Our team of explorers visited yet another traditional village, Umblai Khathynriewshnong, in East Khasi Hills District, Meghalaya. Get ready to explore, learn and visualize this fascinating village right from here, our adventure travel log.
Journey Down 6000 Steps!
Our journey began at 7 am from Shillong to Laitduh, Dainthlen and we reached by 9:45 am. Like our previous field trip to Nongtraw village, it was yet again beyond our expectations! The village is in a remote area, with no roads for automobile to pass. The only means to reach the village was walking downhill. The intriguing part of this journey was, there were 6000 steps to walk, to reach the village.
It took us 2 hours to climb down the hill to reach the village. The walk was exciting, as we met the locals of the village and few others from the neighboring Mawphu village. They greeted us and asked us about the purpose of our visit. When we told them about Zizira, they found it very interesting!
The vision of Zizira helping farmers made them feel good and the conversation took off with smiles and open mindedness. They told us they practised the same traditional method of beekeeping in their homes, as practised in Umblei. Fascinating that they use the same method, though the two villages are different!
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The Umblai village consist of 100 households and approximately 200 people live in this village. It has three neighboring villages: Mawiong, Nongrim, and Maweitksar.
Lore of Umblai Village
There is a captivating reason why the village is named "Umblai". In Khasi, ‘Um’ means water and ‘Blai’ means God, together it means God water. During olden times, there was a river flowing near the village Nongrim. The lore is that the river takes care of people. Even if someone falls into the water by mistake, they will not be injured. Nobody ever got injured or died in the river Umblai. Hence the name Umblai for the village. Another enthralling folklore that the locals shared with us is the story of a beautiful place locally called Phatok, which means Prison. Locals say that the currents from the river Wahkongkhen hits a particular set of rocks in the river, which have a unique formation, like a prison. Legends say that if a human gets stuck in one of these rocky prisons, they can never come out of it and get stuck in it forever.
Beekeepers of Umblai Village
We then met 5 local beekeepers from the 4 different neighboring villages, Bah Thelshon Lyngdoh and his son Bah Ion, Bah Ten Warwahlang Budskhem, Bah Tral Khongsain and Bah Phirimon Budskhem. They then went on to tell us about the amount of honey they harvested (200kg) in one season and if we take the amount of honey harvested from other villages into account, then it is about 600-700 kgs. They also shared with us that there are a lot of changes in beekeeping conditions and so they faced lots of difficulties.
In the past, they could collect 10 bottles per beehive, in each harvest season. But in the past few harvest seasons they could only collect 3-4 bottles of honey. Due to less rain or drought, the flowers around the surrounding area are fewer. There are less pollen flowers and food for the honey bees. These results in bees dying and falling on the ground.
Orange Blossom and Wildflower Honeys
Pure orange blossom honey and wildflower honey are the variety of honey found in this village. The honey bees prefer the pollen from wild flowers and kdait, a variety of grass. There is also a fruit variety locally called diengsohson and syntiew diengan that the honey bees prefer.
Season Makes a Difference in The Color of the Honey
During the month of April, the color of the honeycomb turns white and the honey is yellowish in color. However, during the month of December it’s reddish-yellow in color, as the bees collect pollen from the wild flower from diengsohson.
Prefer Making Beehives From Local Wood
The beekeepers here make their own beehives with the wood of dieng sohphan (Jack fruit tree). They prefer this as it keeps the bees warm. They also shared with us that the honey they harvest during winters are thicker than the spring honey.
The spring honey flows faster than the winter honey. Apart from consuming, the villagers also use honey in different ways. They apply honey with lime on minor wounds or swollen parts of their body. They also use honey, with piper longum, as a natural remedy for cough or sore throat.
Honey also helps them increase their immunity. The beekeepers prefer the traditional method of beekeeping, where they use logs as beehives, instead of using the modern Langstroth beehive, given to them by the government. The reason being that the traditional beehive lasts for up to 2 generations and becomes a part of the family heritage, whereas the modern beehive lasts only for 4-5 years.
However, there is a benefit of using the modern beehive since they harvest honey 2-3 times without breaking the honeycomb. Whereas, in the traditional beehive, the honey comb has to be cut to retrieve the honey, they can only do this once and wait for the bees to make new honeycomb.
How Beekeepers Find More Bees
Beekeepers from Umblai village also look for beehives in the forest and whoever finds it first, marks it and take it as their own. They follow a simple and pure method of straining the honey from the honeycomb. They pour or squeeze the honey on a plain/white cotton cloth and strain the honey. One of the beekeeper exclaimed,” Honey bees are like a blessing from God found in nature”.
What Else Do They Grow?
Apart from beekeeping, the villagers from Umblai practice traditional methods of farming. They grow oranges, bay leaf, broomsticks, betel nut and leaves. For their livelihood, they need to sell their produce, which means walking up the steep 6000 steps to take their produce to the market.
One individual makes 3 trips a day! To make things easier, the government has made a rope way as a means to transport their heavy load. They can now carry more than 50kg of any produce to sell in the local markets.
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