Developed By: iNFOTYKE
Beyond untrodden ways
By Patricia Mukhim
Nisangram, a Garo village that is partly in Assam and partly in Meghalaya, is about 210 km from Shillong. This quaint little village is also where the first Garo convert to Christianity, Rev Ramke Watre Momin, came in 1867 and became the first pastor. He was baptised in 1863 in Guwahati by Dr Brownson and later laid the foundation for the first church at Nisangram in 1868. Today the old church still stands but a new church building adjacent to the old one is the pride of the villagers.
Now, what sets aside Nisangram from other villages is its cleanliness. It is apparently a tradition for people here to sweep the village clean at least twice a week. Men and women wield their brooms happily. Even young mothers with their babies tied on their backs don’t hesitate to join the village’s own cleanliness drive.
If the roadside is clean, the individual compounds too are spick and span. People are house-proud and this is evident from the tidiness around.
Daisylata Marak,a church deacon and school teacher and also one of the few who can converse in English, says, “We have heard a lot about the cleanest village Mawlynnong. We also want to showcase this village to visitors as we believe Nisangram too is very clean and this cleanliness regime is managed by the community.”
Daisylata and the other elders in the village are keen to promote tourism so that the young – and there is quite a sizeable population of young people – are gainfully employed.
The people of Nisangram have been in conversation with Shillong-based tour operator DD Laloo to put Nisangram on the tourism map of India.
Laloo in turn has been talking with the people of Resubelpara who too have been trying to sell a unique destination, Nokat village, where the Shiva phalluses seem to have been scattered generously.
Rabha priest (Rabhas here are Hindus) Amal Chandra Rabha says, “People don’t know about this place yet because it has not been written about. But this must be the only place where the Shiva lingam looks very close to reality. In other places, the stones are shaped to look like lingams. Here they are naturally formed. Any woman who cannot bear a child should come and perform puja here and she will conceive.” That’s a belief that Hindus hold dear.
Deputy speaker and Resubelpara MLA Timothy Shira considers Nokat and its endowments, which include the Yoni of Parvati, as a tourism selling point.
“Let Hindus come and worship the Shiva lingam. We have nothing to say. Each one has their own beliefs and those beliefs should be respected. The more people come here the better would be for the livelihood of the local people,” Shira said.
“Once people get to see this place they might forget Amarnath and other yatras and rush here. That’s where we have to be careful and regulate the footfall. Also, the villagers have to be ready with home-stays. The road to Nokat from Resubelpara is pretty rough and at present can only be negotiated by 4×4 sturdy vehicles,” said Laloo.
On November 6, when a group of media persons visited Nokat, the Rabha people from neighbouring villages were seen worshipping the lingam, even while their priest, Amal, offered prayers and incantations. They maintain very cordial relations with their Garo neighbours who are Christians by faith and live in perfect harmony.
The phallus-shaped monoliths jut out of this three-acre enclosure in what now looks like a park. Interestingly, inside the park the lamet (leaf), now used as a packaging substitute for plastic, grows profusely but villagers don’t seem to know its commercial value. When they were told that the leaves fetch a good income they said they would look after them better.
It was evident that the leaves and bushes had been cleared recently. The pathways too were swept clean. When asked who maintained the Nokat Park, which the Rabhas consider sacred, Shira said that they were from the village. He pointed at Benjamin B. Marak and Kumar G. Momin.
Laloo, who is also a member of the Meghalaya Tourism Development Forum, has been training them and even took them to Mawlynnong and other tourist sites in Khasi Hills.
“The youth here have to be trained to run home-stays, act as tourist guides and also ferry tourists around after they are done with Nokat. In fact, we plan to make it a circuit with tourists coming in via Nisangram from Guwahati and then doing the 22.8 km distance to Resubelpara via the Damra-Mendipathar road. This would encourage harmonious revenue sharing.
Shira provided the visitors a file containing a sheaf of papers giving detailed information about Resubelpara and how to reach the place from Guwahati. Also enclosed were geological studies regarding the rock formation and their dates etc. Shira also explained the genesis of the Shiva lingam according to Hindu mythology. So far there are no archaeological studies of the Shiva lingams which are all granite stones.
There is only sketchy information as to whether the phalluses were shaped through human effort or were created by millennia of erosion.
Resubelpara is the district headquarters of North Garo Hills. In the villages around, you see miles and miles of ripened paddy ready for harvest. One significant feature of this district is its cleanliness. You don’t see plastic floating around. The village roads look well swept and orderly. Clearly, cleanliness is a premium here.
Even as the Rabhas about 20-30 in numbers held their prayers at the Nokat sanctuary, Garo church elder JB Marak offered prayers before the little gathering of villagers from Nokat and the visitors had their lunch. That’s a perfect co-existence and it is this which is the selling point for Nokat or any tourist destination.
It is rare to see a local MLA who is as committed as Timothy Shira playing a pro-active role to promote tourism not just in his constituency but beyond and all for the purpose of generating livelihoods.