KHASI AND JAINTIA HILLS, a district of British India, in the Hills division of Eastern Bengal and Assam. It occupies the central plateau between the valleys of the Brahmaputra and the Surma. Area, 6027 sq. m.; pop. (1901), 202,250, showing an increase of 2% in the decade.
The district consists of a succession of steep ridges running east and west, with elevated table-lands between. On the southern side, towards Sylhet, the mountains rise precipitously from the valley of the Bārāk or Surma. The first plateau is about 4000 ft. above sea-level. Farther north is another plateau, on which is situated the station of Shillong, 4900 ft. above the sea; behind lies the Shillong range, of which the highest peak rises to 6450 ft. On the north side, towards Kamrūp, are two similar plateaus of lower elevation. The general appearance of all these table-lands is that of undulating downs, covered with grass, but destitute of large timber. At 3000 ft. elevation the indigenous pine predominates over all other vegetation, and forms almost pure pine forests. The highest ridges are clothed with magnificent clumps of timber trees, which superstition has preserved from the axe of the wood-cutter. The characteristic trees in these sacred groves chiefly consist of oaks, chestnuts, magnolias, &c. Beneath the shade grow rare orchids, rhododendrons and wild cinnamon. The streams are merely mountain torrents; many of them pass through narrow gorges of wild beauty. From time immemorial, Lower Bengal has drawn its supply of lime from the Khasi Hills, and the quarries along their southern slope are inexhaustible. Coal of fair quality crops out at several places, and there are a few small coal-mines.
The Khasi Hills were conquered by the British in 1833. They are inhabited by a tribe of the same name, who still live in primitive communities under elective chiefs in political subordination to the British government. There are 25 of these chiefs called Siems, who exercise independent jurisdiction and pay no tribute. According to the census of 1901 the Khasis numbered 107,500. They are a peculiar race, speaking a language that belongs to the Mon-Anam family, following the rule of matriarchal succession, and erecting monolithic monuments over their dead. The Jaintia Hills used to form a petty Hindu principality which was annexed in 1835. The inhabitants, called Syntengs, a cognate tribe to the Khasis, were subjected to a moderate income tax, an innovation against which they rebelled in 1860 and 1862. The revolt was stamped out by the Khasi and Jaintia Expedition of 1862–63. The headquarters of the district were transferred in 1864 from Cherrapunji to Shillong, which was afterwards made the capital of the province of Assam. A good cart-road runs north from Cherrapunji through Shillong to Gauhati on the Brahmaputra; total length, 97 m. The district was the focus of the great earthquake of the 12th of June 1897, which not only destroyed every permanent building, but broke up the roads and caused many landslips. The loss of life was put at only 916, but hundreds died subsequently of a malignant fever. In 1901 the district had 17,321 Christians, chiefly converts of the Welsh Calvinistic Mission.
See District Gazetteer (1906); Major P. R. T. Gurdon, The Khasis (1907).