India is a country endowed with rural settlements and natural beauty with every state boasting of pretty charming villages of their own. And you tend to wonder what more enriching can a holiday to an Indian village be especially if you have lived most of your life in the countryside. It definitely takes more than the extraordinary to make you gasp in awe, since the rural lifestyle, trees, birds and streams remind you of my very own backyard. But the moment you set foot in Riwai or Mawlynnong, two villages in the East Khasi Hills of Meghalaya, India’s beautiful north-east state, you can’t help but get awash with its natural charms so unique from the rest.
Asia’s Cleanest Village
First impression Mawlynnong appears no different from the other little villages we crossed on our way, but the moment we stepped out of our vehicle, it was evident why this village home to a little over 90 Khasi families in the East Khasi hills qualifies as Asia’s cleanest village. Keeping today’s global environment crisis in mind, it was an encouraging experience to watch the eco-friendly lifestyle of these village folk, even learn their ways.
I was told that agriculture is their main occupation and community participation prime, whether its building a local school, keeping the village clean or sourcing water from nearby streams. As I walked through Mawlynnong village, with its pretty homes framed by green hedges, its residents appeared unfazed by the constant glare from tourists like me wanting to understand the secret of their blissful existence. They went about their daily chores, a distinct pride in their stride. Even the little children embodied the same purpose as they scurried to pick up a fallen leaf and place it in a nearby bamboo bin. A reassurance that the future of such villages are in safe hands. On a clear day the Sky View, a bamboo platform with stairs give you a stunning elevated view of the entire village and is definitely a sight to behold.
Hill people of Riwai
We were still mesmerised by Mawlynnong when we stepped into Riwai village, a little distance away. It must be the rain, I thought, realizing that the forest appeared somehow extraordinarily beautiful. Or maybe, it was the smiling, rosy cheeked little children we passed on the way, selling blackberries and strawberries! Or the pretty blushing Khasi women dressed in colourful traditional attire called ‘Jainsem’, perched upon machaans, (rudimentary platforms made with bamboos) brewing tea under leafy shelters which dripped with raindrops. And of course, the trees! They were so verdant and different from those I’d ever seen. Everything was just so magical about the place and encompassing in beauty.
These people have learnt to live in acceptance of natures rules. I realized that when they get their feet and hands dirty with soil and then wash it off in sparkling hill streams, the connection these hill people forge with mother earth and nature becomes unbreakable. And from their smiling faces, I gathered that it’s a happy understanding. It’s why Meghalaya’s villages are so unlike any other village I’ve been to. It’s also why they got under my skin.
Sights that delight
From here you could do a day tour of two very interesting sights. First, the Living Root Bridge at Riwai village which is easily accessible from the village itself. Dawki is around 35 kilometres from Mawlynnong and is located in East Jaintia Hills, 2 kilometres from Bangladesh border. There, the Umngot river, famed for its transparent water is a must see as well as the old Dawki suspension bridge built by the British in 1932.
If You Go
If you plan to visit these villages you either have to put up at Mawlynnong where accommodation is on the steep side and pretty limited, with few eateries. You could also make a day trip from Meghalaya’s capital city Shillong, around 90 kilometres away and takes around two-and-half hours by taxi. You can take a direct flight from Kolkata to Shillong’s domestic airport in Umroi, 35 kilometres from main Shillong city.