Earth Day is an annual event observed on the 22nd of April every year, to show support for environmental protection. In 1969, peace activist John McConnell proposed a day to honor the Earth at a UNESCO Conference in San Francisco. The United States Senator Gaylord Nelson proposed the idea to hold a nationwide environmental teach-in on April 22, 1970, marking the first Earth Day event. After 20 years, Denis Hayes took it beyond the United States and organized events in 141 nations.
Earth Day now involves a wide range of events across 193 countries, coordinated globally by EarthDay.org with particular themes every year. The official theme for 2022 is “Invest In Our Planet”. Everyone agrees that there is no viable route to limiting global warming and building resilience without urgently protecting, managing, and restoring nature. Thus residents and tourists at any popular destination must realize the collective responsibility and act together in the interest of the world.
There are few places in India that are as graceful and endearing as Meghalaya. But being more than a tourist destination, Meghalaya is remarkably spectacular in being a guidebook about conservation and restoration of nature. The Indian state of Meghalaya (literally translating to ‘the abode of clouds’) is a fascinating mountain state with mysterious caves, beautiful rivers, and gorgeous waterfalls. Nature seems to have blessed the land of Meghalaya with her own bountiful hands. It is, however, more fascinating to note how the people of Meghalaya are also aware of the synergy between man and nature.
Mawphlang Sacred Groves
Sacred groves are a shining example of traditional forest management. For centuries now, Khasi customs and traditions have been woven into the land and the forests. One of the forests that retain its hallowed significance even today is the sacred forest of Mawphlang. Located around 25 km from the state capital Shillong, the Mawphlang Sacred Forest has its roots steeped deep in age-old religious beliefs. The tribal people have a firm belief that the local deity Labasa protects this forest and its community. Hence nobody is allowed to take anything away from this hallowed forest, not even a pebble or a twig. This effectively translates to discouraging any sort of deforestation in the area.
It isn’t just the legends and myths of the sacred forest that attracts tourists, its physical majesty is also undeniable. Apart from the canopy of tall trees, flowering orchids, medicinal herbs, and rare plants, the forest is also home to old coronation and sacrificial sites. This was where Khasi kings held their meetings and anointed new chiefs. The sites are marked with monoliths, still, reminders of a dignified past as the forest creeps around them. A guided tour is advisable to completely soak in the essence of this place.
While the world is grappling with issues of pollution and waste management, a village in India is setting an example for cleanliness in the whole of Asia. Nestled in the lush greenery of the East Khasi Hills, Mawlynnong is, in literal terms, clean and green.
In 2003, Mawlynnong received the tag of being the ‘Cleanest Village in Asia’, and in 2005, it received the status of the ‘Cleanest Village in India’ by Discover India Magazine. In a 2015 radio address, India’s Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, acknowledged the community and considered it a model of cleanliness for the whole country. The penchant for eco-friendly living is displayed in extensive green spaces, bamboo dustbins, gardens in every house in the village, and immaculate concrete walkways adorned with colorful plants. In front of every house, there is a deep crater to collect rainwater. The garbage collected throughout the day is thrown into a pit and then used as fertilizer. Smoking is prohibited, and plastic bags are strictly banned. Even tourists are required to abide by the regulations. Fines are imposed in case of a violation.
There is another tourist spot on the outskirts of the village – the Balancing Rock. This is a huge rock that is naturally balanced on top of a smaller rock. Tourists generally get their Insta-moment posing in front of this curiously positioned stone. The village is located around 80 km from either Shillong or Cherrapunji. Tourists may hire a cab and reach the village to experience a lifestyle where cleanliness is an integral part.
This village is also home to a Living Root Bridge. A trek of around 100-odd steps brings the tourist to the bridge, hanging above a stream. It is composed of intertwining aerial roots of rubber trees that grow on both sides of the creek. Since the roots only get stronger with time, this traditional and uniquely built bridge has been able to withstand the wrath of winds and monsoons for centuries now. A further hike leads to a viewpoint that enthralls the tourist with the expansive view of the plains of Bangladesh beyond the borders of India. While Meghalaya has always been a favorite destination in the Monsoon season, it is only during winters that clear skies allow for the horizon-spanning views.
Nongriat is a village in Eastern Meghalaya, around 70 km from Shillong. It is famous for the unique Double-decker root bridge, with one bridge stacked over another, hanging over the Umshiang River. This awe-inspiring structure is bigger and grander and it magnificently showcases the harmony that the Khasi people have with nature. The functional two-tier bridge across the stream running through the dense forest is alive and growing.
The incessant monsoons result in the swelling of rivers and streams, making it impossible for the locals to cross the river on foot. So the indigenous Khasi tribe erected bridges that could withstand the heavy rains. There is no knowledge about when and how the tradition of growing living root bridges began. Lieutenant Henry Yule’s mention of the bridges in the Asiatic Society of Bengal journal in 1944, is perhaps the earliest recorded document. The pliable roots of the tree are put into hollow betel nut plant trunks and manipulated to grow across a stream, and then left to entangle and strengthen so that they can hold the weight of human beings.
The one-way trek to this bridge is 3 kilometers long, starting from the Tyrna Village. The downward hike along 3000-odd steps is extremely tiresome for any tourist. But the adventure is rewarded with a fabulous forest trail and a wonderful specimen of natural architecture in the end. A guide is generally required to reach the spectacularly beautiful Rainbow waterfalls. About 30 minutes past the Nongriat Double Decker Root Bridge is the Mawsaw Root Bridge, which has several natural swimming pools to unwind. Travelers who stay the night in Nongriat generally explore these waterbodies.
The art of building bridges that is traditional to the Khasi Tribes is a highlight of tourism in Meghalaya. Building a bridge out of the roots of a tree, recognizing cleanliness and waste management as a way of life, and let no harm come to the sacred forests – our civilization surely has a lot to assimilate. These traditional cultural practices enlighten us as to how we may find in nature whatever is required for convenient living. Water from the streams, food from the trees, houses made of bamboo, and bridges made of branches and roots is a life lesson that is relevant on Earth Day. As individuals, we have the simple yet effective power to make our voices heard through our choices, our civic actions, and our personal interactions. What each of us does, and how we do it, has a huge ripple effect on our ecosystems.
In order to keep the places pristine and unblemished we require to be responsible tourists. Glass bottles, plastic wrappers, and other garbage of picnic-goers – must not be dumped here. The last thing that we would want is for the heavenly place to turn into a trash can of a spot! Earth Day is not a day but a movement. And all tourists must be accountable. We must learn from the Khasi folks, about the co-existence of Earth and the human race.
Now is the time for the unstoppable courage to preserve and protect our health, our families, livelihoods, and our future. Like the Khasi people have collectively built a legacy for their future generations, we must put our act together too. WE must Invest In Our Planet.
An honest SCORPIO who is crazy about movies, and overly passionate about travel.
Believes in immortalizing the moment, either by way of the photograph or literal documentation of the journey.