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Heritage sites in Jaintia Hills

By HH Mohrmen

Jaintia Hills is one of the three original districts of the State of Meghalaya when it was carved out of the erstwhile composite State of Assam in the year 1972. The District has some incredible heritage sites and some unique flora and fauna distinct only to this part of the country. Apart from the flora and fauna, Jaintia Hills also has many historical monuments and of course a rich culture, from traditions to food and from dress to pottery.

The people of Lynrai village are the keepers of a unique Pottery tradition as it is commonly known “Khiew Ranei” in Khasi and “Kchu Lyrnai” in Pnar. The pots for baking Putharo ( a steamed rice bread) are made in Lyrnai only and nowhere else. Lyrnai is a small hamlet of about 6 km from Ummulong village which is on the NH 44. It is the only place where people are still involved in making pottery. Lyrnai pots are not only used for baking Putharo but there are also pots of different shapes and sizes used for other purposes too. Some of the pots made in Lyrnai have religious significance; these pots are still being used by the Doloi of Nartiang to perform some rituals. Another type of pot made at Lyrnai is also used by the people in the traditional religion for the purpose of keeping a piece of the severed umbilical cord that connects the newborn baby with its mother.

Nartiang is famous for its Dolmen and Menhirs and also for its monolith park which is the only place where one could see the largest collection of monoliths in the entire state of Meghalaya. The tallest monolith in the whole of the Khasi Jaintia hills can be found in the monolith park of Nartiang. Nartiang being the summer capital of the erstwhile Jaintia Kingdom also has monuments made by the people of that era which includes mookhrah, etc. There are two temples in Nartiang one is a Durga temple and the other in a Shiva temple. In the Shiva temple there are old canons used by the Jaintia kings in the past. There are also two lakes in Nartiang dug by Sajar Nangli, Umtisong and Myngkoi tok and another of Sajar Nangli’s well preserved and protected lake is the Thadlaskein lake.

Few kilometers from Jowai on the Jowai-Dawki road or rather Jowai- Muktapur road, is the famous stone bridge and a collection of dolmen and menhirs at Thlumuwi. The bridge connects the erstwhile Jaintia King’s winter and summer capital and the monoliths served as a “Kor shongthait” (resting place) for the people to rest and relax before they continue on their arduous journey.

Before reaching Jarain there is a lake which is now called the Pitcher plant Lake. That is because Amlarem, the seat of the Amlarem development block is famous for another unique natural heritage of the district- the Pitcher plant. The Pitcher plant Park is on the left of the Jowai Amlarem road and it is situated in a place called Myrkein. It may be mentioned that apart from Balpakram National park; this unique insect eating plant can be found in different parts of Jaintia Hills like in Chyrmang-Yongnoh near Jowai, Myndihati, Wahiajer in Khliehriat Sub-Division, but Jarain-Amlarem area is the only place where is it found in abundance and the park is easily accessible. In Amlarem there is also the famous water-fall the Krang Shuri falls and adjacent to it there is the Umiaknieh stone bridge. The Umianieh stone bridge also has some sculpture or carving on stone in some part of the bridge.

Syndai is a small village on the Southern slope of Meghalaya’s border with Bangladesh but this tiny hamlet has in its possession a massive collection of heritage both natural and manmade. In the natural heritage category we have the famous Syndai cave, which is not only one of the most beautiful caves but it is also a tourist friendly cave. Apart from the natural cave in the village, there is also the famous Royal Path that connects the two capitals of the ancient Jaintia Kingdom. In front of the Syndai cave there’s a ruined temple partly destroyed by time and weather and also by the banyan tree which grew over the temple. Near the temple there is a small stone path that leads down to the wah (river) Umpubon and few minutes’ walk from the temple, is a stone sculpture. It is carved on one lose rock. The sculpture is that of Ganapati or Ganesh, the elephant god of the Hindu pantheon. The path from the Pubon leads down to the Wah Umpubon. Here also one can see a few sculptures, and the most prominent is that of the elephant under the river water.

A few minutes walks to the left of Wah Umpubon (after crossing the Jowai-Amlare-Muktapur road) one can see the magnificent bathing ghat. Rupasor is a bathing tub carved on one very huge rock. It is a 10-meter square shaped tub and its depth is 4 meters. The rocky bathing tub was well carved with steps that lead to the pool. To the left of the pool an elephant head was sculpted on the same rock, but sad to say the trunk of the elephant is broken. On the entry point to the pool, there is another sculpture of the sun and the moon on the rock. From the pool a walk on the steps down the path that leads to the plains of Bangladesh. There is a stone bridge of a better architectural work and there is another stone bridge near the Wah Umpubon.

Nongtalang also has a cave but perhaps not fit for amateur cavers. The village also has quite a few monoliths in and around the village. Most of these monolith have religious significance. Nongtalang is the only place where the tradition of erecting monoliths is still practiced. War Jaintia is also famous for its living root-bridges. A living root bridge is formed when two Ficus elastica or Ficus Indicus trees (dieng jri in local parlance) are planted on each side of the river, and once the tree starts growing humans manipulate the roots of the trees to connect to each other to span across the river. In Nongtalang village there is one bridge over the river Amrngiang on the way from Nongtalang to Amlympiang, another is on the river Amladiar on the Amtyrngui River and there are two more root bridges one over Amdap Sohpiang and another over the Amdoh stream.

In Padu village there are three living-root bridges very close to village which is again less than 10 kilometers away from Amalrem. All the three living-root bridges in the village are on the Amdep creek. There are two living-root bridges in Kudeng rim a village near Sohkha village. One of the two bridges in Kudeng Rim village is on the river Amlamar and another is on the river Amkshar. There is one living-root bridge in Darang village on the river Amsohmi and another two in the Khonglah village one over the Amsohkhi rivulet and another over the Amlunong stream.

This is perhaps the first of the two write-ups I plan on the natural and man-made sights which have a heritage value in Jaintia hills. In the subsequent article I will also write on the sacred forests in Jaintia hills.

(The writer is a researcher and environmentalist. He is based in Jowai and can be reached at [email protected])

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