Kongthong is a small village in Meghalaya which resembles the many other villages in the lush green forests on the East Khasi Hills.
Home to almost 700 villages who cultivate the land, hunt in the forests and live a peaceful pastoral life, this village differs from the rest of the villages not by the sights, but by the sounds.
You may ask- why is Kongthong different from the rest of the world?
All your life, you must have heard that everyone needs a name to be identified. But this is not the case with the people of Kongthong. For generations, villagers have communicated with each other using a unique form of whistled identity instead of names and hence the name - Whistling Village.
How the name gets assigned?
When a woman is pregnant, she thinks of a particular tune, it mostly relates to natural sounds like the call of a bird or the sound of the wind blowing and this becomes the name of the child. This is an age-old tradition and its roots can be traced back to the time when the village was beginning to form.
At a very young age, the mother uses this tone to call out their children who learn to respond to that quickly.
After it has been ensured that the whistled tone is different from all others, it becomes a permanent identity for the child. This identity is so unique that it is even checked that no-one else, even ancestors had the same tune. It is believed that if you use the same tone, it enrages the soul of the ancestor.
Typically inspired by nature, each name is anything from half a minute to a minute long and is known as "Jingrwai Lawbei" in the tribe's dialect.
This practice of whistled name is particularly useful during hunting expeditions. When an individual or a group goes hunting, they use these sounds to alert fellow members without alerting the others about the prey. This is also useful to signal danger.
One story goes as - A boy was out on hunting with his group when he was surrounded by dacoits. He climbed a nearby tree and signaled his group by whistling their names and they came to rescue him. The dacoits had no idea of his whereabouts as they weren't able to identify the calls from the boy as they resemble bird calls.
Use of the name other than calling.
There is an interesting use of the whistled name other than calling each other. It has special importance in finding one's life partner. Every summer, on a full moon night, a bonfire is organized and the unmarried males in the village sing his own tune. The one who does this best is usually chosen as her husband by the prettiest unmarried girl.
Apart from this, most of the time, daily communication is also done my whistling.
Kongthong lies about 56kms from the town of Shillong which is also the capital city of Meghalaya. However, it is not an easy road to reach here. You can reach Shillong by road, rail or air. From there you can hire a cab to the last point which can be traversed by a car. It lies on Khatarshnong Road. From there, you need to trek for about half-an-hour to reach Kongthong.
Places to Stay. There are no places to stay in Kongthong. It is better to reach here early morning and leave by early afternoon. The closest place you can stay in is in the city of Shillong.
Although at it's developing phases, the local administration has started a homestay project called "Traveller’s Nest" in Kongthong to boost tourism. You can contact them through Airbnb.
Things to do. Although there is nothing much to do or see in Kongthong as it is merely a small village, you can do a few things on your visit here.
<1> Village tour.
The people here are welcoming and will gladly show you around the village and have some conversation with you regarding the heritage and ways of life in the village and most importantly, their unique rituals.
<2> Let your soul feel nature.
Yes, This village is well isolated from the hustle and bustle of city and nearby places and is well away from the casual tourists. This means that you can spend some quality time here in the lap of nature. <3> Visit the bee farms.
Apart from its unique tradition of whistled communication, Kongthong is also famous for bee farms. If you are in a village walk, make sure to visit this place and talk to the people to get interesting information on harvesting honey.
If you are visiting Meghalaya, make sure to keep a day to yourself and visit this place at least once in your life.