- Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Living Bridges to Cleanest Village: Mawlynnong, Meghalaya, India


Mawlynnong is a village in East Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya and at a distance of about 90 km from Shillong.  It was Discover India magazine in 2003 and then later on popularised by BBC in 2005 and 2009, which first claimed Mawlynnong to be Asia's Cleanest Village then later on India's Cleanest Village. Mawlynnong surely leaves one pleasantly surprised and inspired but I am not too sure on the tag that it dearly holds. I have travelled in interiors of

Nagaland, and some villages there like Mopungchuket & Longkhum in Mokokchung district can give stiff competition to Mawlynnong, but of course they do not hold a 'clean tag' by any travel magazine nor have they tried to encash on it by promoting it as a point of tourist interest. (In fact that's where Nagaland has lagged behind Meghalaya- but hopefully in near future they will catch up). 

Because of these doubts, I would rather sideline these titles and look at what actually Mawlynnong has to offer, which is definitely very inspiring and worth it. 

1. 100% literacy & toilet in every house

While its 'clean' tag is what draws travellers here every day, another very important and significant aspect is that this village is 100% literate i.e. each person in the village can read and write. Young ones are all sent to school and  are fairly conversant in English. Another matter of great significance is that every single house has a toilet. And well, we pretty much know that's no mean feat in country like India where majority of the population is still reeling under poverty.

2. Cleanliness is a habit passed on from generations

The village boasts clean cemented paved pathways, dustbins made of bamboo at every corner, separate pits to make compost out of green waste, ban on plastics, environment friendly housing and structures, well defined piped water supply, gardens in an already very green habitat etc. These are things we city folks only dream of achieving but we don't, probably its our civic sense which always fails us. That's where this village stands out. Children are taught right from beginning importance of clean surroundings and every single person from the village participates in this initiative. Its not something they have put up for tourists, its just their way of life, being followed from generations.

3. Eco-friendly homestays

Yes one can not only visit but also opt to stay in the village for a night or two to observe their lifestyle up close. There are quite a few homestays provided by local villagers with basic rooms and simple food.  There used to be a tree house also up for rent, but that got destroyed during last tsunami which hit Bay of Bengal, as on April 2014, the tree house is still to be put up again.

4. Broom cultivation

Ever wondered where the Indian household's quintessential broom came from ? Its typically from these regions of East Khasi Hills, where it is grown, in form of a grass, in abundance. One can take a walk out of the village and visit these plantations which cover several kilometres on either side of main road.

5. Living Root Bridges

At just about 10 minute hike, one can witness one of world's most amazing and unique phenomenon (yes, I would like to call it just that), the living root bridges. These bridges are made out of thick entangled roots growing out of Ficus Elastica tree. Mawlynnong and Cherrapunji are counted among world's wettest places and hence the greenery, vegetation and forest cover (though depleting with time) is really dense. The Khasi people living in these forested areas over centuries discovered this tree which had several secondary roots growing out over ground level and they quickly turned it into a growing bridge, connecting two raised banks separated by one of the several streams within the area. These bridges are extremely sturdy and are made walkable by fitting smooth rock boulders through it. It can take up to 15 years for a bridge to become fully functional. And for those in need of more adventure there is a double-decker living root bridge at Cherrapunji, which can be reached after about 2-3 hour hike.

6. A tree-house climb to view Bangladesh plains

More than the Bangladesh view, what I certainly enjoyed was the tree house climb. It was not a tree house technically, but rather a view point built on top of a tree with zig-zag bamboo path laid out for just one person to pass at a time. Built at a significant height from the ground, the top level offers views of Bangladesh plains at a distance. Going up and down this view point is certainly enjoyable.

7. Tea & Lunch at one of the homes

The village also has a couple of restaurants to cater to travellers visiting them during lunch hours. Menu is fairly simple, one potato dish and one chicken dish served with rice, dal, chutney etc. There are a couple of families also who run just simple tea & lunch service made within their home kitchen. Definitely worth a try while relaxing and chatting up with locals. The ones at visitor parking bay can be avoided, for nothing else, but just to enjoy one's meal in more relaxed ambience within the village.

8. Mawlynnong Church

Needless to say, its best to walk around the village as much as possible to be able to see things not exactly marked for tourists, like the gorgeous village church we came across.

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