The abode of clouds, the highest rainfall in the country, the hills were calling me back. When I decided to take the journey to Meghalaya, this time I wanted to do something different. Having heard a lot about the Living Root Bridge and Asia’s cleanest village Mawlonnong, these two places became my obvious choice and what would be a better than to stay inside Mawlynnong!
I embarked on my journey first with a two day visit to Shillong, the capital city of Meghalaya. The hilly lanes, the intermittent rains, the “kwai” eating locals and the fashionable youngsters truly make the rock capital of India what it is! (may not be in the literal sense any more but it does make the city “rocking”!)
Mawlynnong earned the title of The Cleanest Village in Asia back in 2003 and after all these years it only works towards bettering the benchmark that it set for itself. This quaint little village is nestled in the East Khasi Hills. A 3 hour drive from Shillong, through the picturesque hills that adorn Meghalaya, we pass through many villages one after the other. Reaching Mawlynnong was easy. As we drove into the village the entire landscape changed, the down hill road suddenly opened into a mud colored road with greens on all sides. A closer look and we realized that we were in the main area of the village. Since we were booked in a homestay, our host promptly came to pick us up. Wheeling our suitcases in the winding lanes that lead to the homestay, we noticed that Mawlynnong has now become very popular with tourists. Almost every little hut had the board of a “home stay”. However, it is imperative to mention that Mawlynnong has only 94 odd huts with a population of just above 500 people.
Our evening walk within the village took us to the ancient church in the main area of the village. The church bell rang every hour perhaps not just to denote time but also certain activities within the village. When the clock struck 5pm, we saw a group of boys – young and old scramble out of various houses and rush towards the only football ground. The next 2 hours, we saw them practice with passion and furore!
The lanes are dotted with the khasi basket which is generally used to lug local crops. The basket finds a unique place in the village as dust bins that one can find after every 100 steps. As the night descended, we had a great night with the sound of a nearby waterfall lulling us into deep sleep. The next morning, we were woken up to the sound of local women sweeping the lanes. A small discussion with our host revealed that there is a “darbar” every month which nominates women from the village who are responsible for cleaning for a particular month in rotation. That way, there is a sense of accountability amongst the people. With a hot cup of tea, as we looked across the lane, we saw a group of children walk to school. The curiosity in my eyes had my host telling me that there is a primary school within the village funded by the Government and the fee is nominal for the residents. The secondary school is in the adjoin village and students have to go to Shillong or other cities for further studies at college level.
After our humble breakfast of eggs and bread, we strolled around the village which had a couple of curio shops, a canteen and huts or houses that were impeccably clean. As we left for our second destination, I couldn’t help but get a feeling that I must live here and in good humor when I asked my host the cost of land, he promptly told me that unless you are a native, you cannot deal in land.
Adjoining Mawlynnong is the Riwai Village, which is home to the Living Roots bridge. Apparently there are two living root bridges in Meghalaya. This one is the single one and the other in Cherrapunji is a double decker! I had heard so much about the bridge that I could not contain my excitement. On the wet morning when our guide told us that it was better to be indoors, I insisted that I must go. And as they say the weather of Meghalaya changes like the mood of a woman, by the time we drove 20 minutes to Riwai, the sky had opened up. The root bridge is a good 15 minutes walk down hill. The natural path is stony and rubbled. There is a line of shops serving you fresh fruits and chips make it very touristy. The walk down must be done in proper sports shoes as it can get slippery and difficult. The living root bridge in like a monument in itself. The wonders of nature in its true form. The bridge also leads us to the waterfall where we chose to dip our feet (a free pedicure!)
Another place that you must not miss is the Balancing rock about 5 minutes outside the Mawlynnong. It’s a wonder that a huge boulder size rock is perched on a single stone. The curious in me tried to shake the boulder off (I don’t consider myself less that superman!), but yes it stood like a rock!
Meghalaya never fails to surprise and someone who comes to visit this beautiful state must do more than just Shillong and Cherrapunji!