A road trip across Nepal

Although most of my travel plans are made in an instant, this trip wasn’t something planned suddenly. We (my mate for the trip, Manax Saikia and I) planned this trip at least a couple of months before we took the roads. Manax flew from Dibrugarh to Delhi from where we started our journey on my new Continental GT. We took only our basic necessities, bags of equipment and few clothes. It is always important to control our temptations to carry extra luggage, especially when we are on a road trip. After leaving Delhi, we rode through two more states before reaching the Nepal border near Tanakpur, Uttarakhand. We covered a total distance of around 5000 by the time we reached Dibrugarh.

These are the places we rode through.

Delhi – Moradabad – Rudrapur – Bhimdatta (Nepal) – Nepalgunj – Butwal – Pokhara – Kathmandu -Nagarkot – Dhulikhel – Itahari – Panitanki (India) – Siliguri – Cooch Behar – Guwahati – Dibrugarh

Here are few pictures from our journey.

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Tawang through my lens

A photo gallery dedicated to the scenic natural landscape and culture of Tawang.

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The Dzukou call

What comes to your mind when you think of Nagaland? Jungle, Insurgency, tribals? Or music, delicious pork dishes and a unique culture?  Well the last time I was here it blew my mind with thrill and acknowledgement, and yes I was here during the Hornbill festival. What else can I expect, right? The state has so much to offer other than wounds from years of insurgency.  Hornbill, what they call a festival of festivals only left me fascinated with the state and its culture, wanting to visit the state again. The festival really struck a chord with me and I fell in love with the Naga Culture, along with its natural scenic.

What I left then was an urge, an urge to come back again. I wanted to visit the untouched valleys of the state and what else could have served my purpose better other than the enchanting Dzukou Valley.

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If you are looking for a place which is far away from civilization, carpeted with wild flowers, covered by emerald curvy green hills and a couple of silent streams flowing through it, then Dzukou Valley is the place to be in. The valley which is known as ‘the valley of flowers of the North East India’ is one of the best kept secret among Indian hikers. It is rare to find a valley with so much greenery and the strangest part is its not grass but short bamboos of a different variety which hardly grow more than 4 feet. Walking through the valley seems like a walk in the heaven. Yes I haven’t been to heaven but I don’t expect heaven to be anything better.

How to reach Dzukou Valley?

The valley is situated at the border of Nagaland and Manipur at a height of 8000 ft above sea level. The nearest villages from the valley are Viswema and Jakhama. There is also a route from the Mon town by which you can reach the valley in 5-6 hours. However the most ideal place to start your Dzukou trek would be from Viswema, which is about 20 kms from Kohima, the state capital. You can get a shared cab from Kohima to the point which is 8 kms from Viswema. The road from Viswema to that point is unpaved and very poorly maintained. The valley is at a distance of 2-3 hours from the point. One more thing that you should keep in mind is that it is very hard to get a cab and other essentials from Viswema so it is appropriate to get it from Kohima itself.

The nearest airport and railway station is in Dimapur, which is 95 kms from Viswema.

Things to remember

Visitors from other Indian States require an inner line permit to visit Nagaland, which may be obtained from the Nagaland House in Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati or Dimapur. Foreign visitors need to register themselves at a local state government office in either Dimapur or Kohima.

Dzukuo inspite being one of the most popular trekking destinations in North East lacks necessary facilities for trekkers. You should carry all the basic requirements along with you.

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Rih Dil! An international trip without a passport

One of the first things that come to our mind when we think of a foreign trip is the expenses and formalities. Especially the formalities to apply for a foreign visa. But there are some international destinations for Indians where you don’t even need a passport, leave aside a visa. Most of you must be aware of Nepal and Bhutan, but what you might not be aware of is Myanmar.

Yes! Myanmar. But don’t get me wrong . For an Indian, you need an eVisa to fly into Myanmar but there are a few Indo-Myanmar borders which allow free entry of Indians. All you need at the border is an Indian I-Card.

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There are presently three open borders between India and Myanmar, in Nampong in Arunachal, Moreh in Manipur and Zokhawthar in Mizoram. However, you are legally allowed to go only to a certain distance within the Burmese territory.

I happened to cross one of this borders in Zokhathar along with my college friends from Aizawl. The border at Zokhathar is the easiest of any border crossing from India. Just walk pass the border bridge on the river Harhva and there is no one to stop you. As we passed the bridge there were a few Burmese guards who were engaged in their own work, giving little attention to us.

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The feeling of being in a foreign country is always wonderful. We were all very excited. There was however not much change in culture or language. The people spoke Mizo and lifestyle was very much similar to the Mizo lifestyle. However, two of the most noticeable things that we saw on the other side was alcohol shops everywhere, which is not often seen in Mizoram. (Alcohol was banned in Mizoram until last year. Even now, there are only limited licensed wine shops) and secondly, we saw small South Asian styled motorbikes in large numbers. We hired a couple of those and started our ride to Rih Dil which is around 5 kilometers from the border.

The heart-shaped lake is one of the prime tourist destination for the Mizo people.The lake is associated with Mizo folklore, where the departed souls are believed to have made their passage through Rih Dil before they reach their eternal abodes. The lake elegantly stands still amidst rice fields and beautiful green mountains. There were a number of bars and rest houses beside the lake for visiting guests.

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A few kilometers from the lake there were a number of Buddist monasteries. We also happened to visit a few of them. We finally wrapped up our Myanmar trip by tasting some delicious local dishes in Khawmawi (first village on the Burmese side).

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Paulo Coelho on exploring

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Somewhere in Nepal

I can speak to my soul only when the two of us are off exploring deserts or cities or mountains or roads. – Paulo Coelho

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Champai

Champai! This homely town gave me a sweet reminder of what Dibrugarh (my home town) was 15 years back. Travelling is not just finding new things but also discovering different ways of seeing yourself. Someone rightly said that people travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of things they ignore at home.

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The sleeping town during peak hours of the day.

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That mesmerising view from our cottage.

 

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Jaswantgarh War Memorial

You all have heard about the Sino- Indo war of 1962 but must have missed out about the solo heroics of one individual, Jaswant Singh.

Mahavir Chakra Awardee  Jaswant Singh Rawat was a soldier of the 4th Battalion of Garhwal Rifles Infantry Regiment. Jaswant showed his valour by fighting and holding the invading Chinese back for 72 hours all alone during the 1962 India-China war and remained at his post at an altitude of about 10,000 feet before succumbing to an enemy bullet during that war.

The post that he held to repulse the Chinese troops has been renamed Jaswant Garh and a war memorial has been erected in recognition of his valor and sacrifice.

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On your journey enroute to Tawang would be the Jaswantgarh war memorial located at Nuranang, about 25 kms from Tawang. The memorial set in scenic terrain just below the Sela pass commemorates the bravery of the martyred Indian soldiers of the 1962 Indo-China war, especially in the Battle of Nuranang.

Here is a narration about the battle of Nuranang.

Following the withdrawal of Indian troops from Tawang, 4 Garh Rif was ordered to deploy in this area to facilitate preparation of our main defence in Sela. The battalion was disposed with its ‘A’ Coy in this location, ‘D’ Coy to its right across the road, ‘B’ Coy to its east and ‘C’ Coy in the area of Bridge III, about 1500 meters to the east from here.

A Chinese attempt to infiltrate into the defences in the guise of local Monpas was thwarted by an alert JCO of this Coy at about 5 am on 17 November. The enemy simultaneously attacked the Coy from its left and front in three waves. This was effectively beaten back and the enemy withdrew.

This was followed by two more attacks supported by artilleries, mortars and MMGs at 7:45 am and 9:10 am respectively. Our troops held their ground and these attacks too met the same fate.

The Chinese who were better equipped and had not suffered reverses so far, were more determined when they launched their fourth attack. They moved up an MMG about 40 meters close to the left platoon of this Coy and brought down very heavy volume of fire on our position preventing our LMGs from engaging them.

Trilok singh, Jaswant Singh and Gopal Singh volunteered to silence the menacing MMG by physically neutralising it. Gopal and Jaswant armed only with only hand grenades, in total disregard for their safety, crawled under heavy enemy fire to close in with the MMG. Trilok provided covering with his sten gun from about 15 meters. They hurled hand grenades to silence the MMG and then physically assaulted the position to find two Chinese killed and a third wounded. But still holding on to the weapon. Jaswant using both his hands snatched the MMG and crawled back. Just as he was about to reach his trench, he was hit by a fatal bullet on his head. Trilok, in the meantime was spotted by the Chinese and killed by a long burst from an automatic weapon. Gopal, badly injured managed to drag the captured MMG back into his trench.

This entire action took only 15 mins but the courage of these men changed the course of the battle and our weapons came alive once again and conclusively beat back the fourth Chinese attack by 11:40 am.

For this most outstanding act of gallantry, Jaswant Singh was honoured with Posthumous Mahavir Chakra, Trilok Singh Negi was honoured with Posthumous Vir Chakra and Gopal Singh was given Vir Chakra.

The fifth Chinese attack which came at 2:45 pm too was effectively beaten back and the enemy withdrew leaving behind 300 dead and wounded in the area. The heaviest suffered by them in the war. The losses of 4 Garh Rif were two killed and eight injured.

The myth of the invincible Chinese had been exploded.

For this most conspicuous and brave action 4 Garh Rif was bestowed with battle honour ‘Nuranang’, the only battle honour awarded to any unit in the Sino- Indo war.

This monument is in memory of these and other hundreds of our brave men who laid down their lives in this section during the 1962 war.

 

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This temple-like Jaswantgarh memorial has a garlanded bronze bust of Jaswant Singh, a portrait of the war hero and his belongings including the Army uniform, cap, watch and belt. The Garhwal Rifles are today deployed on India’s western borders, but the unit makes it a point to keep at least half a dozen personnel here to take care of Jaswant as if he were alive. He is served bed tea at 4:30 am, breakfast at 9 am and dinner at 7 pm. Five Army soldiers are at his service round the clock. He may have died but his heroics will always live in our minds.

 

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Tawang

Like Kashmir valley, Tawang is both blessed and cursed. The heavily fortified region in the North East of India is consecrated with rich Tibetian culture and natural landscape that can be a treat to the eyes of any spectator.

Tawang is certainly not the most popular tourist destination in the country but it has potential to be one. Home to the native Monpa people, it is one of the core reasons for conflict between India and China. There are more military personals than there are civilians in the area. On your trip to Tawang you will see military camps and bunkers all your way. The closer you get to the town the more military presence you feel.

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However, keeping aside its military importance it has a lot to offer to any visitor. Located at a height of 2669 metre it is the home to the Tawang monastery, the largest monastery in the world outside Lhasa. It also hosts a range of beautiful religious structures that include the Ani Gompas and the Buddha statue that can be seen from the Tawang market. To the North of the town are the picturesque Madhuri Lake and the Bamla pass. On the other side, a few kilometres from the town are the Sela Pass, Nuranang Waterfalls and Jashwant Garh.

Except from the landmarks the town itself is very fascinating with Buddhist chants in the air and mystical monks engrossed in prayers around the Tawang Monestry which is about 10 mins from the Tawang market. The market looks like a little Tibet in India with Monpa faces and their traditional dresses which are similar to the Tibetian people.

How to reach Tawang?

The location of the town is fascinating with Tibet to its Northern side, Sela range to its East and Bhutan in the Southwest direction.  The cheapest and the most convenient way to go to Tawang is by Sumo from Tezpur. Tezpur which is 300 km from Tawang is well connected to the rest of the country via railway and airways. There is also a helicopter service to Tawang from Guwahati, but regularity of the service cannot be trusted.

Things to remember

Temperature in the winter drops upto minus 10-15 degree but the snow capped town has its own beauty. The best time to go is between March and October. There is also heavy rainfall in the monsoons, so you should plan accordingly.

Accommodation and eating options are limited. Its very hard to find hotels during the peak season so it is ideal to make advance bookings.

The best way to enjoy the beauty of the region is by riding upto the town. You can hire a bike from from Guwahati but hiring options are very limited. Get your own bike. The town is about a 12 hour ride from Tezpur (Tezpur is 3 hr from Guwahati). On the way from Tezpur to Tawang you get scenic places like Bhalukpong, Bomdilla and Dirang. You can break your journey in either of the places.

Tawang like most places in North East needs ILP. You can get your ILP from Guwahati, Delhi, Kolkata, Tezpur, Dibrugarh and Itanagar. There is also an option of getting your ILP in the Arunachal gate (but don’t rely on that). Foreign Tourists in a group of 2 or more persons need to obtain PAP (Protected Area Permit) for a period of 30 days. They can get it from Delhi or Itanagar.

 

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Naga Village Culture

It’s a culture I’ve always considered the most unique in our diverse country.  Reading more about Naga culture led to a fascination which lasted for years. Now that I have visited this amazing place in pursuit of knowing more about them, only added to my fascination.

What follows is an abstract from the book “Traditional Naga Village System and its Transformation” by A Nshoga. Hope it helps you to learn a bit more about the Naga culture. I might also come up with a piece on how the traditional Naga village is shifting towards the global Christian community.

The Village

The village is a group of dwelling houses, built it cluster with cultivable and uncultivable land around it. It is a habitat place for them and a center of community. The village may be located in high, low and plain (ideally top of the hill) with all the forest around it. The Naga Village is characterised by man-made enclosed bamboo spike fence and ditches with thorny or itchy plants around the village to act as a defence. The size of the village is mostly of that space up to which the lowing of a cow at the end of the village can be heard at night.

Selection of Traditional Village

To select a new village, it is a custom and tradition of the Nagas to send a team of experts, who would go in search of an uninhabited land by setting up a camp in the virgin soil and halt a night or two to examine the suitability of the site, whether the site is safe and secure from defence point of view, as well as the portend through the interpretation of their dreams to decide the selection, followed by settlement. The site is summarily rejected if the omen of their dreams was a nightmare or signify portend, though the site is suitable for habitation and in a defensible location.  The site should also be suitable for cultivation and should be near a water spring.

Location of the village and village boundary demarcation

The strategic location of the Naga village is the direct consequence of their head hunting culture. On account of the Naga warfare characteristic, the village is often isolated from one village to another. Every Naga village have their own defence arrangement by locating the village on an elevated position. The Naga village is generally demarcated by erection of boulders along the border of the area or designated with the help of a stream, river, ridge or mountain ranges. The demarcation of the inter-village boundary is defined with the consent of the two villages, performing a rituals according to the custom of the village in the form of oath that whoever violated the boundary would entail curse or death. Sometimes, inter village war took place due to encroachment of neighbouring villagers. The inter village relationship and ties between the two villages depended on well defined boundaries and how respecting they were for one another.

Nomenclature of a village

The Naga village is established with a distinctive name given to it. Naga villages are invariably named after the founder f the village, nature of the site, name of a river, peak, incident etc. Sometime, the name is given from the names of two or more villages into a common name for proper identification of the people. The name of the village is given after due consideration of the place and the nature of the environment. Improper use of name is said to have led to the believe that the inhabitants would suffer from diseases, famines, plagues, misfortunes and other natural calamities. In view of this belief, the naming ceremony of a village takes place by propitiating the deity or spirit with an animal sacrifice and offering of eggs, rice beer, chicken and rice. Naming of a village is given great precaution and intelligence. It is the custom and tradition of the Nagas that the name of the village is invariably given by the wise men, warrior, eldest member of the village or the founders of the village. Nomenclature of a village may be ascribed to anything but it is necessary to ascribe suitable title to it. For example- Viswema village is named after the founder’s name Vise and then to Viswema means ‘men of Vise’. It is believed that Jakhama is named after the term ‘Mejakha’ which means ‘to stop the ‘Mejamia’, the Northern tribes- Semas, Lothas, Aos etc from invading Angami tribe and thereby the word Mejakha came Jakhama.

Village Stucture

The village is the institution of political, social, economic and religious organisation, where all the cultures and customs are evolved. As already mentioned, every village is located in a defensive position to thwart surprise attacks from enemies. Proper arrangement of the houses according to the lie of the land in uniformity of the village was another unique feature of traditional Naga village structure. All houses were built in uniformity, where the front gable is arranged. The only difference in houses of the rich and the commoners was that a rich man’s house was decorated with a horse-horn, carved post and semi-circular gable roof but a poor man’s house is built with simple structure.

The village was divided according to clan or topography into Khel. A Khel is the smallest unit of a village institution, where the eldest member of the Khel represents as the head. Each khel of the village has a Morung which serve as the defence of the Khel and the village. In some villages, Morungs were constructed in the middle of the village, while in the others it was constructed a few yards away from the village. There were also some villages, where the Morungs were constructed at the entrance of the village near the gate. The reason of constructing a Morung near the gate was to guard the village from enemy attack. The village defence is the foremost priority for the formation of a Naga village. In the past, no village could survive without a proper defence arrangement. All Naga villages were individual village-states.

The entrance of a Naga village was marked by a Village gate. A village gate was/is the index of village life and culture. It indicates the pride of the village. A gate is usually hewn out from a single tree trunk and engraved with various motifs, symbolizing various animal heads, sun, moon, stars, dao- case, ladies’ breast and a life size of hornbill, snake etc. The main object of constructing a strong wooden gate is the defence of the village. A village gate is also an indication of unity and integration of the people.

Ownership of village land

Land is the greatest assent of the Nagas, like any other community. This asset is held by the individuals, family, clan, khel and village. A land, which is held by the village, is the common property for the whole community in the village. Community land is possessed by the time when the village was founded. From this land, a sizeable plot of land is portioned out and residential and agricultural purposes in the village. In such type of land, every inhabitant of the village is the owner of the land but the allotment of such land can be done only by the chief and his Councillors of the village. Illegal encroachment of such lands is controlled by the village authority and a fine is usually imposed on the encroachers.

Traditional Naga village culture

Megalith culture is associated with the Naga’s origin. The ancestors of the Nagas trace back their origins from the cave. The Angami, Rengma, Lotha, Sema and Chakhesang traced their origin of migration from Khezhakenoa stone, while the Aos and the Phoms pointed their origin from Longterok (Rock of six stones) at Chungliyimti. On the basis on this tradition, Nagas have been associated with the stone culture. The ancestral remains of the Nagas are marked with menhirs to commemorate their past glories. Stone monuments have been found in all the Naga inhabitated  place and location from their erection of monoliths and megaliths where ever they migrated. The Naga feasts of prestige are often associated with the erection of monoliths infront of doner house to symbolise the deeds of men to cherish in the succeeding generations. It is tradition of the Nagas that the village is enclosed with stone walls for the fortification of the village to prevent the enemy’s attack. The Angamis ‘kuda forts’ are often built with massive megalith stones to fortify its village.

Tattoo: The practise of tattooing was one of the Naga culture found among the Aos, Konyaks, Phoms, Sangtams, Changs and Khiamniungans. The custom of tattooing was found both in men and women among the Konyaks, Changs and Phoms. Every Naga village has their own pattern of tattooing. After a head hunting expedition, the victorious warriors were traditionally allowed to have the beheaded man’s image tattoted in their bodies. The Konyak Naga, in particular, cover the faces of warriors with an extensive pattern of curved broad lines, giving them a fierce expression. The tattoos on their chests consist of geometric patterns combined with small figures of men which represents enemies killed in war.

Head hunting:  Nagas are bellicose in nature and head hunting was their favourite sport. Naga warriors were associated with head hunting, which was considered a benevolent act of bravery and manoeuvre. The practice of head hunting though barbaric in nature, yet it fulfilled the basic aspiration of the Nagas tradition and culture. According to the traditional tale of the Nagas, the origin of head hunting began from an orphan boy. It so happened that one day, an orphan boy brought a piece of wood, locally called ‘chingkho’, from the jungle and engraved a human figure thereon. To make it more perfect he decorated its ear holes with a kind of animal hair. Then with a cane, he tied the engraving to a bamboo post and placed it on a road side. Everybody that passed the spot saw the lovely human image. On seeing it they thought, “it would be more beautiful and lively to look at if human heads were kept on dangling by the road side”. Soon after that they decided to kill each other and since then head hunting began.

Naga Festivals

Angami- Sekrenyi                                                         Ao- Maotsu

Chakhesang- Sukhrunye                                            Rengma- Ngada

Chang- Naknuyulem                                                   Khimaniungan- Tsokum

Konyak- Aoleang Monyu                                            Lotha- Tokhu Emong

Phom- Monyu                                                                Sumi- Tuluni

Pochury- Yemshe                                                          Sangtam- Yemshe

Yimchungru- Metemniu                                             Zeliang- Hega, Chega, Gadi

Naga Customary law exist where there is no written law. Naga customary law is unwritten law which varies from tribe to tribe and village to village. Customary law is the highest authority in a village and it is obeyed by all individuals, clans, groups and tribes. There is no authority or power above the customary law. Customary law cannot be rectified or amended. It is a fixed decision making body, which does not possess any short comings.

Dresses and ornaments: Who said Naga means ‘naked’? The paucity of clothes on the body of the Nagas cannot be the basis for speculation that the Nagas were naked. No doubt, during their remote past when the use of cotton was unknown, the Nagas at par with other primitive societies, lived with certain degree of nudity, but it cannot be speculated that they were devoid of using clothes out of necessity. The ancestors of Nagas have been living in isolation for many centuries without any interference from outside. That is why the technology of manufacturing clothes came much later in the Naga world. Therefore, when the foreigners came in contact with the Nagas they simply appellated the Nagas as ‘Naked’ on the basis of their physical description through a conjecture.

Nagas have a rich and unique culture of wearing ornaments by both men and women which is very unique from the outside world. The ornaments are made from different birds, animals, bamboos and even sometimes from human remains. The design of the ornaments varies from tribe to tribe and even from village to village.

Other unique customs of the Nagas

Feast of prestige

Beating of a Log-drum

Bachelor Dormitory

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Aizawl gets direct flight to the national capital

Finally, a sense of relief for the people who were fed up with the high airfares from and to Aizawl. Flying out to Kolkata and Guwahati from Aizawl will get cheaper as Jet Airways is introducing a new flight from Aizawl to Delhi.

Airline officials from the north east region today said that the airfares in the Aizawl-Kolkata and Aizawl-Guwahati sectors will come down with the introduction of more flights in the region.

The Jet Airways officials decided to introduce the flight after complains from the state Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla and The Mizoram Bar Association saying that the airfare between Aizawl and other cities were overpriced. They complained that airfare in the Aizawl sector was higher than other airports from which air distances were much shorter.

The airline would commence their Aizawl to Delhi direct flight via Guwahati from March 27 and it would take 3 hours and 55 minutes which includes a 35 minute halt at Guwahati. This will be the first and only direct flight between Aizawl and the national capital.

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