A remote village in the north-eastern part of India is setting an inspiring example with its unique community cleanliness initiative, amidst contrasting unclean cities and villages with waste littered everywhere.
Mawlynnong, a small Indian village in the east Khasi hills of Meghalaya state, not only set an example of community sustained cleanliness but also, in the process, developed a model of eco-tourism that preserves its nature, age-old traditions, and provides livelihood to residents.
“Cleanliness and respecting nature is a tradition passed on to us by our ancestors,” said Rishot Khomgthohrem, a school teacher from Mawlynnong. “As a child I was taught that clean surroundings are a key to healthy life. At home, school, and at the place of worship cleanliness was emphasized and gradually it sank in me as a way of life.”
This way of living has been adopted and further evolved into a planned community initiative by every resident of the village. “Every day the villagers, young or old, keep the surroundings clean. Earlier four to five members were employed for it but now it’s just all of us doing it conscientiously and voluntarily,” said Khomgthohrem.
The village was unknown to the outside world, as it was not connected by road until 2003. The road connectivity brought the first tourist to the village.
“A reporter from Discover India magazine chanced upon Mawlynnong, and wrote an article introducing it as the cleanest village in India he has ever seen.”
In 2005 UNESCO acknowledged it as the cleanest village in India —thus introducing it to the world.
“These titles also made the villagers aware about the culture of cleanliness of their own village and they became more zealous in maintaining it.”
Waste segregation is among the many things that villagers do to maintain cleanliness: The usage of plastic is minimal and the tourists equally cooperate respecting the values of the community; bamboo dustbins are placed at every small distance and no one litters around.
“The level of awareness about maintaining cleanliness is immense among the villagers. Even if a leaf falls, whoever sees it the first, surely picks it and puts it in the dustbin,” said Sandeep Chourasia, a tourist consultant operating in east India. “No scavengers are as such appointed.”
According to Chourasia “we want to do this”-attitude of the villagers is the key behind village’s cleanliness success. This attitude is also supported by the traditional social order followed in the village whose tribal traditions encourage collective decision making.
Tourists often witness villagers taking part in the ritual weeding, sweeping and cleaning of the gardens and roads every evening.
“The children participate in the cleanliness ritual mostly everyday very enthusiastically,” said Mathew Khongsar, a government contractor at Mawlynnong. “I also participate when I can. We are set as an example for several others; however, I feel we need to work harder to set a high bench mark.”
The village established its own special committee for cleanliness that consists of members of the village who are either too young or too old to cultivate land.
“There is a database created after tourism boom in the village. A tourism fund is created and from it the essentials and necessities are fulfilled of one chosen family at the village who needs it the most,” said Deepak Laloo, the owner of a guest house at Mawlynnong.
The village offers breathtaking view of Bangladesh plains as it is located on the Indian- Bangladesh border. It also boasts of many eco-friendly architectural marvels like the Skywalk.
“The Sky walk is an 85 feet Bamboo structure offering a bird’s eye view of the village and a panoramic view of Bangladesh plains. It is indeed unique as not even a single piece of metal is used in its creation,” said Chourasia.
There is also a 1,100 year old tree root bridge in the village. The root bridge is an eco-technology developed by ancient tribes to construct bridges across rivers using the roots of trees. During the monsoons when it gets difficult to cross the river, root bridge is the way out.
According to Khomgthohrem “Our forefathers built this village during the reign of the Khasi King. It took 60 years to build it. The roots of the rubber tree are connected with string after they grew and the bridge was formed.”
Mawlynnong is very scenic, especially in the monsoons when there is lush greenery all around. Waterfalls pave their way to small streams and there is abundance of flowering orchids around. Obviously such breath-taking beauty inspires this all literate village.
The initiative brings hope to numerous Indian cities where big dumps of waste are a common sight.
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