|Sacred Grove Mawphlang|
As a part of their cultural and religious beliefs the people of Meghalaya practice an age-old tradition of preserving primary forest patches near their settlements .These forests are a deep insight into the history and religious beliefs of the people of Meghalaya .A Sacred Grove is a rich patch of undisturbed forests that serve as a natural habitat for many endemic, rare and valuable plants. I had never heard of Sacred Groves until few years back . Located about 25 km from Shillong after an hour of beautiful drive one can easily reach Sacred Grove of Mawphlang , one of the most famous grove that attracts botanists and naturalists from all over the world.This grove has also been named as Nature's Own Museum as it has a varied form of plants,flowering trees ,orchids and butterflies.Sacred groves serve as Gene Bank of the ecosystem in modern times .
This young boy named John at this ticket check point stopped us .The grove is open to visitors on all days from 9 am to 4.30 pm .After issuing the tickets John drew our attention to this sign board .Most of the forests of Meghalaya are owned by communities or individuals.
Khasis have very strict rules and regulations for those who enter the sacred groves and they have been following this for ages.They believe that their Sylvan deities live inside them so any harm procured to the plants or the animals would offend them.No one is allowed to enter SG without prior permission.Vehicles are not allowed after a certain point.Littering is strictly prohibited in and around them.Cutting,peeling ,chopping of any tree or plucking of flowers ,orchids is not allowed.One can not enter the SG without an authorized guide.Hunting ,trapping or killing of living creatures inside the grove is strictly prohibited.
We also saw another new sign board ready to be installed .It too had many important points to follow. John agreed to be our guide for the tour . He asked for Rs 150 /hour ,to which we readily agreed. .John knew few English words and fewer of Hindi .Pranab and Chandan had little knowledge of Khasi words.Together all of us made an interesting team.From the check point John boarded our car , after covering a distance of approx 100-150 mt he asked us to stop and park the car in the nearby grassland.
As we got down he firmly instructed us 'Chalo' ( meaning Walk -- his favorite word through out the tour).We could see SG from distance , the grove proudly stood in sharp contrast to their surrounding grasslands .These groves have an outer edge of a densely grown Castanopsis kurzii trees, which forms a protective hedge which stops the intrusion of Khasi pine which otherwise dominates all areas outside the sacred groves.The contrast is clearly visible in the picture above.
We noticed several ancient monoliths ( Mawbynna in local language) erected in the memory of the departed respected community members.
As we looked around in complete amazement John's CHALO startled us .Where are you taking us i asked him in broken Hindi "Kidhar zata ?" To which he replied Bhagbaan ( we assumed that he meant 'Bhagwaan' the Hindi word for God ).I once again asked him "kitna dur "( how far it is ) to which he replied "dus minute"(ten minutes).Later we realized that everything was just 10 minutes away according to John.He knew the path by heart .He stressed that we do not loose each others sight .
The trunks ,branches of the tree and shrubs were loaded with many ferns ,orchids ,lichens and mosses
John pointed at this plant telling us that the snakes come here to eat this fruit . I was not very sure if the information was true .Chandan asked him what would happen if one tries to eat it .John pointed at a monolith nearby . His answer was loud and clear.
Many monoliths were scattered through out the forest .The vertical ones are for men, while the horizontal ones represent women.John described each monolith with words like father ,mother,son,daughter .( which meant male ,female ,male child ,female child).
John showed us this spot which we at first thought was again a cluster of monoliths.He said 'ye bhagabaan'( meaning here is the Gods/Diety). All three of us removed our shoes ,sat down on the ground in front of the dieties and paid our respect .
We spent about forty five minutes inside the SG exploring more .John wanted to show us something more .As i saw Chandan and John leave the SG ,it almost felt like i was looking at them through a secret forest window .Once again bright light hit the eyes and we were back to our usual world.
We had no other option other than to follow John's 'Chalo' .Only 'dus minute'(ten minutes).It took us more than twenty minutes to reach the spot he wanted to show us .We crossed this ground where local festivals are celebrated by the villagers.
We looked back at our car that was very far away .Soon we reached the highest point over a cliff from where this beautiful view awaited us.
The point offered a breathtaking view of villages nearby .We had many rounds of 'Dus Minute Chalo' afterwards . Saw many similar views over the area .
As we moved back to our car i once more captured Sacred Grove in my camera .
We thanked John for his company and dropped him at the check point .There are many sacred groves in Meghalaya hills.I hope they remain untouched and protected and not fall prey to urbanization.Sacred groves harbor great genetic diversity. Sacred groves act as "lungs" to the surrounding areas as well, providing much needed environmental cover.