Enchanted At The Mawphlang Sacred Grove, Meghalaya

This is no ordinary forest you are about to enter. This is a sacred grove, home to La Basa, a protective deity who safeguards all of us. He watches over this forest. Anyone who enters with bad intentions will have to face dire consequences. You can be inside for as long as you want, but please remember that you cannot take away anything from this forest – not even a single leaf or a dried twig,” our guide warns the husband and me, in no uncertain terms.

We are about to enter the Mawphlang Sacred Grove, in the East Khasi Hills of Meghalaya, a bare 25 km or so away from Shillong. From the outside, we can see absolutely nothing of the forest – all we can see is a huge open plain, with a tall grassy hedge covering most part of it. A little man-sized opening in the hedge indicates the entrance to the sacred grove.

We gulp, sort of nervous of getting inside with the bub.

Don’t worry one bit, please. This place is 100% safe. There are hundreds of tourists who visit here every day, and not even a single untoward incident has happened,” the guide isΒ  quick to reassure us, probably noticing our slight discomfort. “The Basa protects,” he adds.

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Stones of Khasi symbolism, just outside the Mawphlang Sacred Grove. This indicates the importance of family, we are told.

Chin up, we step into the man-sized clearing, the husband baby-wearing the bub, me walking close behind. We set foot into the Mawphlang Sacred Grove. And it is then that magic happens.

We find we have stepped into a beautiful, beautiful forest, straight out of an Enid Blyton book or from the movie Avatar. The scenery around us is nature at its best, pure, untouched, non-commercialised. At the very first glimpse of the Mawphlang Sacred Grove, we are enchanted.

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Walking into the Mawphlang Sacred Grove, our guide leading the way

The Mawphlang Sacred Grove, covering about 80 hectares, has stood the test of time – it is a place that is over 1000 years old. The forest is home to several scores of species of birds and animals. It is a treasure trove of rare plants and trees, several of them bearing immense medicinal properties,” our guide says. “The Khasi community here takes care of this forest. The Khasis believe in nature. They revere nature. Any ailment we suffer from, we believe nature can cure. All of these cures are right here, within this sacred grove,” he adds.

We have been lucky to find a guide who speaks very good English, in a community that speaks, mostly, only the local dialect of Khasi. As we walk deeper into the forest, he points out natural wonders that we must absolutely see, telling us about the history of the place. We lap all of it up, eyes agape in wonder, mouths slightly open. The path through the forest is uneven, slippery at places, but it is definitely not a difficult trek.

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Left: A plant that bears flowers which look exactly like a cobra’s raised hood; Right: A little bird’s nest; inside the Mawphlang Sacred Grove

We get up, close and personal with bird’s nests, a variety of mushrooms, flowers that look like the hoods of cobras, different types of orchids, herbs that cure skin diseases and headaches, leaves that help in lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. We check out Helicopter Flowers – flowers that rotate like helicopters before landing on the ground – and plants that are shaped like baskets.

Left: The Helicopter Flower. Right: A pretty thing our guide picked up from the forest floor for us to see. I forget what this is, now.

Mawphlang‘ is Khasi for ‘land of the grassy stone’ (‘Maw‘ is ‘stone’, while ‘phlang‘ is ‘grassy’, in Khasi). True to its name, and thanks to the legendary rains in Meghalaya, everywhere we look inside the forest, it is green, green, green. The branches of trees all around us, many of the rocks on the forest floor, are covered with dense green moss.

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New life in an ancient forest. Orchids coming into life on a mossy tree branch, in the Mawphlang Sacred Grove.

The forest is dense, alive, impressive, but surely not gloomy. Rays of bright sunlight pierce through the trees, create a sort of magical space, where we stand and pose for photographs. Being the nature lovers that we are, being inside the forest fills us with an immense sense of peace. The calls of various birds from the trees around us help a great deal, too. Our shoulders relax, and we begin to breathe deeply of the pristine air within the forest, beginning to forget our worries and soaking in the sights and sounds before us. And, as we do this, we fall deeper and deeper and deeper in love with the bountiful, gorgeous forest spread out all around us.

There is always something or the other happening inside the forest, irrespective of whether you are able to see it or not,” our guide tells us. “There is new life coming up, old trees and plants are withering and dying, just like the cycles of our life. There is so much happening below the surface, beyond our sight and wisdom,” he says, and we cannot help but nod along at this.

Here are some out of the multitude of mushrooms we spotted inside the Mawphlang Sacred Grove. Apparently, it takes an expert eye to figure out which ones are poisonous and which ones aren’t.

Closely following the footsteps of our guide, we arrive at a gurgling stream deep inside the forest. The water is pristine, crystal clear, and naturally cold. It is pure enough to drink, the guide tells us, but advises us not to do so. There are animals drinking from the stream all the time, he says, and he is not sure if the water will agree with the stomachs of city-dwellers like us. So, we refrain, and walk ahead, after clicking a few pictures at this hugely beautiful spot.

The clear, clear, clear stream in the midst of Mawphlang Sacred Grove

While we are leaving, we hear a rustle and turn back to spot an extremely beautiful green snake skimming the waters. A couple of beautiful birds fly out from the nearby trees. We hadn’t even known these creatures were around us! In the blink of an eye, before I can fumble to switch my camera on, they are gone. “You are good, kind souls. You are very lucky. Most people who come here don’t get to see any animals,” our guide remarks.

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Our young and very passionate guide (on the left), chatting with a worker inside the Mawphlang Sacred Grove. Notice the bamboo basket on the worker’s back? These baskets are used everywhere in Meghalaya.

Kings no longer exist in Meghalaya, but when they did, they would regularly visit the Mawphlang Sacred Grove, we are told. Our guide points out to us various spots within the forest – the place where the king apparently held discussions with his wise men, the place where lambs or cocks would be sacrificed to appease the Basa, the place where the sacrificial meat would be cooked and eaten. To novices like us, these bits of history (tales? folklore?) are utterly fascinating.

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The spot, deep within the Mawphlang Sacred Grove, where the King used to convene with his wise men, once upon a time
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The spot where the King would eat the sacrificial meat, along with his courtiers
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The spot where the King would, apparently, rest after his meal

All too soon, we realise we are at the end of our tour. With our hearts full, refreshed and rejuvenated by our tete-a-tete with nature, we follow the guide back out of the forest. This time around, we take a shorter, less winding route and are back at the entrance in absolutely no time at all.

As we pay the guide for his services and thank him profusely for his energetic presence with us, he advises us to check out the Model Khasi Village just outside the Mawphlang Sacred Grove. We do just that, and thoroughly love the little village constructed to explain to tourists the concept of an actual habitat of the Khasi community.

Part of the pretty little Khasi Model Village, just outside the Mawphlang Sacred Grove

We head back to our cab, thoroughly sated, so very glad that we decided to visit this beautiful place that is still slightly off the beaten track.

If you find yourself in Meghalaya, I would urge you not to give the Mawphlang Sacred Grove a miss, but to embrace it with an open heart. It is one of the most peaceful, untouched places we have been to in a while, and I am sure you will love it too.

Notes for travellers

  1. The Mawphlang grove is sacred to the Khasis. Please do ensure that you respect the rules here, and treat the place with the same reverence that the Khasis do.
  2. This place can be covered en route to Shillong, Mawlynnong or Cherrapunjee.
  3. Please do hire a guide if you wish to take a walking tour within the forest. The trails are winding and confusing, and I would not really recommend going inside on your own. Moreover, you need a guide to point out various species of plants and trees to you, to suggest which ones can be poisonous and which ones are not.
  4. The Mawphlang Sacred Grove is open to tourists every day, from about 9 AM to 5 PM. Photography is permitted. The entrance fees need to be paid at the tourist office right there. Guide charges and camera fees are separate.
  5. There are two kinds of walking tours available here – a half-hour one and a full-hour one. I would personally recommend the full one hour tour.
  6. The forest is, indeed, a safe place to visit for kids and adults alike. The walking trail is not very tough, and anyone with average fitness can undertake it.
  7. Make sure you leave most of your belongings in your cab, if possible. Get into the forest with just a jacket or umbrella (in case of rain), a water bottle and your camera, to facilitate easy walking.
  8. You can request for a guide at the tourist office on the Mawphlang Sacred Grove premises. Most of the guides speak heavily Khasi-accented English.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

22 thoughts on “Enchanted At The Mawphlang Sacred Grove, Meghalaya

  1. This is so beautiful and peaceful. Love all the greenery, and the variety of plants there is mind-blowing. How I wish now that we had made the time to stop at this place.

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  2. The Mawphlang Sacred Grove is really an enchanting place. You will get the feeling as soon as you enter the forest. Loved reading your post. I had visited the sacred groves last year and have very fond memories of the place.

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  3. It must have been fascinating to see the bird’s nest and the helicopter flower up close. This looks like such a tranquil place with abundant nature to treasure

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  4. This secret garden certainly feels like a very enchanting place to visit. Not only is it a fantastic way to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, it also offers a great range of flora to admire for nature lovers. I’d love to check it out when I’m in the area!

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  5. Mawphlang Sacred Grove has always been a source of intrigue and mystery for us based on the various articles we have read about it.But can see it is so beautiful and seems straight out of a fairy tale.Also, love the look of the strange flowers and other vegetation in the sacred grove.

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  6. The kind of sacred and secret forest that you have portrayed here is exactly the kind that I love. I am headed to Meghalaya soon but for only very limited time. Let me see if I can include mawphlang sacred grove in my itinerary. I very much want to now after reading your account.

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  7. Thank you for bringing back great memories of the Mwphlang scared grove. It seems that you went during the right season, since the place looks green and vibrant. Sadly, we went during the winter, when the place had more brownery than greenery.

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  8. Meghalaya is still so unexplored. I had no idea of Mawphlang Sacred Grove. It looks like my kind of place. You leaned so much about flora and fauna of the place. The flower indeed looks like a raised head of cobra. I need to go here.

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