Umden, a calm & quite hamlet of the Rivoi District of Meghalaya amidst lush greeneries is a perfect place for relaxation, but that was not our key motivation to be there; rather we were dying to see whether Eri Silk is really generated by keeping the silkworm alive or not! Usually in all over the world the cocoon is boiled along with the silkworm and thereafter gets separated. But Eri silkworm is different. It has a whole on one end of the cocoon and when one shakes it by placing the open end downward; the silkworm comes out alive and is kept aside to let it turn into moth, while the cocoon is used to produce silk. This type of silk is named as ‘Eri Silk’; often called ‘Ahimsa Silk’ (non-violent silk) for not killing the silkworms. That is why it is a fovourite textile of Buddhist monks. Apart from Umden of Meghalaya, Eri Silk is produced in other parts of North-Eastern India and other South-East Asian countries. Let us have a look what we have found during our visit to Umden.
After a daylong waterfalls hopping in Cherrapunji, it was a long way to go to Umden. Not much time or energy was left, after we arrived. Therefore, took dinner, used our left over energy (though very little) from keeping ourselves away from the leeches, spiders and multiple flying insects and finally slept in our bamboo cottage.
There was no hurry in the morning. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with much chit chat and laughter. Nobody was ready to leave the bamboo-made dining place on the rooftop over the kitchen. It is such a great place for enjoying the lush green surroundings! And it was raining! The cool breeze and the smell of the soil! A perfect bliss!
Polis, a young guy of the guesthouse was coming upward with a basket full of vibrant yellow and green stuffs resembling candies. No they are silkworms! The living silkworms, those were taken out from cocoons! Unbelievably colourful! Polis explained us the entire process of Eri Silk production. We finally left our inertia, followed him and visited few homes and weaving centres to witness everything, which I have already showed in the movie.
We were lucky, as it was a market day. Our village-exploration continued to the market-place. Like other markets of North-Eastern India, here also the main sellers and buyers were women, dressed traditionally (here wearing Jainsem, Khasi women-outfit), with children tied up in back, mouths filled with red juice of beetle-leaf, hardworking, still joyful and sociable always.
The products selling in a market reflect the lifestyle of local people. In Umden market, nothing was exotic at all. This place is not far from Guwahati, which is a big city, resulting urban touch in village market, though the people were very down to earth. One of the ladies demonstrated us how they wear Jainsem and helped my friend to dress like them.
Umden market will be memorable for the Jhalmuri we ate there. Our best-tasted Jhalmuri ever! Later, we took our lunch in a small makeshift restaurant in the market area. We ordered Jadoh Rice (Pork Rice), a traditional Khasi dish. Polis said, here they had mixed pork-blood too. Though we did not find any special taste or smell; it was just like a common Jadoh Rice we tasted in other parts of Meghalaya.
Afternoon-rays of sun spreading over the village path; village-ladies relaxing and gossiping after a busy day; kids playing everywhere, doing all kinds of mischievous activities. Wish we could join them, revisit our childhood days, wished we would not have to go back…… ever…. but it was our last afternoon in Meghalaya! Sigh!
On our way back to the guesthouse, Polis was telling their folklores, explaining local lifestyle. Sometimes it was difficult to perceive his broken English, but still, this guy had a huge share in our Umden memory. He impressed us by explaining the inner meaning of a poem written by Rabindranath Tagore, which he had read in English translation during his school-days. At night he made Khasi pipes out of bamboo for us. Another guy taught us how to put tobacco inside the leaf and wrap it to make a Khasi cigarette. We smoked one. Had never smoked anything as strong as it! Another man of the guesthouse played flute for us. Someone was playing a string instrument in the neighbourhood. Darkness was all over, mingling with the sound of cricket and occasional little rainfall.
“What do you do with the living silkworms?” We asked Polis. “We let them complete their life-cycle. But eat some of them.” Really! When you are in Rome….. we must try silkworms. Polis arranged two dishes of silkworms for our dinner. One of them was fried silkworms, keeping the hard cover intact. Another one was prepared by taking out the inner flesh from inside and cooked with onions and chillies.
Though exotic, none of the preparations was tasty. In fact, silkworm itself is tasteless. But how could we know this unless we tasted? We love to experience new things. And what we feel about Umden is that this place is not for everyone, rather for the experience-seekers only. That’s why we assume that the future of Umden tourism would not be bright enough. And we are happy for that. Tourism brings money, but spoils many things. Would she stick out her tongue such spontaneously, if one day Umden gets over-burdened with tourists like Cherrapunjee? I guess not!!