Mesmerizing Meghalaya and Sustainable Tourism Development .
During 2009 When I spent most of my free time to prepare for the project on Sustainable Tourism Development like collecting all the materials for market research, feasibility, challenges and other related issues, I travel a lot in few cities of India, especially those tourist hunted destinations , I interact with the people in villages and towns sharing with them every dimension of life-the past the present and the future socio economic condition. Comparing those places I toured many places in Meghalaya, and found that besides the gifted natural surroundings, mesmerized destinations and waterfalls, the people are culturally well mannered and hospitable. Among the places that I set foot. The region that touched me the most, is the Sohra Region especially the Laitryngew Village. This village is famous in the yester years due to the rich coal belt. To depict the past of this village, the most prominent phenomenon that happened in the coal belt of Lad Rymbai, Bapung , in Jaintia Hills and Borsora, Nongjri in Khasi Hills are the past in Laitryngew Village during the 60s and 70s comparatively with very very less crimes ever reported.
Laitryngew village is a beautiful village situated in East Khasi at Shillong-Sohra Road. The Village is surrounded by
North- Wahktieh,Mawkabor near Mawmihthied upto Laitlum
East- Shnong Laitmawsiang,Mawlyndiar
West - Mawkma,Laitlyndop
The whole plateau of this village is a coal belt area where the villagers earn their living by working in coalmines. The rat-hole coal mining system here is recognized as a cottage industry. This culture of rat-hole mining of coal is carried out manually for decades. During the year 1950 to 1980 when coal deposit is extracted at the highest quantity. The sprawling area is occupied by outside workers who peeped in from Nepal, Bhutan, and other state of India. There were many trucks plying to and from this village to carry coal to Mawmluh Cherra Cement Factory as well as Guwahati . Villagers in the past cultivate the low lying areas and planted, rice,vegetables, peas, potato sweet potato, maize etc. Seasonal fruits called Sohphlang was also well cultivated in this area. Gradually, haphazard coal extraction salinated the top soil and the low lying areas are silted with waste that flow from the quarry making the whole area devoid of arable land.. Naturally Agriculture which is the backbone of 70% of the population in India is not feasible in the village. Due to heavy rainfall,Agriculture in this village can be done only by way of high technology application in the form of Well built poly-house and hybrid seeds.. In this village top soil is carried away every year. and the fertility of soil is comparatively very less. Every consumable is to be bought from other producers as the village is neither industrial nor agricultural belt but an arid stony-land . Besides the absence of top soil, grasses and shrubs are burnt yearly by fire, which is the result of baldness of this particular region.Except for a few traces of Law Adong and law shnong ( reserved and community forests) which are the footprints of our forefathers all places are bald.
There are 8(Eight) rivulets/Streams flowing around the Village whose water sources never dry, yet immediate attention is required to save these sources as, these sources ,are the main feeders to the most famous Waterfalls of Sohra like Kalikai Falls, Wahkaba Falls Kynrem and Dainthlen falls.
The local name of these rivers are given below1.River Lyngngai- From Wahktieh, Umsohphi, Pynshad khurai, Wei Dingding - Dainthlen Waterfall
2.Umdiengiar. From Wahtongum, Ktem niangkhied,Lumtiewsaw-Jingkieng Blei
3.Iapmaram From iapmaram, Puhnoh,Rngi Kseh,Laitkteng sha Umiong-Kshaid Kynrem
4. River Umstew- From Shnong Nongrum sha Umstew, Syllai Kariah -Kshaid Noh Kalikai
5.River Kyndong- From Dongringi, Wah kyndong Dieng shyieng-Kshaid Wah Kaba
6.Revulet soh klong- From Lawsuidnoh-Iap khnai
7.River Latara- From lailad,Lum sarangnar bad Lumiapkut-sha Kshaid Latara
River Iapkhnai from Lawsuidnoh to Iapkhnai fall
These are the Eight Rivers Watershed and Basin Areas of this village which flow for four seasons and they never get dry.. Along the basins of this village the Soil Conservation Department during the tenure of Bah K..W. Marbaniang IAS has constructed many Water harvesting ponds and reservoirs which are in full use by the village communy. At present villages look forward to the Soil and Water Conservation Department to do something better to protect the environment as well as capacity building to uplift the socio economic condition of the villager community by way of tree plantation, and a proposed tourist hub.
A comprehensive data structure related to this village is given be;low
The main occupation is labour in Coalmine and this occupation is a backbone for the survival of the villagers, There is no future security, liability and there has been no indication of improvement for living condition of the miners. Except for a Cebtrally sponsored Scheme of NREGs, Government aids,subsidy or grant to this village is either very less or nothing at all.
Due to heavy rainfall, the village is deprived of seasonal cultivation however hard the people cultivate their land, the result is less harvest. Improvement in the field of agriculture can be done by proper poly-house and modern agricultural technique at heavy cost where, the villagers cannot afford without the help of the Government. Micro level Animal rearing like pig, cow poultry farm yield better benefit and can be done on a proper way.
Flora and fauna-
Due to availability of Community Reserved forests like Village grove and there are plenty of orchids, wild flowers, medicinal trees. Animals and birds are available in the forests and migrate freely around the Region.
Educated youths –
Most of the educated youths of the village migrate, to Shillong town and different parts of India, for further study and employment. Majority of the educated youths prefer to remain jobless labourers in the village.Some of them engage in teaching works in the village-schools, transport services or petty coal supply business.
Sports and recreation
Villagers are interested in Sports like Football, archery, fishing, so far there is no Indoor stadium or modern sports arena in the village, where the youths can spend their leisure time during monsoon rain.
Weekly local market shows plenty supply of the local products like orange (Khasi mandarin), Pine Apple, Banana, Honey Jack fruit and lots of local fruits. Broom stick, betel nut betel leaves, yam, vegetables, meat etc. Other essential commodities like rice, dal, flour, oils are brought from Shillong.
Land tenure - Community or Raj Land
Head of the village - Traditionally, Headman of Nongrum clan is elected
, and the elected representative of the clan was brought to the village durbar to be recommended and appointed by The Khasi Hill District Council.
Condition of the coal mine workers
.The villagers are deprived of agricultural activity which is the backbone of 70% of the villagers of India. And divert to this practice of coal. But it is sorry to say that mining is more harmful to the environments’ eco-system than the practice of Jhumming Cultivation. This practice has been going on since the last six to eight decades and the situation will be worse in the years to come, because most of the quarries are empty and the miner will have to go deep inside the hole to extract the black gold at the risk of his life.
At present, most of the coal miners penetrate inside the cave at an average length of 1km or more with a height of 3feet or 4feet above the ground where a miner have to crawl with a cart to pull whatever he could extract inside the dark pit at a span of 3 to 4 hours a day.
The tools used by the coalminer are: An Axe-A Small Lamp/Torchlight- Cart- Basket and a Small Chisel.
Comparatively coalmine diggers in Dipong, Assam bordering Arunachal Pradesh are provided with a cap fitted with a battery torch light on it. The height of the cave is, six to eight feet but a miner at this village of Laitryngew, previously used a kerosene lamp deep inside the mine with less oxygen. Burning of kerosene lamp emits a thick black smoke and the miner who works near the lamp inhales the maximum carbon, making him painted black on his face especially on and around his nose. When he comes out of the mine, his hair and cloths bear the kerosene smell
This direct contact with the kerosene lamp inside the dark mine is unhealthy. These miners lived in a camp hut constructed near the mine with stone blocks and thatch to protect from heavy rain. They cook their food in a pitiable condition with coal as a fuel. As a result most of the miners suffer from lungs affected ailments, cancer and tuberculosis
Both kerosene lamp in the mine and burnt coal in the camp are full of thick smoke. Deteriorating his breathing organs and lungs. Health condition and life expectancy among the miners in the village is comparatively much lower than that of a farmer who toiled in the open field with fresh air and sunshine smiling on him..As a result, they cannot work continuously on the mine but work at a span of forty eight hours in a week or 192 hours (16days) a month.
As far as food and nutrition is concerned. The miners eat maximum of meat, like beef, pork, chicken, egg and fish, with rice and potato as a staple food. Grains like lentils, moong, peas etc. are absent in their meals. Most of the miners chew bettle nut and smoke cigars and tobacco. Liquor is a tonic to keep them occupied during the half month when they are on holidays.
In this village, like any other villages in Meghalaya, from household utensils to well furnished beds, tiles and decorators are brought from outside the village, Cloths from formal wear to fashionable ready-made outfits, well embroidered window screens are brought from outside at a high retail price.
The miners earn a handsome amount of money because the work is always on contractual basis. The more they toil, more will be their earning. Therefore, during their leisure time, they have enough cash to hunt for different types of entertainment, such as archery, fishing and sports events of local and regional significance. They have so much fun.
As far as women and are concerned, as long as their husband can work they stay at home doing household chores cleaning and washing. When the bread earner becomes old or fell ill they turn out to be the destitute and prefer to do other easy jobs in the shops or migrate to urban area for easier jobs. At present the Job card system with centrally sponsored rural development Schemes like PMRY, PMGSY, and NREGS etc. is an alternative to grease their palm.
The community as a whole is hospitable. Now-a-days where tourism activities are being increasingly recognized by the State Government. there is a sign of awareness among the people both as earners from tourism services as well as tourist themselves.
From the environmentalist’s point of view, this on-going practice of rat hole coal mining in this village has destroyed the fragile environment at large. Every hill slope and mountain range, the gifts of the nature is tarnished and bear the brunt of hatred to the natural surroundings as these areas are left un-attended after it becomes exhausted of coal. However, this practice has become the main occupation for generations though it is destructive and the damage is done.
There is only one-way to the villagers from the present occupation. An alternative tourism development in the form of a large scale Hospitality and Tourism Service Industry with Sustainable Tourism Programmes and Infrastructure is the only solution. The programme must be a Community based on a Build-Own and Manage System (BOM) to motivate the down trodden and the poor villagers at the grass root level,.
It will take a long time to imbibe in their mindset the techniques of sustainable activities and programmes. But this can be done by a well planned -approach analysis at micro level to boost up public participation and large scale response.
Once it gets its root on their house hold and their daily activities, there will be no stone unturned to convert this deteriorated and dilapidated area into a beautiful destination where tourists from all over the world would wish to set their foot on this soil. The main purpose for setting up of a sustainable tourism destination in the village is to create job opportunity to the villagers. Job opportunity in the form of blue collared jobs such as :
Front Office Manager, Security Personnel’s, guides and escorts, Chowkidar Farm Attendant, Mali,Waiter, Sales persons in the utility shops, Driver, Helper and Bearer, Fitter, power house attendant, Cook ( Veg & Local Food),Horse Rider, Diver and many more such jobs as per the qualification and skill.is practically suitable at the present scenario in this region to prevent urban migration,. When rural people are sustainably happy in their own villager, they need not migrate to greener field and when their socio economic condition and capacity building is improved in the village, no doubt ,there will be an increasing trend of Gross domestic product which is a weighing scale of Gross national Product. The tourist hub of Goa made this place the highest earning State in India. Another State that depend on tourism is Sikkim,Kashmir,Shimla Other international Tourist destinations are Singapore, Thailand, Maccau. Hawaii to name a few.
Our fore fathers and great Grant Uncles have set foot on this beautiful and protected Plateau for generations. Though, they are comparatively less educated than the present generation yet their ethic is incomparable. Their wisdom to protect and preserve the environment of the land where the Reserved Forests and Sacred Groves (Law Shnong and Lawkyntang) are still prominent to show their footprints that, the culture for sustainability was already imbibed by the nature in their hearts and are inherited through the generations long times ago, before humanity realized his massive destruction towards his own habitat.
Their legendary stories and fictions of restrictions and taboos are told and retold to the young generations and still lingering in our minds and always remind us at any odd moment
This region already blessed with rich natural resources both conventional and non-conventional resources we need the strategic effort of educated- unemployed youths, drop outs and artisans to start at the grass root level. infrastructure development activities .To encaurage the masses to shift their practices for earning a living from enemies of the environment to such activities which are in harmony with the nature. It will take a long way to do away with excessive quarry and mining prevailing here.Though it is a root cause of destruction to the natural surrounding and environment. The side effect of which is devastated destruction of natural habitats of both animals, birds and plants.
Therefore, I call upon the different Government Departments such as Soil and Water Conservation Department/ Basin Development /Tourism Department/Water Resource Department to come and give aids to the village on Community Based System such as BOM (Build Own and Manage) System for Sustainable Development and capacity building of the Villager. There are many Government Official who work just to earn their bread and live a better living condition than their parents. But I also know that there are thousands corrupt-free indigenous Officers who are ready to sacrifice for the development of this Hill State. Though they hide away from the corrupted coterie and they cannot be easily found by common man but their foot prints and their names are inscribed not only on the structures and the stones, but on the heart of the hard working people who earned their bread by hard work and toil and those who see the truth of selfless service and sacrifice.
When Government projects set up for the socio economic upliftment of the rural poor at the grass root level, the villagers will be able to earn their humble pie at home and have a decent job as per his capacity. The parents will not need to send their young children to town for washing dishes . The destitutes need not migrate to town which is the root cause of increasing slum dwellers and become the helpless hawkers and peddlers and be the prey of anti social menace such as drug trafficking and flesh trade.
Coal mines and the environment around Laitryngew village
One of the structures of Soil and Water Conservation.
Figure 1Area along the source of Wah Sohklong
2Wah Sohklong tlong um batuid sha Kshaid Iapkhnai
Ka Tlongum jong ka Kshaid Latara
Barren Umdiengiar Basin
Figure 3 Excessive mining at Ktemniangkhied
Figure 4Iapmaram Basin source of Kynrem
River source Puhnoh to Rngikseh From Iap Maram
Figure Pambriew From Iap Maram
Shnong nongrum Plateau -Source of River umstew to Kalikai
Desertification of Shnong Nongrum at Umstew Area
Eroded Coal belt with lime stone burning
at Umstew basin
I fervently request the head of the locality, the elders and the Syiem of Sohra to pass a resolution that the villagers both young and old of Sohra region must refrain themselves from using the match stick to burn the straw let them remain intact with the soil for the next year to cover the young seeds gifted by the nature. These seeds can grow into a sprout of young and ever green trees or they are the seeds of special vegetation that is going to be extinct. If the grasses and shrubs are burnt down the seeds of four seasons are dead the public money used for the purpose of improving the retarded ecological system of the Sohra Region and to convert these lovely hills into a tourist destination where tourists, researchers, scholars et al., will flock to this region which was once named a wet desert
(The author is an environmentalist and a Master Degree in Tourism Management)