Impressions from the Shodh Yatra

The Shodh Yatra was undoubtedly one of the most powerful learning experiences of my life. It is difficult to imagine what a rural lifestyle in the developing world actually looks and feels like until you go there and walk from village to village, experiencing the mundane as the locals do.

The Shodh Yatra aspires to deliver such an experience to the yatris, the journeyers who join this 'pilgrimage'. But the goal is not simply cheap tourism. Instead, the idea is that only by walking on foot in the rural areas can we truly engage with the local wisdom and traditional knowledge that has developed over thousands of years and may still be of value today.

The 26th Shodh Yatra did an excellent job of presenting this unvarnished view of rural life in the hilly areas surrounding Shillong in Meghalaya. We trekked from villages located at the bottom of a deep gorge, to those perched on the plateaus above. Many parts of the journey were extraordinarily strenuous, but it was well worth it.

Some impressions:

  • This place looks lush and green in every picture on the internet. That is the rainy season--do not be fooled: the dry season turns this place to a very dusty place. This place receives the most rainfall anywhere in the world, but due to deforestation, much of this water is lost to runoff (which incidentally ends up in Bangladesh, causing devastating floods).
  • The people here are very hospitable and always willing to help without asking for anything in return.
  • The language here is called Khasi (all of the villages we visited were in the West Khasi Hills).
  • The society is matrilinear--the youngest daughter actually becomes the proprietor of all of the families property and whenever a man marries a woman, he moves to the woman's house. This however has not prevented men from usurping most of the political power - the village headman has final say in most civic affairs.
  • There is a vast semi-illicit, totally ad hoc (and unscientific) coal mining operation going on here. This can be observed along the roadside, where rat-holes mar the landscape. This resource is abundant and brings some income to local people, but most of the money goes to people further down the value chain.
  • There is resentment from the government here--the central government of India has paid very little attention to development of its Northeast States. This has fuelled several insurgencies in the neighboring states of Nagaland, Manipur and Assam.
  • Christianity is the prevailing religion here -- many denominations are represented although Presbyterian and Catholic are the primary ones. Due to lack of secular development, religion has played a major role in developing the society (not always in such a progressive way).
  • The people in this area are poor, but not destitute.

More information on agricultural technologies to come, as well as footage!


Elias Scheer