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Nestled barely four km from the Bangladesh border and 90 km away from Shillong - Mawlynnong - is the nearest I could get to paradise.
Though there were many interesting places in and around Shillong, my choice of visiting the small, picturesque village of Mawlynnong was not random. For, the village has earned the reputation of being the ‘cleanest village in Asia’. It was accorded the status in 2003 by the Discover India magazine.
After reaching Shillong, I and three of my friends set out for Mawlynnong on a Sunday morning in a taxi. The journey, I must say, was as beautiful as the destination. The road was relatively empty that day so we stopped on a ridge overlooking the Sohra plateau. We then climbed onto top of this small hillock and got an eagle's eye view of the terrain below us. It was at this instance that I wished I could get on a glider to enjoy the view.
After around three scenic hours of driving through meandering narrow roads, we arrived at Mawlynnong. ‘God’s Own Garden’ – the sign at the entrance of the village read. Inhabited by people belonging to the Khasi tribe, we were awestruck by Mawlynnong’s cleanliness and aesthetic beauty. The village was dotted with small houses each sporting a colourful neat garden. Clean concrete walkways and beautiful flowerbeds all along marked the village that is home to 87 Khasi households. Interestingly, there were no fences between the houses and huts. The village was spotless with no debris on the ground and no littering of any sort. The paths were also dotted with dustbins made of bamboo. Plastic bags are completely banned and waste disposal is environmentally friendly. Rubbish is thrown into a pit dug in a forest near the village where it is left to turn into compost.
There is a small tea stall at the entrance of the village. We stopped here for a cuppa and our guide Henry was there to receive us. He then took us to the Mawlynnong guest house, rather a tree house, which Carol Nongrum, a member of the Meghalaya Tourism Development Forum, had booked for us in Shillong.
The house, entirely made of bamboo, had two cosy rooms on both side and a central area. Outside was a machan which looked onto the jungle and a small waterfall. The machan was suspended at least 80 to 100 feet in the air, supported and constructed by bamboo on stilts. Connecting the verandah to the first machan, was a narrow bamboo bridge. Staying in a tree house like this one was indeed a childhood dream come true. The rooms had comfortable double beds also made of bamboo, clean linen and blankets, mosquito-nets and squeaky clean bathrooms.
We quickly placed our luggage in the house and set out to explore the nature’s marvels that Mawlynnong had in store for us. Henry took us to Riwai village which was 10 minutes drive away from Mawlynnong. Riwai housed one of the most interesting and unique creations of nature, a living root bridge formed by roots of Indian rubber trees. It was a 20 minute trek to the root bridge from the village. About 150 years old, the roots of two trees have been entwined by villagers to grow into a natural bridge. A gurgling stream flanked by dense forest flows below the root bridge giving the finishing touch to the picture.
We next proceeded towards an unnamed waterfall amid thick forests on the outskirts of Riwai. The roar of falling water, butterflies fluttering around and the mist – the sight was simply astounding at the bottom of the falls. We were sweating after the difficult trek to the falls and dipped our heads into the water to get some respite. The trek uphill was the perhaps the most tiring thing I had done in the recent past.
Henry took us to another spot nearby which defied the forces of nature. A huge flat rock lay balanced on a much smaller rock and has been so for how many years, none knew. It is believed to have been an old Khasi sacrificial altar.
After the tiring trip, we went back to our guest house to freshen up and have a late lunch. The caretakers, whose hut was on the guest house premises, served us local chicken, fish curry, rice and fresh vegetables that were seasoned with Khasi herbs.
Our evening at Mawlynnong was spent in lazy walks around the village and a visit to another attraction – the Sky View Point or the Hanging Bridge. The bridge was made out of bamboos spanning across two trees. Climbed in twos, we could clearly see the flooded plains of Bangladesh as far as the eyes could go.
Henry told us that Mawlynnong's reputation for cleanliness has even earned it a place on the State's tourism map. “Our village is a 100 years old, and we have learnt to maintain cleanliness for generations,” he said. There is a fine imposed by the village council for anybody found to be throwing litter around or cutting trees. Besides, children are taught to collect litter at an early age and regular inspections are carried out by village council on sanitation facilities in each house. True to his words, cleanliness seemed like a way of life for villagers here.
Since it was a long day for all of us, we returned back to our house early and decided to relax at the machan under a star-studded sky till it was time to retire for the day.
The next morning greeted us with a sunny smile. The village looked like a colourful canvas decorated with flowers of various hues. We finally said bye to Mawlynnong with this mesmerising sight in our eyes.
Getting there: Mawlynnong is situated 90 km south to Shillong, Meghalaya. Taxis are available to the village from Shillong round-the-clock at the price range between Rs 1800 and Rs 2000. It preferable to hire the taxi for overnight stay and visits to the tourists spots nearby the village.
Where to stay: Mawlynnong guesthouse has two huts — the larger accommodates four persons and costs Rs 2,400 while the smaller sleeps two and costs Rs 1,000 each. To book, call Deepak Laloo or Carol Nongrum (0364-2502420, 09863115302). The caretakers prepare tasty meals that include some interesting local cuisine using meats, jackfruit and Khasi herbs. One has to pay an additional Rs 250 for the tourist guide and Rs 100 towards community welfare and upkeep besides the food and accommodation charges.