Shillong — It doesn’t take long to spot the green roofs and windmills if you look into the valley. Maple Pine Farm, a small family run Bread and Breakfast, 25 km from Shillong towards Mawsynram, in Meghalaya, blends into its grassy environment, surrounded by a little stream and hills.
A few light blue bodied, green roofed cottages (for lodging) lie scattered on the land after crossing the rock-bridge stream. Two windmills and solar panels line one side of the humble plot. They generate all the power needed to run Maple Pine Farm, which remains unconnected to the Meghalaya power grid. A yellow massage room stands at another spot. A water purifier unit is placed near a common bath, running drinkable water through every tap on the plot, next to a kitchen and common room (welcoming you with the smell of pancakes divine). Friendly dogs and a foal lounge on the rest of the land.
James Perry (51) and Valeriena Perry Syiemlieh (40) built this collection of cottages from scratch. “We were in travel business in the region (North East) since 1997. From 2011, we wanted to offer something different for people, a place where people could stay and then travel to other places based on advice and discussion with us,” says James, a Canadian born in Meghalaya, who feels this is his home. He briefly lived in the Canadian countryside learning how to build.
The Farm was built independently, without any help from the government, allowing the couple, along with their three sons, to host people without turning it into a resort with questionable ethics. Unlike a resort, there are no servants here running behind masters, providing the much needed respite from a tourist industry plagued by class burdens.
Often, the Farm’s visitors are people looking to have a quiet time of introspection, a little family picnic or a time to heal. The sacred groves of Mawphlang lie a short trek away, a walk through which completes the essence of calm.
The cottages are built predominantly out of wood, and have simple-superior interiors (all made and painted by James). Every cottage, with some variation, has a double bed at the first level, with a loft that provides space for two children. Tents are also available on hire. The common room provides for the perfect reading space with soulfully picked music. To top it all off, the food comes straight out of paradise. From its daal-bhaat-aloo lunches to pan cakes-French toast-flower nectar breakfasts, James and Valeriena team up their culinary skills to produce delightful food, meal after meal.
Such independent enterprises that remain true to the environment and their sovereignty are hard to come by, with people over-dependent on the government. While there is a place for government subsidies and leadership, the dependence on such should not go too far. “People who see what we have here automatically assume that we got money from the government to build this place. You have people from villages wanting to know how they can do it. We say just start,” says James, who came to live on the land in 2011, and built the first cottage over 2012 and 2013 with whatever finances they had. For this Khasi-Canadian couple, it is time to stop wanting and start giving.
The key to healthy business in the region today, they believe, is “participation and trying to learn and work together.”
(This appeared in Morung Express)