Living root bridge
Meghalaya, which in Sanskrit means “the abode of clouds” (even the name gives allusions to some long gone continent or even another planet) is located in the most northern parts of India and is geographically and culturally separated from the other parts of India. It is like a surreal reality that exists only in the imagination of someone like Marquez. Entering this Indian state you find yourself in as if another country where there is nothing Indian. Here are some signs by which you can conclude you are in a parallel space-time continuum far from the normal mundane reality.
November in Meghalaya. At 4:30 p.m it is already dark. In the dusk one can see people wrapped in blankets with bright red lips and teeth, colored by the betel they chew all the time, walking vigorously in the cold humid weather. The somewhat flat faces, their eyes and the dark skin tells you that you are in the land of some unknown tribes. The strange quietness and desolation of the villages combined with the low temperatures (though you are in the tropics) slowly start influencing your senses dragging you in an uncharted territory. You wake up and contrary to all the biological laws you are in a pine forest with banana trees here and there.
While you walk in the streets you try to define the level of modernization and development of the local society, but you can’t. You see women wrapped in blankets walking next to girls dressed provocatively and with very modern hairstyle. Middle aged women with a light semi-transparent piece of cloth around their waist (think Roman style) wear glossy stilettos as if designed in the 40-s.
Then you suddenly find yourself in a tropical jungle where bare footed indigenous people gather skillfully roots and herbs and then surprisingly you see in front of you a church (Presbyterian – mind you!) with a statue of Don Bosco outside. And next to it is the school “Sacred Heart” where you see pupils with short blue skirts or short pants with white socks above the knee.
At breakfast you go to a wooden shelter where there are a dozen of merchants who sell giant pieces of beef. Inside, still sleepy, with a chequered blanket worn as skirt, disheveled hair and bright red lipstick, is the owner who serves you the only vegetarian food they offer, which has pretty bad taste. But you know you will come back (because there aren’t much restaurants here).
Mower in the field and a dirty worker start talking to you with the perfect English accent. The fact that you have pitched your tent in the center of the town obviously doesn’t bother anyone and people behave as if nobody even sees it.
To summarize: you have just walked 10 km. and all your senses are blocked by the contradictory signals they receive – the pine forest with banana trees, the biting cold combined with the tropical jungle a few feet away, the people who look like coming from some tribe, but are actually well educated Presbyterian Christians. On top of all this the most emancipated women are those who actually rule this strange Matriarch society.
After you have encountered all these improbable things from the Meghalaya reality you are flabbergasted and perplexed and the only conclusion that could be done is: “I am in some surreal book”.