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India's remote northeast is a medley of traditional tribes and cultures. Only a narrow corridor connects the area to the Indian subcontinent. And in that secluded corner, NPR's Julie McCarthy discovered one village unlike any other in India.
JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Reaching Mawlynnong, population 500, is an adventure, rumbling down mountain roads, peering into emerald valleys before plateauing into lush vegetation. A sign at the village entrance announces God's Own Garden.
(SOUNDBITE OF SWEEPING)
MCCARTHY: With its bamboo and wooden houses, some crowned with thatched roofs, Mawlynnong is not just picturesque. It is spick and span. Its inhabitants from the Khasi tribe grow beetle nut and appropriately enough a plant called broomstick.
(SOUNDBITE OF RUSHING WATER)
MCCARTHY: The stream used for washing is crystal clear. Butterfly-filled gardens adorn almost every one of the 95 homes. Flowers line the lanes of this quaint, one-kilometer-square village. And you can't walk 50 feet without seeing a wicker litter basket - the symbol of what is now known as the cleanest village in India. Indian tourists descend like scientists who have discovered another species.
You came a long way from Kolkata to come to this village. What do you think?
UTTAM DAWN: (Foreign language spoken).
MCCARTHY: Uttam Dawn and his family traveled over 20 hours to reach this little Eden. It's beautiful - he repeats it for emphasis. We've never seen a place this clean. He says the sense of civic responsibility evident here is missing where he's from. A village this spit-polished is a novelty in India. Cities and villages are often unsightly and garbage-strewn. Local villagers are amused that they have become an attraction. And the secret to Mawlynnong's sparkle - a tribal tradition that equates cleanliness with a beauty of its own. Resident Badapbiang Khongtheim says villagers here don't look at how grand someone's house is but how clean it is kept.
BADAPBIANG KHONGTHEIM: (Foreign language spoken).
MCCARTHY: "Cleanliness has more value than material wealth," she says. "It's what people see. It's what they talk about. It's what they exchange compliments over."
KHONGTHEIM: (Foreign language spoken).
MCCARTHY: "From the time we were young," she says, "this village" - which is devoutly Christian - "was told that God is clean." Tour guide Aisuk Lin says there's no escaping it. It's in our genes.
AISUK LIN: We love gardening. We love cleaning, especially to make the pots, the utensils, the pitcher pots shining.
MCCARTHY: Hosana Mawroh opened a small restaurant in the village where she caters to the army of visitors who come to marvel at Mawlynnong. Her kitchen is spotless. A mother of six, Hosana says she's uncomfortable if things are out of order.
HOSANA MAWROH: (Foreign language spoken).
MCCARTHY: "There's not a morning I don't feel like getting up, grabbing my broom and sweeping my compound," she says. "My heart doesn't allow me to be unclean." But make no mistake, Hosana says, all this beautifying is hard work, from the time we wake until we sleep. For those who lack Hosana's gusto, Morgan, the town crier...
MORGAN: (Shouting in foreign language).
MCCARTHY: ...Reminds them every Friday night of their duty.
MORGAN: (Shouting in foreign language).
MCCARTHY: He does it every Friday night. He walks around the village, and he hollers to people outside their door at 8 o'clock at night.
It's a weekly ritual since visitors started coming, creating even more trash.
MCCARTHY: One recent Saturday drew mostly children who mostly ordered each other to pick up wrappers and litter. Bawan Buhdor is just 11, but the significance of the community service is not lost on him.
Why is it important to have a clean village?
BAWAN BUHDOR: Because if we clean the village, there is no germs, diseases, no pollution also.
MCCARTHY: Mawlynnong has a rigorous recycling program, non-existent in most of India, and fame has brought rewards. Homestays have sprouted up. Stalls sell local crafts. The village headman says, thanks to the influx of tourists, incomes are up 60 percent. Hosana says she now buys her family better food and better clothing - none of it possible without strong social cohesion and the humble act of cleaning. Julie McCarthy, NPR News.
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