Meghalaya is situated in the north-eastern region of India, between the Brahmaputra valley in the north and the Bangladesh in the south. It extends for about 300 kilometres in length and about 100 kilometres in breadth. The state was created in 1972 from the Khasi, Jaintia, Garo districts of Assam, which were formerly small kingdoms inhabited by separate tribal groups. The state of Meghalaya (the abode of clouds) is geographically known as the "Meghalaya Plateau" or the "Shillong Plateau". The area is made of the oldest rock-formations. Meghalaya consists of the Garo, Khasi and Jaintia hills along with their outliers formed by the Assam ranges. It is the detached north-eastern extension of the Peninsular India. Part of it lies buried under the alluvium deposited by the Ganga-Brahmaputra system of rivers. This gap is known as Malda gap (between Raj Mahal hills/Chhota Nagpur and the Shillong Plateau). Meghalaya Plateau's elevation varies between 150 meters to 1961 meters above sea level. The highest point of the entire state is the Shillong peak whose elevation is about 1965m above sea level. It is bounded on the south and southwest by Bangladesh and on all other sides by the state of Assam. The area is 22,429 square kilometres. The capital is the hill town of Shillong. Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya is located at an altitude of 1496 metres above sea level. Shillong, which was made Assam's capital in 1874, remained so till January 1972, following the formation of Meghalaya. The capital city derives its name from the manifestation of the creator called Shyllong. Meghalaya is a region of great scenic beauty; a panorama of lush, undulating hills, fertile valleys, 250 species of orchids, meandering rivers, waterfalls, sparkling mountain streams and lakes. Meghalaya is known for its natural beauty and the simple lifestyle of its tribal people. Meghalaya also receives limelight on account of Cherrapunjee, the wettest place on earth, which is only 56 kms. away from Shillong. Meghalaya has a single-chamber Legislative Assembly of 60 seats. The state sends three members to the Indian national parliament: one to the Rajya Sabha (upper house) and two to the Lok Sabha (lower house). The state has seven administrative districts. These are :
S.No Districts Area in Sq Km Population Headquarters
1. East Garo Hills 2,603 1,88,830 Willamnagar
2. East Khasi Hills 2,748 5,37,906 Shillong
3. Jaintia Hills 3,819 2,20,473 Jowai
4. West Garo Hills 3,174 4,03,027 Tura
5. West Khasi Hills 5,247 2,20,157 Nongstoin
6. Ri-Bhoi 2,448 1,27,312 Nongpoh
7. South Garo Hills 1,850 77,073 Baghmara
Flora and fauna:-------Meghalaya is endowed with a rich variety of flora and fauna. Of about 17,000 species of orchids in the world, around 3000 varieties are found in Meghalaya. A botanical wonder, the pitcher plant, an insect eating plant is found in the district of Jaintia hills, West Khasi hills and South Garo hills of the state. Animals and birds that are found in the state are elephants, tigers, bear, jackal, leopard, golden langurs etc. The interesting birds found in the state include Hornbills, King Vulture, Crested Serpent, Eagle, Partridges, Teals, Snipes, Quails etc.
Meghalaya is subject to vagaries of the monsoon. The climate varies with altitude. The climate of Khasi and Jaintia Hills is uniquely pleasant and bracing. It is neither too warm in summer nor too cold in winter, but over the plains of Garo Hills, the climate is warm and humid, except in winter. The Meghalayan sky seldom remains free of clouds literally it is the Abode of the Clouds. The average annual rainfall is about 2600 mm over western Meghalaya, between 2500 to 3000 mm over northern Meghalaya and about 4000 mm over south-eastern Meghalaya. There is a great variation of rainfall over central and southern Meghalaya. At Sohra (Cherrapunji), the average annual rainfall is as high as 12000 millimetres, but Shillong located at a distance of about fifty kilometres from Sohra receives an average of 2200 mm of rainfall annually.
In the Garo hills, the important rivers of the northern system from west to east are the Kalu, Ringgi, Chagua, Ajagar, Didram, Krishnai and Dudnai. Of these only the Krishnai and Kalu are navigable. The important rivers of the southern system are Daring, Sanda, Bandra, Bhogai, Dareng and Simsang. Simsang is the largest river in the Garo hills and navigable only for about 30 Km . Other navigable rivers are Nitai and the Bhupai. In the central and eastern section of the plateau the important northward flowing rivers are Umkhri, Digaru and Umiam and the south-flowing rivers are Kynchiang (Jadukata), Mawpa, Umiew or Barapani, Myngot and Myntdu.
The population of the state is unevenly distributed and is determined by physiographic factors and accessibility. The population of the state is mainly concentrated in the area around Shillong urban agglomeration, Jowai, Nongstoin, Williamnagar, Tura and Baghmara, the neighbourhood of Cherrapunji and Dawki and Northern, western and southern fringes of the Garo hills. The sparsely populated areas of the state is found in the northern and southern Khasi hills, most of the Jaintia hills and the interior of the Garo hills. The population of the state can be classified into tribal and non-tribal population. Tribal peoples make up about 85 percent of Meghalaya's population. Among tribal population, Meghalaya is dominated by three principal groups of people i.e the Garos in the western section of the plateau, the Khasis in the central section of the plateau and the Jaintia in the eastern section of the plateau. All the three have a matrilineal social system in which the family lineage is taken for the mother's side. Within the four districts of the combined Khasi and Jaintia hills there are number of dialects. Based on the dialects, the community is generally divided into five groups namely the Khasis of the central plateau, the Pnars or Jaintia in the east, the Wars in the south, the Lyngams in the west and the Bhois in the north. Most of the houses are constructed in accordance with the people's tastes. There is a great variation which ranges from the old Khasi type to the modern types found in Shillong and other important towns of the state. In some Jaintia and Garo villages, engravings of the figures of men and animals are found on the house walls. Near Jowai, the carvings of a lover and his beloved are seen which evoke acclaim even today for artistry and ingenuity in designing. The Garo women are expert in weaving. Dakmandes, a kind of women's wear, are well decorated with depictions of beautiful flowers and butterflies, in various colour combines. Baskets, sleeping mats, winnowing fans, rain shields manufactured out of plaited bamboo and cane are found in the rural areas. Jaintia fishing traps made of bamboo sticks are also noted for functional beauty. The cane bridges hanging over quick-flowing streams also testify to the superb craftsmanship of the Khasis and Jaintias. The non- Christian Garos erect memorials for the dead. Those are actually statues engraved in wooden posts, in the shape, form and facial resemblance of the deceased. Meghalaya occupies a total area of 22,429 sq kms with a total population of 2,306,069 persons as reported in the census of 2001. The sex-ratio in Meghalaya was 974 females per 1000 males; as against 923 females for the country as a whole. The fairly high sex ratio in Meghalaya may be attributed to the existing tradition of matrilineal society.
Agriculture is the main occupation of Meghalaya, with eighty three percent of the total population, dependent on it for their livelihood. Rice and maize are the major food crops. Important fruits grown here are orange, pineapple, lemon, guava, jackfruit and bananas, while potato, jute, mesta, cotton, arecanut, ginger, turmeric, betel leaf and black pepper are the chief commercial crops. 'Jhum' or the shifting system of cultivation is being replaced with scientific methods, bringing land under permanent cultivation. Forest resources from pine and other timber products bring in the major chunk of state revenue. The state has many small scale industries in furniture making, iron and steel fabrication, tyre retreading and baking, to name the principal ones.
Meghalaya has abundant but untapped natural resources, including coal, limestone, kaolin, feldspar, quartz, mica, gypsum, bauxite, and other minerals. Its sillimanite deposits (a source of high-grade ceramic clay) are reputedly the best in the world and account for almost all of India's sillimanite output. Most of the natural resources are extracted and sent outside the state only in raw form. Meghalaya has no heavy industries; small-scale industries include cement, plywood, and beverage factories, in addition to a newly established electronics plant.
Meghalaya, being one of the most beautifull hill states of India, is very suitable for a lot of adventure activities.
The deepest and longest of the caves in South Asia are located on the hills of Khasi Hills. Every year expert cavers from all around the world explore the hills of Meghalaya, to find new caves and map them. Some very large caves with beautiful formations are well mapped and are closeby, with good accessibility. Caves are located in almost all the districts of the state that add to the abundance of natural beauty of Meghalaya. This state probably has more caving potential than any other state in India. These caves mainly stalactite and stalagmite caves of various formations, are truly nature's gift and wonder.
The beautiful hill slopes of Meghalaya are ideal for trekking. Trekking between villages of colourful hill tribes is also very interesting. The trekking potential in Meghalaya is unique, in the sense that terrain is rugged like in Himalayan areas but with the advantage of not being snowbound.
The Water Sports Complex has been developed upon the mighty reservoir of the Umiam Hydro Electric Project, at Umiam, 16 kilometres before reaching Shillong. The campus consists of a beautiful Orchid Lake Resort and the Nehru Park. Besides, it offers a wide choice of exciting water sports activities with row-boats, paddle-boats, cruise-boats, sailing-boats and water-scooters. Umiam is also an angler's paradise. Have the patience to snare a big catch at Umiam. In fact, some fish have been sighted with physical proportions as big as that of a Ford Escort.
Camping & Biking
Meghalaya is also an ideal location for biking and camping holidays.
Archery is another game of precision popular in Meghalaya. It is interesting to note that the only government sanctioned gambling is in this state and is organised around archery activities. It is known as 'Teer".
Shillong Golf Course is referred to as the "Gleneagle of the East" at the United States Golf Association Library and Museum. This museum, which happens to be the largest of its kind in the world, exhibits the only piece on display from India as that of the Shillong Golf Course. The site where the Shillong Golf Course is located, provides a scenic view. Developed in 1898, as a 9 holes course, it was later converted to 18 holes in 1924, by Capt. Jackson and C.K Rhodes - both did a remarkable job in preserving its natural beauty and carved out the cost amongst pine trees. It is the third oldest golf course in India and was first surveyed in 1933. Since then, no major modification been carried out over it. The location and setting on this course are amongst the best found in the country.
Wild Life in Meghalaya
The state has two National Parks - Nobrek and Balpakam, and two wildlife sanctuaries - Nongkyllem and Siju.
Balpakram National Park
Balpakram is a fertile virgin land. The unsurveyed belts of limestone and coal deposits, along with sea shells fossilized into rocks in Balpakram Hill provide immense scope for geological and archeological studies. The fauna of this area includes elephants, wild buffaloes, gaur (Indian bison), sambar, barking deer, wild boar, slow loris, capped langur as well as predators such as tigers, leopards, clouded leopards and the rare golden cat.
Nokrek Biosphere and Siju Caves
Nokrek Biosphere Reserve is located in the Garo Hills district, 2 kms from Tura Peak. The reserve is one of the least disturbed forest tracts of the sub-Himalayan ranges. It is the first biosphere reserve of its kind in the northeast region. The Garo Hills contain many natural limestone caves. The famous Siju Cave is located very close to the Nophak Lake near the Simsang River Game Reserve. The cave is filled with water and is miles long.
How to reach
Internal communications are poor, and many areas remain isolated. There are no railways in Meghalaya. A national highway runs through the state from Guwahati (Assam) in the north to Karimganj (Assam) in the south.
Nearest airport is at Guwahati which is 128 km away. Helicopter Service is also available. A helicopter service operates between Guwahati, Shillong (30 min) and Tura (60 min). While some services to Shillong land at the ALG in Upper Shillong, others land at Umroi Airport, 35 km. from downtown. The baggage allowance is 10 kg. The helicopter service is convenient and economical. Meghalaya Transport arranges transfers from/to the helipad. Taxis are available at Guwahati Airport for Shillong. The journey takes about 4 hours.
Nearest railhead is at Guwahati. Meghalaya Transport Corporation (MTC) has bus services coordinated with train arrivals at Guwahati. The buses leave Guwahati from 6 am to 5 pm. ( 3 ½ hrs). Reciprocal services from Shillong also leave at the same time. Taxis are available at Guwahati Railway Station.
National Highway 40, an all-weather road, connects Shillong with Guwahati. States' Transport Corporations and private transport operators have services to various places in Meghalaya and to neighbouring states. Frequent services are available from Guwahati. Taxis and shared taxis are also available. In Guwahati, the buses leave from the main bus stand near the railway station. The taxi stand is nearby. In Shillong, the bus stand is located near Centre Point, the heart of town.