Perched on the East Khasi Hills near Mawphlang village and surrounded by fields is one of Meghalaya's must-see tourist places, the Mawphlang Sacred Forest. There are many sacred forests in these hills and the state's Jaintia Hills, but 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.
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.
The tribe's culture and heritage is also showcased during the two day Monolith Festival held there.
How to Get There
Mawphlang is located 25 kilometers from Shillong. It takes around 45 minutes to drive there. A taxi from Shillong will charge 1,000 rupees for the return trip. A recommended driver is is Mr Mumtiaz. Ph: +91 92 06 128 935.
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 is 20 rupees per person, plus 20 rupees for a camera. It's 10 rupees per person for the Khasi Heritage Village. This fee enables local youths to be employed as caretakers. A local English speaking Khasi guide charges 200 rupees for one hour.
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 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.