This week, we travel to the village of Mawlynnong in the northeast of India, where eco-tourism is taken to a serious level. Taking us there is Ritika of Travelogger’s Photo Tales, who visited Mawlynnong on a two-day stay and felt seriously drawn to staying forever.
GOING ECO IN INDIA
I was reading through the “Discover India” magazine when I came across this intriguing place called Mawlynnong. It had been christened the “Cleanest Village of Asia”. This piqued my interest as I would never have imagined this title to be associated with any village in India. That very moment I had started planning my trip to the far east of the country.
In October last year I visited Mawlynnong for a two-day stay. It is a place that brings hope. When the world’s going gray with clouds of pollution and global warming being the topic of heated international debates, Mawlynnong is a place that attracts heaps of attention as one of the hottest eco-tourism destinations.
Located 85 kms from Shillong (the capital of Meghalaya, a state in the northeast of the country), this pristine village overlooks the plains of Bangladesh. The drive there takes you along winding roads in the rainiest tropical forests of Sohra and extensive bamboo plantations.
I had read a lot about the place but the moment I set my foot there, I knew all that I had read was an understatement. If you witness the spic-and-span streets, the beautiful bamboo houses, the towering trees, the aroma of betel leaves wafting through the thicket — yay, you are in Mawlynnong!
Serene and placid, it is a place that refreshes each one of your senses and makes you want to stay forever. The community initiative to keep the place clean is run by the headman and engrained into the heads of the residents. There are just 90 households, a senior secondary and a junior school which makes the village a highly literate region. There are bins at every 50m and the environment-conscious villagers actually use them. Each of the houses has an array of flowers blooming all around it. It’s almost like staying in a park.
Being an eco-tourism destination, Mawlynnong does require prior bookings if you want to stay overnight. This can be done through the tour operators in Shillong. Alternatively, you can contact Mr. Deepak at 098-6302-1069. There are just three guesthouses which allow home stays. All are made of bamboo and can accommodate 3-4 people each. Two of those face the stream and have a tree-house extension (which is a little expensive, at $60 per night).
The bamboo guest house (yet to be named) where I stayed was straight out of a fairy tale. It had a machchan (a landing of sorts, made of bamboo) with a common room and two bedrooms as well as a portico and a tiny bridge that landed on the neighboring tree with a tea table and chairs, lit by a bamboo lamp. The gurgling stream below, the rain pouring, the setting sun at a distance and a cup of coffee – you wouldn’t wish for anything ever again but to be here. On the premises there is a café which serves steaming hot tea and coffee, a tuck shop and a restaurant.
The masala chicken and fish rice at the restaurant is something that you would not want to miss out on. Prepared from fresh poultry and fish, flavored with the exotic Indian spices, it tastes divine. If you are into cooking, you can do that too. Since I’m not particularly fond of it, I let Diana, the restaurant owner, do it for me. Liquor is strictly prohibited though and severe penalties are levied if the rules aren’t followed.
The village has a church where prayers are held twice a day. When I asked the priest about the origin of the name of Mawlynnong, he brought my attention to the peculiar shape of the rocks in the village. Each one of them, even the smaller stones, had a cavity in it. That is exactly what Mawlynnong stands for in the Khasi dialect: “stones with a cavity”.
This was not the only naturally architectured wonder. Mawlynnong also has “living root bridges”, including double-deckered ones. These natural structures formed by tree roots are so solid and sturdy that you can walk, cycle or drive over them.
One day I visited the plains of Bangladesh, just across the border. Trekking through bamboo fields and betel tree plantations, all I could see were shades of green. The continuous drizzle made it all the more pleasant and soothing to the eyes.
Other must visits around Mawlynnong include places like the Nohkalikai waterfalls, the Seven Sisters falls, the town of Cherrapunji, which boasts of the maximum annual rainfall in the world, and the Sohra caves – a small but interesting stalagmite and stalactite deposition site which provides a satiating caving experience. All of these places are within 30–40kms from Mawlynnong, in the Pynursala district. Shared taxies ply the route from the village to the district twice/thrice a day; alternatively, a personal taxi can be hired.
WHEN TO GO: Pleasant throughout the year, with heavy monsoons in June. The ideal time to visit is between September and January.
HOW TO GET THERE: Flight from Delhi to Guwahati; taxi/bus from Guwahati to Shillong; shared/hired taxi from Shillong to Mawlynnong.
THINGS TO CARRY: Mosquito repellent; umbrellas/raincoats; swimming gear (if you want to take a dip in the waterfalls and streams); floaters only – rains a lot!