Do you live in India? Do you cringe when you see litter around some of our best monuments? Do you tend to stop friends, family and strangers from the act? Then you'll understand my enthusiasm to set foot on 'Asia's cleanest village'. Villagers say that while keeping their houses and surrounding areas spick and span has been a practice from the time of their forefathers, the 'clean tag' was first given to Mawlynnong by Discover India Magazine in 2003 and popularised by BBC in 2005. For further insight, Embor Klamet, a homestay owner and tour guide from Mawlynnong, tells me, "Kids are given the task of keeping the area around the house clean as soon as they Grade 1/Grade 2 in school; if they don't do it, they don't get food." While this label is what attracted me to the place, the village offers much more than what it's known for.
Tracks to trail
Women break the stone, while men pave little pathways around the village (Pic: Pooja Bhula)
Raw and still fairly untouched by the ways of cities, the areas around the village promise some good treks, but a walking tour (guided) is also the best way to discover the sights and stories of little Mawlynnong, home to about 95 families. Say hello to the gentle Khasis (one of the major tribes of the state who trace their lineage from the mother) as well as orchids, roses, lilies, birds of paradise, local flowers and even the carnivorous pitcher plants you may encounter. The once cobble-stoned routes are being replaced with concrete ones; women of the village break the stone while men pave little pathways leading to a few remaining traditional bamboo houses and the plenteous, sturdier wooden ones. Concrete houses are very few and the people of Mawlynnong plan to keep it that way. "Cement houses look ugly, we want to keep our traditions alive and our Dorbar Shnong (village head man) and tourists also advice us to do so," says Embor. And despite the revenue from tourism, the traditional occupation of cultivating betel nut, broomcorn, black pepper, berries, bay leaf and delicious fruits like oranges, lemon, pineapple and the local soshang is still alive.
Bridges that breathe
Swing in the arms of the banyan on living root bridges (Pic: Embor Klamet)
Ever heard of the living root bridges? They are the man made wonders of Meghalaya. The short drive (2 km) to Riwai village and short trek to the bridges will transport you to a place from Lord of the Rings. Aerial roots of the banyan tree are trained to grow on a length of bamboo that is secured across the river to another hill. Over a period of years (no one knows the exact duration, but it may range from decades to centuries) they climb like wines to form these majestic bridges. Mud and stones are inserted in gaps to make the bridges sturdy, but you can still thrill in the slight swing in the arms of the banyan. Made in a similar fashion, the living root ladders look interesting in pictures; we missed seeing them, but you shouldn't.
Cheer in the church
Care for a visit to the house of God? (Pic: Embor Klamet)
On the night of our visit, young kids and elders of Mawlynnong hummed hymns at the local Presbyterian Church and the village has an Anglican Church too. All villagers in Mawlynong and a majority of the population of in Meghalaya is Christian; Welsh missionaries began their work here around the middle of the 18th Century.
Tall views and steep falls
Climb up to the tree house for a view of the village and Bangladesh (Pic Embor Klamet)
A tree house (made of bamboo) in the village, called the Sky View, gives you a great top view of the village as well as the neighbouring Bangladesh. And not too far from the Mawlynnong you can also take a shower under the gushing waters of Niriang falls.
Boating by the border
Dawki is the last village of India in this part of the country, bording Bangladesh. You'll probably marvel at the way, the young and old maintain their balance on the boat while fishing or simply having a fun ride; they could be sitting, standing and doing all sorts of thing but they don't fall. Tempted to sail with them on the clear turqouise waters? All you have to do is ask.
While tourism has brought villagers an additional source of income and made these shy people more outgoing, it hasn't come without its banes. Despite the beautiful conical, cane bins abounding the entire village and nearby locations, you'll find several wrappers thrown around carelessly. It is negligible by the usual Indian standards, but distasteful nonetheless. "Sometimes we pick up plastic when tourist throw them and point out that there are several dustbins. While some appeciate it, others who come here without any knowledge of the place don't care." Villagers could previously manage to care for place on their own, but increase in garbage and littering has forced them to employ five women to ensure that the tradition continues and the village gets to keep its 'clean image', well clean.