Come, rest awhile in the land of rain

Sohra, Dec. 18: A leisurely 45km drive from Shillong through lush green hills and dales lies this hamlet, home to oranges and honey, where poetry, traditional games, and the chanting of couplets or Ka Phawar, hallmarked the Cherrapunjee Festival today.
Hundreds of people thronged the venue, Sa-i-Mika Park, to partake of the citrus produce and enjoy the poetry and phawar on a day Meghalaya commemorated the 73rd death anniversary of legendary Khasi bard U Soso Tham, who hailed from Saitsohpen village here.
The festival, organised by the office of the Sohra civil sub-division under East Khasi Hills, also witnessed traditional games like archery and mawpoin (building of a stone bridge), a sport steadily vanishing from the nooks and crannies of the state.
While men of all ages took active part in archery, women and young girls gleefully participated in mawpoin. A mountain bike challenge was another highlight of the festival.
Young boys and girls participated in the Phawar competition where some of them were able to compose meaningful couplets, paying tribute to U Soso Tham, whose poetry continues to inspire till this day. In the fitness of things, it was his poetry that was recited.
Sohra has always been famous for its enchanting rain-washed valleys and waterfalls, its southern slopes in villages like Mawphu, Nongsteng, Tyrna, Nongpriang and Laitiam resplendent with orange orchards.
Oranges from these villages were on display at the festival, as were bottles of orange-flavoured honey. Apiculture or beekeeping is carried out on the slopes of Khatarshnong, Mawphu, Laitiam and Nongsteng villages.
The honey, known for its curative properties, comes in different colours. The autumn honey is white in colour while it is brown during spring. The flowers from where the bees derive the nectar determine the colour.
While there were a few stalls put up by entrepreneurs from elsewhere, it was mostly the local people who displayed the wares. Perhaps this was part of the larger idea to empower them to make Sohra a favourite eco-tourism destination in Meghalaya for all times.
This sentiment was echoed by those who spoke at the inaugural session of the festival. Sohra civil sub-division officer Cyril Diengdoh said the festival revolved around three themes – food, oranges and honey. “We intend to link these with the livelihood of the people here so that they can market the produce better,” he said.
Stating that tourism and sustainable development go together, Diengdoh said the involvement of the local people in tourism was imperative so that they would reap the benefits.
Sohra legislator T.W. Chyne, batting for cultural tourism, said it was important to uphold another legend that Sohra is known for: the people’s genteel manners, popularly known as the Akor Sohra.