing spot, but thanks to the drastic coal mining the river is not even a shadow of its past pristine beauty. Though a lot of harm has been done to kshaid Thlumuwi, the fall which lies to the right on the Jowai Muktapur road stills captivate the rowing eye of nature lovers. To the left of the bridge is one of the star attractions of this tour – the famous stone bridge and a collection of dolmen and menhirs. The bridge was the only link between the erstwhile Jaintia King’s winter and summer capital and the monoliths served as a resting place “Kor shongthait” for the trekker to rest and relax before they continue on their arduous journey. The stone bridge is an existing example of the genius of ancient Jaintia engineering. The King’s entourage consisted of large numbers of his staff and of course few elephants and inspite of the load the stone bridge was strong enough to support the Royal entourage on his journey to and fro Nartiang to Jaintiapur which is now in Bangladesh.
While traveling towards Jarain, on reaching Skhentalang a glance to the left and and one can enjoy a captivating view of an enchanting natural beauty. The cliff at Skhentalang can also be good for rock climbing. Before reaching Jarain there is a lake which is currently being developed and Jarain also use to be famous for its ethnic ale. The village of Jarain and the surrounding of the Amlarem the Block headquarter is the area famous for one very unique heritage of the District- the pitcher plant. There is an effort to protect and preserve this very important flora and fauna of the District by the Jaintia Hills District Council and the council has allotted a section of its protected forest for this purpose. The portion of the forest which can be called the Pitcher plant Park is on the left of the Jowai Muktapur road and it situated in between Amalrem and Jarain in a place called Myrkein. It may be mentioned that apart from Balpakram National park this unique insect eating plant can be found in different parts of Jaintia Hills like in Chyrmang-Yongnoh near Jowai, Myndihati, Wahiajer area of Khliehriat Sub-Division, but Jarain-Amlarem area is the only place where we can found it in abundant and the park is easily accessible.
On reaching Amalrem one has to take left on the Amalrem-Muktaput road and head for Syndai. Before reaching Syndai the next big village is Pdengchakap and the famous Lechka Hydel project is near Pdengchakap.
Syndai is a small village on the Southern slope of Meghalaya’s border with Bangladesh but this tiny hamlet has in its procession immense collection of heritages both natural and man made. In the natural heritages category we have the famous Syndai cave, which is not, only one of the beautiful cave but it is also one of caver friendly cave. The cave has been electrified to help make it easier for cavers to enter and explore the cave. Apart from the natural cave in the village, is also blessed to be on the route of the famous Royal Path that connects the two capital of the ancient Jaintia Kingdom. So on their frequent shuttle between their two capitals the Kings build some very rare monuments on the whole Royal Path and particularly at Syndai. In front of the Syndai cave stand a ruined temple partly destroyed by time and weather and also by the banyan tree which grow over the temple. Near the temple there is a small stone path that leads down to the wah Umpubon (river umpubon), just few minutes walk from the temple, lies a stone sculpture. It was a sculpture carved on one lose rock, the sculpture was that of Ganapati or Ganesh, the elephant headed god of the Hindu pantheon. The path from the Pubon leads down to the wah umpubon, here also one can see few sculptures, and the prominent is that of the elephant under the river water.
Now a few minutes walks to the left of river pubon (after crossing the Jowai Muktapur road) one can see the magnificent bathing ghat. Rupasor is a bathing tub carved on one very huge rock. Rupasor is a 10-meter square shape and its depth is 4 meter. The rocky bathing tub was well carved with steps that lead to the path (similar to the modern-day swimming pool.) To the left of the pool an elephant sculpture was sculpted from the same rock, but sad to say the trunk of the elephant is broken. The pool was well planned that drains were carved on both sides in such a way that water would continuously flow to and from the pool. On the entry to the Pool, there was another sculpture of the Sun and the Moon on the rock. From the pool a walk on the steps dawn the path that leads to the plains of Bangladesh, there is a stone bridge of a better architecture work. The bridge was made in arch shape, but one wonders how they could do that when cement was not even heard of in those days of the yore. The stone where carved in such a way that it fit into each other like a building block and joined by an iron rod the two stones fits into each other tight and strong enough even for elephants to walk over it.
Throughout the journey one can see Bangladesh and view of Bangladesh itself is magnificent sight. There are also several view point and the most important was the one on the side of the Khli fall near Amlari village. If one is adventure enough, one ca proceeds on the border road to Dawki via Muktapur. Dawki itself is one tourist destination famous for the river Umnongot and its bridge and it is also famous for its “Ja ah” Dawki’s own unique Jadoh. On the way to back to Jowai Nongtalang can be another stop and in this village also there is lot to see and understand. The village has two important view points and it also has many ancient monuments which testify to its glorious past of this village.

Nongtalang Village: The Keeper of the tradition
In the last episode we have introduced Nongtalang and it is one of the oldest villages in the war Jaintia area. The important thing about Nongtalang is that this village is one of the few villages that can rightly be called ‘the keeper of the traditions’ in the warjaintia area. For reason being the village which still has the large numbers of its dweller still follow traditional tribal religion, and still keeps a lot of its traditions intact. Nongtalang is the only place where the ‘Rong Khli’ (Tiger festival) is being performed as and when necessary. Rong Khli is a festival that can be performed only when some one in the village killed a tiger. The festival which was normally held in late winter and early spring is rarely being practiced now a day may be it is due to the fact that there are no more tigers in the prowl in the area. However the village also follows a unique tradition of village administration in which the High Priest of the traditional tribal religion is also the Headman of the village. As mentioned earlier the village has two view points from which one can have a grand view of Bangladesh, the scenic beauty of these two points’ only needs a little more improvement to convert it to a park par excellence. The village also has a cave but perhaps not fit for amateur cavers. Being one of the oldest villages, Nongtalang also has a few collection of monolith. But the distinctiveness of the village as such lies in the ability of its people to keep the typical warjaintia customs intact. People in warjaintia area particularly in Nongtalang still strictly adhere to joint family systems, which means that the entire family lives under one roof albeit in a separate unit.
The village also has quite a few monoliths in and around the village; most of these megalith have certain religious significances. Nongtalang is the only place where the tradition of erecting monolith is being practice till this day.

1 comment:

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