The village of Mawlynnong is truly fascinating not just because this tiny hamlet has already done what the Swacch Bharat Mission aims to do to the country today, but because the culture of its people has truly ensured sustainability of its principal vision – keeping the village squeaky clean.
As we were trying to find our way back to the parking lot after visiting the root bridges in Cherrapunjee, we came across a couple of bikers who eagerly pointed out that we should take the road on the left to reach our destination. As we trundled along a kilometer up, we were greeted by a small signboard nailed onto a tree.
‘Welcome to Mawlynnong – Asia’s cleanest village.’
Asia’s cleanest village. Really? Out of sheer curiosity, we unanimously decided to walk on.
The road became narrower with sharp bends and a troop of chickens popped out of nowhere and began to follow us suspiciously. As we cleared yet another bend after walking for almost a kilometer more, we saw a wide opening – like a large open courtyard –and a child hastily picking up a stray wrapper and promptly depositing it into one of the well-segregated waste bins.
This small act was indeed a loud proclamation of where we had arrived. Mawlynnong!
“Neat!” was my first reaction but I soon discovered that Mawlynnong had elevated neatness to a completely new level. The quaint little houses with brightly coloured roofs and doors were neatly arranged around the ‘courtyard’. The pots holding the blooming chrysanthemums and roses were neatly placed along the walkway. The trinket shops were neatly packed in clusters. Even the sole tea-stall had paper cups neatly put on the table.
For a better future
Around 90 km south of Shillong, Mawlynnong is a picturesque three hour ride by car. Declared as the ‘Cleanest Village in Asia’, it is said that the village was plagued by cholera around 130 years ago. The missionaries who had settled in the region suggested leading a clean and healthy lifestyle. This meant attacking the rot at the stem by cleaning up the village first and foremost. And this practice stays to this day as large signboards encourage tourists to drop litter into the bins even as volunteers sweep the roads on an hourly basis.
“Mawlynnong is 100 percent literate and embraces a matrilineal society where the youngest daughter can claim inheritance from the mother and daughters keep their mothers’ surnames,” informed Sobhan who runs the tea-stall. It was clear that for most in Mawlynnong, cleanliness begins at home and women empowerment has worked wonders to hold the society woven across a single fabric.
Mawlynnong, that greeted us with a burst of scents, had truly captivated our senses. Slowly we discovered that the place is not for those who have packed itineraries and long must-visit lists. Time’s song slows down in Mawlynnong even as one can put up one’s feet on the balcony of the home of a gracious host and sip sugary tea.
Do not miss: In Mawlynnong, climb atop trees secured by a crickety but super-strong ladder twined with bamboo. Once on top, you will be able to catch a glimpse of a massive green cover, with Bangladesh a handshake away.
If there is something that one can learn from a visit to Mawlynnong, it is to refrain from littering. Remember, somebody in Mawlynnong is watching!
These bridges are constructed out of the massive aerial roots of banyan fig trees such as Ficus elastica (a type of rubber tree) with generation-after-generation of locals twining the roots of the trees around the trunks of the betel trees growing along the opposite end of the brook. And these roots are strong (and living!).
Welcome to Mawlynnong. Welcome home!
To reach them, one has to trek downhill. This walk is a near half hour one, precarious due to slippery edges and moss-laden stones. On reaching the bridge, one is filled with awe at this partnership between man and nature.
Written by :- Adnan Hamid