I do not know any of you have done it or not, or I am the only crazy lad but doing it makes me happy. Whenever I hear Koel bird sing, I sing back to her in her tone, Ku-ooo. It is so fascinating that when I do so the bird replies and when I stop, she starts singing hastily as if searching me with her tone. Please do not think of me as Pakshirajan of Robot 2.0 but the voice of Koel enthrals me. When I was small, I had a Ku-ooo chat with Koel quite frequently and in vacations almost daily. But now in our dream city Mumbai, the sound of chirping birds is lost amidst the skyscraper buildings and the wailing horns. However, humans are still thoughtful in some parts of India, viz. Meghalaya. Why I mention Meghalaya is because of Kongthong, the whistling village of India.
The special place with special people
On my trip to Meghalaya, when my cab driver saw me answering the Cuckoo bird while we visited the living roots bridge, he smiled. Like any person who is caught red-handed, I too tried to explain him. Although, I know there is nothing wrong in it, however, for a fully grown man doing Ku-ooo in a place which is kilometres apart from the hometown, gawking is quite expected. So, when I started to tell him my back story, he instantly replied, “I felt very happy seeing you replicate Cuckoo bird, this proves that people from Mumbai are also like us.” His statement confused me and I wondered that maybe it’s a regular practice of people here. To which he answered, “Sir we are nature-loving people and everything we do is in coordination with nature only.” His talks were not alleviating the suspense, but soon came a story about a tradition which left me intrigued.
Kongthong – The unbroken bond of love
Nestled 60 kilometres away from Shillong, between the Sohra and the Pynursla range of Meghalaya, Kongthong village resounds with tunes of nature. Forests are considered sacred here and are very much entwined with the lives of people. So when you go there you would hear, the rustling of winds, the steady burbling of water, the chirping birds and the musical tones, by which people call each other. Yes, here people don’t call each other by names but with unique notes that are similar to the tweeting of birds. The most amazing part about this tradition is that around 700 residents of this village have their own distinctive tone. And this practice is called Jingrwai Lawbei.
When the babies are born in Kongthong, their mother bestow them with a melody for life which comes directly from their heart. Technically, a person has two tunes by which he is associated, one short one which is used in home and friends and the longer one which is used in forests and long distance. Imagine, how logical they are! The high pitched whistling tones travel easily across the forests and valleys, thus, making the local aware that somebody is calling him specifically. Because nobody has a similar tune, unlike, the names which we use. Also, as per their local folklore, it is said that using the long tone in forests also saves them from the evil spirits residing in forests. (The details of which I will share after some time) That’s quirky, isn’t it?
This culture pays homage to the mother who keeps the baby in their womb for nine months. Some people say that this tradition is 4 centuries old. Although, there is no historical record which could put some light about the extent or how this custom came into existence. I so want to know it! Kongthong is the prime place where you can be a spectator to this exceptional tradition, however, you may even witness it in Katarshnong. Katarshnong is the singular name for the cluster of 12 villages in West Khasi, which also includes Kongthong.
(*P.S. If you want to visit some unconventional living root bridges, Riwai village, is the destination)
A trip to Kongthong
While I was all bowled over by the creativity of the women here, the next thing to amaze me, were the guest houses built for the travellers. They rightly call it traveller’s nest as it is full of all amenities which a human may need. The good things don’t end with living in these traditionally decorated guest house and being the part of one of the most exceptional culture, there are spectacular living bridges near the village. One of which is the Phyllad living root bridge which is one and half hour long trek from Kongthong. Amidst the jungle, this bridge above a river, is away from the touristy crowd that steal the solace I often look. And the best part the villagers are happy to guide you in your journey.
Then you may track further to Wahlyngkhat living root bridge moving through forests listening to the songs of nature whose playback singers are birds and wind with sound effects added by water and trees. There are many of them in Katarshnong, some seeing the beginning while some being abandoned but I never thought that this treasure would even include a living root ladder.
Only if you were thinking
Yes, Kongthong resounds with whistling tunes and pleasantries of nature, however, the people do have their formal names for the official record. I don’t know whether you thought of it or not but with technology booming they too have hands over mobile, radio and other mediums. Thus, few of the recent tunes devised by the mothers also have an effect of Bollywood songs. Truly, speaking, I want to stop them but maybe I am acting mean. It is just that I do not want a precious tradition to get lost in the storms of modernity.
After knowing about the village and its tradition, I very much wanted to tell my driver that the people of Mumbai or in fact all metropolitans are not like the people of Meghalaya. They are mean and their love for nature is confined to posts and tweets on social media. However, I really hope that we become what he believes!