From a distance, Meghalaya is a postcard-perfect destination. And, it is. Shillong and the Khasi Hills harbour dramatic caves, crystal clear rivers, verdant scenery and unbelievable living root bridges. But, in the remote western part of the state, something entirely different awaits the few who dare to come this way.
"Be very careful as you venture into the hills," a sweets shop owner warned me.
Garo Hills is home to the Garo tribe. Various Garo outfits like Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA), United A’chik Liberation Army (UALA), A’chik Songna An’pachakgipa Kotok (ASAK) and A’chik National Liberation Army (ANLA) have been leading a fight for independence from Khasi dominated administration. Peace is somewhat making a belated entry into these fierce hills but things still remain edgy.
I visited some remote parts and conversed with the villagers. The narrative was somewhat similar to Kashmir. The villagers are least concerned about the skirmishes for independence. They are fighting their own battles against hunger, illiteracy, homelessness and unemployment. One adverse effect of the insurgency is that the state government isn't working towards developing the Garo Hills as much as other parts of the state. Poor infrastructure makes it difficult for locals to make a living.
The Garos are fiercely independent and proud people. A little bit of peace and some assistance from the state government can provide the ideal platform for development that they have been denied for decades.
During my travels throughout India, I never experienced any kind of threat or felt any fear. I realised that people live under different circumstances and therefore have different thoughts, ideas and opinions. As a traveller, we need to hear and understand all the different views that we come across.
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