So today's Hyderabad edition of the Times Crest has a travel feature on tree-houses in India and the need-to-know info around it. Sometimes, I wonder who writes for them, of course the quality and standards need not be questioned. But, I am dismayed to find the options are too cliched and definitely, do not cater to all and sundry. It panders to a trying-to-be desi firang crowd who would want to find weekend options to get away from the hullaballoo. The title of the feature is such a giveaway "Posh Perches" (guffaws) and there is a small inset which reads "up,up and away" - aspirational people, I tell you.
If one has time, one may look up Mawlynnong. It is a small village of about 200 people, about 3 hours drive from Shillong. Now don't ask me where Shillong is. It is the capital of Meghalaya, the abode of clouds and it is in India. This quiet and definitely, not sleepy hamlet will generate some interesting Internet trivia like Asia's cleanest village after a NG travelogue writer has covered it.
The journey to Mawlynnong is a very memorable one. I saw Mawlynnong pictures of my colleagues, boss and students of my last workplace -- all haa haa, hee hee, a beautiful waterfall in the background and lot of raw green bamboo cups for water and tea. Refreshing.
I was home for an Autumn vacation. Got details from my ex-boss how to reach there. Small world. An old classmate from college ran the tourist wing.Joyous.I went to see her at her office. There was not a single vacant treehouse for the next 4 days and I just had that much time to see the place. But touchwood, I always end up quite lucky, I got a double room treehouse all to myself at half the price for 2 days (some last min cancellation) and it was raining cats and dogs!Luck too.
My friend told me, she could arrange a chartered cab to and fro for a decent price. She handed me a letter in Khasi which I am supposed to hand it over to some gentleman once I landed in Mawlynnong. I decided let's hitchhike ala Swades. It was more fun than ever. Went to Iewduh aka Bara Bazar. There is a sumo stand there, a yellow patch - all locally pliable sumos are yellow in colour. We took a share sumo to Pynursula, 40 rupees per head or probably less. The drive is divine. Floating clouds, undending dales and valleys, sudden showers, beautiful bends, gurgling streams and the imposing sky. At Pynursula, we get off at the market, a small bustling square. Lot of Maruti 800 local taxis. And, yes I did feel slightly happy high after the winding drive at 40km/hr. After getting back some rhythm, I had to figure out how to reach Mawlynnong.My smattering knowledge of Khasi was put to good use that day.
I definitely look Mongoloid and chinky, lovingly and offensively called by my mainland brothers and sisters. I started blabbering in Khasi, literally even at Mawlynnong like a local Kong. The discomfort of not being an authentic local was pretty palpable after my city posh-ness. One Bah was kind enough to take us to our destination for a fair price, 200 rupees. I was already frolicking. That's probably the amount a local auto fella in Hyderabad would charge from me on a rainy day or a late evening for any distance between 10-15kms.A beautiful ride uphill.
There was no welcome as such but a horde of children playing all over a metalled parking space fenced by ornamental crotons greet you. There is a small tea stall at the entrance of the village. We stopped there for a cuppa and our gentleman was there to receive us. We handed over the letter, he took a small receipt book and asked for some subscription.The doubting Thomas that I am occasionally, a thought crossed my mind - is it some hafta wasooli? Trust my outsider instinct, damned! He told me community welfare and upkeep. I was trying to be convinced. We tried to be modestly generous, offered them 500 rupees. He was offended mildly. Asked me to take back the money and I was taken aback. Was it too less or what? He said, too much. He said he appreciates our thought and concern but it's a rule its only 100 rupees. My god, my heart just skipped a beat.Earnest.
A friendly dude took over. Henry is the best guide in the world, more athletic and controlled in his worn out Bata hawais and a piece of betel nut in his mouth than us who looked so out of place in our floaters and advennture wear. He was our personal, customised hospitality manager. He took us to our machan, this great imposing one under a gushing stream and a small waterfall amid the looming wilderness and I was definitely, flying. More than comfortable double beds, squeaky clean linen and blankets, mosquito-nets,just in case for the finicky ones and ample furniture, scrumptious and heavenly home-made food in the adjoining kitchen, nice toilets and bathrooms, evening walks, visit to the church and nearby places, early morning treks all the way to the Bangladesh border and the living root bridges, and the icing on the cake was a cool skinny dip in the backyard of our machan before lunch. I only heard the rain and wilderness at night, right in the thick of nature. Felt vulnerable and delighted at the same time that such things also exist.
It was almost like I was in another yesterworld. Keeping the village clean is not a Municipal order for this village- it's a way of life. They export brooms and arecanut. There are no fences between houses and cottages. The land belongs to everyone, only the pigs belong to the owner so long they are well-behaved in their pens. If they are soiling, then they become pork for everyone. Couples marry and the entire village helps them set up their house and farm. I was touched by the close-knit social responsibility. Henry took us to his friends and wow, all of them with their hearts in the right place. Henry and his friend came to see us off till Shillong. They refused to take a paisa from us. They were so apologetic that I had motion sickness. We signed a cheque of 3500 rupees at the end of 3 days and wrote a paean to them in the visitor's diary. Never felt so at home. I want to go and meet Henry and take him those promised things that still await fulfilment.