6 Interesting conversation starters when you meet locals on your trip to Meghalaya!
Last Updated on 02/08/2019
Northeast India has been left untouched for a long time, so much so that just 14 years ago while I was doing my graduation in Bengaluru, many people in the metropolitan cities had never heard of any places from Northeast India, not even about the states. Sometimes the fellow local students asked some of us from the Northeast, if the place we came from was a part of China. If you think that’s an exaggeration, then no it isn’t. Some of us from the Northeast had to point out the different states in the Indian map to show that Northeast is a part of India. But over the years with the boom of social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc., this scenario has completely changed for good. People especially travellers from mainland India are more aware of the beautiful existence of the different places in Northeast India and encourage others to travel here.
But when you meet the locals, you realise that the difference in culture and food habits is stark and hence, sometimes you might be at a loss of words thinking upon what can you talk or ask about. We at ChaloHoppo suggest some conversation starters that may help you win the hearts of the locals, cause these are not things or topics that outsiders are familiar with. Here, you go, start taking notes already:
1) The bathing stones of Umngot
The Khasis of Meghalaya prefer bathing stones over loofah to use as a body scrubber. They believe that these bathing stones found only near the river Umngot dry faster than a loofah, hence the chances of bacteria accumulation are low.
When you visit the crystal clear water of Umngot during the season (to be avoided during the Monsoons – May to September) don’t forget to ask the locals about the bathing stones. Collect some stones to keep as souvenirs.
2) The World Cup Insect of Ribhoi
Those of you who are ardent fans of football and follow the Indian football scene would know that Meghalaya is a place where talents like Samuel Shadap, Eugeneson Lyngdoh come from. Why did we suddenly switch to sports, when we said would tell you about some interesting conversation starters that you can hold with the locals from Meghalaya? Keep reading to know why.
The Chremistica Ribhoi locally known as the Niangtaser is an insect in Meghalaya, which comes out only once in four years and remains underground for the rest of the time. It appears 1 month before the beginning of the Football World cup. This insect can be found in Ri- Bhoi district. Because of its mysterious appearance during the FIFA World Cup, the football lovers have given a second name to this insect – they call it ‘Niang-World Cup’ and even have a festival around it! So, the next time you are in Meghalaya ask your local friends how many of them have seen the ‘Niangtaser.’
3) The sacred forest groves of Meghalaya
All of us know how deforestation, pollution, and the modern methods of civilisation have destroyed our planet and led it towards a slow annihilation. Through some efforts on World Environment Day, we have tried to maintain a balance. But the ancestors of the indigenous Khasi tribe of Meghalaya realised the importance of saving the forests long ago, that would provide them with all the necessities of life – food, shelter, medicine, and firewood. Today they are known as the sacred forests.
If you visit the sacred forests of Meghalaya, you find that some of the oldest forests date far back as 500+ years. The Khasis call the sacred groves as ‘Khlaw Kyntang’ or ‘Law Kyntang’ or ‘Law Lyngdoh’ in their local language. In Jaintia Hills, the sacred is known as ‘Khloo Blai’. There are around 105 sacred groove forests in the state. The Sal and teak trees form a major portion of these forests. Each of these sacred groves has an altar where some may be monoliths and other massive stone covered from all sides. You will find small openings in front of these altars which are only meant for Thanksgiving. The most famous sacred Forest that people may have heard of is the Mawphlang sacred grove. It’s only a 45-minute drive from Shillong.
This is all we are going to tell you. You need to ask the locals about the folklore surrounding the Sacred forests and you will have a bank of interesting stories to share with your friends and family once you go back to your native.
4) The wonder of bio-engineering – The Living root bridges of Meghalaya
You must have heard of trekking down the 3600+ steps of Nongriat to take you to the now Instagram famous Double- Decker living root bridge. Much before the modern methods of building bridges with iron or bricks came in, the forefathers of the Khasi tribe came up with a method of making natural bridges without harming the nature around.
Some of the oldest living root bridges are nearly 500 years old and these were designed by the forefathers of the Khasi tribe. Out of all the living root bridges, only 11 of them are functional. The most well-known among these is the double-decker living root bridges of Nongriat. In the days of yore, the Khasi people would build bamboo bridges across, streams but those structures couldn’t withstand the impetus of heavy monsoons. As a solution to this, rubber tree (Ficus elastica) roots were guided through the hollowed-out trunks of Areca nut palms to meet halfway across the stream. The flexible roots of the rubber trees were made to grow through betel tree trunks and the roots were tended and nurtured for almost 15 to 20 years until they reached the opposite bank, eventually growing into a bridge. These root bridges grow stronger with time.
But this natural heritage also needs maintenance to last longer believes Morningstar Khongthaw, the founder of “The Living Bridge Foundation”. When you come to Meghalaya, ask about the efforts Morningstar and his team have been taking over the last 5 years to improve the condition of the living root bridges in the state.
5) The unique turtle shell-like umbrellas of Meghalaya
So, you are travelling to the abode of clouds. There must be unique indigenous ways in which the locals must have been protecting themselves from incessant monsoon rains, and the frequent unpredicted downpour, long before the invention of the umbrella. That’s the next thing you need to talk to the locals about is the ‘Knup’.
Knup is made by weaving fragments of bamboo, plastic sheets and broom grass. This unique umbrella which is worn from one’s head till the knees to protect from rainwater resembles a turtle shell. If you visit Meghalaya during the monsoons, you will see some locals using the ‘knup’ as they set out for work. If you find a local who is ready to befriend you, ask him/her if you could hold this special umbrella and take a picture as a keepsake.
6) The musical village of Meghalaya
Most of us have an official name, a nickname or pet name given by either our parents or our friends which are used by our near and dear ones to address us. But, you will be awestruck to know that the villagers of Konthong have a special method of naming.
The Kongthong village in a remote corner of Meghalaya is known for its sounds. Each member of this unique village has a musical name which is given to one after his or her birth. The mother thinks of the tune akin to a bird’s call or a particular tune that she had made. Once a tune is made for a child, it is then communicated with the rest of the villagers who start using it to call the newborn baby. The baby gradually learns to identify himself/herself with this tune and thus it becomes the baby’s musical name. They acquire other official names, too because other than their family or the villagers no one else will understand their musical names. One tune is meant for one person and it is never given to another, even after the death of a person. When you come to Kongthong ask the locals about their musical names and how convenient do they find it to communicate amongst themselves with their unique names?
These small gestures of communication help to build the relationship among travellers and the locals of each place. These are just a few conversation starters that you can use during your trip in Meghalaya. The Abode of clouds is, in fact, a perfect getaway any time of the year, depending on the things you want to enjoy during your travels like, lazily sitting in a beautiful surrounding away from the crowd or jumping from a cliff into the natural pools. We organise trips to these unique places in Northeast India. If you want to visit any of these places in Meghalaya, then you can get in touch with us to plan your trip.