Dawki, the India-Bangladesh Border, Umnagot the Cleanest River, Mawphlang’s Sacred Forest, Single root Bridge and Asia’s cleanest village Mawlynnong
The land of Bangladesh is enclosed on three sides with Indian states of West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. It is a typical chilling-out- with-a-buddy scene, with India hanging its one arm on Bangladesh’s shoulder.
Honestly, when I was near the Bangladesh border, I didn’t think how I was at the south of Meghalaya touching Bangladesh’s northern border. I was vaguely aware how Bangladesh is nearer compared to all North-East Indian states, and though I knew we flew over it to get to Shillong, it amuses me only now while going through maps and writing on it. Having traveled to a place helps in learning tedious technicalities with a particular fondness..dearness.
Yeah, Bangladesh border at the village Dawki was one of the highlight of the day. Also there was a cleanest river, a cleanest village, a sacred forest giving out a very clear itinerary for the day.
Shillong to Dawki is another route from Shillong to Sohra and a farther travel. We were going there on a Sunday. On Sundays, many of the food joints and shops are closed as majority of Meghalayans are Christians. Though this also means less traffic on road, and for long road travels like Dawki, I think this day of the week is excellent.
Mawphlang Sacred Forest
Our first stop was Mawphlang Sacred Forest, which is only 45 minutes from Shillong. As the name suggests, it’s quite a sacred place for the locals, and you have to respect by following the guidelines for the place. Firstly, remember not to carry out any of the forest belongings with you. The trek around the forest comes with a choice, and you can either choose a half or a full trek around the forest and pay accordingly. We chose half trek.
You get tour guides for this place. Our local guide’s name was Vacky. In Meghalaya, the spoken language between locals and tourists is English. Vacky too briefed us on Sacred Forest in English. Ashu translated it in Marathi for Aai.
Along with the legends of the place, he also explained its flora and fauna. There were these lovely looking Mushrooms and they were poisonous. It was a bit difficult to ingest the info that these pretty things were so deadly. So Ashu had to confirm this, ‘what if we eat them’, he asked. ‘We die’, Vacky replied. ‘But there must be some antidote for them’, he asked again. ‘We die’, Vacky assured.
You will find these Monoliths/Memorials at many places on hills in Meghalaya. Sacred forest too has collection of them. They are of different size and shapes. The standing stones are of males and the flat ones are of females.
There is a rudraksh tree here. A rudraksha bead is divinely valued in Hinduism. This tree is different because the rudraksh is 3 Mukhi(3 headed). The number of lines on it define the mukh of a rudraksha. 5 Mukhi are commonly found, 3 Mukhi are rare and 1 Mukhi are rarer.
The picture below is voluntarily clicked by Vacky. He sure has got some serious photography skills. He also then clicked our family picture by holding a dry leaf against the mobile camera and clicking through the hole in the leaf.
There is a heritage village outside the forest, but we just had a cursory look at it. Didn’t look like people actually stayed there. The village comes to life during some tribal festival. Next, we went to a small Khasi joint in the area for breakfast. It is the only eatery there, so I did not note the name. Altogether, a neat and tidy setup with staple breakfast items including Jadoh. Jadoh is a popular Khasi dish made of rice and pork. For vegetarians, they had simple dal, rice, sabji, and veg momos in an unopened steamer. You can see the fermented soya bean paste on my plate. I tried it, but it does require an acquired taste. Veg momo was good, and the red chutney with it had smoky aubergine flavor(like baingan bharta) to it that made all the difference. Yummy.
Umngot, The Cleanest River In Village, Dawki
After Sacred Forest, it’s a no-stop hill ride of 2.5 hours. We were car-riding at great altitude watching eye-popping sight of deep green valleys passing by. It’s fodder to hungry eyes and a highlight of Meghalaya tourism. In between, we also came across some mined hills. Aai pointed how they make for the landscapes like in the movie, Sholay. A beheaded hill on the route rattled and quietened us for a while. Abhijit commented that this cutting has definitely impacted the climate and that Shillong was at least 50 percent more cooler than today.
We reached Umngot river, and as you can see in the pictures, it is famous for its crystal clear water. We hired a manually rowed boat from the locals which is the only option available. Dunno if it makes any sense, the engine ones make me less anxious. Boating for nearly an hour costs you around INR 1200. The water was deep in only some parts, so I calmed down after boating for a while and there was this eye-soothing picturesque greenery around to marvel and keep my mind occupied. We were keen to go inside these shallow water caves but the boat guy didn’t comply, and just touched the outer part. I forgot his name, but he was probably just a teenager rowing the boat well with us two heavyweights in it. We watched Bangladeshi tourists on the river-bed across. You cannot get down on that river bed as it is a foreign territory from there.
There is a camping facility on the river-bed and you can rent the tents for a night.
Dawki- Tamabil Border, India And Bangladesh Friendship Gateway
This border is 10 minutes by car from Umngot river in the village Dawki. Dawki-Tamabil is a friendship gate like Wagah- Attari border, but minus the fervor. There are talks of starting retreat ceremonies here for a long time now. A white mile stone was a point where the BSF soldier kept reprimanding tourists to not cross it. It’s important to follow the instructions given by the soldiers at such a sensitive place. Some tourist didn’t seem to follow the protocol, and found it funny to cross the line, literally!
Mawlynnong Single Root Bridge
We had cancelled on double root bridge, so Single Root Bridge was a good substitute. A root bridge is a suspension bridge made of aerial roots of well grown rubber fig trees by the locals to cross over the streams. Because the roots are used without cutting them apart from the tree, they are also called as living root bridges. Single root bridge is comparatively a lesser trek down to the double root bridge. Even so, we did not take Aai with us as it was still strenuous for her especially, after the long day. The bridge engineering is marvelous. Though, this is open for only one-way walk. Just for the experience of it. The increased human traffic on it is causing some erosion so tourist have to return from a different parallel bridge. The bridge is built just a little over an average human height so you don’t feel anxious at all. The view of the stream that looks like mini ponds is lovely.
Mawlynnong, The Asia’s Cleanest Village
This village was declared as cleanest village in Asia in 2003 by a travel magazine, Discover India. Mawlynnong has not failed in maintaining the reputation until now. Even fallen dried leaves are not left to litter for long on the pavements. The top ranking wasn’t just about the cleanliness, but included the everyday rural-life chores that had a rhythmic organic system of its own.
Apart from the village tour, you can also book a home stay here. The increased tourism has nearly doubled the income of villagers. Though, some regret the commercialization of the village today. Abhijit lamented that the tourist coming to stay here expected hotel comforts and it affected in changing the traditional life-style.
It was almost dark so I did not click many images around. We could hardly see things as there were no street lights in the village. Abhijit brought to our notice a type of flowers that eat bugs. They really eat bugs, not trap them for the night like lotus. It was a good walk around and the missing street lights gave a good view of sky in the night. I think next time I would like to book a stay here. The long travel from Shillong gives very little time to do justice to the nearby spots.
After breakfast at Mawphlang, we were eating our lunch in this Mawlynnong village joint at 5pm. We relished this simple vegetarian Khasi meal. Even Aai ate well. Ashu and Abhijit enjoyed the Khasi Chicken curry which apparently lived up to the built-up expectations by Abhijit.
The next day was going to be our last day in Shillong, and as we returned from Dawki, I was completely at peace with the travel accomplishments so far.
To be continued…