Everywhere I’d go in Meghalaya, strangers would look at me, turn to my guide and ask “Morboi?” , while suggestively cocking their heads in my direction. I asked Keshav, the driver who was doubling up as my guide for the entire duration of my trip what it meant.
“Morboi means alone in Khasi*”, he responded, ” They’re all asking me if you are travelling alone. It isn’t very common to see girls who aren’t local travel here, especially alone.”
Normally at this juncture, my solo traveller instincts would have coloured me terrified and I would have upped my guard, but this? This was Meghalaya. I had no reason to worry, and why would I? I was in one of the safest places in the world a solo female traveller could be in.
about it, I was getting around Meghalaya with Keshav, a 25 year old cab-driver
whom I had met in the Shillong marketplace on my first day there. I had no idea
how I was going to explore the rest of the state, and public transport is more
or less non-existent, so I took a chance, walked up to a random guy sitting
inside a black and yellow rundown taxi and asked him if he’d take me around for
the week that I was going to spend there. I had obviously done a lot of
research about Meghalaya beforehand and read that it is unbelievably safe for
women in general – travellers more so- and true to all my research ,not for a single
moment during my trip did I feel unsafe. It was every woman’s travel fantasy
The Matrilineal Society of Meghalaya
Intensely curious as to how a state in geographic proximity some of the states with the highest crime rates in India could be so safe, especially for women, I did a little digging and found out that it all boils down to the matrilineal society that exists there. Meghalaya is comprised of several tribes , the Khasi and Garo tribes making up a whopping 65% of the population. Both these tribes are said to belong to one of the largest surviving matrilineal cultures in the world. Women have all the dominant roles in the family, and the youngest daughter most often inherits all ancestral property. In fact, after marriage, the husbands come to live with the wife and their mother-in-law and the children adopt the mother’s surname, completely unlike the rest of the country. The birth of daughters are a cause for celebration, and when no daughters are born couples often adopt a girl child and she becomes the heir!
This matrilineal tradition practiced within these tribes is unique within India. Legend has it that centuries ago, the Khasi kings often embarked on wars and long journeys leaving the responsibility of managing the kingdom to the women, thus making their role in society, one of utmost respect. Overall this has translated into women being valued in the state till date, so much so that unlike the rest of the country, women enjoy total security and all rights. Freedom to wear what they want, marry outside their tribe, not to have children, freedom to remarry, or give birth outside of wedlock; their individual choices in all facets of life are respected, and more so protected by the “Khasi Social Custom of Lineage Act” , allowing the women of Meghalaya to be independent and free of judgment.
This wholesome respect for women extends to anyone visiting too. Anywhere else in India it would be a risk to drive off into remote villages miles away from civilization with a stranger, but in Meghalaya you’re as safe as you can be – or at least, I was.
Discovering Meghalaya Alone
One of the things I really wanted to do when I went to Meghalaya was find the signboard that said “World’s Wettest Place” and take a picture there. Of course, this wasn’t a tourist spot, so it meant I’d have to convince Keshav to drive me around the Cherrapunji district and to Mawsynram to locate this obscure board that many people said doesn’t even exist. Turns out, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be! The locals all speak fluent English, (owing to colonization and Christian missionaries) and they were all trying to be helpful even if they didn’t know what they were talking about. Couple of hours later, I did find the board outside the Public Works Department of Mawsynram – the wettest place on earth, and I got my photo.
The top reason why I love travelling alone is the ability to not have to conform to someone else’s schedule and pace. Travelling solo can be especially liberating when trekking, and there is no dearth of beautiful treks in Meghalaya. One of the most popular ones is the trek to Nongriat village , from where you can walk to see the Double Decker Living Root Bridges, or trek further to see Rainbow Falls. Normally people plan a night’s stay in Nongriat, but thanks to Keshav’s local knowledge and guidance I was able to finish it all up in a day and return to Shillong despite the monstrous rain. I did also manage to see some other “popular” destinations in Meghalaya like Elephant Falls in Shillong, Mawlynnong – Asia’s cleanest village, the Nohkalikai Waterfalls, and Umngot – the glass river on the Bangladesh border town of Dawki, however, Meghalaya has so much more to offer.
For instance the caves in Meghalaya are unlike anything you’ve ever seen. The longest and deepest caves in India are in Meghalaya and many of those are still unexplored in parts. One can opt for caving expeditions to explore these limestone beauties. Just want to relax and appreciate natural beauty? Visit the Sacred Groves of Mawphlang or the tea estates of Mawlyngot. Even if you just decide to drive around on the gorgeous cloud cloaked roads – and you will be amazed at how beautifully maintained these roads are – you’ll come across hundreds of waterfalls and pretty sights, apart from the waterfalls the tourist guides tell you to go see!
If you think Meghalaya is only natural beauty, you are definitely mistaken. The state is rich in culture- like the Whistling Village of Kongthong where the residents communicate with each other using unique tunes and whistles, or the silk hub of Umden where you can learn everything there is to know about producing silk. One cannot say the word culture and forget the hustling bustling capital city of Shillong which is an explosion of culture, shopping and food. From the vibrant music scene, to the quaint Bob Dylan themed cafes and great local food, Shillong has a lot to offer for one exploring Meghalaya, apart from being a great base to explore Meghalaya from. Make sure you interact with the friendly Khasi locals who often have very entertaining and fancy names like Continent, Morning Glory, Boldness, Frankenstein, Hilarious, Saddam, Hitler, or Greatest – again a result of the local tribal people being fascinated by the English language during colonization.
Regardless of their names, the people of Meghalaya are warm, friendly and extremely welcoming and respectful of outsiders, perhaps the warmest part of the state. Meghalaya – The Land of Clouds is always gloomy and overcast, and if there is anything that you can count on, it is the fact that it will rain – part of the charm , really; you don’t go to Meghalaya expecting sunny days and peachy weather. If you aren’t a huge fan of the rain ruining your plans and sights, try going in December, when it rains the least and the waters at the Umngot are at their clearest best.
December or not, Meghalaya is one of those destinations that will stay etched in your memory forever, perhaps you may even feel withdrawal symptoms the way I did, for months on end upon your return. My only tip – return the respect you receive from the people of Meghalaya to their women and the surroundings two-fold, and you will have found a home away from home.