Country roads to Mawkyrwat

Ramzauva Chhakchhuak | Updated on June 19, 2020

Here, there, everywhere: Walking trails in and around Mawkyrwat lead to tiny villages and vantage points in the hills   -  RAMZAUVA CHHAKCHHUAK

Memories of a quiet Meghalaya town come rushing to a traveller pining for home and the hills

There is nothing quite like the countryside of Meghalaya. It holds a special place in my heart, no matter where I am. Something about the rolling hills, little houses, winding roads, pine forests and shape-shifting clouds leave me feeling warm, fuzzy and melancholic. I think it was an emotion like this that inspired American singer and songwriter John Denver to compose the immortal Take Me Home, Country Roads.

What makes me more homesick is the fact that I am in Bengaluru, 3,000km away. And the yearning for my home state has become stronger because I know that, thanks to the lockdown, I won’t be able to return there soon.

More than anywhere else I want to revisit the small town of Mawkyrwat. A three-hour drive from Shillong, it offers the simple Khasi way of life. I fondly remember my last visit there. I accepted an invitation from a childhood friend who lives there — and I now count the four-day visit as among the happiest experiences in my life.

My friend Charles lives in a cottage with a large garden of wild flowers and ferns in the front. It’s a house that blends in nicely with the sleepy demeanour of Mawkyrwat. The town is made for rambles in the hills nearby and walks to the markets and back.

Another delight that defines mornings in Mawkyrwat is a dip in a crystal-clear stream near the cottage I lived in. I followed Charles there on all four days for a swim that kept me fresh through the day. A bridge overlooks the the narrow river and a dam downstream is where many residents gather to wash clothes, bathe or just frolic in the water.

Mawkyrwat is not just about long walks and idle hours. It is surrounded by a clutch of sites well known among tourists from Meghalaya and the neighbouring states. One is a hot spring in a nearby village called Jakrem. Unfortunately, some unaesthetic infrastructural work has deprived this spot of a place among the country’s most picturesque sites.

Another notable spot around Mawkyrwat is the Rilang river viewpoint, which lies in the neighbouring West Khasi Hills district. It gives you a clear view of the zig-zag trajectory of the river and the road that runs alongside.

We drove to several places in and around Mawkyrwat but the on-foot moments were clearly the best. One walking expedition led us to Tynnai, a tiny village of 70 families. On our way there, we stopped at a bridge across a river. The water that flowed underneath was so clear that we could see the rocks that dotted the riverbed, all from a height of about 60ft. On both sides of the river were trees with canopies that seemed to be as wide as the channel of water. Villagers were at a picnic when we walked down to the banks for some moments of quiet.

On another day, we went down a trail to find one side of a hill covered with silken grass and violet wild flowers. The other side, in stark contrast, was a steep fall. Down the same walking path we came across graves of villagers at the edge of the cliff, against the backdrop of an overcast sky. And we also met two women walking through knee-length grass with a small bucket and a metal clamp in hand. Believe it or not, the duo was collecting caterpillars for an evening snack. The worm is a local delicacy and is eaten fried or boiled.

A ropeway connects Mawkyrwat with many villages that are located several hundred feet below. It doesn’t ferry passengers but transports essential goods for the inhabitants of the tiny villages. Anyone who wants to visit these clusters of habitation has to travel on foot. The trek could easily take a few hours. I heard that the people of these villages suffered from lack of supplies in the initial days of the lockdown. The local administration then stepped in to provide some relief to the villagers.

When we walked down to the same villages, we found a stretch of road that had been dug up but not relaid. We took a diversion towards a small upward passage with bushes arched at the top. It felt like we were taking a tunnel that would lead us to a mystical land. And it truly did. We reached a village called Mawngap at the end of this passage. We sat on a hill and enjoyed a cigarette, while Mawngap ran its chores.

On the last day we took a rocky trail that led us to an open field atop a hillock. The skies were grey and the children of Mawten village were engaged in a game of football. And Charles and I were the only spectators around. Talk about the cherry on top!

Ramzauva Chhakchhuak is a writer based in Bengaluru

Published on June 19, 2020

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