Perched on the East Khasi Hills near Mawphlang village and surrounded by fields, Mawphlang Sacred Forest is one of the must-see places in Meghalaya in remote northeast India. There are many sacred forests in these hills and the state's Jaintia Hills. However, this one is the most well-known. It may appear to be unremarkable, and even somewhat disappointing, to the uninitiated. However, a local Khasi guide will unveil its mystery.
Stepping into the forest reveals an astonishing network of plants and trees, all connected. Some of them, which are believed to be more than 1,000 years old, are full of ancient wisdom. There are many medicinal plants, including those that can apparently cure cancer and tuberculosis, and Rudraksh trees (the seeds of which are used in religious ceremonies). Orchids, carnivorous insect eating pitcher plants, ferns, and mushrooms also abound.
Although the forest has some impressive biodiversity, this alone isn't what makes it so sacred. According to local tribal beliefs, a deity known as labasa inhabits the forest. It takes on the form of a tiger or leopard and protects the community. Animal sacrifices (such as goats and roosters) are performed for the deity at stone temples inside the forest in times of need, such as illness. Members of the Khasi tribe also burn the bones of their dead inside the forest.
Nothing is allowed to be removed from the forest as it may upset the deity. There are tales of people who have broken this taboo becoming sick and even dying.
Khasi Heritage Village
A Khasi Heritage Village has been set up by the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council opposite the Mawphlang Sacred Forest.
It consists of various types of authentic, traditionally constructed mock tribal huts. Local food and toilets are available. The tribe's culture and heritage is also showcased during the two-day Monolith Festival held there in March. Unfortunately, the festival has only taken place sporadically in recent years due to lack of funding. This as affected the maintenance of the village as well.
How to Get There
Mawphlang is located 25 kilometers from Shillong. It takes about an hour to drive there. A taxi from Shillong will charge about 1,500 rupees for the return trip. A recommended driver is is Mr Mumtiaz. Phone: 9206128935.
When to Go
Entrance to the sacred forest is open from 9 a.m. until 4.30 p.m. daily.
Entry Fees and Charges
The entrance fee to the sacred forest and Khasi Heritage Village is 10 rupees per person, plus 10 rupees for a camera and 50 rupees for a vehicle. This fee enables local youths to be employed as caretakers. An English-speaking Khasi guide charges 300 rupees for a half hour walk, and 500 rupees for an hour. It's compulsory to hire one. You can pay extra to be taken deeper into the forest.
Where to Stay
If you're interested in staying in the area and exploring it, Maple Pine Farm bed and breakfast is recommended.
They have four cozy eco-friendly cottages and are off-the-grid. They also organize a variety of trips around the area and further afield in northeast India.
The road from Shillong to Mawphlang also heads towards Shillong Peak and Elephant Falls. These two attractions can easily be visited during the trip as well. The David-Scott Trail, one of Meghalaya's most popular trekking routes, is located behind the forest. It's a four to five hour trek.