Sunday the 24st
Christmas Eve. We meet up with Don at the entrance to an Elephant Waterfall that, in the middle of the dry season, we don't bother to peek.
We made our way together to the sacred forest of Mawphlang, one of the dark and mystical areas of the East Khasi Hills, filled with monoliths and moss-covered sacrificial stones, during the long rainy season of Meghalaya, much more than we found. The natives consider it the abode of their ancestral gods.
We calculate, therefore, that the picnics that the Khasi and outsider populace indulge in in the great clearing at their entrance are blessed by them.
A group of raucous students is photographed beside a trio of ceremonial standing stones. The unexpected commotion makes a small herd of cows startled. It also surprises us, fresh out of the silent and esoteric stronghold of the forest.
Shillong Viewpoint Tourist Chaos
We left Mawphlang determined to investigate the Shillong Viewpoint, a point on the edge of the Upper Shillong Forest that allows us to contemplate the green valley in which the capital was nestled, its exotic houses and the one spread throughout its surroundings.
Don knew the place was popular this time of year. "But I never imagined this would be like this now!" he vents affected by the queue of traffic assisted by opportunistic vendors of drinks and snacks that we are confronted with on the way to the viewpoint, even so, much less than the usual ones at the entrance and exit of Shillong. “Well, if we wait here, never again… Let's leave the car. We walk to the gate and we already see if they let you in or not.”
It confirms what we had been warned about. Strategically, the place had been occupied by an Air Force Base of the India. Once upon a time, the military even authorized the entry of foreigners, but with the rivalry with Pakistan and the China worsening visibly, that concession was suspended.
As we were on a working visit in partnership with the Megahalaya tourist authorities, we were hoping that they would make an exception for us. But Sara's nickname Wong gets in the way. Despite the courteous dialogue with the duty officer and the phone calls he deigns to make, we remain at the door. We are still combing the pine forest around the fence for an alternative view.
Back to Shillong, against Indian Christmas
For obvious reasons, the Air Force occupied access to the panoramic end from which it could control what was happening in Shillong and the vastness to the north. Only Indians could get there.
Little by little, the hundreds of families in the neighboring states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Orient caneal and until Bangladeshi vacationers in Meghalaya saw their ticket approved. They piled up at the observation point and picnic area that we didn't even catch a glimpse of.
We reverse course. We went back to the car. With lunchtime and Christmas Eve afternoon to coincide, we return to our own headquarters in the capital, the Pinewood hotel, one of the oldest in Shillong, built by a Swiss couple during the XNUMXth century, in red pine and Burmese teak, in a way that combines Germanic influences with the usual style of old British Hill Stations. On the way, in another building on the side of the road, we notice a ceremony disguised as an evening rooster mass.
The Christianization of the Khasi began in the XNUMXth century, through the action of British settlers and their missionaries.
It has proven so influential that Meghalaya is today one of the three states of the India with unequivocal Christian majorities: Nagaland and Mizoram have 90% Christians in their populations; Meghalaya, with 83%. These states have churches and Christian rituals to match, such as the Christmas celebration that we have been seeing and feeling intensify for some time.
Seng Khasi: In Defense of the Old Beliefs of the Khasi People
This is not to say, however, that all khasi have abandoned their old beliefs for good. Some combine them with Christianity.
Others are more radical and apologists for the purity of the former. Seng Khasi, an organization founded in 1899 but which has recently gained a large following, advocates an alternative to Western civilizational contagion and a return to Khasi identity, faith and precolonial rituals.
His is the flag with a green rooster over a central white circumference (symbolizing the Earth), surrounded by red that we see flying above the followers of the convention.
Seng Khasi defends and spreads the Khasi mythological belief that, at one point, living beings suffered a long era of darkness and despair caused by the sun at one point hiding in darkness and failing to lighten and warm the Earth. .
Then, a hermit rooster, U Malymboit Malymbiang, ended up being named as a last resort among several creatures, to resolve the drama. It was dressed and embellished with the best cosmetics, so that its personality, aura and capacity for influence were reinforced.
Unlike previous successive candidates – an elephant, a tiger and even a hornbill that turned out to be an individualist and cheater – the rooster carried out the mission with the subservience and honesty that was expected of him. As unworthy as he was, he prostrated himself before His Majesty. The humble approach of the roasted emissary convinced the Sun. The great star once again bestowed its brilliance on the Earth.
The Rooster, the other Religious Symbol of Meghalaya
From this myth resulted the khasi praise for the rooster, the nuclear symbol of the Seng Khasi, a guide that, among several other secular principles, enlightens the khasi on the path of truth, dignity and honor, in every thought, in every action.
As was to be expected on a day when he was counting on having the afternoon to rest, the Nepalese driver Sharma was eager to see us from behind, something that the traffic jam that had started far away from Shillong only postponed. Thus, we could not stop and spy on the convention.
Around one o'clock sharp, we were finally on our own. we had lunch momos, soups Easier of tofu and fried rice in a Bamboo Hut. After that we retire to the cosiness of room 309 in the PineWood Hotel's State Convention Center.
There were already several days of exploration of Meghalaya in a row, leaving at seven thirty or eight in the morning and returning, exhausted, in the evening. Thus, we give ourselves to a well-deserved rest. We only left the room for a pre-booked supper, which, with mandatory use of the Indian and Indian-Khasi menu, we tried to pass as Christmas, as was the prolific lighting at the entrance of the hotel.
Monday, the 25th.
With great effort, we woke up at 8:30 am and dashed to the hotel's main wooden building. If the supper had proved to be unsuitable for the period as we knew it, what can we say about breakfast?
As the night before, the room was crowded with Indian families on vacation, each busier than the last. All in dispute lit by doses, by the idly (rice cakes) by sambhar (vegetable stew, especially lentils) by the chapatis e parathas (kind of flat breads or pancakes) and the like.
We, come back to combine milk tea, coffee, toast and parathas barred with candy or horse omelets, with bananas. We went back to the bedroom to do some more work on the laptops. At two in the afternoon, we gathered courage and left for Shillong, again in photographic mode.
We crossed Ward Lake in front of the hotel. We cross the vast, green park around, filled with more families and lovers living the best of life.
We find a hidden exit at the opposite end of the park that leads to a busy road. After a few hundred meters on what used to be Soso Tham Road, we come across the Police Baazar area, the commercial heart of Shillong.
Around the Khyndailad Fountain and its rotunda decorated with reindeer, Christmas trees and other elements of the court made of electric wires, small street entrepreneurs tease the passing children.
They display pink cotton candy curls, balloons and a panoply of colorful trinkets, including a portable mask display co-inhabited by Minie, Spider-Man and even an ape-like – as it is supposed – Lord Hanuman .
Adults deserve different baits: corn, roasted beans and peanuts, several other street snacks.
We walked down a pedestrian street crammed with many more street vendors of a bit of everything, many of them migrated from imminent Bangladesh. The setting sun hardly enters that way anymore. We searched and pursued its rare warming spots and the busy life that passed through them. Sometimes we do it with such dedication and enthusiasm that the mission tastes like a Christmas gift to us.
Shillong's Christmas Eve
Darkens. Cools down. The neon on the facades of the Center Point Shillong and Marba Hub buildings – two shopping centers on the edge of the roundabout – stands out against the blue twilight sky.
Before long, the decorations light up inside the barred interior of the circumference, already challenging to access due to the frantic traffic that circulated around it. We think, even so, that the urban setting in front of it, increasingly bright with neon, deserves a record.
We go to the roundabout, go over the railing and settle down to photograph and film. Our transgression arouses the greed of some Indians who, armed with their telephones, follow and imitate us. A young balloon seller notices the commotion and approaches to foist them.
Eventually, it is already a veritable crowd that disputes the poorly grassed interior of the roundabout and its illuminations. There are selfies in all kinds of ways, for all tastes. They are family, group, individual. Together with the green and the orange Christmas tree.
Face-to-face with the yellowish reindeer, made with electrical wires and red stems, which, despite the fragility of both creatures, is even photographed with babies on horseback.
Highlighted from the structure that supports the gallery's sky vault, in an advertisement for a Chinese telephone with strong acceptance in India, Virat Kohli – the captain of the Indian cricket team – draws his own Selfie . "human selfiestan” (our Selfistan) preaches the announcement in Urdu dialect.
Without waiting, without knowing quite how, follower after follower, that's what we'd generated in that rounded patch of Shillong: an eccentric Christmas selfie.
The authors would like to thank the following entities for supporting this article: Embassy of India in Lisbon; Ministry of Tourism, Government of India; Megalaya Tourism.