Experiencing the cleanest village in Asia and yes…it’s in India

Mawlynnong – A sleepy, elemental and nature loving village in Meghalaya. Also, way cleaner than your average city.



flickr CC BY-SA 2.0 Ashwin Kumar

During summer, Meghalaya is not really the luscious postcard picture perfect place you presume it to be, but clad in its brown overalls, it’s charming nonetheless. Shillong was our stop-over hideout, and it worked just fine.

A wee bit crowded for our liking, Shillong is a popular choice with tourists. Since we were there just for a day, we decided to explore its “song”, the flavour it’s made of – music is quite an intricate part of this town. A favourite joint among locals for live music, Cafe Shillong hosts local artists on Sundays. And we hit big that day – Lou Majow was in the house. Having interviewed him several years ago in Bengaluru, I was watching him perform again after 9 years. One of the best Bob Dylan tribute artists in the country, Majow says, “I like performing here whenever I am around. Keeping the flame of music alive, this town is quite dead, you know.” The Strait Brothers were up next, and they were soulful and tight, full-on doubling the Texas cowboys in tone and attire. Several talented musicians come out of Shillong each year, and frankly, we have a lot to thank them for.

Next morning we were on the way to Mawlynnong. When someone calls a village – the “cleanest” village in Asia, my first thoughts were – Since when? How clean? Is it for real or just another fashionable tagline? But my heart was hung on the ‘Bridge’, labels meant nothing. We had to see it for ourselves.

A perfect archetype exemplifying successful tourism-driven economy, Mawlynnong, unlike its counterparts, doesn’t try hard to belong. It simply is what it is, and it’s made of what its people are. As simple as that!

Predominantly Khasi, villagers of this tiny village are all Christians. We stayed at one of the guest houses in the village. The house, like the rest of the town was warm, simple and clean, not trying hard to please – just setting an example. A large family, our hosts were friendly, polite and joyful.

Guest house_Kaushik Bajibab

Courtesy: Kaushik Bajibab

We walked to the Living Roots Bridge (2 odd km away from the village) followed by two young kids, who kept humming songs all the way. In fact, there is music everywhere – most women and kids sing loudly most of the time. And mind you, they all sound professional. Young Rick Sisang makes a living as a guide. He takes tourists on popular treks in Meghalaya. Stationed in an extremely remote village does not stop Rick from downloading the latest metal tracks on his phone. “Music and soccer is a part of our everyday life. Each evening all of us play football religiously,” he says. Though there are only two schools in this village – almost most people speak English fluently. The schools offer education only till the 8th grade, kids travel to neighbouring towns to complete their graduation.

Long broom grass fence the road on either side. We saw many shed snake skins; unfortunately they are not tolerated by the locals. Fearing for their life, most often they are killed if spotted closer home. What about other wildlife? “We don’t see much. People hunt almost everything,” confesses a local. Sigh!

There are loads of small bamboo towers for better viewing of the Bangladesh border. You see beautiful thick forests and undulating hilly terrain suddenly falling flat, ironed out by marshes and farm lands. That’s Bangladesh.

Bangaldesh view point_Kaushik Bajibab

Bangaldesh view point Courtesy: Kaushik Bajibab

The Living Roots Bridge is quite a sight. It’s an elemental marvel, envisaged by an exceptional individual several hundred years ago. “The man who put this together surely connected with nature. We presume they were great companions,” says Leader Field.

A carpenter, Field has been working the land for several years now. The villagers mainly grow betel nut, bay leaf and broom grass. Chewing betel nut is not just another regular habit confirms Field, “Unlike most people, we don’t offer water to our guests. We first present betel nut. It’s part of our culture.” Nights are quite special too. We walked long distances feeling absolutely safe. In fact, laughter and loud happy children voices can be heard right up to midnight. “The only way we greet a fellow stranger is with a smile. We aren’t curious nor are we cold. You can leave your belongings anywhere in this village, you cannot lose anything. We will find it for you,” assures Field.

There are several ‘living roots’ bridges around the village. We trekked several hours in search of these adolescent bridges, which take a minimum 30 years to mature and strengthen. On one such trek, having lost our way, we spotted an old man (placing him at 70 years-of age) dangling dangerously from a thin, furiously swaying tree. He was plucking herbal leaves and thoroughly enjoying the exercise. Henry Kharrymba, a member of the tourism committee of the village explains, “The closest well-equipped hospital is almost 18 kms away. We still use herbs and visit our local medicine man when ill.” There are no vehicles here; people walk to get to anywhere. Jeeps from neighbouring towns shuttle everyday picking up tourists and locals.

Living roots

Living roots

Coming to the “clean” part – the village is undeniably spotless. “The cleanest village in Asia tag is something we have been endowed with quite recently. Cleanliness is something innate. In this village, we all believe in being one with nature. We have grown to respect our surrounding, the water, and land. That’s why majority of us find it challenging to survive anywhere else but here,” says Rick, who refuses to endure two days in polluted, loud and glossy cities. The villagers are almost self-sustained. “We are all of 518 people. We grow our own food, our water source is 25 km from the forest, and those who are not farming are working in the tourism sector,” explains Henry.

Village road

But there is a flip side. Being christened the cleanest village in Asia has gifted this tiny town a healthy economy, but not without a cost. On an average, there are at least 40-60 tourist vehicles that enter the village, for a quick tour. This is that bitter sweet truth – the irony that we humans are so symbolic of – most tourists come to watch the ‘cleanest’ village and think nothing of leaving a ton of garbage behind. It’s very frustrating and disappointing to see loads of plastic wrappers, bottles and paper discarded by the side of the road (leading to the village) by tourists. Locals don’t admonish them, “We just try to set an example, and hope everyone follows. We burn the excess garbage (non-biodegradable waste) every week,” says a local, who confirms that once in a few weeks, everyone gets together to clean up the mess.


flickr CC BY 2.0 Travelling Slacker

Elemental, nature loving, and simple living – a few characters suggestive of everything Mawlynnong, can get quite infectious. Let’s remember, we are just visitors, and as guests – the least we can do is adhere to their ways of living. Take cue, get inspired and soak in the quiet, relaxing atmosphere – walk away with pleasant memories, leaving behind “nothing” but encouragement and support.

Leave no trace!

Featured image flickr CC BY-SA 2.0 Ashwin Kumar


Freelance journalist. Travel-Music-Wildlife-Conservation Co-founder, Wishbone School more


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