Perhaps you have heard of Lakadong turmeric.
And are curious to dig deep and discover everything about Lakadong?
Well, you are in the right place. At Zizira, we have partnered with real farmers, in the #LakadongCountry, a group of villages about 90kms from Shillong, that grow the best turmeric in the world.
A week ago, we decided to take a trip down to these villages, meet our farmers, and experience their daily work in Lakadong.
This blog is a diary of sorts, of our trip.
Where is Lakadong Country?
Lakadong Country is a name fondly given to the group of villages, 90kms east of Shillong. These villages have been growing world's highest curcumin content turmeric for centuries.
We started our journey at 7 a.m. in the morning to evade the traffic, a usual scenario in NH6 highway. The sun was up and we knew it was a good hour for us to travel.
After we crossed the Smit junction the trail started its gradual descent, coursing through the undulating hills and rolling meadows.
After 20 minutes of travel, we reached Mawryngkneng, the junction where the Shillong Bypass meets NH6. Most heavy trucks carrying heavy loads from Assam to the Barak Valley areas use this Bypass.
A little ahead, we arrived at Puriang, another stop where motorist and travellers stop for food and refreshments. We stopped here to have tea and "putharo", a dry-roasted pancake-like bread made of powdered sticky rice.
After a few minutes, we continued on our way. The road was full of vegetation and greenery, we noticed thick sub-tropical trees, pine trees and a few broad-leafed trees. We crossed the beautiful man-made Thadlaskein Lake, shimmering in pristine glory in the morning sun.
An hour had passed without us realising it. We arrived at the junction where we had to change the route to State Highway SH7. Soon we arrived at Shangpung village.
History Behind the Name Lakadong Turmeric
Long before Lakadong turmeric got its name the golden-yellow spice used to be called ‘Shangpung Turmeric’.
There’s a reason for this.
In the olden times, Shangpung was among the most developed village, it was the market hub. Farmers from villages such as Looksi, Sumer, Umchalait, Saphai, Sahsniang, and Mawkaiaw came here to sell their produce. They brought their turmeric to Shangpung to be grounded, packed and despatched to other market hubs especially Shillong and Jowai.
The name 'Lakadong' comes from the area of the same name where the spice as locals say, grew plenty in the wild. They figured how valuable it is and planted it everywhere in the whole Laskein Block.
Bah Shadap, Zizira's Lakadong Turmeric Farmer
By the time it was 10 a.m. we had reached to Raliang Police outpost, a few kms away for our next stop. We were on our way to meet, Bah Shadap a farmer entrepreneur who is assisting us in our quest for Lakadong Turmeric.
Bah Shadap, a man with a slight frame and a father of 5 kids, has such a pleasant demeaner and welcomed us with a warm smile. In his village, he is a respected elder for his contribution towards the community.
When we arrived at Bah Shadap's place, he and his wife greeted us. We were welcomed into their humble kitchen where his wife had already prepared us a sumptuous meal - local chicken and vegetables fresh from their garden.
The rice comes from their own fields – home-pounded nutrient-filled red grains, quite unlike the nutrient-starved polished white rice we eat every day.
We suddenly felt very hungry!
Brief History of Lakadong Turmeric Cultivation
We started to explore around with Bah Shadap to find out more about this much talked about Lakadong Turmeric.
While he is around he took us to visit Bah Langstang a village elder who is also a farmer. We learned from him that Lakadong turmeric is an heirloom turmeric variety from Jaintia Hills.
Bah Langstang shared with us - that the Langstang family moved to the Lakadong village area sometime in 1950 in order to cultivate paddy and other crops in the surrounding fertile valley. Bah Langstang was a very young boy then. He and his siblings would often help their parents in the fields or look after the cattle. The village was surrounded by dense forests and the valley and contained all manner of edible food plants. Turmeric was one of these, and it grew in abundance.
It was not a cash crop back then and was never cultivated but people gathered it from the forest whenever they required it for cooking or medicinal purposes. Sometimes they would sell the powder in the local market.
This was a centuries-old practice, much before the Langstang family moved into the region.
In later years, people from other places discovered that ‘Shangpung turmeric’ (as it was then called) was superior to every other turmeric variety available. That one particular variety – Lakadong or Curcuma longa Linn – has the brightest yellow and most pleasant aroma.
Demand shot up and farmers of the Laskein belt began collecting the seed rhizomes from the forests and cultivating the plant in their backyards and fields to meet some of the market demands.
They shared with us another interesting way to differentiate Lakadong turmeric's rhizome. Only the pure Lakadong turmeric will have a straight root and a peculiar smaller rhizome shaped in the form of a ball from the other rhizomes. This feature is absent in other turmeric varieties. So every year they take the pain to store and preserve the rootstock for the next planting season.
Why Do the Locals Love Lakadong Turmeric?
One of the reasons why included that Lakadong turmeric has been long used for indigenous healing by the local folks of Meghalaya.
Bah Shadap shared," In our younger days, our grandmothers would routinely treat our sore throats, cough, cold with a teaspoon of semi-liquid mixture made with turmeric, ground pepper (usually a mix of long pepper and black pepper), ginger extract, mustard oil, honey, and boiling water.
Just a teaspoon of this mixture three-four times would guarantee we’d be off and hopping about by the next day itself. Adding honey, which itself has medicinal value, makes the mixture absolutely delicious.
We also used crushed raw turmeric rhizome and apply it on the wound and it would heal after 2 days.
Growing Lakadong Turmeric is Hardwork
Bah Shadap shared, "If you ever visit the Lakadong country during the month of January to April, you will come across houses with heaps of turmeric in front of yards set out for drying.
He also shared how farmers work hard to keep growing and producing this high curcumin turmeric.
For the next cropping season, selected pieces of the harvested turmeric are planted (the ‘mother rhizome’ is planted – the central part of a cluster of turmeric roots). From these new turmeric plants grow!
Turmeric takes up to 10 months to mature. The field is readied in the month of March by cleaning the dried foliage and burning them. In April the field is ploughed and pieces of turmeric from the most recent harvest are sown.
The farmers weed often to avoid pests in Lakadong turmeric.
“In order to protect the spices from pests, we weed the field every 45 days and add manure like cow dung, pig manure and chicken manure.
Excess heat can burn and damage the turmeric plants. To protect the plants from heat, we cover the stem with mud mixed with cut plants. If we are consistent with the care we give, then our yield will be good”
From all these conversations we could clearly see how turmeric plays an important role in the lives of the local people and the farmers. They take it seriously, not just as a means of their livelihood, but they want to maintain and not lose their way of traditional living and growing this heirloom turmeric.
Our connection and respect for Bah Shadap and his fellow farmers increased. It's just special to learn and connect with the hardworking farmer folks of Lakadong Country.
They are warm at heart. And shared so much knowledge and stories, interwoven with how they use this special turmeric as a food medicine.
We felt so grateful to have been able to experience this place and the good nature of the local folks from the Lakadong Country.
We are definitely coming back here to learn more about these villages and their fascinating stories.
It was nearing supper time, in the evening, so we walked back Bah Shadap to his place, thank him from our hearts and headed back to Shillong.
It was tiring, travelling always gets us tired. But we love exploring so we don't mind a little bit of tiredness. We are definitely not going to forget this one-day trip and will surely visit Lakadong Country again.
Have you ever experience eating heirloom food from your region? Or a local delicacy that your grandparents once told a story about? Tell us in he comments, we would love to hear from you.