In love with Cherrapunjee
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A Tamil meets a Khasi in Cherrapunjee and together, they change the economy of the region. So now, it's pouring tourists in one of the wettest regions on Earth
OVER three decades ago, a young Tamil arrived in Meghalaya as a member of a project evaluation team for a Delhi-based firm. He later married a Khasi and settled down in Cherrapunjee, then the wettest place on Earth. But 30 years later, Denis P. Rayen is not just a typical case of an 'outsider' marrying into a matrilineal Khasi family; he is the man responsible for changing the economy of Cherrapunjee (Sohra, as it is officially known these days).
"I met Mary Carmela Shati the very day I landed in Shillong in 1977. But believe me, it was much later that we fell in love and decided to marry," recalls Rayen, working on the accounts ledger of Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort, a six-room facility that boasts of being the first hotel-resort in and around Cherrapunjee. There was the government Circuit House but that was mostly occupied by official visitors.
Rayen, who married Mary in 1982 after taking up a bank officer's job, quit when he fell out with the management. That's when he decided he would set up a resort in Cherrapunjee. "It was a difficult decision. It was difficult to convince the local community, including my in-laws, that it was a business proposition that would bring more money to the village. It was difficult to find a plot of land because non-tribals, by rule, cannot purchase land in Meghalaya. But my in-laws were finally convinced," he says. The land was registered in Mary's name and Rayen got going in 2000.
"It is a fact that Cherrapunjee did not have a place where visitors could stay for the night. They would come early from Shillong and return before sunset," says Ila Pynsuk Diengdoh of Coniferous Resort, who admitted it was Rayen and Mary who inspired her to set up the second hotel in Cherrapunjee. She is soon increasing the capacity of her resort from five to 10 rooms. "Thanks to the initiative taken by Rayen, Cherrapunjee today can accommodate at least 100 visitors on any given day," she says while talking of the number of resorts that have come up in the past couple of years ó like the Sai-Mika Park, a beautiful restaurant-hotel with four rooms in the heart of Cherrapunjee, and the Sohra Plaza, a two-room facility. With the Central government recently announcing special leave travel allowances for travelling to the Northeast, business has never been better.
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