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The David Scott Trail in Meghalaya : A Brief History

David Scott Trail Mawphlang
The David Scott Trek is well known among seasoned and amateur trekkers and hikers. Stretching the Khasi hills of Meghalaya , the trek spans 16 kms starting from Mawphlang to Lad Mawphlang. Along the way, one comes across a variety of terrains – the rolling mountains, the community forests of Hima Mawphlang, the river Umiam flowing by in the valleys and lush meadows holding a diversity of ferns and medicinal plants. What is little known about the trek is that it is a continuation of the historical trail of over 100 kms linking Guwahati with Slyhet (now, Bangladesh)- making it one of the first such constructed roads in the 1800s. Its cultural history, however, is closely tied to the advent of conquest and colonialism among the North Eastern Kingdoms of India.

Table of Contents

Establishment of the Route : The History and aftermath of Anglo-Khasi Relations

The route was originally used by indigenous Khasis for travelling by foot or horses. The trail, however, went on to be named after David Scott – a British Administrator posted to the North East Frontier Assam between 1802 and 1832. He developed and built the existing horse cart road connection cutting through the forests of Assam and the Khasi Hills to establish trade routes between Assam and Bangladesh. The final trade route was close to 130 miles (209 kms) – a considerable feat at the time.
David Scott Trail Meghalaya Cycling

The Task of Gaining Permissions for Passage through the Khasi Kingdoms

The establishment of this route by David Scott meant it had to be made through the then-Khasi Kingdoms (one of them was the territory of Nongkhlaw) between Assam and Sylhet through the hills. Militarily, it would reduce the distance of reaching Sylhet via lower Assam. This could not go forward unless Scott obtained the permissions of the Syiems.

Conflicting Views on the Entry of the British to the Khasi Hills

The Syiems looked upon the road construction as something which would deprive them of their independence. On the other hand, the King of Nongkhlaw, U Tirot Singh, agreed to the construction of this road due to a number of reasons related to historical and territorial changes taking place in the region. The Burmese invasions were taking place in Assam. The period between 1817 and 1826 saw great loss of homelands and people during the wars and the historic Treaty of Yandabo was in progress. Scott had resorted to a policy of coercion and negotiation by closing down Khasi markets in the Brahmaputra plains and demanded that U Tirot gain permission from the other Khasi Chiefs for approval of the passage. The treaty to construct the road was brought under discussion immediately among the Durbaar of the Syiems and after two long days, the assembly ended in favour of the proposition. The Khasis were also to assist the Government in providing men, tools and materials along with land space for constructions.

U Tirot's Turn and the Beginnings of the Anglo-Khasi Wars

Later, however, after the road was built, circumstances led him to resist further British interest in the Khasi Hills. The Nongkhlaw headman resented David Scott’s maneuvering over this affair in inserting certain additional provisions in the written treaty without even being discussed in the Durbaar. He took the lead to form a confederacy of Khasi Himas(States) to challenge the British marking the start of the so-called Anglo-Khasi Wars of 1829-1833.

Conclusion

Today, the over 200 km route is fragmented and frequented by trekkers, hikers and tourists. The most favoured section between Mawphlang to Lad Mawphlang is now known as the David Scott Trail. This historical trail has received its due recognition from the United Nations as an Indigenous Community Conservation Area (ICCA). The area is conserved and looked after by local communities such as the Mawphlang Welfare Society. There are strict regulations along the trail to keep the area sustainable and clean and to maintain and conserve the rich biodiversity along the trail. The main animal corridor cuts across the Community Forest of Hima Mawphlang towards the Mawphlang Sacred Groves making this a trail and route of great environmental and historical importance today.

Team ChaloHoppo

Team ChaloHoppo

Anali Baruah writes on culture and tourism in north eastern regions of India. She is currently doing her PhD in Cultural Studies and works with Content & Research at ChaloHoppo.

With seasoned local guides, you can trek the David Scott trail or other trekking routes that are a part of the historical route in our upcoming set departures to Meghalaya.

Our Set Departures to Meghalaya
Our Short Escapes in Meghalaya