4/10/2009 to 4/14/2009 | India , Meghalaya

Shillong: The Dancing Khasi

May and I left Shiyong, leaving Phejin to recover from her busy week preparing for and coordinating the television shoot, for Shillong the capital of the state of Meghalaya sandwiched in the hills between Assam to the north and Bangladesh to the south. We stayed with Phejin’s sisters who were attending school there. It happened that our visit coincided with a Khasi festival, the local tribal people. The Khasi are an interesting matrilineal people where contrary to the traditions of most societies it is the youngest daughter who inherits all of the property. We somewhat accidentally stumbled on to the festival, we were not sure what to expect. May had picked up a brochure on it, I was sort of expecting the usual standard minor Indian festival with booths selling a variety of unneeded items, food, and basic carnival type rides for the kids. I was presently surprised to be mistaken, as the festival turned out to be quite a photogenic affair, pleasing both May, a fellow “camera-phile”, and myself. Unmarried Kasi girls and boys dressed in there finest traditional attire and danced traditional dances to rhythmic drum beats. The girls would dance in a line taking very small steps around the field while the boys danced both with feather like whisks and in the finale swords. We learned that main dancing day would be 2 days later. May had befriended one of the Khasi women had arranged for us to accompany her to a village the following day where there would be more dancing. A general strike called in response to a politician visiting Shillong nearly derailed our plans but we still managed to make it out to the village, although a bit later than we had planned. Our gracious “tour guide” and host showed us a few of the local sites en route, including a section of sacred forest and nearby monoliths reminiscent of a mini Stonehenge. The dancing field at the village was in a beautiful setting over looking the valley below and the surrounding hills. After thoroughly covering the event from a photographic perspective, we were treated to a delicious meal of pork afterwards. We were also offer Beatle Nut countless times, the Khasi equivalent of offering tea, but more closely resembling chewing tobacco, a mild narcotic nut that when chewed turns your teeth red and destroys your mouth after prolonged use. Nevertheless the Khasi still insisted it was good for your teeth and health, factual evidence of the toothless old Khasi men and women notwithstanding.

We witnessed the final day of dancing in Shillong before heading across Assam to Arunachal Pradesh bordering Bhutan on the west and Tibet to the north, Nagaland to the east, and Assam to the south.

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