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Meghalaya

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Status: North Eastern State of India
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Population: 23 Lac

Meghalaya is situated in the north-eastern region of India, between the Brahmaputra valley in the north and the Bangladesh in the south. It extends for about 300 kilometres in length and about 100 kilometres in breadth. The state was created in 1972 from the Khasi, Jaintia, Garo districts of Assam, which were formerly small kingdoms inhabited by separate tribal groups. The state of Meghalaya (the abode of clouds) is geographically known as the "Meghalaya Plateau" or the "Shillong Plateau". The area is made of the oldest rock-formations. Meghalaya consists of the Garo, Khasi and Jaintia hills along with their outliers formed by the Assam ranges. It is the detached north-eastern extension of the Peninsular India. Part of it lies buried under the alluvium deposited by the Ganga-Brahmaputra system of rivers. This gap is known as Malda gap (between Raj Mahal hills/Chhota Nagpur and the Shillong Plateau). Meghalaya Plateau's elevation varies between 150 meters to 1961 meters above sea level. The highest point of the entire state is the Shillong peak whose elevation is about 1965m above sea level. It is bounded on the south and southwest by Bangladesh and on all other sides by the state of Assam. The area is 22,429 square kilometres. The capital is the hill town of Shillong. Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya is located at an altitude of 1496 metres above sea level. Shillong, which was made Assam's capital in 1874, remained so till January 1972, following the formation of Meghalaya. The capital city derives its name from the manifestation of the creator called Shyllong. Meghalaya is a region of great scenic beauty; a panorama of lush, undulating hills, fertile valleys, 250 species of orchids, meandering rivers, waterfalls, sparkling mountain streams and lakes. Meghalaya is known for its natural beauty and the simple lifestyle of its tribal people. Meghalaya also receives limelight on account of Cherrapunjee, the wettest place on earth, which is only 56 kms. away from Shillong. Meghalaya has a single-chamber Legislative Assembly of 60 seats.

Flora and Fauna

Meghalaya is endowed with a rich variety of flora and fauna. Of about 17,000 species of orchids in the world, around 3000 varieties are found in Meghalaya. A botanical wonder, the pitcher plant, an insect eating plant is found in the district of Jaintia hills, West Khasi hills and South Garo hills of the state. Animals and birds that are found in the state are elephants, tigers, bear, jackal, leopard, golden langurs etc. The interesting birds found in the state include Hornbills, King Vulture, Crested Serpent, Eagle, Partridges, Teals, Snipes, Quails etc.

Climate

Meghalaya is subject to vagaries of the monsoon. The climate varies with altitude. The climate of Khasi and Jaintia Hills is uniquely pleasant and bracing. It is neither too warm in summer nor too cold in winter, but over the plains of Garo Hills, the climate is warm and humid, except in winter. The Meghalayan sky seldom remains free of clouds literally it is the Abode of the Clouds. The average annual rainfall is about 2600 mm over western Meghalaya, between 2500 to 3000 mm over northern Meghalaya and about 4000 mm over south-eastern Meghalaya. There is a great variation of rainfall over central and southern Meghalaya. At Sohra (Cherrapunji), the average annual rainfall is as high as 12000 millimetres, but Shillong located at a distance of about fifty kilometres from Sohra receives an average of 2200 mm of rainfall annually.

Rivers

In the Garo hills, the important rivers of the northern system from west to east are the Kalu, Ringgi, Chagua, Ajagar, Didram, Krishnai and Dudnai. Of these only the Krishnai and Kalu are navigable. The important rivers of the southern system are Daring, Sanda, Bandra, Bhogai, Dareng and Simsang. Simsang is the largest river in the Garo hills and navigable only for about 30 Km . Other navigable rivers are Nitai and the Bhupai. In the central and eastern section of the plateau the important northward flowing rivers are Umkhri, Digaru and Umiam and the south-flowing rivers are Kynchiang (Jadukata), Mawpa, Umiew or Barapani, Myngot and Myntdu.

People

The population of the state is unevenly distributed and is determined by physiographic factors and accessibility. The population of the state is mainly concentrated in the area around Shillong urban agglomeration, Jowai, Nongstoin, Williamnagar, Tura and Baghmara, the neighbourhood of Cherrapunji and Dawki and Northern, western and southern fringes of the Garo hills. The sparsely populated areas of the state is found in the northern and southern Khasi hills, most of the Jaintia hills and the interior of the Garo hills. The population of the state can be classified into tribal and non-tribal population. Tribal peoples make up about 85 percent of Meghalaya's population. Among tribal population, Meghalaya is dominated by three principal groups of people i.e the Garos in the western section of the plateau, the Khasis in the central section of the plateau and the Jaintia in the eastern section of the plateau. All the three have a matrilineal social system in which the family lineage is taken for the mother's side. Within the four districts of the combined Khasi and Jaintia hills there are number of dialects. Based on the dialects, the community is generally divided into five groups namely the Khasis of the central plateau, the Pnars or Jaintia in the east, the Wars in the south, the Lyngams in the west and the Bhois in the north. Most of the houses are constructed in accordance with the people's tastes. There is a great variation which ranges from the old Khasi type to the modern types found in Shillong and other important towns of the state. In some Jaintia and Garo villages, engravings of the figures of men and animals are found on the house walls. Near Jowai, the carvings of a lover and his beloved are seen which evoke acclaim even today for artistry and ingenuity in designing. The Garo women are expert in weaving. Dakmandes, a kind of women's wear, are well decorated with depictions of beautiful flowers and butterflies, in various colour combines. Baskets, sleeping mats, winnowing fans, rain shields manufactured out of plaited bamboo and cane are found in the rural areas. Jaintia fishing traps made of bamboo sticks are also noted for functional beauty. The cane bridges hanging over quick-flowing streams also testify to the superb craftsmanship of the Khasis and Jaintias. The non- Christian Garos erect memorials for the dead. Those are actually statues engraved in wooden posts, in the shape, form and facial resemblance of the deceased. Meghalaya occupies a total area of 22,429 sq kms with a total population of 2,306,069 persons as reported in the census of 2001. The sex-ratio in Meghalaya was 974 females per 1000 males; as against 923 females for the country as a whole. The fairly high sex ratio in Meghalaya may be attributed to the existing tradition of matrilineal society.

Agriculture

Agriculture is the main occupation of Meghalaya, with eighty three percent of the total population, dependent on it for their livelihood. Rice and maize are the major food crops. Important fruits grown here are orange, pineapple, lemon, guava, jackfruit and bananas, while potato, jute, mesta, cotton, arecanut, ginger, turmeric, betel leaf and black pepper are the chief commercial crops. 'Jhum' or the shifting system of cultivation is being replaced with scientific methods, bringing land under permanent cultivation. Forest resources from pine and other timber products bring in the major chunk of state revenue. The state has many small scale industries in furniture making, iron and steel fabrication, tyre retreading and baking, to name the principal ones.

Minerals

Meghalaya has abundant but untapped natural resources, including coal, limestone, kaolin, feldspar, quartz, mica, gypsum, bauxite, and other minerals. Its sillimanite deposits (a source of high-grade ceramic clay) are reputedly the best in the world and account for almost all of India's sillimanite output. Most of the natural resources are extracted and sent outside the state only in raw form. Meghalaya has no heavy industries; small-scale industries include cement, plywood, and beverage factories, in addition to a newly established electronics plant.

 

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