SHILLONG, April 21, 2018: Long before the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan put the spotlight on cleanliness, a small village in the green hills of Meghalaya made it a way of life. Long hailed as the “cleanest village in Asia”, Mawlynnong is now facing the fallout of its fame as an eco-tourism destination.
About 80 km from Shillong, the village is situated close to the border with Bangladesh. Upon entering the village, one encounters a bamboo hut perched 85-feet high, appropriately named Sky View, from where one can see the plains of Bangladesh. Fluttering next to it, and somewhat out of place, is an National People’s Party (NPP) flag.
A little further ahead, signs of Mawlynnong’s Christian legacy are preserved in the 116-year-old Church of the Epiphany, an Anglican church. ‘God’s own garden’, proclaims the board welcoming visitors to Mawlynnong, right next to another sign listing the rules to be followed by them. In 2003, a magazine put the tiny village on the tourism map by calling it the “cleanest village in Asia”. Mawlynnong does not take the epithet lightly.
Rishot Khongthohrem is one of the proactive members of the community responsible for making Mawlynnong what it is today. “We are only following what our ancestors started. About 150 years ago, people in our village were completely cut off from the rest of the world. They thought worshipping gods would cure diseases,” says the 53-year-old headmaster of the CNI Lower Primary School.
“Their habits were unhealthy and led to diseases, even an outbreak of the plague. When Christian missionaries got here in 1887, they taught our people everything about hygiene. And things got better. Since then, cleanliness has become a habit that we pass down to every generation,” he adds.
The village prides itself on its self-sustained cleanliness. Besides a ban on littering imposed by the village council, Mawlynnong has gone sustainable in several other ways. Its dustbins are made of wicker and have come to be associated with the village and its green mission. The benches are made of bamboo. The streets are lit with solar lamps.
“Cleaners empty the waste baskets once in the morning and once in the evening. Plastic waste is carried to Shillong Municipal Board,” says Rishot.
Prestone Tynsong, a minister in the Meghalaya Democratic Allianceand legislator from Pynursla, under which Mawlynnong lies, says, “The village has no less than 140 households. I was amazed when I saw how conscious the villagers are. Whenever anyone, right from the children to the elders, sees litter, she or he picks it up and throws it in the proper place. Without a thought. It comes naturally to them.”
Mawlynnong has now set an exemplary standard for other villages. “Following in the footsteps of Mawlynnong, other villages are also trying to strive for cleanliness. There are 106 villages in my constituency. At least 70 of those are very clean,” Tynsong says.
The fame comes at a cost. “Now, we are connected by a road. People from outside the area know about us. So a lot of tourists come all round the year,” says Rishot, who also runs several guest houses here.
“If you see my parking lot in the morning, it is absolutely clean. By midday, five-six tourist buses will come. And when they leave, you will see plastic scattered all around the area. Many tourists cooperate in keeping the village clean. But some do not. So we pick up after them,” he rues.
In recent years, the village has had to employ cleaners who go around all day. “We do this all through the day,” says 20-year-old Salvestar Khongrom, picking up every bit of litter, even dry leaves and flowers, and putting them in the wicker basket he is carrying.
“We use the donations received from tourists to pay the cleaners and workers of the village,” says Rishot. The village’s economy has certainly benefitted from tourism. While most residents are engaged in agriculture and betel nut cultivation, growing tourist interest has led to the mushrooming of home-stays, guest houses and shops selling indigenous items.
“We will keep the place clean, no matter the number of tourists who come here,” Rishot adds with optimism.
Source: Times of India
Image Courtesy: Travel Triangle