About 80 km away from Shillong and Cherrapunjee, amidst the hills of Meghalaya, there lies a little village called Mawlynnong. In June 2015, the village was recorded to have 500 residents.
Nature is at its bountiful best in and around the village, as it is everywhere in Meghalaya, and the Indo-Bangladesh border isn’t very far. These aren’t the things that the village of Mawlynnong is known for, though. The village – often referred to as ‘God’s own garden’ – is known for the cleanliness it maintains. The Discover India magazine did a feature on the place in the year 2003, calling it ‘the cleanest village in Asia’. Mawlynnong, slowly and gradually, began to get famous post this. Today, it has hundreds of tourists visiting it, wanting to check out whether it is actually as neat and clean as claims have been made for it to be.
I got interested in Mawlynnong after seeing this video about the place, a while ago, a WhatsApp forward. I thought it was definitely a place that I would like to at least ‘check out’. Then, I mentally added the place to my ever-growing list of places-I-must-visit. Little did I know then that my wish was about to come true, and soon enough at that.
When we were planning for our ‘schoolmoon’ to parts of North-East India, our tour guide asked if we would like to visit Mawlynnong. It was then that a tubelight flashed on in my head, and I made the connection – The video I had seen some time ago? That place was in North-East India, near Shillong, where we would be staying for a bit. We HAD to visit it – this was a God-made plan! ‘Of course!,’ I told him. And that was that.
‘Not many people stay in Mawlynnong, though,’ he warned us. ‘Most tourists just go there, look around for a while, take a few pictures, and then head back. There’s nothing much to do there – it’s a small village, after all. You guys will be staying there for a night, since you are on a week’s holiday,’ he clarified.
When We Reached Mawlynnong..
… after a ride through extremely scenic roads, we realised what our tour guide had meant. Charming as the village was, with its huts and cobbled streets and greenery everywhere, it was small – we could walk through its length and breadth in the matter of an hour. However, at the end of our day’s stay in Mawlynnong, the husband and I had fallen in love with the place. Mawlynnong had turned out to be the highlight of our entire trip – the place we had bonded with the most. When it was time to go, we left Mawlynnong with heavy hearts, wishing we could have been there longer, promising each other we would come back to the village, hopefully soon, hopefully for longer.
Yes, there’s nothing much to do in Mawlynnong, if you consider the place from a tourist’s perspective. But, that is precisely what we loved here. We loved the way silence engulfed us here. We loved the fact that there is nothing – absolutely nothing – to divert your attention from the village – no TV in the homestay we stayed at, no Internet connection, no WiFi. We loved walking through the clean, clean, clean village, listening to the sound of a mountain stream gushing by, admiring the little gardens in everyone’s front yards. We loved talking to the locals, watching them go about their everyday business. We loved the quaint, ancient church that the village houses. We loved climbing up on to the viewpoints that have been built in the village, here and there, gawping at the views that they had to offer.
So, whenever you get around to planning a trip to Meghalaya, the husband and I would urge you not to make Mawlynnong just a stop-over. We would highly recommend staying here, soaking in the charms of the village, at least for a day.
10 Things We Enjoyed Doing In Mawlynnong, And Think You Would Too
Here are the things we loved doing in Mawlynnong, things that we would suggest you do too.
1. Walk around the village.
A walk around the village is surely something that I would suggest you do, either early in the morning or in the evening. Take the time to watch the villagers go about their daily chores, and be prepared to get touched by how simply they lead their lives. Talk to them, learn about their lives, the way we did – we found them so friendly and jovial!
The village is small, but very pretty, with cobbled streets and huts with thatched roofs, little gardens in the front yard and roosters crowing in them. And, yes, Mawlynnong is really as clean as clean can be – it is tough to come across a speck of dirt on the roads. Villagers take sanitation and cleanliness seriously, and any locals or tourists who litter, defecate or spit on the roads are instantly penalised. Bamboo dustbins line the streets, and that is the only place trash goes to in this village, very seriously. Smoking is prohibited, and the use of plastic is extremely limited. There is no home without a toilet.
What is commendable is that this cleanliness drive is an initiative not by the government, but by the village itself. I understand there was once a bad bout of cholera in the village, following which the villagers decided to always actively keep their surroundings clean. They have been at it ever since.
This is no ordinary Indian village – you will surely enjoy walking through its nooks and crannies.
2. Visit the beautiful, ancient village church.
Mawlynnong houses the Church Of The Ephiphany, a beautiful, beautiful structure that was established as far back as 1902. It is a delight to walk around the church, imagining village life as it might once have been, when it would have been inhabited by the Britishers. There are still hints of the British Raj here – the very English accents of the locals, their difficulty in comprehending Hindi, their very Christian ways of living and praying.
The church doubles up as the village school and, as we walked around, we heard the voices of kids repeating their lessons aloud after their teachers. Their melodious voices and cherubic faces (we couldn’t resist a peek in!) lifted our spirits to no end.
3. Check out the neighbouring plains of Bangladesh.
If you climb up – high, high, high – on one of the few viewpoints in Mawlynnong, you can view the plains of Bangladesh that are right next to the village. The bamboo viewpoints are very well constructed, and the one that we climbed up on was quite sturdy and easy to access. The view from the top is lovely – you get a bird’s eye view of the entire village, all the greenery it is filled with, as well as the beginning of Bangladesh.
You would be required to pay a small sum (INR 20 per head, I think) to use the viewpoints.
4. Breakfast at a village shack.
There are no fancy restaurants or even medium-sized eateries in Mawlynnong. There are a few small shacks, though, that serve a limited number of snacks, drinks and food items. Most of these shacks have the owner’s family living out back.
It is a good idea to sit down for a while at one of these shacks, nibbling on some snacks and sipping on a cup of tea as you look out at the villagers going about. It is an experience that will surely rejuvenate you, for the fact that it is so very simple.
5. Shop for souvenirs at a local store.
As you walk around Mawlynnong village, you will come across a few stores (thatched huts that act as stores, actually) selling pineapples, jackfruit and some other souvenirs.
Bamboo is abundant in this part of the world, so you will definitely come across some bamboo artifacts. Considering the proximity to Guwahati – home of the rhinos and Kaziranga National Park – Mawlynnong also sells rhino souvenirs. Most of these souvenirs are quite reasonably priced, and you might want to pick some up for family and friends back home.
I treasure the papier mache rhino toy that I bought for Bubboo at one of these stalls, as well as the bamboo tray and miniature waste-paper basket I bought here as keepsakes.
6. Sleep to the light of the fireflies and the sounds of the forest.
At Mawylnnong, we stayed at one of the few homestays within the village. This was no luxurious place, mind you, just a basic place to stay with very basic facilities. We absolutely loved it, though.
We were asked to keep the wooden windows open because of the high humidity levels and cover ourselves with the mosquito nets that had been provided. Bedtime that night proved to be an experience that we will surely cherish, for a long time to come. As we lay down on our beds, the sounds of the forest (there’s a veritable forest in Mawlynnong, what with all the greenery around!) enveloped us. We stopped talking, and just listened – insects chirping, birds calling out, the wind rustling among the trees. We glanced up to see fireflies dancing around above our mosquito nets.
A short while later, it started raining heavily – a thunder shower. Every time lightning struck, it would be so loud that we would jump, feeling as if our very bed had been hit. The sounds soon lulled us to sleep.
We woke to more forest sounds – birds chirping incessantly, a mountain stream gushing nearby in full force, crickets singing – and those of people beginning their morning chores.
For city dwellers like us, who have gotten overly used to living in a concrete jungle, this experience was nothing short of bliss. I would do it all over again, in a heartbeat.
7. Bathe in the mountain stream.
There is a gorgeous, gorgeous mountain stream flowing right through Mawlynnong. It was in full force when we visited, thanks to the rainfall.
We had an absolutely delightful time getting into the cold, cold, cold waters of the stream, bathing under a canopy made by trees, watching crabs scuttling by. The bub loved this experience so much she refused to get out of the stream!
8. Bask in the greenery surrounding the village.
Mawlynnong is blessed with abundant greenery and natural beauty, like I said before. Betel nut, pineapples, bay leaves and the plant used to make brooms abound here. As per our cabbie, Mawlynnong is one of the country’s biggest producers of betel nut, bay leaves and brooms, supplying them to different states!
We had never seen fresh bay leaves or the jharu (broom) plant before we visited Mawlynnong, and thoroughly enjoyed these little discoveries. This was also the place where we saw, for the first ever time, pineapple growing on a plant and a blood orange tree (we had always seen these fruits only on supermarket shelves before!).
Sitting on the little balcony of our homestay, looking out at the blessedly green village is another thing that we loved, loved, loved doing. Fat chance of doing something like that in an urban jungle like Bangalore!
9. Gorge on the gorgeous pineapples.
The weather, the rolling slopes of the hills, the soil all over Meghalaya are extremely conducive to growing pineapples, and they abound in the state. You can spot pineapples growing here, in the wild, just like that. There is something special about pineapples of Meghalaya, too – they are beautiful things, too, very sweet and juicy. We had some of the best pineapples we have ever had, in Meghalaya, fresh in a way fruits in the city can never be, explosions of flavour in our mouths, naturally sugary sweet, juice dripping down to our elbows. Mawlynnong – part of Meghalaya, too – was no exception.
Whenever you visit Mawlynnong, don’t forget to pig out on the locally grown pineapples!
10. Check out the balancing rock.
Mawlynnong is also home to the ‘balancing rock’, the surprising natural phenomenon of a large rock balanced on a tiny one. It is a small sight, true, nothing very grand but, hey, where else do you get to see such a thing?
You need to pay a small token of INR 10 per head to visit the rock and photograph it. Don’t miss it!
Tips for travellers
- We didn’t see any ATMs in the village, and most of the shacks and stalls accept only cash. Make sure you stock up on cash before you plan for a stay in the village.
- Just outside of Mawlynnong, the village of Riwai houses a beautiful living root bridge and an Eco Park. These can be visited en route to Mawlynnong, before you enter the village. Alternatively, you could make the short trek of about 1.5 km to these sites during your stay at Mawlynnong. Do check with your tour operator regarding this.
- Private or shared taxis are the only way to enter Mawlynnong. You can easily find cabs plying to Mawlynnong from both Shillong and Cherrapunjee.
- A boat ride at Dawki and the Indo-Bangladesh land border at Tamabil can be done en route to Mawlynnong. Please check with your tour operator on this.
- Considering that there are only a handful of homestays in Mawlynnong, each with just a couple of rooms, you might want to book your stay well in advance, whenever you plan to visit.
- Though Mawlynnong can be visited throughout the year, March-August is the best time to do so. This is when the village is at its greenest best, thanks to the monsoon rains.
Are you tempted enough to plan a stay at Mawlynnong?
I hope you have been reading, and enjoying, stories from our recent trip to North-East India. If you haven’t, here are the links for you!