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Stuck in Meghalaya Post Mukroh Firing, How Tourists are Figuring Way Out | Firsthand Account

By: Sumedha Kirti

News18.com

Last Updated: November 27, 2022, 08:40 IST

Shillong, India

A convoy of five Assam cars were safeguarded till the Assam border by a vehicle of Army personnel and a police jeep. (Sumedha Kirti/News18)

A convoy of five Assam cars were safeguarded till the Assam border by a vehicle of Army personnel and a police jeep. (Sumedha Kirti/News18)

It all began around 11 am when there was increased police patrolling in Guwahati, followed by black spray-painted message, ‘Long Live KSU’, on half-built structures on Assam-Meghalaya border

Kaziranga National Park, check; Sonapur Tea Garden, check. Next on list: Umiam Lake, Laitlum Canyon, Cherrapunji, Dawki and Mawlynnong — read my rough notes on the morning of November 22 as I drove to Shillong to tick off the remaining places on my 10-day travel bucket list. It all began around 11 am when there was increased police patrolling in Guwahati, followed by black spray-painted message, ‘Long Live KSU’, on half-built structures on Assam-Meghalaya border.

While the minor observations may not be alarming itself, but for a tourist-journalist being asked about the “motive of travel” by cops was definitely suspicious. That’s when I scurried through the messages sent by our reporters, and stumbled upon: “Breaking news: At least four, including Assam forest officer, killed in firing incident in Meghalaya’s Mukroh.”

“Oh, so the checking may be to avoid any untoward incident,” I thought and continued on the snake-like roads towards Meghalaya, stopped at Umiam lake, captured the serene waters in photos and went ahead. Just at the Shillong border, a group of youngsters — in their 20s, dressed in black — forced all Assam number plate vehicles to return.

Umiam Lake is a reservoir in the hills 15 km north of Shillong. (Sumedha Kirti/News18)

“Four of our people were killed this morning by Assam police. We are not letting any Assam resident enter our state,” a youngster told me. Assuming he was a member of Khasi Students’ Union (KSU), I tried to explain him that I had come to Meghalaya as a tourist and had hired a car from Guwahati.

“Four have been killed, of which one was a forest officer from Assam,” a confident journalist in me told the masked youngster. He clarified that the death toll had gone up. “You may proceed but the situation is tense, people are out with guns,” he warned my husband and me.

Miffed by the warning, I again glanced through our reporters’ inputs. Indeed, the toll had risen. By the time we reached our hotel, the internet had been suspended for 48 hours and Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma had announced that the Mukroh firing incident death toll had risen to six.

From posting pictures of Meghalaya’s beauty on Instagram to being without internet, I could see my travel bucket list being stuck in muddy waters within an hour. The hotel employees asked us not to venture out for some time and let our Guwahati number plate car be hidden in their parking space.

Left without internet, we slurped the noodle soup gazing at the blooming cherry blossoms, unaware of the unrest outside. A few hours later, a hotel employee told us that barely three kilometres away, a car with Assam number plate had been set ablaze by the miscreants.

Shillong’s Cherry Blossom Festival has been cancelled in wake of the unrest post Mukroh firing. (Sumedha Kirti/News18)

Still assuring myself that the tension would be over in a day, I watched clicking bats hover near the balcony and hang from the cherry blossoms in pitch black skies intermittently lit by the household bulbs.

The next morning, patrolling had increased on Shillong roads with Army vehicles doing the rounds. Locals advised us to stroll around the city but not venture out in the car hired from Guwahati. “Watch the situation for two more days,” some suggested. We then thought we’ll hire local taxi and visit of the places on my bucket list. But by now the taxi rates had shot up. For a few hours trip to Dawki, cab drivers were asking somewhere between Rs 8,000-9,000.

Most of the drivers were hesitant even if they had Meghalaya number plate car. “The situation is very concerning. All of a sudden you will see mob going on rampage, people shutting their shops and running to safety. Drivers are scared that any time stones will be hurled towards their cars, leading to tremendous loss,” a Shillong-based travel agent told News18.

When asked if some tourist spots had been closed in wake of the situation, the travel agent, on condition of anonymity, said, “Tourist spots in general aren’t closed but the situation is so bad that we are scared to take tourists to these areas as anything can happen anywhere. Some local people hurl abuses at us and call us ‘Dkhar’, a term derogatorily used by the Khasis to refer to non-Khasi people in Meghalaya.”

He further advised tourists not to visit Meghalaya until peace is restored. “Go to Assam, Arunachal Pradesh or anywhere but don’t risk coming here as you never know what may happen tomorrow. You will be in constant fear. You will come here to enjoy your holiday but you’ll leave in stress,” the travel agent added.

A Guwahati-based travel agent, Deep Kamal, told News18 that some of his Assam number plate cars were stuck in Cherrapunji. “Though it’s peaceful in Assam, the situation in Meghalaya is affecting us too. Both the north-eastern states are dependent on each other, especially when it comes to tourism. In peak tourism season, we are facing heavy losses. Meghalaya government should step up and at least ensure there’s smooth travelling and no loss of income,” he added.

David Lyngwa, owner of The ReLyn Suites in Shillong, told News18 that the Mukroh incident had indeed affected tourism as tourists are scared of “things going around”. “There were cancellations as tourists couldn’t come to Shillong since Assam cabs are not allowed to Shillong and Meghalaya cabs aren’t allowed in Guwahati. But we are trying to make arrangements for those travellers who are still willing to visit Shillong,” Lyngwa said.

“We are also working with the police to escort the tourists safely back to Assam. We are constantly updating our guests and warning them not to visit any places that may be sensitive. We even stopped some of the guests from going out of the hotel as it was not safe,” the owner of ReLyn Suites added.

Assessing that the situation may not improve soon, we decided to cut short our trip and return to Guwahati. Our hotel employee escorted our car till Lumdiengjri police station in Shillong’s Garikhana, from where a convoy of five Assam cars were safeguarded till the border by a vehicle of Army personnel and a police jeep. Entering Guwahati, our internet services resumed. By then the 48-hour ban on internet in Meghalaya had been extended by another two days and CM Sangma had reached Delhi to meet Union home minister Amit Shah.

Half of my bucket list remaining untouched, the 10-day Assam-Meghalaya trip was chopped to five. I guess I’ll prepare for the 2023 Meghalaya elections now. Maybe the ground reports will help me feel the places that I missed this time.

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first published:November 27, 2022, 08:40 IST
last updated:November 27, 2022, 08:40 IST
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