Welcome to Mawlynnong, a pristine role model in the state of Meghalaya, that has suddenly turned into a tourist magnet
MAWLYNNONG, MEGHALAYA: Hidden in the lush greenery of the East Khasi hills of Meghalaya state along the Indian border with Bangladesh lies the pristine village of Mawlynnong. The rolling green hills and topaz watering holes serve as a backdrop for 500 residents, a number that swells during high season with a couple of hundred tourists daily.
At a time when major Indian cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata are facing a growing waste crisis, Mawlynnong is held forth as an example of what concerted efforts to clean up can yield, and used to bolster the Clean India Mission campaign to sanitise the nation by 2019, which is the 150th birthday of Mahatma Gandhi (who advocated cleanliness and sanitation in India).
One of the goals of the Clean India Mission programme is to increase the use of toilets in rural India. In Mawlynnong, every household has a toilet.
The village grew in renown after a 2004 article by Discover India magazine that said “this must be the cleanest village in India.” The article said broomsticks and bamboo shrubs lined the streets and quoted a resident who said that 14 years ago, the town was plastic-free. The village’s tradition of gardening, passed down through generations, also contributed.
Today, Mawlynnong grapples with the blessing and the curse of tourism while trying to maintain the essence of the village, protecting the core reason people want to visit.
Laphrang Khong Thohrem, 62, and other members of the village council and wider community have come together to address the problems that the influx of visitors bring.
Their solutions: Streets are swept daily by villagers who pitch in; bamboo dustbins are placed at every street corner; and trash is composted and used to nourish the village’s agriculture .
“Our grandparents and their grandparents had clean habits; nobody dreamed that the village would become a tourist attraction,” said Thohrem, who is a member of the village council, which regulates the building of new homes.
The council has declared people can’t build higher than a two-storey house, as a way to preserve the village’s look.
Protecting the village’s unique feel and community is something that is important to locals. The majority of those in Mawlynnong are Khasi people, part of one of the oldest matrilineal tribes in the world.
To buy land here you have to be Khasi (or approved by a Khasi person), and the land rights are protected by the Meghalaya Transfer of Land (Regulation) Act of 1971 (which governs the transfer of land from a tribal person to a nontribal person).
The law makes it very difficult for outside developers to set up resorts, thus controlling density and keeping tourism local and contained by the community. This also fits into a plan that also includes a “homestay lodging model,” according to a 2014 New York Times article.
When the road connecting the village to the outside world was built in 2000 and tourism became a possibility, some of the people of Mawlynnong were hesitant to open up the village to outsiders. Inevitably the village changed, and some bemoaned the loss of old traditions. Khongthrem believes that when people in Mawlynnong started earning more money because of the increase in visitors, their mindset changed. “We have lost a lot of charm.”