Shnongpdeng : A river and suspension bridge

Surrounded by the Jaintia hills in Meghalaya , Shnongpdeng is a beautiful place to experience the crystal clear waters of Umngot river. While most travellers zero in on Dawki to take a dip or enjoy a boat ride  , Shnongpdeng remains fairly quiet and peaceful. We were the only ones there that morning , and later joined by a family of three.

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The best time to experience the river in all its blue glimmering glory is winter and since it had already begun raining when we were travelling through the hills , the water in Dawki was brown and muddy and a stark contrast to what one mostly sees in pictures.

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Taken form the suspension bridge

Shonongpdeng had some part of the river clear as the mud settled and it had another advantage over Dawki , which is the suspension bridge that is stunning and a swaying walk over it gives one a bird’s eye view of the majestic river.

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The picture above – muddy waters after a downpour two nights before we were here and the clear water as the mud had begun to settle . Also ,the suspension bridge which is a thrill to walk on .

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Taking a dip in the icy cold water ,watching the locals fish and admiring colourful boats are rewarding !

The river resonated with my state of mind , muddy in part and beginning to clear and the walk over the bridge spoke to me too , build a bridge and move on . I got more than I expected from Umngot and Shnongpdeng . The most unexpected places have the greatest lessons sometimes 🙂

Khublein (Thank you) Meghalaya .

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Meghalaya : The little things I learnt

During my stay in Meghalaya , I realized that desserts are not an integral part of Khasi meals. In fact , during one of my conversations with Mona Rose , the daughter of our host in Mawlynnong , she mentioned they eat a lot of fruits that are grown locally instead of dessert . Pine apples and jack fruits being very common. On the last night in the village , Mona Rose came to our hut excitedly with a plate of jack fruit. They grow these in their garden.

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Jack fruits in Mawlynnong

I also tried a handful of the seedy fruit locally called ‘Sohphie’  . They come in to varieties the red sweet ones and the green sour ones . The red ones were nice, but the sour ones were extreme . I couldn’t have beyond a bite. The latter are used to make pickles and are enjoyed by the locals .

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Picture taken in Shillong

Every lane in Mawlynnong has pretty flowers and homes have neat colourful hedges that add to the beauty of this already charming place. Travellers are requested not to pluck any of these , but I saw quite a few showing complete disregard .

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Bright on a rainy day

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We also received a lovely piece of art made by Mona with some hydrangea from her garden.

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So this was a little about the healthy snacking of the Khasis and their love for all things natural . It shows ! They are lean and fit and beautiful . It comes as no surprise that when my husband tried buying a tee shirt for himself ,we figured they don’t keep them in his size. The largest they had were large, and their large still looked small to me !

So much to learn from them , so much !

Mawlynnong Village

Mawlynnong village drew a lot of attention when it was declared the cleanest village in Asia in 2003 and then the cleanest one in India in 2005 by a travel magazine. I always wondered if that was an exaggeration or a gimmick , until I was shown pictures by a neighbour who travelled to the place last November.

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Despite my apprehensions of living in a fairly remote village  with limited access to medical facilities ( which is a concern since we travel with our toddler ) , with very few eating options ( dinners must mostly be pre booked and the two places that were serving food had only set meals to offer ) and long hours of no electric supply, we decided to spend three nights here in Mawlynnong.

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One of the churches in the village

My initial feelings , when I entered the village , were shock and disappointment. It looked nothing like I had imagined it to be . There were mini vans and cars parked at the entrance , lots of tourists haggling with Khasi women who put up make-shift stalls outside their homes to sell articles made of bamboo and other trinkets and even though it looked clean , the true essence of the place did not sink in until the next morning. This is when I realized , most people just stop by the village for a couple of hours to get a picture clicked (for an Instagram update) on one of the tree houses or buy a few souvenirs.

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Tree watch tower / tree house  – entry 20 INR
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The church seen from on top

 

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Notice the bamboo dustbin

Our home in the village ,Ibansara’s hut , a Khasi home made of bamboo with  basic amenities , was just right. This being a matrilineal society , the youngest daughter inherits property and her husband comes to live with her in her maternal home. So , for the next three days , our neighbours were Ibansara and her genial family.

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The entry to the village

As the cars trundled away , the stalls packed up and the cacophony that filled the little lanes was replaced with the sounds of crickets and frogs , Mawlynnong revealed her beauty .  Under a canopy of stars , amidst the dance of fire flies and a drizzle , she lulled me to sleep.

My first morning walk in the village revealed why and how this village gets its fame . The villagers , armed with bamboo dustbins and brooms , are up and about , sweeping away a fallen leaf or flower . Cleaning the village is also part of the social work program in the local school I am told.

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These dustbins are now sold as souvenirs , actual ones and also miniatures as well as key chains !

Just as a hurried visit does not let one soak in the essence of this place , one post definitely cannot do justice to the village and its people.

More on Mawlynnong to follow .

 

 

Mawphlang Sacred Forest

About an hour’s drive away from Shillong , is the sacred forest of Mawphlang. The Khasi tribe revere this site and narrate stories of its importance for rituals performed  to appease divine forces, especially before war and at the time of epidemics.

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A few feet away from this sign board , one can hire the services of a guide and opt for a one hour quick informative tour or a leisure walk into the grove which might last a little over two hours. We opted for the latter. Before one enters the forest , the guide warns us against taking away anything from the forest , not even a leaf . They believe it brings bad luck and has proven to be fatal .

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Years ago ,we are told , this site was frequently visited by men of the tribe ,  once they had crossed a certain age and only if they sported a beard . These men would make their first halt at what is now called ‘ the preparation site’ to check if they had with them all they needed to perform their sacred rituals . Once this site was crossed , there was no turning back without the successful completion of the ritual as they believed it would anger the divine and bring them ill luck.

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The stones in the picture above mark the place of preparation. As we walk towards the sacred site of rituals ,  we are shown the Khasi pine , snake like plants , a variety of mushrooms and rhododendron trees . The largest among 200 sacred groves in Meghalaya , Mawphlang is a treasure trove that attracts botanists and nature enthusiasts from around the globe.

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Khasi pine

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Our guide ( who insisted we call him ‘wish’ , since his Khasi name was a tongue twister that none of us could get right ) kept pointing out to little mushrooms peeping from dark nooks and wet branches and explained the botanical names of each , none of which I remember !

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‘Wish’ was my wish come true . Unhurriedly , he let us marvel at trees , feel , stop and question. He patiently answered us , helped pick us up when we slipped and struggled with our raincoats and let our two year old pretend she was spidey climbing trees horizontally or splash around in a stream we discovered behind the thicket.

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The picture above is one of the sacred sites for the sacrifice / rituals .

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Someone had arranged these leaves on a stone and I couldn’t resist clicking them. For me it sums up Mawphlang , like the different colours of the leaves , Mawphlang has something for everyone – history , tradition , stories ,  the enchanting forest , bird song , mushrooms , colours , silence and peace and for our two year old , this was better than any jungle gym in the world .

With bruises , a few bites and mud stains all over , we left Mawphlang feeling blessed .

Mawphlang magic to continue ….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lake Umiam

It’s a long drive from Guwahati to Shillong and just before one enters the city , scenic Meghalaya welcomes and soothes tired travellers with a glimpse of Lake Umiam .

Bara pani , as it is locally called , is picturesque and is just the beginning of an unforgettable journey through the abode of clouds.

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Meghalaya , India.