The Abode of Clouds
Famously known as the ‘Abode of Clouds’, Meghalaya is a small Indian state tucked away in the eastern sub-Himalayan region. With average annual rainfall as high as 1200 cm in some areas, Meghalaya is the wettest place on earth. Hence the state was rightly named Meghalaya which literally means the Abode of Clouds in Sanskrit. The town of Cherrapunji in the Khasi Hills south of capital Shillong holds the world record for most rain in a calendar month, while the village of Mawsynram, near the town of Cherrapunji, holds the distinction of seeing the heaviest yearly rains.
The state is bounded on the north by Goalpara, Kamrup and Nowgong districts, on the east by Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills districts, all of Assam, and on the south and west by Bangladesh. Unlike her sister states in the North-east region, Meghalaya state stand today as a triumphant symbol of peaceful democratic negotiations, mutual understanding and victory over violence and intrigue when it joined the mainland as a full-fledged State on 21st January 1972.
The main tribes in Meghalaya are the Jaintias, the Khasis and the Garos. Interestingly English is the official language of the State, a clear remnant of the British rule in the region. Other principal languages in Meghalaya are Khasi and Garo. Nature has blessed her with abundant rainfall, sun-shine, virgin forests, high plateaus, tumbling waterfalls, crystal clear rivers, meandering streamlets and above all with sturdy, intelligent and hospitable people.
Climatic conditions in Meghalaya also permit a large variety of horticulture crops including fruits, vegetables, flowers, spices and medicinal plants. These are considered to be higher value crops but traditional values and food security concerns have prevented farmers at large from embracing these crops. Meghalaya houses many “sacred groves” which are generally a small pockets of ancient forest that have been preserved by the communities for hundreds of years due to religious and cultural beliefs. These forests are reserved for religious rituals and generally remain protected from any exploitation. These sacred groves harbour many rare plant and animal species. The Nokrek biosphere reserve in the West Garo Hills and the Balaphakram National Park in the South Garo Hills are considered to be the most biodiversity rich sites in the Meghalaya.
The State is basically an agricultural State. Except the reserved forest areas and protected forests in and around Shillong (being managed by the department in arrangement with the District Councils), the rest of the forest areas are subjected to the primitive agricultural practice of shifting cultivation or slash and burn method. The forests of Meghalaya can broadly be grouped under the tropical type and the temperate type, mainly based on the altitude, rainfall and dominant species composition. Grasslands of Meghalaya are a result of removal of original forest cover. The forests of Meghalaya are treasure house of valuable products such a timber, fuel wood, fodder, resin, tannin, gums, shellac, fibre, latex, essential oils, fats, edible fruits, honey and a large number of medicinal plants. Meghalaya is well known for bay leaves and cinnamon.
Geographical position of Meghalaya has favoured immigration and introduction of different plant species from the neighbouring states of the North Eastern India and also countries like China, Tibet and Burma. Meghalaya’s endemic Pitcher Plant or Nepenthes khasiana Hk. remains till now an explicable phenomenon to the botanists. Meghalaya is also a storehouse of richly varied and colorful orchids with as many as 325 species, which grow all over the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo Hills in the meadows, hill-slopes and swamps, even on the wayside. Recently Tea and Coffee are being grown in lands abandoned after jhuming. Medicinal plants are also an important plant cultivated in Meghalaya. Some of them are Ipecac, Rauvolfia serpentina, Cinchona, Abromine, Chaulmoogra Oil, Croton Oil, Eucalyptus, Castor Oil, Chiretta, Solanum khasianum, Casearia vareca, etc.
In addition to its flora, Meghalaya is considered by many biologists to have been the gateway through which many species of Indo-Chinese origin, particularly mammals, migrated to Peninsular India. About 50% of the total number of mammal genera found in the entire Indian sub-continent is believed to be found in Meghalaya and its adjoining states in the North-East. Meghalaya has three Wildlife Sanctuaries. These are the Nongkhyllem Wildlife Sanctuary, the Siju Sanctuary and the Bhagmara Sanctuary, which is also the home of the insect eating pitcher plant Nepenthes khasiana.
Hornbills including the Great Indian hornbill, florican, owl, black drongo and many other birds are also found. Multifarious species of birds like Hoopoe, Long tailed Broadbill, Scarlet Minivet, Burmese Roller, Blue-throated Barbet, Himalayan Black Bulbul and many other are found. Meghalaya’s butterflies are world famous, among which are Blue Peacock, the Karserhed, the Orange Oak Leaf, the Dipper, the Bhutan Glory. It is for this exquisitely diverse, rare and wonderful animal life that Meghalaya is called a veritable Nature’s Wonderland. Around 2,000 elephants are found in the Garo Hills and 500 in the jungles of the Jaintia Hills.
Besides its rich biodiversity, Meghalaya is also a storehouse of economic minerals. The major minerals that are presently exploited are Coal, Limestone, Clay and Sillimanite. These minerals are utilised in several mineral-based industries in the country. Besides, Coal and Limestone are also exported to Bangladesh, earning a good amount of foreign exchange. The mineral resources in the region has caused great concern over its environment protection and endangered many ecological habitat of various species. An alarming rise in population that has put large pressure on the state’s economic drive and need, has indirectly contributed to a great extent in giving out land and forest areas for mining.