For an explorer looking for a slice of rural life, Smit is the right place to unwind. Though it is just 11km from Shillong, the city culture hasn't diluted its traditions and originality, which is the soul of any place.
One can sit on any of the local buses for an easy and refreshing ride from Shillong. After a steep climb the topography changed drastically to a giant plateau. For that stretch of land extending to Cheerapunjee, the plateau is only broken occasionally by giant gorges and majestic waterfalls. The view of the barren red earth daubed with yellow grasses and silver colored stones were a treat to the eyes. The Plateau was like a palette full of colors. There were no trees or forest which is quite strange if you are traveling in the North-East of India. It is not also the best land for farming but nevertheless local farmer’s plant potatoes, cabbage, beans and other crops. In many cases people shaped the land here the land shaped their lives.
The bus stopped in the middle of the village. If you walk a little further, a small road takes you to a river. Locals come here to wash clothes and fish. Trucks stopped on its banks to load sand. It is also a nice spot for a picnic. In my previous visits I saw hordes of people fishing in a community pond beside the river. When you think you had known everything there is to know about a place, they throw up surprises at you. It was blissful to watch and get submerged in the daily ordeal of the villages. This is one thing that makes traveling so exciting.
Smit is very popular for the Nongkrem festival which is held in November each year. This festival is highlighted by performance of rich traditional dance and songs directed towards goddess Ka Blei Synshar as a prayer for rich harvest. Though Meghalaya is a Christian state many people still practice their traditional religion and this festival is one important way of preserving their old traditions and beliefs. The Nongkrem dance is performed in front of the traditional wooden house built without any metal nails. The house is visited through out the year and it exemplifies the traditional Khasi architecture. Other than that you wouldn’t see any wooden houses. Wood is scarce here. The village sits on a huge deposit of rocks and kaolin and their economy drives on these.
Sprout of pine trees grows in patches along the vast plateau. The landscape is dominated by yellow and golden hue of withering plants and grasses. As we drove from Smit Village to the plateau we could see small cottages scattered all along the road. I’ve never seen any place so full of colors. No wonder, it is called ‘Scotland of the east’.
The road to Laitlyngkot is gentle and forlorn. It is around 8 km from Smit. Rustic vegetable fields lined on both sides of the road. The vast plateau is chopped off bluntly at Laitlyngkot. It is as if a large piece of land has been scooped out and thrown away somewhere else. There’s an altogether different world at the gorge. After a long time I was looking at a sea of greenery. Trees have replaced grass. A river runs through the valley. Villages hang on cliffs like sparrows on eaves. Standing on the edge of the cliff, the wind slices off your face with much force. During the rainy season, clouds fill up this bosom and churn out rains.
The great cliff is tamed at a place or two by precarious steps spiraling down to their villages. Villagers living on the cliffs and down the deep valley have a strange way of transportation. Since there no way of chiseling a road out of these mountains, they rely on cables to transport heavy items. It is a precarious way of transportation.
The yellow sea of wilted grassland is dotted with colorful flowers. Local boys grazed cattle and frolicked around here. The silence of this place is broken occasionally by picnickers and adventurers. It is not as popular as other tourist places but it digs deep into the heart of those who have visited. You want to return for more.