I had heard of Garo Hills (Garo Pahaar in Bengali) from my father. He used to talk of tigers swimming into their property whenever there would be heavy rains on the Garo Hills. Waters from the Hills would cascade down creating floods all around. The tigers, of course, would be would be chased out by my grandfather and his brothers wielding nothing except lathis (bamboo sticks). Their property was in the town of Sushong in Mymansing district of East Bengal (that is now Bangladesh) at the foot of Garo Hills.
When I was posted in the North East I had an intense desire to visit Garo Hills. The region was divided into two districts of East Garo Hills and West Garo Hills It was for the district headquarters Tura of West Garo Hills that we had to head when we decided to visit these not-so-well-publicised hills. East Khasi Hills with its district headquarters Shillong is much more well-known and has that exotic value – scenic and touristy. Garo Hills are not quite known outside the state and the only big town Tura, actually the second biggest town after Shillong in Meghalaya, is also obscure for many.
We had to climb down from Shillong and come to Guwahati, Capital of Assam and then take the road on the north bank of River Brahmaputra to travel westwards. The drive of about 200-odd kilometres was captivating. It was lovely country all through. After all, it is Brahmaputra Valley that keeps the surrounding fields green. As we approached Garo hills we saw huge jack fruit trees laden with massive fruits hanging out of even the fat trunk at a man’s waist height. This was something I had never seen earlier.
Climbing the Hills of around the same height as Khasi Hills we saw Garos busy in their fields. One peculiar thing we saw was the tree house. Many Garos have created houses on trees or erected them with the help of bamboos with a covered room at the top. The covering in most cases was just thatched; a bamboo ladder led one to the top. This was used to guard the crops against wild animals. In some parts of Garo Hills wild elephants still roam free. Garo Hills has an Elephant Reserve yet many elephants move around outside the protected area. Mostly forested, the Garo Hills have few reserves, one is near Baghmara in South Garo Hills.
Tura is a hilly town – of hills and valleys dominated by Tura Peak. It has a moderate climate and sparse population which is largely Christian. English is pretty commonly spoken though Garo native languge and Hajong are largely used. There are a number of supposedly good Christian secondary schools and a few colleges. The place is where the Arch Diocese of Roman Catholic Church resides. The town is picturesque with hills, valleys and rivers flowing by.
In Tura we came across a fig tree that had numerous low hanging fruits. But we were told that these were inedible as they harbour insects, bees and flies. Indeed, when one was cut open a bee-like biggish and dangerous-looking fly came out and flew away.
A visit to Baghmara was slated for me. It is situated almost at the edge of Garo Hills in the south at the international border with Bangladesh. Baghmara is the place where Capt. Williamson A Sangma, the founder chief minister of the state of Meghalaya was born. From here I was told my father’s place Sushong was only 20 kilometers away but it would be much less for a crow if it flew from here across to Sushong. I could see a small settlement. It was a clear day and visibility was good and yet because of the vegetation very little was visible. Bangladesh is a wet place and trees would seem to be everywhere barring the farm lands. It was like the same sight we had of Bangladesh from the heights of Cherrapunji. It is a small place and thinly populated.
The small establishment of the office was pleased to receive a head of a circle who seldom visits such small places. The office was in a pucca building with a quite a bit of land all round with numerous tall trees. On one such tree we espied a blooming flower at its top. Soon enough the guard got a long enough bamboo stick and brought down part of the flower. It was far too big for just a part of the flower and it was none other than an orchid with varying shades of pink on its petals – a beautiful creation of Nature. The whole flower must have been a massive one growing undisturbed. Underneath, on the ground danger confronted us from several sides. Finding their territory being invaded massive red desperate looking ants were preparing to attack. A timely warning prompted us to get away from them. Their bites are supposed to cause wounds that can torment one for weeks.
Soon it was time for us to leave. Our driver, a Mizo by the name of Lushai, suggested that we take t
he state road through the hills. I thought the idea was welcome and we headed for the district head quarters of East Garo Hills. A few kilomtres away from Tura is Sisbibra by the side of a river where a memorial has been created for the martyrs including Togan Sangma who resisted with their traditional arms the British incursions and fell to their bullets.
The district head quarters of East Garo Hills has been named Williamnagar after Capt. Williamson Sangma. We halted at Williamnagar only for a little while and proceeded towards Nongstoin, headquarters of East Khasi Hills. We did not stay there too for long as our driver espied some bad elements eying our vehicle and following it. He wanted us to leave quickly for Shillong and we thought it wise to go by his advice. All I remember of Nongstoin and its surroundings beautiful green cover all around – like a massive golf course. I understand there are many natural features in the district that are worth seeing. Nongstoin has now been connected with Shillong and Tura by a beautiful highway that seems to be world class and is picturesque.