A visit to Mawlynnong is how I imagine a visit to a romanticised European town like Bruges would be. The expectation, the suspense and the hype are all there. But once you get there, you don’t know what to do. “Oh! Look, there’s a dustbin! There’s another one!”
I wouldn’t dream of downplaying the beauty or the sanitation of ‘Asia’s cleanest village’. It is indeed a very picturesque and spotless village. But should it be a tourist destination? The village has very little to offer to tourists and the cleanliness itself is at risk with the influx of visitors.
Though not as popular a tourist destination as Sohra, Mawlynnong’s stock has been constantly on the rise, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi also mentioning this village in one of his episode of Maan ki Baat.
The first thing I noticed about Mawlynnong was that the village seemed to have almost an equal number of homestays for visitors as homes for residents. It really feels more like a holiday resort rather than a village. Secondly, once you see the houses and their beautifully manicured gardens, you don’t have anything else to do. The ‘Sky View’, a bamboo construction that gives a view of the plains of Bangladesh is under repair, reducing the options further.
Another parallel that one can draw with a European town are the prices. Everything is so expensive, you could as well be paying in Euros. One eatery priced a plate of rice and chicken at Rs 500, while another asked for Rs 600. A friend relayed to me that when he had gone to visit the village, lunch for 11 people ended up costing Rs 8500, almost Rs 800 per head.
Rishot, an owner of a guesthouse said that the residents had become increasingly dependent on tourism for their income. “Earlier, we were an agrarian society. The village used to grow betel nuts, which is popularly consumed across Meghalaya as kwai.” He said that now very few families were still cultivating the crop.
He said that due to the influx of tourists and the opportunities from tourism, many residents of the village had decided to build restaurants and homestays. Rishot added that the tourists brought along with them plastic and waste, which meant that the local residents had to clean up after them to retain the ‘cleanest village’ tag. Despite being the owner of guesthouse, he was apprehensive of tourist trade, confessing that the charm and beauty of the village could be at risk.
However, the market seems to have hit a saturation point, with many homestays remaining in a half-constructed state.
A village that is just two kilometers before Mawlynnong, Riwai, has better tourism value. There is a ‘Sky View’ here too, apart from an Eco Park and a living root bridge that is about 130 years old.
Perhaps Mawlynnong should be a model for villages that want to follow their lead in cleanliness and beauty. But Mawlynnong should not be a tourist destination. This will play out better for both Mawlynnong and tourists.
Amrit BLS is currently pursuing Master of Arts in Communication at the University of Hyderabad and was adamant on doing his internship in the Northeast. Why? He was intrigued.
TNT – The Northeast Today was intrigued by that answer and took him on as a Summer Intern.
At 6’3” he is conspicuous enough to be noticed walking the hillocks of Shillong looking for stories to be told. His project “The Good, Bad and Ugly” delves into a balanced analysis of what we often take for granted.