Guwahati: It doesn’t always pay to bank on the clouds and rain and a Scotland-like capital city. So Meghalaya is eyeing a mythical monster for a tourism turnaround.
Unlike its sister states across the Northeast, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh have generally been violence-free. But tourism has suffered because of ongoing conflict in neighbouring Assam. To make matters worse, Meghalaya recorded scant rainfall, a “traditional” tourist attraction in Cherrapunjee and Mawsynram, the wettest places on earth.
So when an adventurers’ group called A’chik Tourism Society (ATS) proposed marketing a hairy, ape-like monster known as “Mande Burung,” Meghalaya Tourism officials felt it was an idea worth pursuing.
Mande Burung is the legendary counterpart to America’s Bigfoot or the Himalayas’ Yeti. He is believed to haunt the state’s western half, a region inhabited predominantly by the Garo tribe.
“This... could very well be the excuse for tourists to explore the most virgin part of the country,” said tourism deputy director K.M. Momin.
In luring tourists with the mythical monster, ATS president Taseng K. Marak admitted borrowing an idea from Bhutan. Years ago, Thimphu dedicated the 650km Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in eastern Bhutan to Yeti, the abominable snowman, although inaccessibility has hampered tourist traffic.
The tourism society started documenting Mande Burung in 1997. “Our pursuits have resulted into reams of papers, pictures and films on people claiming to have spotted the mythical monster, giant footprints and other telltale marks left behind by the creature,” said ATS general secretary Dipu N. Marak. “So we thought, why not let tourists chase the monster too?”
The society, however, insists its objective is to sell the “demon’s domain” rather than the monster itself. Dipu Marak said, for example, that the group has discovered hidden waterfalls, such as the 1,085m high Staircase Falls and mysterious stalactite and stalagmite caves such as the Kekengkhol, possibly the longest in Asia.
Another plus for the “monster package”, he added, is that tourists can skirt the Northeast’s trouble zones to reach Garo Hills. But they will have to wait until next season, as tourism authorities want to chalk out safe circuits. “Safe,” because Mande Burung is believed to be aggressive.