My 2017 sojourn spanning 49 days through the seven sister states of north-east India had whetted my appetite enough to make me want to return to the region – which I did in December 2018.
After finally completing the stupefying Dzukou Valley trek (in a second attempt), experiencing the Hornbill Festival razzmatazz in its 10th year, as well as visiting the towns within Nagaland, I made my way towards mesmerizing Meghalaya’s Mawphlang Sacred Grove and David Scott trail, while keeping Shillong as my base.
Mawphlang Sacred Grove
I’d first heard about sacred groves and visited one when I’d travelled to Ladakh in 2013. I recall how overawed I was by the prescience of indigenous communities. Years later, I would realise that the concept of ‘devrai’ in my home state of Maharashtra is the exact same thing!
For the uninitiated, sacred groves are communally protected patches of forest that have been ascribed a spiritual status within previously animistic but currently proselytized communities. In honour of the sanctity attributed to a sacred grove, no one – absolutely NO ONE – is ever allowed to take anything from the sacred grove; no wood nor forest produce. Nothing.
Located 25 kilometres from Shillong, Mawphlang Sacred Grove discourages tourists from entering the sacred grove unaccompanied due to the increase in unscrupulous behaviours including littering and defecating inside the sacred grove.
Myths, legends and lores abound around the sacred grove. Locals affirm that the deity of the forest awards punishments to transgressors based on the intent of the act committed. To this very day, local indigenous communities offer sacrifices/offerings to their deities during auspicious days – including marriages and births.
Around and inside the sacred grove, are several monoliths believed to be altars where rituals are performed. I learnt that these altars would always have three standing stones and one sleeping stone; where, the standing stones represent the masculine, the sleeping stone represents the feminine.
Mawphlang’s sacred grove, to me felt like stepping into Narnia. After all, she is an 800+ year old forest that has since then remained untouched or eroded into by humans.
David Scott trail
The David Scott trail is a 16 kilometre first-downhill-and-then-slightly-uphill hike from Mawphlang to Ladmawphlang (near Sohra/Cherrapunji). It is a remnant from the 100-odd kilometre direct horse-cart trail between Sylhet in present-day Bangladesh and Assam in India, discovered by a British administrator, David Scott.
The Mawphlang Sacred Grove and David Scott trail are in the same village. The trail is easy and takes about 4-6 hours to complete (depending, of course, on your pace and the stops you take). Please make sure to carry a day bag on you with water and dry snacks, at the very least – if packed lunch isn’t possible. Please also make sure to bring all of your trash back with you for disposal at a bin in Shillong!
The entire trail is fairly easy to navigate independently; though it helps to have a local guide for when there is a fork in the road. Having a guide also helps with understanding the history, myths as well as the flora and fauna found along the trail.
I found it extremely comforting just being in the presence of trees, walking through a patch of forest, hopping over stones to get to the other side of the lake (without losing my balance) while trying to reimagine a time when this trail was a horse-cart trail!
One more reason why Meghalaya is my favourite place on Earth
In February 2017, I had had the privilege of travelling to Nongriat – home to the famed double-decker living roots bridge.
At Tyrna, which is the base village from where the trek comprising of 3000+ steps commences, we met Wesley Majaw – a local resident and now, also our guide. Along the route, Wesley would point at flora and fauna, telling us what-was-what and with every step forward we continued going deeper into a world that was unlike the one I had inhabited.
No surprise then when my jaw dropped after we’d arrived at our first living root bridge and then later that day, at the double-decker living root bridge. Walking on them, feeling their surface with my bare hands, I could sense a faint connection – with the ancients, the wise, the omniscient.
These natural bridges came into existence a little less than 200 years ago to address the need to travel from one village to another over swollen rivers and gushing waterfalls that would gobble everything in its pathway. These rubber tree aerial roots have since served as the lifeline.
The double-decker living root bridge was something I had only seen Photoshopped ‘grams of. But to finally be in the same realm as her and behold her against the rays of the setting Sun had to be scripted by an omnipotent being!
- : Elita is a facilitator-freelancer-blogger. An ex-development sector professional, she currently runs workshops on expressive writing to explore the narratives we tell ourselves, engages with like-minded organisations to create human-centred content and gives in to the inner-nomad when her spirit needs recharging
- : https://nomadicthunker.com/
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- : What do you think is common between: a 15-year-old with a journal, a 22-year-old tired of being body-shamed for being ‘thin’ a 24-year-old who travelled solo for the first time a 26-year-old who quit her illusion of control (AKA a full-time job) and a 28-year-old nudging people to explore and express themselves? ANSWER: The redemptive power of words and stories. Travel is the catalyst that’s enabled me to un-layer my own narratives and Writing enabled the self-expression.
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- : https://nomadicthunker.com/2019/09/meghalaya-mawphlang-sacred-grove-the-david-scott-trail.html ; https://nomadicthunker.com/2018/03/meghalaya-living-root-bridge.html