Memories of the Jaintia Kings; Nartiang Monoliths

After a good six days of Shillong and the Khasi regions, it was an off beat day and so I decided to go in search of the memories of the Jaintia Kings in Nartiang. The drive through the winding mountain roads was spectacular, one of the best in Meghalaya. The gorgeous valley was by our side through the 2 hour drive offering some of the best views in spite of clouds.

Monolith Gardens in Nartiang 

We stopped by at the Monolith Garden which places Nartiang on the History Map. The Jaintia Kingdom was active between 1500 AD until they acceded to the British Empire in 1835AD. The area under their rule extended from present day Jaintia Hills region in Meghalaya to Sylhet in Bangladesh. Infact, after partition Jaintiapur believed to be their capital is now in Bangladesh and the summer capital of Nartiang is in India. The dilapidated Jaintiapur Palace and a temple dedicated to Jainteswari can be still seen in Sylhet as well as monolithic structures.The monoliths in the park remind of similar structure seen in Mawphlang Sacred Grove and the adjoining Heritage Park which demonstrated Khasi culture. The similarity in structure endorsed the proximity of the Khasis and Jaintias culturally; the languages spoken also have similar roots in the Mon-Khmer language group prevalent in South East Asia

A board in the park specified that each stone has a significance; the tall ones as men and the flatter ones as women. Some arrangements appeared like coronation scenes.

Ancient Durga Temple in Nartiang

After about half an hour around the park; we went to the ancient Durga Temple. The temple has been recently renovated, painted striking red. The goddess here may or may not be Jainteshwari but revered never the less. The current priest recounted that his forefathers migrated from somewhere in the North some 25 generations ago and they have been here ever since; which is roughly around 1500 AD at the begining of Jaintia kingdom

The temple is quaint; set between small houses in the village. Even after renovation, the old wooden log pillars still support the frontal porch of the temple. There is a place for animal sacrifice facing the sanctum. The Jaintias also known as Pnars are essentially of tribal origin but the names of the 20-21 rulers during their 300 year old reign is primarily Hindu. I am wondering whether the royalty embraced Hinduism with Jainteshwari as their Kul Devi or family deity and hence Jaintia which is similar to the stories I heard in Manipur about the royalty embracing Vaishnavism and the rest of the Meiteis followed

I ambled around, playing with the village children and watching young boys kicking around in a soccer game. When the lure of the online entertainment is limited, we all spend greater time outdoors; lesson for us city dwellers seeking comfort on the couch with our gadgets

Shiva Temple in Nartiang

I followed little Panditayan (little priestess) to the Shiva Temple close by since I was in no hurry. A very handsome Lord Shiva carved out of black stone was wrapped in white with his trident in hand and a 10 armed Brass Durga by his side. The armory of shooting equipment stacked neatly behind caught my attention and am sure these are dated by a couple of centuries.

On my way back towards Smit and Laitlum, I stopped by at the Meghalaya Tourism Resort next to Thadlaskein Lake for lunch. It was windy, cold and dull but the occassional splash of color from the orange laden trees was a welcome sight. I mentally noted how beautiful it will be during monsoon and planning for another trip was seeded.

Travel Tip
  • Nartiang is about 60 kms from Shillong and the drive is the main attraction. The sights will primarily attract history buffs
  • Combine it with Laitlum if you have a day to spare
  • Contact North East Explorers for planning this trip or write to them at hello@northeastexplorers.in or tweet @northeastexplrs . They did a great job with mine and the young entrepreneur from north east will surely make you comfortable.
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Worshiping Nature for Preservation, Mawphlang Sacred Forest

In between the undulating green hills, gurgling waterfalls, flowing streams and hanging bridges is a sacred forest in Mawphlang, Meghalaya. Located about 25 kms away from Shillong, this sacred forest is core to Khasi culture. Though the Khasis have adapted to Christianity over the years worshiping nature is central to their lives. Maw ~ stone and Phlang ~ grassy so Mawphlang translates as the land of the grassy stone.

Story of the Sacred Forest

It is believed that the forest is protected by the local deity Labasa and no one is allowed to take anything not even a dried leaf out of the forest premises. We hired a guide for the walk in the forest covering 2 areas for about an hour. We walked through a well defined path between old trees hearing stories about the forest and the practices of the people of Mawphlang. The forest is now taken care of by the local Lyngdoh Clan. Apparently several centuries ago it was taken care of by the Blah clan who did not have a proper successor. They chose a young boy whose mother was known as Lyngdoh. She agreed to have her son take over as successor provided the 5 saplings she planted there would grow into trees. The trees grew beautifully and the rest is history. There were monolithic stones of different sizes around and some of them were seats of coronation, celebration of victory or simply for discussion.The guide pointed out to some places for sacrifice of cocks, lambs etc as per the local practice. The people participating in the practice cannot return until the sacrifice is completed so they have to be very careful to bring all the required material in one go.

The guide showed us some plants that had great medicinal value and we followed him through the forest with the magical play of light seeping through the dense trees to show us the way.

Mawphlang Heritage Village 

The heritage village is just about a meadow away from the Sacred Forest. The sprawling gated complex has houses or “Hima” constructed by Khasi Village names or Tribes names. Most of them are made of bamboo and thatch except one which had a stone base and circular structure which turned out to be “Hima Mawphlang”.

I walked around a bit, specially loved crossing the metal bridge.There were quite a few monolithic stones which seemed to used for worships or village gatherings and seemed to be regular features in most villages.One of the model houses had a structure which demonstrated how meat is generally roasted and cooked in this part of the country. The place lacks upkeep and seems to be an ambitious project which has lost its way.

Jakrem Hot Water Spring

Since I had time on hand and a vehicle as well, I decided to visit Jakrem Hot Water Springs 40 kms beyond Mawphlang. The springs were not worth it but for the beautiful drive and a glorious sunset from a not so high hill top.There are washrooms constructed along the hot springs which are mostly used by the locals for their daily needs. I guess interaction with the cute village kids made up for my disappointment. 

Travel Tip
  1. Hire a guide in Mawphlang Sacred Forest for the areas you want to visit else you may get lost within the maze of trees
  2. Mawphlang can be included as a part of Shillong Sightseeing or enroute Mawsynram
  3. Trekking:  there is a David Scott Trail that begins within the forest and emerges on a highway on the other side. This activity has to be planned in advance and will take up the entire day
  4. Carry water, umbrella, sunscreen and food. If you are eager to explore the local “Ja- Cha” eateries for home made Khasi food then stop by and dig in
  5. Mawphlang Festival is held in the month of March. That is the time the rains just about begin so it will surely be magical with local folk music, dance and other activities
  6. Contact North East Explorers for planning this trip or write to them at hello@northeastexplorers.in or tweet @northeastexplrs . They did a great job with mine and the young entrepreneur from north east will surely make you comfortable.

 

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Road less Traveled to Laitlum, Meghalaya

After a busy 6 days in Meghalaya, I was looking forward to spending a quiet day away from the tourist humdrum. I hired a vehicle for Nartiang where the monolithic rocks and an ancient temple had promises of Jaintia history but often fell off the regular tourist map. On our return journey we decided to take a detour for a brief stopover in Smit which has some remote connection to Khasi royalty. In conversation, Rajiv who plans tours for North East Explorers suggested Laitlum a little ahead of Smit which was the filming spot for a recent Bollywood movie -Rock On 2 with stunning natural vistas. I am glad he suggested and I chose to  tread on a road less traveled since the detour to Laitlum was a perfect closure to my Meghalaya trip.

Kings Seat in Smit

This turned out to be a wooden house built without nails and polished to perfection. The stately disposition of the sloping roofed rich wooden structure was a little out of place between rows of run down houses. The house is the living quarters of the King of Khyrim and the compound used for the traditional Nongkrem dance performed during the Smit Festival in November.

Winding Roads lead to Laitlum 

A little beyond Smit the bumpy road opened up into an expansive valley of different hues. The occasional biker whizzed past and local boys were returning after tending to the fields. It was a beautiful sight in the late afternoon where field of gold merged into the distant undulating green. 

Expansive Meadows in Laitlum

This is the place where you would love to do nothing; roll on the meadow; take a long walk; meditate or just have that no holds barred heart to heart conversation with yourself or a companion. The golden meadow of January as I witnessed it will turn lush green during monsoons, the grass soft and inviting. it may be a little slushy on rainy days so it may be sensible to carry a mat along. This is the place where Bollywood movie Rock On 2 was filmed. If you have watched the movie you will be able to easily identify the location of the concert.

There are no eateries in the area except for an odd vendor selling boiled eggs, bottled water or juice. It is very much advisable to carry packed food, hampers if you are planning to spend quality time there. 

Living on the Edge in Laitlum Canyon

Whether it was the young local boys or the bikers who rode in to spend some time with nature; all were obsessed with standing on the edge to look down into the valley; the infallible attraction of nature. There is something so soothing about just staring out at space; it has an amazing healing quality but we are so addicted to our gadgets that in our zest to capture the moment; we lose the opportunity to live in the moment. 

Trekking 

The trek down to the village and the flowing stream promises gorgeous views and a breathtaking green path. From what I could notice the trail seems to be alternating between steep and gentle stretches. I could not do it due to paucity of time since it was getting late but would love to go back & walk down that route some day. It may just take about 4-5 hours for a round trip trek and it will be a journey to remember when the valley will be lush green and the clouds will float within arms length.

Travel Tip:
  • Laitlum is about 25 kms away from Shillong along the Shillong -Jowai road, a little beyond Smit. The drive is beautiful except for a small stretch towards Laitlum where it is rocky and bumpy. There is hardly anything to see except soak up nature’s abundance and just be. A favorite picnic spot for the locals and bike travelers.
  • Laitlum can be visited round the year. However the best time is from March to August when the rains turn the area into an oasis of varying shades of green. If you have 5 to 6 hours in hand, then trek down to the village and the gorgeous aerial views promises a great trail ahead deep into the valley.
  • It may cost about Rs 1500-2500 for the day trip based on duration and type of vehicle
  • Pack Food, Water and also carry a mat.
  • Contact North East Explorers for planning this trip or write to them at hello@northeastexplorers.in or tweet @northeastexplrs . They did a great job with mine and the young entrepreneur from north east will surely make you comfortable.
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Around Mawlynnong, cleanest village of India

Until about a decade ago, hardly anyone knew about Mawlynnong, the cleanest village of India as well as Asia. Tucked away in the East Khasi Hills about 80 kms from Shillong, this tiny village of a handful of households has won the award of being the cleanest not only in India but in Asia since 2003. In the trail of name and fame came tourists by the dozen who were earlier clueless about Mawlynnong. I had a brief over night stop-over at one of the homestays~ “Bangladesh View” in Mawlynnong and spent the following morning around the village.Mawlynnong Cleanest Village In India

The roads are spotlessly clean and so are the spartan village homes. Many households are engaged in making brooms which can be seen hanging in a line outside their homes for drying. Villagers take turn to keep the area clean, carefully picking up every fallen leaf & brushing away every speck of dust.Mawlynnong Cleanest Village In India

I walked past the 100 year old church and went to the village centre.Mawlynnong Cleanest Village In India

I had relished the finger licking good Khasi Chicken Curry and Rice the previous evening in the local eatery in the corner. Mawlynnong Cleanest Village In IndiaThe green board with Do’s and Dont’s for villagers and tourists caught my attention. Cleanliness was a serious business for this small village.The Bamboo baskets at every street corner ensured that even the smallest of Plastic wrappers were not thrown by the roadside. Mawlynnong Cleanest Village In IndiaThere is a charge of Rs 50/- for visiting the village if you are a day tripper and while many people have doubts about the charge, I pretty much welcome it, since that is the best way to maintain cleanliness for future. I spotted the solar panels for street lights too. Mawlynnong Cleanest Village In IndiaAfter ambling around the entire village, I decided to climb the machan for a glimpse of Bangladesh plains. The Bamboos were tightly held together with rope the entire structure was extremely sturdy. Rs 20/- to climb the man made structure is a good way to ensure regular maintenance for the structure.Mawlynnong Cleanest Village In India The eastern sky had a crimson hue alternating with shades of ochre as the sun was peeping out behind the clouds in complete glory. Mawlynnong Cleanest Village In India

Living Root Bridge & Balancing Stone:

Living root Bridge is a good 15 minute walk to village Riwai next to Mawlynnong and 5 mins by car. Though similar to the bridges in Sohra, the walk to this bridge from the car park is far less tedious and easier for older and the not so fit. After a 10-20 minute climb down through concrete steps, the actual bridge is seen which falls under Nohwet village.Mawlynnong Cleanest Village In IndiaRubber Trees were grown on two sides of the river and eventually the branches were woven together to make the bridge for easy passage. The bridge hangs over a stream which was dry in winter and rises by several metres almost touching the bridge during monsoon months.Mawlynnong Cleanest Village In India

The school going children were all smiles on a holiday and gladly posed for me, recited a rhyme or two, gave me a lesson in history in exchange of me buying boiled eggs and juices from them for breakfast. I dont encourage child vendors at the cost of education but helping family on a holiday is appreciated. Mawlynnong Cleanest Village In IndiaI took a super quick stopover at the balancing rock before bidding goodbye to Mawlynnong. A huge natural rock is balancing on a small one. A very old man looks after this place and he sadly mentioned that he is often abused for the Rs 10/- entry fee for such a small sight. It left me sad and disheartened. Let us be responsible and remember someone is earning with dignity, this money goes into a village fund for cleanliness and do our bit.

Swachh Bharat

Mawlynnong is the role model for every Indian village. After suffering through a serious bout of cholera, the villagers decided to take cleanliness seriously around the area and the world sat up and took notice. The Prime Minister of India has repeatedly referred to Mawlynnong effort in cleanliness. A true flag bearer of Swaccha Bharat let Mawlynnong in the East show the way to the rest of India.

Travel Tip:
  • Mawlynnong can be done as a Day Trip from Shillong including Dawki. It will be a 12 to 14 hour day so you need to start very early in the morning by 7am. Cost will be approximately Rs 3000 to Rs 4500 depending on areas covered and type of vehicle
    • Shillong to Mawlynnong – 80 kms in 2.5 hours
    • Mawlynnong – Sightseeing & Breakfast around 2 hours
    • Mawlynnong to Dawki – 35 kms in about 1.5 hours
    • Dawki – Boatride & Lunch – 2.5 hours; Add 1 more hour for Tamabil.
    • Dawki to Shillong – 82 kms in 3 hours.
  • Can be visited round the year. However the best time is from March to August when the rains turn the area into an oasis of varying shades of green
  • Contact North East Explorers for planning this trip or write to them at hello@northeastexplorers.in or tweet @northeastexplrs . They did a great job with mine and the young entrepreneur from north east will surely make you comfortable.
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Boatride on Umngot, Dawki; Meghalaya

During a trip to Meghalaya, it is really worthwhile to spend an extra day and travel 80 kms from Shillong right up to its final frontier in Dawki bordering Tamabil, Bangladesh. Dawki is a small sleepy town in the West Jaintia hills, the last Indian post on the road connecting to Sylhet in Bangladesh. There is nothing much to write about Dawki except for the emerald colors of the Umngot river. While the green valleys, undulating hills, gushing waterfalls are an experience to remember in Meghalayas, the toast of the state is a boatride in Dawki on the crystal clear Umngot river.

Boatride can be experienced between the months of October to March only. The level of water steadily rises from the month of April with the pre-monsoons rendering boating impossible.

Boatride in Umngot, near Dawki

The boatride can be experienced just before entering Dawki town at a point where the river diverges partly towards Bangladesh and a narrow rocky strip separates the 2 countries. The aerial view of the meandering river is absolutely breathtaking. The porous friendly border allows intermingling of Indians and Bangladeshis along the river. Holidays are fun times with boat rides, snacks and picnics.The long dinghy boats waiting along the river to take passengers for a ride.

On my return, we stopped by to experience the sunset. Mesmerized by the colors of the sky I headed towards the boats on the Bangladesh side unknowingly. It would have been easy to go for a ride unnoticed 🙂 It is not difficult to guess that these areas are prone to illegal migration. However, I was told by the locals that they are extremely vigilant and so are the forces and such cases are negligible along this area.

Boatride in Umngot , Shnongpden

After quick lunch in Dawki town in a roadside dhaba, we drove down further to Shnongpden village by the river for our boatride. The long dinghy’s can take about 4 to 5 people at a time at the rate of  Rs100/head for about 45 minutes along the river.

We were comfortably seated on the wooden boats with our life jackets carefully strapped. The young boatman with a perpetual smile rowed us down the river when we noticed a boat loaded with greens cruising along. The water is crystal clear with clear reflections. The stones and underwater plants can be seen right through upto tens of feet.oatride in Dawki Meghalaya

We passed below the hanging metal bridge which is a tourist attraction and noticed the ziplining adventure activity a little further downoatride in Dawki Meghalaya

There were tents set up along the riverside; where you can spend the night and enjoy unspoilt nature at its virgin best. Contact Brightstar Camps – 8974227204oatride in Dawki Meghalaya

Soon we were passing through canyons and narrow gorges. The clear reflection of the passing boat was a heavenly sight. oatride in Dawki Meghalaya

There were lone fishermen patiently parked themselves waiting for the prized catchoatride in Dawki Meghalaya

In about 25 minutes we were near the source of the river Umngot, gushing through stones and flowing towards the plains.oatride in Dawki Meghalaya

During the 15 minute return ride, I was in quiet contemplation, wondering why Umngot, perhaps the cleanest river in India never found its way to my school text book. Maybe it is time to include the History and Geography of the North East in school texts for children across the country to appreciate our diversity and for these regions to integrate better with rest of India.

Travel Tip
  • Dawki can be visited as a Day Trip from Shillong along with Mawlynnong the cleanest village in India. I would recommend camping in Dawki at Shnongpden for the young traveler and an overnight stay in Mawlynnong for the others to soak in nature.
  • Contact North East Explorers for planning this trip or write to them at hello@northeastexplorers.in or tweet @northeastexplrs . They did a great job with mine and the young entrepreneur from north east will surely make you comfortable.
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