GARO HILLS ——– the ecological canvas of Meghalaya, forms the western part of the state, an area of approximately 8,000 sq.kms, and is densely forested and hence one of the richest spots in biodiversity.
The GAROS (people) predominately inhabiting the 3 districts of the ,state namely East Garo Hills, West Garo Hills and South Garo Hills, are basically superstitious, believe in spirits and have rich traditional tales of myths and legends. To the Garos, everything that is interesting and unnatural has to have lore of some kind.
TURA, the headquarters of West Garo Hills, which was also the headquarters of composite Garo Hills before 2 more districts of East and South Garo Hills were created, is 323km from Shillong via Guwahati, and is named after a powerful Goddess DURAMA-IMBAMA and sits at the foot of TURA PEAK. The peak, at a height of 1,400m offers some of the finest views of the hills against a backdrop of low-lying plains and sweeping curve of the mighty Brahmaputra. The TURA PEAK is a beautiful and majestic hill on the eastern side of Tura, at a height of 872m above sea level. Local legend has it that Tura was traditionally known as DURA, but due to mispronunciation by the British, it got the present name of TURA. The Tura Range has been declared a “reserve forest” with an observatory, a cinchona plantation and a tourist bungalow located in its vicinity. A magnificent view of the lower Brahmaputra, as well as the golden-yellow plains of Bangladesh can be seen all year round from the peak. A foot-track or path, developed during the British Raj, is still in existence and can be used by tourists and adventurers alike to reach Tura Peak with ease and comfort.
About 2km from Tura Peak, teeming with wild life, NOKREK HILL is the home of a very rare species of citrus, locally known as MEMANG NARANG —————- “orange of the spirits.” It is considered to be the most primitive and progenitor of all other varieties of citrus plants in the world. With a view to preserve this rare species of “citrus”, the 1st “gene sanctuary” of the world has been established here.
Lying at the confluence of GANOL & RONGRAM rivers, just 9km from Tura is CHIBRAGRE, an ideal picnic spot. RONGBANG DARE is another attractive tourist spot which can be easily viewed from Tura. The roadside near RONGBANG DARE virtually becomes a mini-bazaar, where the Garos can dispose off their agricultural products besides running their indigenous food and tea stalls.
SASATGRE VILLAGE is located on the hilly crescent-like saddle, at the foot of the Nokrek Peak. The village has been blessed by nature, in so far as “orange plantations” are concerned and the village is surrounded by healthy, dark-green orange bushes, which are highly productive.
RANGAPANI, 40km from Tura, on the Assam border, is the place of the earthly remains of the great general MIR-JUMLA, the army general of Emperor Aurangzeb. His tomb, maintained by the local Muslims Association, lies in this village.
WILLIAMNAGAR, named after the 1st Chief Minister of Meghalaya, Captain Williamson Sangma, is a riverine town, built on the curve of Simsang river, and is the headquarters of the East Garo Hills.
RONGRENGGIRI is noted for being the last battlefield where the Garos bravely resisted the British.
SISOBIBRA is a beautiful place on the banks of the Simsang river. It is of historical importance. It was here that the legendary hero TOGAN SANGMA, along with his co-patriot GILSANG DALBOT fell to the bullets of the British soldiers, while bravely resisting them. A memorial has been erected at the place where the warriors fell down. The District Council has constructed a twin-cottage, near the memorial place, where visitors can stay.
ADOKGRE, on the Assam border, was the 1st camp, in Garo Hills, when the Garos coming from Tibet, under the leadership of JAPA-JALIMPA, arrived in the promised land of the Garo Hills. It was here that they distributed the land according to their MACHONGS (clan).
NAKA-CHIKONG is a big rock with deep hollows, and stands in the middle of a river in Badaka village. This big rock is believed to be swarming with fishes in every season, but there is one belief that if anyone, inadvertently, touches the big rock, under whose hole the fishes are, all the fishes immediately disappear from the river. The Hindus consider this a sacred place and regularly come here for worship.
NAPAK is a lake formed by the damming of the upper tributary of a river during the great earthquake in 1897. It was once the “land of the spirit”, until one woman accidently killed a spirit’s baby. The spirits, feeling insecure then migrated to Balkarani where they settled.
BAGHMARA is the headquarter of South Garo Hill District and is a fast-growing township. It is situated on the bans of the Simsang river. Nearby, just below the picturesque Dilsa Hill, the State Tourism Department has constructed a Tourist Bungalow. Here is a thick forest inhabited by langurs, birds of different species and elephants. Many tourists have reported sighting herds of elephants.
NENGKONG : Here you will find some well-known caves —– TETENGKOL —- measuring 533km in length and is one of the longest caves in the Indian sub-continent. Other caves, in the vicinity, are a 2-km long DOBAKKOL CHIBENALA and DOBAKKOL ( a little over 1-km long).
SIJU is famous for DOBAKKOL or BAT CAVE, with impressive stalagmites. The cave also contains some of the finest river passages to be found anywhere in the world. There are magnificent limestone formations inside, especially the one named Princess Di’s chamber, by the excavators, that will fill any visitor with awe. On the other side of the Simsang river is the SIJU BIRD SANCTUARY, a home for many rare and protected birds and other wildlife. The Siberian dusks also migrate her during the winter months. At the entrance of this bird sanctuary, after a steep climb of nearly 1km, there is a stretch of fantastic rock formations that will take your breath away.
BALPAKRAM : the literal meaning of BALPAKRAM is “land of perpetual winds”. There is a great “precipice” or “deep gorge” in Balpakram and is popularly compared to the Grand Canyon of the USA. It is believed that here the spirits of the dead dwell, temporarily, before embarking on the final journey. As mentioned earlier, the Garos are deeply spiritual and believe in myths as interesting and awesome. In support of their beliefs, Balpakram has many “mysterious and unnatural phenomena”, that cannot be satisfactorily explained by modern science. In fact, Balpakram is so steeped in myths that even the Hindus believe that it is a sacred place. They believe that when Lakshman was seriously injured, during the war with Ravana, and a very life-saving herb was required, Hanuman found it here, but not knowing which to take and also in his haste to return, broke the top of the hills and carried it away. The missing portion of that hill became a deep yawning canyon.