Mawlynnong

Living Root Bridge @ Ravai

Living Root Bridge @ Ravai

What started as a promising day began to sour.

First, the spell binding drive to Mawlynnong, a brief stop over at Ravai, a trek to the ‘living root’ bridge  – munching pineapple all along the way.

Then an accommodation fiasco of the worst kind.

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Swapping tales with young back packers that night I narrated how a village homestay had been arranged & how I had been duped by a certain Henry who turned out to be a tout. One meets his kind everywhere.

The room was practically a hole in the wall & the afternoon heat coupled with an empty stomach had added to my woes, resulting in frayed & over wrought nerves.

But things have a way of working out. Always.

I ran into Smiti Majaw, a tourism official who had come to meet the village Headman. She was appalled at the treatment meted out to an ‘honored guest’. Who was this Henry? Not only was it shocking & painful, it was totally alien to Khasi culture. Both of them apologized & proceeded to make amends by offering alternate accommodation, which turned out to be a choice between a modern cottage & a Khasi hut in the woods. I chose the latter. It looked wistfully romantic & was a stones throw from both the restaurant & Skywalk. The latter offering a grand view of the plains of Bangladesh in the distance.

Khasi Hut

Khasi Hut

P1020485P1020481                                                                                                                                                                                                Bangladesh

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Mr Rishot the owner insisted that I was not to pay a single penny. I could stay as long as I liked without charge for either accommodation or food.  I protested. But he was insistent. His Khasi pride injured too.

My 3 young friends had a hearty laugh.

On reaching Mawlynnong they had gone knocking on doors in search of a cheap place to stay. One family took them in offering just enough leg room to stretch out for the night. The family was large & space scarce. Except for the eldest, a college going boy none of the others spoke either English or Hindi yet, they stayed up late into the night & talked – their son the interpreter.

Early next morning everyone walked down to the river to wash & freshen up. When it was time to leave the visitors offered Rs 500 considering it an appropriate sum for their stay.

“ But the old woman – hands solidly behind her – stepped back & declined. After a little charade in impossible sign language she accepted the money, counted the notes & returned 200.”

With a population of 501 Mawlynnong encompasses a large area. It is also fairly prosperous. Practically every family own a nicely cultivated patch of green. There are fields & forests & plantations of bay leaf, areca & pepper. Also giant Grapefruit & Jackfruit trees.

The main guesthouse that was blown away during the cyclone is under renovation, as is the church near the village square.

Churches of every denomination abound & the church plays a vital role in the life of the village. It is beautiful waking up to the chiming of church bells on a lazy Sunday morning. The bells continue to ring at regular intervals through out the day. There are 3 church services. At 7am, 12 noon & at 2 in the after noon. Do not ever come here on a Sunday if it is to be a day trip only. Sunday is strictly a day of rest when nothing stirs. Forget about food you may not even find a cup of tea anywhere. Coffee, in any case is out of the question. Mawlynnong, for some reason has not been introduced to the pleasures of the coffee bean.

I walked the forlorn streets early one Sunday morning. Clear blue skies. Fresh unpolluted air. Clean surroundings. Not a soul around.  Complete silence.

“ Dear God the very earth seemed asleep”

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A word about Mr Rishot.  Bachelor, man of few words, a gentleman, if ever there was one. Schoolteacher by profession he is idealistic & unworldly. Someone who does not even operate his own bank account because he trusts the person who does it for him. The account, in any case a superfluous necessity that must be retained because of the incoming school salary.

He is also the owner of an eating place & guesthouse that offer rest, warmth & friendly service. His contribution I’d say to making his village a more livable place.

And Rishot, to me epitomizes Mawlynnong.  As much as the fireflies that lighted up the forest & glowed in the night sky.

P1020507                                                                                                                                                                                               Mr Rishot

Down to the River

Down to the River

P1020488                                                                                                                                                                                     The Launder’ette

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Q & A

Khasi Monoliths

Khasi Monoliths

Q: Guess which is the cleanest village in Asia?

A: Mawlynnong in the East Khasi hills, Meghalaya

So says everyone (Try Google)

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It is about 2 -3 hours or 85 kms from Shillong the state capital & you could reach it by private car, shared Sumo, or tourist bus.

Take the highway from Shillong towards Dawki on the Bangladesh border, slicing through floating white clouds that drift & hang high above in the sky, then suddenly descend to the ground, blocking the path & view ahead.

Not for nothing is it called Meghalaya (the abode of clouds)

Driving past a landscape of quaint Khasi villages, leafy green woods, upteen waterfalls, mist, drizzle & rain it is surreal. Akin to cruising to the ends of the earth into a kind of ‘nowhere’ land

And, the road is rather good.  So you could simply zip up.

Not quite though. Alas, for the clouds.

With a population of 501, (according to the last census) there are 95 households. The village has paved roads, public parking, pay & use toilets, piped water, electricity, schools & post office

Public Toilet

Public Toilet

Parking Square

Parking Square

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A natural nursery of flora & fauna there are benches for the visitor to simply sit, stare & watch life go by.

Practically everything  – from garbage bins to tree houses to skywalks – is made of different varieties of locally grown bamboo.

Mawlynnong is green & beautiful.  And yes, it is spotlessly clean.

October onwards is the best time for a visit. With the monsoon in retreat, a brimming river & sprightly waterfalls, the colors of the hills come alive. And the rhododendron in full bloom sets the forests ablaze.

It is also a good time to trek, to the many ‘living root ‘& ‘ladder’ bridges which otherwise are inaccessible most parts of the year.

If you ever come, do try slices of fresh pineapple, sprinkled with red chili powder. It is an absolute ‘must’. As is the local red chili which has a flavor uniquely its own

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Living Root Bridge @ Ravai

Living Root Bridge @ Ravai

What strikes one most is the quiet stillness of the place broken only occasionally by a loud buzzing sound emanating from the forest.  It is louder than the sound of a vibrating mobile & comes from an insect that is never to be seen.

At a height of 600 meters Mawlynnong can get hot & humid during the daytime. The locals then retire for a siesta. After a hearty meal of rice, meat & vegetable what could be more desirable.

Leisure, after all is the hallmark of civilization.

Forever Young

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May 24. Bob Dylan’s’ birthday. An event that Shillong  (capital of rock music in India) celebrates with an annual musical concert. It has been so for 40 years now going back to 1972 when the first  was organized by Lou Majaw, local boy & die hard Dylan fan.

It has been Lou’s’ tribute to the Prince of Blues & Rock n Roll ever since.

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Lou himself is a legend in these parts. Troubadour, guitarist, folk singer who wants children to enjoy Dylan’s music & to dig the poetry & lyrics of its soulful numbers

May 24,2013.  My trip to Meghalaya is planned around this date. The concert is at Cloud 9, a bar at the Centre Point in Shillong.

I run into Lou bounding up the stairs even before the show has begun. He is ecstatic knowing that I am a Bob Dylan fan too & have especially flown in from Delhi for the event.

Cloud 9 is suffused with Dylan-mania, palpable in the air with fans of all groups & ages.  The bar is smoke filled, liquor filled. With no taboos or restrictions it is easy to sit  & relax & I do precisely that with a ‘Pina Colada’, which soon topples over – glass broken, splinters across the floor, contents all over my dress – in the excitement of Bob/Lou.

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Guitar in hand he makes an appearance to loud  & prolonged applause. He is tall, of stocky frame & unconventionally attired. With flowing white hair & bandana, in trademark sleeveless tee, shorts & sport shoes,he is a showman par excellence. With a powerful gritty voice he begins his tribute to the strains of ‘Forever Young’, the audience joining in, followed by all the nostalgic old favorites  “Tambourine Man “ “ Blowin’ in the wind”  “The times they are a changing”

It is a mesmerizing 4 hours.

There is a large Calcutta crowd. Also many from elsewhere in the northeast.

And there is Geetu Hinduja from Bombay who quite literally brings the house down with her rendition of ‘‘There is a house in New Orleans they call the rising sun”………..’ House of the rising sun’

Happy birthday Bob. May you have many more.