Kongthong, the whistling village of Meghalaya
Kongthong in Meghalaya is an utterly interesting place. Tucked away in a remote part of the Khasi hills, the village is called the ‘whistling village’ where tunes are used instead of names. This oral tradition is carried on from generations to generations. Whenever a child is born in the Kongthong village, the mother composes a lullaby that becomes the identity of that person for the entire life. And the tune is unique to each child. The lullaby has no words; it is only a kind of hum that only the villagers are able to comprehend!
The village is cut off from the rest of the towns and cities of Meghalaya. The village is not connected by proper roads and can only be arrived by a 10 km trek. This isolated geography had let to this unique tradition in the village. There are about 600 people living in the village following the traditional religion of Seng Khasi. The villagers are usually shy and do not mix with the outside world. Their main occupation is cultivation and they make long trips to sell their products in the markets. They also buy their essential commodities from the market that are required by the entire village for an entire week.
Whenever a woman gets pregnant, she thinks of a lullaby for her child. The mother imparts this musical knowledge with specific tunes to their babies in their lap. After the birth of the child, adults around it constantly hum that tune so that it identifies with the sound. When the children grow up, this tune, also known as ‘jingrwai lawbei’ becomes a part of their life and becomes synonymous with their names. Though everyone has a name just like us, the mother calls their kids through songs or whistle, which the kids respond immediately. Also, each child has a different tune as his ‘jingrwai lawbei‘. And this lullaby dies with the death of the person. The tune is also different for each household. From the tune or lullaby, the villagers can tell from which house a person belongs.
The melodies of the lullaby are typically inspired by nature and birds. It is a belief among the villagers that there are unseen ghosts or spirits in the forests or rivers. If they hear somebody’s name being called out, then they would cast their evil spell on the person and he will fall sick. So the songs are used as a means of protecting them. The Khasi folk tale also has stories telling how this whistle saved people from goons. The person under attack calls out for help to his friends using their “caller tune” and thereby outwits the attacker and is rescued in time.
Experiences at Kongthong:
Kongthong is an amazing place. The best thing you can do here is to understand and know the villagers and their lifestyle. Listen to the people being called out by whistles.
Apart from that, being tucked away from the rest of the world, the village is untouched and pristine. You can definitely find this place to be serene and totally away from the maddening crowd of the city. Enjoy this serenity and nature around you.
You can also indulge in activities like kite flying, swimming, hiking and bird watching. Listen to Kahsi fables around bonfire while enjoying Khasi dishes.
Best Time to visit Kongthong:
You can visit the place any time of the year. At Meghalaya, you can never actually predict the weather. But usually, October to April has clear skies and best weather. You can make a week-long plan if you want to visit the important places of Meghalaya.
Kongthong also serves as a perfect weekend destination from Shillong.
How to Reach Kongthong:
The nearest airport is Umroi Airport at Shillong. The nearest Railway head is Guwahati. From Guwahati, you have to reach Shillong either by shared sumos and car, or you can hire a private car also.
From Shillong, the place is around 55 km. You can hire a car from Shillong to reach here. To reach Kongthong, you have to trek from the last point on the motorable road.
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