I cant thank enough my dear cousin, Somdatta, for offering to be a guest blogger and lending a vivid account of her journey through some gems of Meghalaya! Somdatta is a blogger herself and you may visit her blog @ https://somdattachakraborty.wordpress.com/ to enjoy more of her brilliance!
“Mawlynnong” – It was a difficult name to pronounce, but more difficult than this was to convince my in-laws to include this place in the Shillong trip itinerary. They had spent most of their life in Shillong and still hadn’t heard of this place, so that was reason enough for an outright rejection as soon as we proposed this place for our trip. To them, a Shillong trip was all about Elephant falls -> Shillong Peak -> Cherapunji -> Mawsmai caves -> shopping at police bazaar and most importantly meeting all their relatives who lived in Shillong.
So, after my wedding when I first visited Guwahati , where my in-laws lived , they sat with a pen and paper , listing down names of relatives, who we had to meet over lunch ,dinner, tea etc. at Guwahati and also during our 3 days trip to Shillong. And in all these, Mawlynnong and Riwai had no place, in their list or in their heart. So, I sat with a sullen face till my loving in-laws gave way and finally said “Achha baba, chalo , let’s go, wherever you say”.
I would have loved to talk about the relatives-in-laws and how enthusiastic they were to feed the ‘notun bou’, but that is another day’s story. Today I will take you to that tiny village in Meghalaya whose name is Mawlynnong and its next door neighbor Riwai.
It was already late afternoon by the time we had reached Shillong from Guwahati. So we had a sumptuous Bengali lunch at hotel Shuruchi opposite MTC bus stand with pabda jhal and dal alu bhaja, visited Elephant Falls and Shillong Peak and checked in at hotel Alpine Continental at Police Bazaar. That evening we strolled lazily in police bazaar, shopped at Glories Plaza, a happening mall at police bazaar where purely chic, open to bargain, non-branded clothes and apparels were sold. I bought a polka dotted brolly umbrella for 300 bucks, haggled for a good 20 minutes and bought a pair of t-shirts for my husband and floral printed shirts for myself, my husband had his eyes on a pair of converses but our legs had given away by then. So, we spotted a cozy little restaurant on the top floor of the mall and filled our tummy with momos and thukpa.
Next day we set out for Mawlynnong. It takes almost 2-3 hours to reach Mawlynnong from Shillong. Our visit was in July which was peak monsoon; hence the entire journey was delayed by another hour due to heavy fog on the way. The mountain roads with twists and hairpin bends were spooked with thick fog, rather clouds which entered our car like rebels and drenched us all. We just stayed put in the car, forlorn, because let alone scenic beauty of the north east, we could barely see other cars 5 feet ahead of us. My mother in law had carried a stash of peaches and plums, also a flask of fresh brewed Assam Tea. While she peeled the peaches and poured us hot tea from the flask, dad-in-law chit chatted with our driver Manoj and we hoped for some sunshine. We crossed several rain soaked villages on our way. Went past small tea stalls where young men huddled and shared jokes over a cup of tea. Saw children heading towards school, picking at each other playfully. We went past village houses and caught glimpses of Khasi women doing their daily chores with babes tied on their back and a sling bag hanging on their shoulder.
Meghalaya is a mystical place, where sun and cloud plays hide and seek all the time. Sooner the clouds were cleared by a beam of sunlight and a magical land in midst of pine trees and lofty green hills was unveiled. We spotted road side streams on our way and watched cottony clouds play on the hills; the lazy rainy morning had bloomed into a pep sunshine day in front of our eyes. We stopped here and there for clicks and reached our destination by 11:30 AM.
Mawlynnong is well known for its cleanliness and hospitality and is declared Asia’s cleanest village. The quaint Khasi village of Mawlynnong is adorned with beautiful species of flora and fauna; it is home to fairytale butterflies and numerous species of vibrant flowers basking in the playful sun and cloud. The bright flowers, simple folks ,spic and span Khasi huts, a small church across the road and a tall tree house, it was just the ambience to sit back , relax , breathe in some fresh air and hum a favorite tune.
Mawlynnong has an interesting neighbor Riwai. Here stands one of the finest engineering works by the Khasi War Tribes from long long time ago – “The Living Root Bridge”.
Thousands of years back, when the Khasi war tribes had to cross rapids and rivers, they tied the roots of rubber trees which grew on both banks of the river into braids and grafted them to form a bridge. Though entangled, the roots continued to grow, thus strengthening the bond between each other and got stronger and stronger with time. Now it stands strong and firm over the river and has the capacity to bear a truck load of weight.
The way to the “living root bridge” built on to our excitement of witnessing human’s ancient architectural mastery. Initially there were small huts on our way, slowly the huts disappeared and the greenery on our sides thickened, till it became as thick as a forest. Meghalaya-abode of clouds is the wettest state in the country, so the steps down the river remain perennially slippery and mossy. Slowly we stepped down, one watchful step after the other. Listening to the roar of the river beneath us and breathing in the wet smell of the jungle, we climbed down into the wilderness. A kilometer trek until we reached the living bridge on the ferocious river of Riwai. It was monsoon, so the river was swelling and was at its best. I think it would be calmer during other seasons.
Once the steps ended, we felt we have entered the magical forest of a fairy tale land where a mystic river flowed, whose water had magical prowess to cure all illness. There was a milky white river rapid, about 4-6 feet in width, fiercely flowing with strong currents and crashing against the rocks. Over the river grew the most spectacular man-made-natural structure- “The living root bridge” – neatly tied into a mesh. It was so sturdy that even if twenty people jumped on it, it wouldn’t sway an inch. We could spot the villagers cleaning the rocks, polishing them and clearing out the moss; A live demonstration of their cleanliness.
On our way back we stopped by a small Khasi hut, where our lunch was arranged. Wooden benches were laid on one side of the room; the other side was their kitchen, equipped with pots n pans and a wood charcoal oven. A meal of piping hot steamed rice with dal , lai shak and pork curry was served to us. Second serving of dal and veggies was complimentary. We came out smiling with a happy tummy and completed our meal with a plate full of pineapple sold by a little village girl. My mum in law and husband also tried the local beetle nut (koai) and we relaxed for a while on a tree house, from where Bangladesh could be seen.
Soon, it was time to leave. We said ‘khublei’ to the locals and bid farewell to Mawlynnong and headed towards Shillong. You could also choose to stay there, but you have to make prior reservations for that. If you don’t get a booking just like us you can pitch base in Shillong and crash in some hotel at Police Bazaar.
Important Travel Tips
- You can hire a cab to and from Shillong or stay at Mawlynnong guest house.
- There are limited guest house where you can stay over. Prior booking should be done for this.
- It is a remote village, so do not rely on public transport .It is best to hire a car from Shillong.
- Don’t use plastic bottles. Also, it is a smoke free zone, so put off your suttas.
- Carry an umbrella with you.
- Try to reach Mawlynnong as early as possible so that you can look around before it gets dark
- Wear sturdy trekking shoes fit for hiking.
——————————-Traveled on July 2012 ————————-
Thank you Somdatta Chakraborty once again for sharing a delightful account of your visit to Mawlynnong and Riwai. Looking forward to being part of more of such amusing experiences with you!