Mawlynnong, the village in East Khasi hills district of Meghalaya is struggling to maintain the ‘cleanest village in Asia’ tag because of its fame as an eco-tourism destination.
Rishot Khongthohrem, one of the proactive members of the community responsible for making Mawlynnong what it is today. “We are only following what our ancestors started. About 150 years ago, people in our village were completely cut off from the rest of the world. They thought worshipping gods would cure diseases,” says the 53-year-old headmaster of the CNI Lower Primary School.
“Their habits were unhealthy and led to diseases, even an outbreak of the plague. When Christian missionaries got here in 1887, they taught our people everything about hygiene. And things got better. Since then, cleanliness has become a habit that we pass down to every generation,” he adds.
Mawlynnong has set an exemplary standard for other villages.
Although the village benefitted from being promoted as an eco tourism destination, the fame comes at a cost. “Now, we are connected by a road. People from outside the area know about us. So a lot of tourists come all round the year,” says Rishot, who also runs several guest houses here.
“If you see my parking lot in the morning, it is absolutely clean. By midday, five-six tourist buses will come. And when they leave, you will see plastic scattered all around the area. Many tourists cooperate in keeping the village clean. But some do not. So we pick up after them,” he rues.
In recent years, the village has had to employ cleaners who go around all day. “We do this all through the day,” says 20-year-old Salvestar Khongrom, picking up every bit of litter, even dry leaves and flowers, and putting them in the wicker basket he is carrying.
“We use the donations received from tourists to pay the cleaners and workers of the village,” says Rishot, reports TOI.
The village is which is close to the Bangladesh border is located at a distance of 80 km from Shillong.
The village prides itself on its self-sustained cleanliness. Besides a ban on littering imposed by the village council, Mawlynnong has gone sustainable in several other ways. Its dustbins are made of wicker and have come to be associated with the village and its green mission. The benches are made of bamboo. The streets are lit with solar lamps.
In 2003, a magazine put the tiny village on the tourism map by calling it the “cleanest village in Asia”.