Planning an exotic holiday? How about chasing a monster across rainforests, waterfalls and unending stalactite caves?
Mande Burung is to Meghalaya's Garos what the Yeti is to the Himalayan Sherpas, Bigfoot to the Americans, Sasquatch to the Canadians and Yowie to the Australians.
Hairy, ape-like and “at least eight feet tall”, Mande Burung has constantly moved between legend and asserted reality. Believers in the mythical monster insist it exists, and have even launched a society to promote “mind-blowing tours” across the demon's domain.
“Since 1997, we have been documenting Mande Burung sightings and telltale signs such as giant footprints,” Dipu N Marak, general secretary of the A’chik Tourism Society (ATS), told HT from Tura, the West Garo Hills district headquarters.
But forest officers are skeptical for, as one of them said, “There are no gorillas in these parts.”
Mande Burung can help to promote tourism in one of the least explored parts of the Northeast, reasoned ATS president Taseng K Marak. The area includes the Nokrek Biosphere Reserve and the 200-sq-km Balpakram National Park.
Searches for the monster have also yielded hitherto unknown waterfalls, such as the 1,085-metre Staircase Falls, besides stalactite-stalagmite caves such as Kekengkhol that could be the longest in South Asia.
Tourism officials are delighted with the ATS. “They are doing a good job. We support them,” said K.M. Momin, Meghalaya Tourism’s deputy director.
For now, ATS is planning “Chase-the-Monster” tours for winter, the best time to visit the Garo Hills.