“The Sun said to the Man, ‘Spread more light than heat, that is what our world needs.’”
Father George, Siloam
This quote is what began the transformative experience that was Northeast India and Learning Seminar 2. A land with beauty that I had never seen before, mountains coated in green, boundless lakes and rivers, and a crispness in the air that I hadn’t smelled in months. People with extremely kind faces around every corner, which I began to find was typical to the area.
At the beginning of February, I traveled to Assam with my GCY cohort, and from there we took a bus to Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. I’ve become extremely comfortable living in Pune, but the immediate relief I felt driving through the mountains of Shillong was unlike anything I’d experienced before. I stuck my head out the bus window and was in absolute bliss as the chilly wind whipped my hair into a mess. Maybe I do miss the cold Wisconsin air after all, because I craved a little chill to my cheeks.
After a 4 hour bus journey, we arrived to Siloam, a psycho-spiritual retreat center about an hour from Shillong. I was in awe from my first glance at the place. The main building was situated on a hill overlooking a huge lake, and they didn’t miss one single opportunity to add a balcony or a window to enjoy the superb view.
The next day Father George, the director of Siloam, gave us a wonderful tour of the grounds. From the organic farm, where they have chickens, cows, rabbits, and a diverse assortment of fruits and vegetables, to the chapel and flower gardens. I found out they grow all of their own food on-site to keep Siloam affordable and healthy for the many students who come to stay. In the afternoon we took a walk down to the lake to enjoy the sunset and stick our feet into the chilled water. They even had fishing boats down there that they used on a daily basis.
The week went by like this, waking up early morning to meditate and then eat some delicious food, and then go through all the learning sessions GCY had planned for us. The food was a lot more bland than my spicy Indian food here in Pune, but it was yummy. We were served Chinese food often as well, as is part of the staple diet here sine Meghalaya is so close to China. That Chinese influence could also be seen when we went into Shillong city and browsed the market, and they had everything from cheap Chinese toys to chopsticks, in addition to all the northeastern goods like Assam tea, bamboo woven bags and furniture, and shawls, of which I purchased all three.
Driving through Shillong felt kind of like driving through a mountain village in Switzerland. Not that I’v done that, but it had a strangely European vibe to it with the somewhat Gothic architecture on some of the houses. What I loved is that nearly every home had hundreds of potted plants surrounding it, on the porch, in the windows, everywhere there was space really. It was beautiful.
In the city we also visited the Don Bosco museum, which is a center for indigenous cultures. There I learned about the tribal culture of Northeast India, from the dress to the traditions, and watched a strangely catchy music video called ‘Mist and Magic: India’s Northeast,
We were welcomed into the home of a famous Khasi musician one night, Lamphang Syiemlieh, and his mother, and they sang us such beautiful tunes. From lullabies to lively jazz, they could do it all. One of his songs
One day we embarked on a mysterious 4 hour bus ride, right down to the Bangladesh border (we could quite literally see Bangladesh out the window), into this hillside village called Shnongpdeng. We met up with a tour guide who led us through the village and down to a stunning river with the most two amazing bridges crossing it. We hopped into these canoe type boats and were paddled down in a serenely slow fashion, until we finally reached a little waterfall.
We changed into India appropriate swimming attire, and then took the plunge into the glacial waters. I let out a shriek at fast, until my arms and legs became numb to the cold and I actually enjoyed it. When I emerged, I felt renewed, fresh, from the inside out.
We ate lunch in the village, and a band made up of local villagers played traditional Khasi music to us on handmade instruments. The music was relaxing, until our Khasi speaking team leader told us they were singing about us, in a very joking way, which I thought was hilarious. We ate up our meal of rice and potatoes and greens, and then noticed the hoard of village children that were surrounding our little group. They were drawn by the music, and soon we were out holding the little ones and having conversations with the older ones, and it was pretty cool to hear about their life.
We eventually left the village to get to our next and most exciting destination (at least for me), a living root bridge! It’s two trees on either side of a bank, and when they are young their roots are dangled up together until they form a bridge across the river. The one we saw was hundreds of years old and thriving. You could definitely feel the effects that over-tourism had on the place though (guilty), as you had to purchase a ticket to get in, and there were vendors surrounding the area, and it was a far cry from the peaceful, undisturbed area I imagined it must have once been. Still absolutely magnificent though.
Finally we had to leave Shillong and the northeast, and the breathtaking beauty we were so lucky to have witnessed over the course of a week. I know that I will return to the Northeast of India someday, maybe even visit the remaining states known as the Seven Sisters of the Northeast. Not only is the area physically different from mainland India, but it contained a refreshing vibe I haven’t felt in a long time. This time taught me to remember and appreciate what matters, and that’s the people, animals, and nature around me, as well as nourishing myself. I’ll also keep in mind Father George’s message, and try to spread as much light and goodness as I can right now.