Tea has brought a lot of changes in our life. – Riba from Mawlyngot said thoughtfully.
We were a little surprised. We love our cups of Darjeeling Tea, but tea plantation in Meghalaya was new to us. (We know so less, there is so much to be seen and known!) And then Riba told us about her place, her village.
The story of Mawlyngot is like that of a phoenix. At about 45 km from Shillong lies this somnolent village in the East Khasi hills of Meghalaya. The locals believe that the people from the Indo-Bangladesh border had migrated down the River Umsong and settled down here. The early villagers cultivated corn, millet, potato, chilli and banana in low yields that were not sufficient for their daily sustenance. And to aggravate the situation, the men were fond of the local country liquor ‘pyrsi’ made from rice and millet. The villagers had very little education and fought with penury. The place was infamous for alcoholism and drunken brawls.
– My grandmother used to tell us stories about the hard days, Riba said. We were laughing stock of all the neighbouring villages.
– But, why? I quipped.
– When the village people used to go to Shillong, all the villages took something with them. But we went empty-handed. Everyone used to laugh at us. Her face was forlorn. But now things have changed, Urlong is now our pride and we are the pride of Meghalaya. She said with a beaming face.
We both found that to be so true. From a failed village, Mawlyngot is now producing one of the best teas in the North-eastern region of India. And all these happened when a school teacher (and later the village headman) D L Nongspung arrived at the government school at Mawlyngot.
He was moved to see the pathetic living conditions of the people. More so, he was saddened to see the dropout rate in schools when he worked there in 1987. The rate was almost 60% and all because the parents were not able to afford the school fees and books with their monthly income being less than Rs.1000! He was determined to do something about it, but he did not know how. His exploration around the village led him to discover camellia shrubs in the hills. And he had his vision of changing Mawlyngot for the better. With an initial funding from the Tribal Affairs Ministry and the NGO World Vision, a handful of farmers in Mawlyngot started leaning the art of harvesting tea. But the path was not an easy one. There was the problem of land-holding and some of the villagers were reluctant of a new start. But under Nongspung’s leadership, Urlong Tea Integrated Village Cooperative Society was formed in 2011, a society that currently comprises 41 farmers who own individual gardens with an implied agreement of interdependence. They sell the teas plucked in their gardens to the society owned tea processing unit for the betterment of the lives of all.
Mawlyngot thus changed for a better life, for a better future with Urlong Tea. “Urlong” in Khasi means ‘dreams come true’. And the dream of Nongspunghas indeed come true. The Urlong Tea Integrated Village Cooperative Society now produces purely organic and high-quality tea and supplying their produce to different parts of India as well as in Australia.
The living conditions of the people have improved now. And that is seen in the developing infrastructure of the village. Mawlyngot now has all the village children attending school with rarely any dropouts.
Riba is now a proud farmer. She has no qualms about missing out on the city life.
– I had always wanted to be a farmer, she says. After I finished college, I was so sure that I wanted to do this. I wanted to do something for the village.
We actually had no words to tell her. Yes, we were also feeling proud of her; proud of the fact that there are still some good people who can forgo the so-called better city life for the good of their village.
Besides being the active member of Urlong Society, Riba is also the manager of the Mawlyngot Travellers Nest, the place where we stayed for the night. After our trip to Shnongpdeng and Laitlum, Mawlyngot was a last-minute addition. We were happy that we came here.
Things to do at Mawlyngot:
Apart from listening to the interesting stories about the place, we had a lot to do at Mawlyngot. In the morning, we hiked around the village to the tea gardens. There is place near the village where there is a flight of stairs. There are about 3000 stairs leading to a village in the valley. And the stairs are the only means of conveyance to the Pingkya village! For goods and luggage, there is a cable car to transport.
We also visited the Urlong Tea Society and the tea processing unit there. Here the process of tea making can be seen and tea tasting is also done. Urlong tea has a few varieties – black, green, pearl green, oolong, white and gunpowder. Apart from the tea, the taste of the Urlong Honey is simply out of the world. We strongly recommend that along with tea, you must also buy the honey.
There is a forest trail where you can go for a hike. There is a camping ground also where overnight camping can be done.
A trek to the Umstew River can also be done. Also, Mawlyngot is one of the places where blue worms are found. Blue worms are a kind of earthworm larger in size and blue in colour and are very good for soil composing. They are mainly found in the Umstew Riverbed and migrate to the surrounding hills in April and October. During these two months, the worms can be seen.
How to reach Mawlyngot:
Mawlyngot is not very far from Shillong. You can take a private car from Shillong to here. Shared jeeps and buses are also available from Lewduh in Shillong to Mawlyngot.
Best time to visit Mawlyngot:
Simply any time of the year is good to visit Mawlyngot. But if you want to see the blue worms then visit during April and October.
Places to stay:
The Mawlyngot Travellers Nest is the only place to stay there. And while you are there, do order their barbecue platter. We had barbecue pork and thought pork never tasted so much better!!
Here are some more photographs of Mawlyngot.
A place becomes captivating when there is a mix of natural beauty with the hospitality of the people. To us, stories about places and people are always a motivation. Our trip to Mawlyngot was so special because of these reasons. The place has something that makes you feel good. During your next visit to Shillong and Cherrapunji, reserve a day for Mawlyngot. You will definitely not regret.
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