Saturday, September 24, 2016

Surprising castles and an oblivious history at Dhanyakuria in West Bengal

village rural life west bengal india

West Bengal rural areas are amazingly beautiful. It’s not just the greenery that creates a sense of calmness, but a sublime feeling that makes the place more enticing. I am not a village guy, probably this is the reason village life captures my imagination. I like to stroll around uneven village pathways, talk to people, eat in shabby little places and sometimes just relax under a big tree. West Bengal villages are famous for temples; you may find lots of known and obscure temples in various places in Bengal, but a few people know there is a village in nearby Kolkata that treasures a few extraordinarily beautiful palaces.

Dhanyakuria, a small village located just 60-70 km from main Kolkata city (by road). I had started early in the morning riding on my motorcycle. It was initially fun to ride in the morning, but soon the joy was gone once I landed on the Rajarhat to Taki Road. The road was terrible, stabbed by innumerable potholes. Adding insult to injury, people drove cars and motorcycles like crazy. It was a one way road, so I had to take extra precaution while riding.

The village was not typical of Bengal villages; there were big houses, sporting clubs, motorcycles and even cars parked outside the houses. The place has a rich history, unfortunately nobody really cares about it. Once eight wealthy zamindars belonging to different castes held sway over this village. They had no fiefdom but they liked the place so much, they built some massive palaces adorned with showpiece fusion architecture.

Dhanyakuria was once a part of Sunderban, a small village with very little people. The forested area was converted into living settlement in 1742 when Jagannath Das, a trader from (now) Bangladesh settled here with his family. Within a few decades other traders from different castes like Mandal, Gaine, Sawoo and Ballavs followed and settled. The area was rich and fertile, and famous for rice and sugarcane. 

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This relatively obscure place is yet to be placed in West Bengal tourist map, but the extraordinarily beautiful palaces transformed the entire village into a treasure-trove of Bengal. The village was once ruled by the Sens, Lahas, Roys, Gayens and other clans. To show their wealth, they built large palaces and buildings. The first palace was built by the Dutta family more than 180 years ago. Unfortunately, most of them are now no more in the landscape, still there are structures, even after more than centuries; some of these structures look so young, well-maintained. 

Gayain Baganbari (Gayen Garden)

gaine bari palace mansion dhanyakuri west bengal india
Gaine Palace in Dhanyakuri
This was a surprise for me because it was a great architectural beauty, a castle that looked run down. The frontal area was unchanged and unlike other Bengal palaces, it looked like more of Windsor Castle than English Castle in Bengal. The arches, balcony and the entrance were well ornate. The architecture of this castle is an amalgamation of neo-classical and Indian forms. The Nazar Minar is more resembled with Islamic arches on the top floor. The dome of the pillar is influenced by 19th century western pillars.

The palace or Rajbari (called in Bengal), is L shaped with twenty one ionic columns adorn the front. The distinguished feature is couple of domes with coats of arms. It seemed to me Gaines were influenced by British heritage. The entrance or gate resembles the portals of a Roman temple.

There is a marble finished large temple adjacent to the palace that can be seen from any room within it. The building is surprisingly well-maintained with flower garden and trimmed grass lawn.

Gaine Nazar Minar
The mansion was built more than 175 years ago. Mahendranath Gaine was a trader of jute, dealing with the British directly and later on opened a Rice Mill at the village. Family Durga Puja that is till now celebrated, was started by him. 

The present members of the family have settled down in Kolkata, except 70 something Kanchan Gaine who still maintains the heritage of this house. Every year Durga Puja is celebrated when family member get together and celebrated like old times.  

Ballav Mansion

Royal Entrance of Ballav Mansion

The most interesting part of Ballav Mansion was some idols on the terrace. These dolls like structure made this palace known as “Putul Bari (House of Dolls)” by locals. The building was created almost at the time of Gaine’s palace. Shymacharan Ballav, the first owner of this beautiful mansion was a kind hearted and lavish businessman. Their descendants are now mostly in Kolkata and certain parts of West Bengal. The mansion is a fine blend of Indian and European architecture. The figure above the stucco peacock resembles a Roman centurion. 

Sawoo Baganbari (Garden)

It seemed a haunted place, but impressive with large porch and a big garden. Unlike other mansions, it wasn’t maintained, though I liked it because of the location. Behind it there is a huge pond, the trees and open field.

How to reach Dhanyakuria

I reached there on my motorcycle, so I suggest to go by own vehicle via Barasat. Don’t take Rajarhat road, it is a mess. From Barasat via Taka Road towards Bashirhar, Dhanyakuria is just a bit more than 30 km. After Beramchapa, you can ask somebody to look for Gaine Baganbari. The road condition is not good, and that is one way road, so be careful while driving.

If you want to go by train, take Bashirat local and drop down at Kankra Mirzanagar station. From there you need to take a local transport till Dhanyakuri via Kankra Kachua Road. The place is also famous for famous Bengal saint/mystic Baba Loknath at Kachuadham. At Dhanyakuria, you may hire a rickshaw or just enjoy a walking tour.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Riding on opium smoke and searching ghosts of headhunters

Another day, another search for a story forced me to leave my temporary life of security and conformity, and led me to an absolute unknown destination. I had planned this journey for long, as I was listening to these short abstract and mythical stories of headhunters in the state of Nagaland, India, infusing me with various adventurous possibilities crisscrossed my mind.

Modernization is indispensable; for people like to have the liberty and try to find the meaning within a self-regulating community. The village life in Nagaland has experienced the same conundrum. Too much influx of outside civilization transforms men and women into automata, suffocates their own cultural and social spirit and abolishes the very possibility of freedom. Travel to Mon is not exactly a fancy leisure activity. Mon is the northernmost district of Nagaland. It is not a big district, mostly small villages and a small town with basic facilities. From many decades intrepid explorers came to this small remote region of India for the search for headhunters’ legacy. In the recent time, the region has got recognition through a few photographers’ eyes, daring travelers and a few tourists who accidentally reached this place.

The district town also borders with Burma, which makes it easy to for opium pouring into villages without much difficulty. After a long, arduous and definitely a dangerous journey in terms of security, I had reached Mon in the evening. The journey was not smooth, especially in terms of security checks and umpteen questions by Indian Army at different check posts made an entirely different impression in my mind.

While I was passing through villages, I saw a different life. A strange feeling engulfed me during my journey as I doubted why I came here so far alone and without any strong knowledge about the place. The more I saw those tiny village huts, Nagas with guns and weapons to hunt in the forest, women wearing bizarre necklaces, tattooed all over their hands and necks, the more I was into a strange feeling of excitement and fear.

Opium smoking in the village

I met a Konyak guy while I was roaming around the street in the morning. I asked him a direction and instantly he befriended me. I was a bit suspicious, but I learnt during my travels that the attitude mattered, and when you were in doubt, you were vulnerable. I asked him about Longwa village and headhunters, but he seemed reluctant to tell me. He said Longwa village was a tourist attraction and there was no headhunter left in the village. He asked me to go with him to another nearby village to see their lives. I was a bit hesitant in mind, but then I agreed and walked to the nearby village.

We went to a small hut, a small fire was in the middle, a man was engaged in something I thought he was preparing heroin. Before entering the hut Longsha (name changed) winked at me and asked me to remove my shoes. We entered this small smoked filled thatched room where total four people were smoking opium in big strange pipes.

It was nine O’clock in the morning, and I was a bit surprised to see these four young men were almost stoned when normally people used to rush to work at that time. There was an old man sitting idly in the corner, probably in 80s, and all men called him ‘Buzum’. He was playing with some old playing cards, and oblivious of the happenings around him.

I noticed his whole upper body was beautifully tattooed, which made me curious and I asked Longsha if I could talk to him about headhunters. It was a really small hut and my eyes and nose hurt with the smoke, but after a while my eyes became accustomed to the smoke. A young man advanced toward him and offered him a spoon supposedly stained with fresh opium. He took the spoon and cleaned with some fine leaves and then put it into his thick bamboo pipe. He then offered me the pipe. At first I was shaken by the possibility of smoking pure opium; I felt a tremendous apprehension. I had not realized until then that I was perhaps very scared. My mouth had dried, I looked at my companion, and he was smoking and maintained a steady position. He looked at me and said not to worry. A young guy, probably in his early 20s was sitting to my right, looked inattentive. I looked at another man who was busying around burning opium in a spoon. My tension increased, I began to whine involuntary as my respiration became more accelerated. Longsha again told me not worry and it would be highly disrespectful if I refused the offered.

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Last Legacy of Headhunters in Mon

I smoked the whole opium. It was a quick affair. I didn’t feel anything as such except a mild lethargy and a slight sense of euphoria. My fear went away and directly asked Longsha whether he could act an interpreter to talk with this old man. I talked that old man for almost an hour and noted many things in my notebook. Longsha asked me not to take any photographs, but I requested him to take a photo of that old man. He agreed and asked me not to mention the real identity of the village and what I witnessed in the hut.

Opium is a big problem in Nagaland, especially in Mon because the region borders with Burma. Nagas cross the village and enter into the Burmese jungle. Burma is the second largest producer of opium after Afghanistan, and most of these raw, pure drugs are pouring into the state through Nagas unemployed youth. Later on, I saw in another instant where people smoked the whole day without doing anything. They process the opium and make it like small thin pads. They cut a small portion of the pad and burn it in the spoon. The opium melts down and turns into dark reddish sticky liquid. Then they use a special plant leaves to smoke with the drug.

History of Headhunters

I talked at length about the headhunter legacy and the current situation. I had learnt that these old men spoke Tibeto-Burmese dialect, which was not very popular in these villages. Most of the Konyaks speak Nagamese, a mixture of Assamese and Naga. Buzoom as people called him, was a trained headhunter but never hunted any head. You could recognize a hunter with non-hunter by tattoos. A head hunter has facial tattoos while a man trained in headhunting has tattoos on his chest.

The old man was not happy with the village chief whom they called Angh. Angh is sort of a dictator who rules over 75 villages in the region. His house is situated half in India, half in Burma and it is believed some of the villages in Burma are also ruled by Angh. He lives like a king in the village named Longwa, which is now quite open to visitors.

I got lots of information about Angh, how he killed people without any strong motive. How he picked any woman if he liked to marry her. I was told the king had more than 60 wives and his influence spread to Burma, where his men moved freely without any visa.

Till 1930, this remote northern region of Nagaland was in oblivion from the outside world, even not mentioned in Indian maps. As I was told all Nagas are from headhunter lineage, but Konyaks are special one who hunted heads as a part of their culture. It was believed that the success of crop depended on blood hunted by headhunters. These Nagas were excellent hunters, staying remotely in the mountains and forest with natural barricades of forests and fast rivers. Headhunting was more of a cultural practice than the result of rivalry between the villages. Chest tattoos denoted that a man trained in headhunting, whereas face tattoos testified the man hunted a head. It was a great pride and Naga women felt proud and ridiculed men who didn’t hunt heads.

Time had taken a momentous leap when the British first stepped in this region. When the Nagas first saw cars, ammunition and white people, there was a significant change in the psyche of these people when they touched urban civilization. Nevertheless, headhunting remained an integral part of their culture until government of India officially ordered to stop headhunting in 1970. Unofficially, the cultural phenomenon continued till late 80s, but completely demolished when Indian Army posted their camps in different places in Nagaland.

Many people don’t believe it, but headhunting was a cultural stuff amongst Konyaks. Young men were taught how to cut the heads and brought to the villages. After that an elaborate ritual had been celebrated by hunters and villagers. These heads were priced possessions and skulls were beings used to decorate their houses. These skulls were also fed with rice beer as they believed the spirit of those hunted people came to visit their houses and bestowed vitality and strength.

Accommodation and food

There are three hotels in Mon, and all of them are expensive. You will get a basic facility, and ordinary food, but you really don’t have any choice in Mon. You can go straight to Longwa and stay in Angh place who is quite open to genuine travelers.
There are a few food joints where you can eat. Remember if you order meat or any non-vegetarian food, prepare for a bamboo shoot smell.

General warning

The town is virtually halt after 5 pm, and it is not sensible to walk around the streets. Although Mon is heavily guarded with Indian Army, there are local young ruffians who always find a way to harm strangers.

Visit to Longwa

The primary attraction of Mon is Longwa village because of Angh house. The house is located half in India and half in Burma. As of now there are a few headhunters left, but you can witness the relics of the past in the village. There you can find lots of houses decorated with animals’ heads, heads of humans. You can also find traditional ornaments, signifying the extent of tribal culture.
You can find shared taxis, one in morning and another one in the afternoon (2 pm), but if you miss these transportation, you can always hire a taxi. Personal hiring of taxi is expensive, anything between Rs. 3000- Rs. 5000.

You can stay in Longwa as there are a few homestays in home. To enter into the village, you have to pay a tax to the Angh.

Insurgency in Mon

Problem of insurgency in Nagaland is not new, though in a recent time there are less reports on insurgency. Mostly in Mon insurgents are the members of ENPO (Eastern Nagaland Peoples Organisation). They have raised the demand of separate state but government of India doesn’t pay heed on their demands.

For extra curious traveler

There is a Christian woman named Yahoi practicing a strange cult in the region. The woman is known for her prophecies and naked worshiping in the Church. She supposedly stays in a village named Wangti. The village is quite far from Mon, but a few intrepid travelers cover the distance to find her.
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Friday, July 8, 2016

Pages from my diary– Nongriat in Meghalaya; more than just Root Bridges

God is simple. The world is relative. If you try to find absolute value in worldly things, you will always restless. 

May 09, 2016 (Nongriat, Meghalaya)
double decker root bridge nongriat meghalaya

In certain places you feel time has stopped. You don’t want to do anything, and without doing you are hurtling through a process of nature that is sometimes so overwhelming, you can’t help but to wonder about this incredible diversity, which is so sundry, and at the same time everything is so precariously balanced. I never thought Meghalaya would give me such an overpowering experience that I stopped moving altogether and stayed at one place for so long. I believe in moving, I never stay at one place for more than 2-3 days, I keep moving to places during my travel, and savor the changing landscapes, but here I stopped everything.

The whole day I used to sit at my room or outside my balcony, watching hide and seek play of rain and sun. Rain here comes in feat, like a teenage lover, throwing tantrum for a whole and then shows her sunny side. But she is mercurial, again gloomy for now and again. She is fresh, not depressing, melancholic yet hopelessly poetic.

I was sitting at my rest house, looking at distant waterfalls and enjoying tiny raindrops constantly pouring from yesterday when I came here. The rest house was located near the famed double decker root bridge. I could see people, sometimes with family, sometimes solo, crossed the bridge and then went back. Nobody came near the rest house, a few may be, but people just came to Nongriat for this bridge.

Nongriat is a small village in the East Khasi Hills of Meghalaya. There are 44 families lived in this small village. The life for them is tough as twice or thrice a week then had to cover 3000 steep steps to reach neighboring village Tyrna, from where they go to Sohra market for their weekly shopping. The place is famed for these two living root bridges, especially spectacular double-decker suspension bridge called Jingkieng Nongriat.

Yesterday I met a young Canadian guy who was traveling in India for last 6 months. I was surprised to see his knowledge about places. He seemed to me as an intelligent guy, quite friendly as well. I had my binocular with me, so I watched him in the morning bathing in a stream filled gorge under the double decker bridge. He stayed in a cheap homestay named Serene that I first initially didn’t know and took an expensive one. (Rs. 250 at my rest house). When I said about the rest house, he said whatever came under Rs. 300 was okay. Once he came to my rest house and impressed with the setting.

May 10, 2016

I had a pretty rough evening as mosquitoes wouldn’t let me sit outside, but surprisingly mosquitoes started to disappear as the night approached. There was not electricity in the whole village for last two days, so no phone. I had a fantastic candle light dinner alone. The food was awesome, and to my amazement, he served me a sophisticated way. He also gave me two candles, so I read for an hour and then slept early.

Double-decker bridge and beyond

I found Nongriat an amazingly peaceful place, especially if you walk beyond the famed double decker bridge to the forest. Sometimes while walking around the forest I felt if I would be glad to see at least a person because the ambiance around the forest posed an eerie feeling. I visited the place onset of monsoons when almost the whole day rain never stopped. I walked for hours in the woods, took bath in some small waterfalls and enjoyed the diversified vegetation. I never saw such diversified vegetation in my life, such a beauty! The forest was full of various trees, plants and ubiquitous ferns and mosses. Everywhere I saw variety of mosses on the rocks, logs of trees, on the stem of trees, literally everywhere.

From an architectural point of view, root bridges are amazing. These are totally made up of secondary roots of Ficus Elastica tree, otherwise called rubber tree. These roots are interweaved on both sides or directed from a single tree to the other side. It is not unique to Nongriat; in various villages in Meghalaya small root bridges are made by locals for convenience, and truly a natural art form. These bridges or roots take 10-15 years to grow fully to become a functional root bridge. These bridges are extraordinarily strong, strong enough to support at least 50 people at a time.

Important Information about Nongriat

Trekking information

Surprisingly it is not an easy trek, even for people like me who are habituated in trekking. The trek starts from Tyrna Village, around 20 km from main Cherrapunji market, from there Nongriat is 5 km away. It is 3000 steps climbing down, descending 2500ft and then climbing up again.

Picture courtesy Untravel - Nidhi Thakur  

Before Nongriat, you will find two small villages Nongthymmai and Mynteng, which are sights to behold. I liked the small huts like houses on a raised platform, built of wooden plants with slanted tin roofs. The verandah of almost every house reflected colonial style architecture.

The excitement stopped when I reached a wire rope bridge, strung precariously some 40ft above a stream. I thought I came to a wrong place because I couldn’t see anything on the other side except dense forest. I tried to cross but it swayed dangerously, so I returned back. The size of boulders in the streams, roar and the sway made me nervous. In the end I had crossed the bridge but soon discovered there was another rope bridge to cross. It was perched even higher and river below had bigger boulders. But this time I had crossed it with a little fear because I saw yet another bridge to cross after that. So, it was total three bridges to cross to reach the first root bridge.

Where to stay?

I stayed in Nongriat Rest House, which is owned by Nongriat community. There were three double bedrooms with attached bathrooms, but you have to carry water from outside. The rest house was on the other side of double decker root bridge and quite a good location where you could see the bridge and forest. It’s Rs. 250 per day excluding food. They didn’t offer my food but after requesting them to cook some food for me, they served me surprisingly great food, even with decorated with salads.

Most of the foreigners stay in Serene Homestay because of its popularity and comfort. Serene costs you Rs.200 per day excluding food. The guesthouse has some really elaborate breakfast menus but they only serve their guests, even they don’t serve tea for outsiders. Another guesthouse named Santiana charges Rs. 100 per head with basic rooms.

Important Notes

I suggest you to stay in Nongriat for at least 2-3 days to soak in ambiance.

There is an excellent trekking route that goes directly from Nongriat to Nohkalikai falls. You have to walk past Rainbow Falls and just walking straight. It is tough because ascend is sometimes too steep. I didn’t do it but I met three people who did successfully.

If you want to come back on the same day, it is better to start it early. From Sohra to Tyrna, you will get a government bus at 9am-9:30 am. If you want to start early in the morning, you have to squeeze yourself in one of those taxis that ply from Sohra market to Tyrna.

Carry as minimum as possible. For a non-trekker, it’s an arduous trek.

You don’t have to carry food. Everything you will find in the village albeit in 30% extra cost.
The villages are extraordinarily clean, in fact almost every Meghalaya village is amazingly clean. So, please don’t throw plastic bottles, wrappers and your garbage in the forest.

A guide will charge you anything between Rs. 300- Rs. 500. Although the path is quite straightforward, a guide will tell many hidden stories during the journey.

If possible carry colored pencils, pens, crayons, books, notebooks for children. There are plenty of them in the villages.

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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Last legacy of Headhunters in Nagaland

nagaland village mon traditional house

One mid-monsoon afternoon, after my Deutsche examination, I went out for much anticipated journey to north-eastern part of India. My journey was principally focused to Nagaland, a land of tribes, weird foods, legends, and conception, sometimes fabled to a point that outside so called civilized people take a backseat when going to the region.

My journey to Mon, a district town bordering with Burma was a hectic one. Nothing went smooth as soon as I crossed the Tizit town. Nagaland police drilled me for almost 40 minutes, checking all my papers, even my laptop and field notes. As I moved to the district, I was again checked, and this time Army (Assam Riffles) sniffed me hard. Earlier I was in Kohima, though a cool place to live in for a while, I saw security guards watched heavily laced with advanced guns from posts.

A typical Nagaland village house
It took more than 3 hours to reach Mon from Sonari, a small town in Assam, bordering with Nagaland. Sonary is a beautiful place with lush green sweeping tea gardens and small houses. I loved all of those scenes, those thatched tin roof, greenery and people around. The winding road, the villages, small patches of tea garden, forests everything put a very different, sometimes a little uncanny feeling in my mind. 

Nagaland, as it’s been portrayed to the outside world, something a unique identity whether their lifestyle, food and culture, I saw a certain glimpses through my journey. There are more than 35 existing tribes in the state; some are also present majorly in Manipur and Burma. There are principally three tribes who are in the mainstream: Sumi or Sema (mostly dominated in Dimapur region), snake eating Angami tribes are mostly confined to Kohima villages and famous Konyak, the legendary headhunter tribe. There are other prominent tribes like Ao, Chang, Lotha, Mao, Zeme and other spread over Manipur and Burma.

An old Konyak woman selling vegetables & Herbs
I was not much aware about headhunters but during my stay in Meghalaya, I was told by a guy about Konyak tribe and last remaining lineage of this tribe living in Mon. situated on the very border between India and the tribal parts of Burma, Longwa, a small village, earlier dominated by headhunters, still reflects the old charm. This small village is no more an obscure one; tourists throng to this village and everything is so expensive. There are a few places to stay and even a homestay where you can experience the beauty of Naga people in their own way. Travelers from distant land come to visit the village as headhunting legends and stories are indeed fascinating. There are a few men, very old ones whole still wear animal horns through their ears, brass skulls and tattoos on their chest, and some rare facial tattoos. 

Morungs are still found in Mon. These are old customary schools where children are taught survival skills and hunting practices. I never saw even a bird in the whole forests of Mon. An old temple priest, who lived there for 22 years, jokingly said that Nagas ate everything, not even spared worms. Longwa, the main attraction of travelers is perched on a ridge on the Indian-Burma border. It’s around 40 km from Mon town, and shared taxis are there to take you to the village.

Before Mon, I was in Kohima, but Mon was something that put a deep impression in mind. It’s culturally fascinating place where you witness old thatched traditional houses, people with old way of living, opium smoking tribes, houses decorated with animal skulls and famed tattoos. 

History of Headhunters

Till 1930, most of the remote regions in Nagaland were totally in oblivion, even not mentioned in maps. Headhunters were the main tribes or as a local said to me, all Nagas came through headhunter lineage. They remained remotely in villages and natural barricades, forests and fast rivers protected them. They fought with their enemies who were neighboring villages. Head hunting was sort of a culture than fight. Naga women ridiculed men who didn’t have face tattoos or even chest tattoos. Chest tattoos signify a person trained in headhunting. 

konyak headhunter
An old Konyak (trained in Headhunting)
Their main occupation was farming, principally rice farming. Sometimes they invaded villages, taking lands, taking heads of people, not even spared women and children. One village was connected with another through bamboo bridges, quite fragile and easily destroyed in hostile situations.

To protect their lands from enemies, Nagas covered forests with men traps. These were bamboo spiked that pierced the feet, sometimes they attacked with poison arrows, and rare occasion they plowed large pit with pointed spikes. Till 1936, Nagaland large regions were not mapped in British map, and then British came to this place with full army and arms.

This was a significant time, a momentary change for Nagas when they first saw cars, ammunition and white people. However, they remained what they were, and headhunting still continued as a traditional heritage of Nagas, particularly Konyak tribe. 

opium smoking in Mon
Opium smoking 
Headhunting was a cultural phenomenon rather a pure conflicting subject. Hunters were trained for the skill to chop of the heads and brought to the villages and ceremonial dance performed by the hunter. Skulls were being used to decorate their houses, not just animals but men, women, and children. These skulls were then fed with rice beer. This ritual was the central focal point of village life so that spirits revisit the village, giving the strength and vitality.

The last headhunting was officially stopped in 1970 as the central government totally abandoned this ancient culture as barbaric and criminal. Unofficially headhunting was continued till 80s but it was completely obliterated when Indian Army posted they camps in different regions of Nagaland. 

Important Facts about Mon Town

Lau Pani (local beer)
Mon town has a special charm. It is a small place with a few shops and food joints. There are some vegetarian food joints where you can get snacks etc. The villages are adjacent to the town, so you can easily get into those villages and see the local life. However, it is advised to take a local guy who know things better. It is also for safety reasons.

Accommodation & Food

Hotels are expensive. There are three hotels, and all of them are almost Rs. 1000 or more. The facility is basic and food is ordinary. But you don’t have any choice but to stay in Mon. if you can reach Mon in the afternoon, you can hire a taxi and go straight into Longwa and stay there.

I had a special experience, worth mentioning here. I didn’t anticipate the bills of hotels, so I was heavily disappointed but suddenly a teenage boy from bus who was a Bengali asked me what happened. I told him it was pretty difficult to stay for me here because of the cost. We went together to a hotel named Sunrise Hotel, next the State Bank of India. The owner was a Bengali too, but he said rooms were filled. So, we went to another one, which was again Rs. 1200. I was deeply thwarted but Rajat (the teenage boy) asked me whether I was comfortable to stay in a temple. I readily agreed, and we went to the temple located inside the premise of Assam Riffles. 

The temple priest was too reluctant to take me in. I finally said whether he took me in or I would go to the forest and stayed there for a night. Then I comforted him by saying I would go to the police station and stamped all my documents. I went to the police station, stamped my documents and then came back to the temple. He unenthusiastically asked for Rs. 200 for the stay that includes my dinner. Well, I think I was purely lucky in this case.

General Warning

The town virtually standstills after 5 pm, and it is not advisable to roam around the streets or villages. There are good people but there are bad people as well, particularly the opium stuff destroys the youth and men, so many of them looking for easy money to smoke some pure opium. This is not just a scare mongering but a real fact, so don’t just show your bravery in Mon after 5 pm.

Accommodation in Longwa

You can go to Longwa but there is nothing out there. The main attraction is Angh (king) house that is half in India and half in Burma. There are no headhunters left; at least I haven’t found any. However, you can see the village with skulls and other decorative stuff. Also, you can find some nice souvenirs. You can stay in Longwa, but the stay is expensive. 

If you plan to visit Longwa, it is better to note down the timing of bus and shared taxis. There is one bus going to the place in the morning and come back in the evening. There are two shared taxis, one in the morning and another one in the afternoon (2pm). You can obviously hire own taxis readily available in Mon but these are expensive. They charge you anything between Rs. 3000 to Rs. 4000 for to and fro from Mon to Longwa.

Insurgency in Mon

There are some problems in this part of Nagaland. Although things are now peaceful, insurgency is still there. Apparently there is a pressure for villagers to join the insurgents, else there will be reprisals against that village. The insurgents are dominated by ENPO (Eastern Nagaland Peoples Organisation). They have raised the demand of separate Eastern Nagaland or Frontier Nagaland. The eastern region, basically Konyak region is considered the most backward place in Nagaland so they demand their own independence.

Young Konyak woman eating breakfast (beef & rice)
It is safe and quite calm but it is advisable to take a local while roaming around those villages. There are army posted everywhere in this region but things are still lukewarm, and people are not happy with lack of business, jobs and taxes levied on them by the government.

For Intrepid Travelers

Houses decorated with animal skulls
A female Christian named Yahoi who has a developed a strange cult in this region. The women has been making many prophecies, encouraging followers to practice naked worship in Church. The village that you may interest is Wangti, but it’s quite far from Mon, so if you are really interested in visiting this place, you can find it out.

Important Contacts

You can contact Longsha, a Konyak Naga who knows fairly good amount of the culture and traditions. He is a local guy there and professional guide to foreign tourists. He speaks good English and has a car. He is a busy man, so contact him in advance. 

+91 9436433504 / 8974390751 or

You can contact another person, a local who I befriended during my journey and he took me to the nearby village. I had a great experience with some people there. If you contact him, tell him my name (Shubhajit), he might recognize me.

Mr. Chahland, 9862841861.

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Saturday, April 30, 2016

What are safe drinking measures during traveling in India?

Although drinking packaged drinking water in India is may be more a cult than a necessity, obtaining sufficient clean water in the country, especially in the urban areas is a major health issue. Since most of the country is engulfed by heat and humidity, we need a huge supply of fluids and a safe supply has to be set up.

Courtesy to Gear Junkie 

During travel one of the major problems is safe drinking as contamination of water can cause lots of health problems, a few of them are also fatal in nature. Some of the common problems of water contamination are hepatitis A, diarrhea, typhoid, giardiasis and others. Some diseases, in particular (schistosomiasis), are spread through the skin and are caught by swimming, splashing or washing in contaminated water.

Ways of making water safe

During traveling it is important to keep at least a liter of safe portable water with you. Nevertheless, in case of emergency, you also need to know how to find the right source of safe water. Sometimes, during trekking, or long traveling journey through less peopled places, you need to know certain tricks to find the right source of water.

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1. Identify a source

Find the nearest, cleanest source, such as spring, a deep well, hand pump, rainwater tank (except where roofs are painted with lead or made of thatch). Tap water should be avoided, even if you use it, identify where it comes from and make sure pipes and joints are sound. Hot tap water left to cool is a useful source in a hotel. Treat claims that all drinking water is boiled with extreme caution. An idea water supply is cool, clear and odorless.

2. Sterilize it

Boiling is the most reliable method and kills all organisms including viruses and amoebic  cysts. Unless your water is known to be for a safe source or there is a serious lack of fuel, boiling is the method of choice. You can use an electric kettle while traveling.

Contact with iodine kills micro-organisms and releases a low level of iodine for continuing disinfection. There are ideal when on the road but should not be used long-term. Iodine is effective, killing most micro-organisms and having some action on amoebic cysts. Buy portable aqua tablets and dissolve one in a liter of water, or as per manufacturer’s instructions. Current advice is not use iodine for longer than six weeks, and to use it only occasionally when pregnant, in those under six years of age, or if suffering from thyroid problems.

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3. Storing water

Boiled water should ideally be stored in the container in which it was boiled. Alternatively it can be poured into a previously sterilized narrow-necked earthenware jar and placed on a clean, dry surface. The jar will need careful and regular cleaning and should be kept covered.

Many expatriates keep two large kettles, using each in turn first to boil, then to store. In this way there is a constant supply of cool, boiled water. Water is best removed from its storage container through a tap or spout. Dippers are unsafe as they frequently get left on the floor and contaminate the whole supply. A good rule is ‘Tap or tip, don’t dip’.

Safe fluids – on the road

When on the road or in difficult conditions, boiling or filtering is not always possible. Many cases of diarrhea are caused by thirsty travelers dirking what’s offered and hoping for the best.
Keep to hot drinks. Tea and coffee are usually safe, though avoid coffee as it dehydrates the body quickly. 

Keep to carbonated soft drinks from bottles with metal tops from reputable brands. Such drinks are usually clean and their slight acidity kills some organisms. Avoid bottles with loose or suspect tops, and soda or mineral water bottles whose content may have been replenished from a tap.

Bottles of mineral water are now available in almost all parts of India. Although some of them are undoubtedly clean and genuine, others are definitely not. It takes an experienced eye to tell them apart. Only use those with unbroken seals, and preferably bottles where both main label and bottle-top have identical names. 

Always have some water sterilizing tablets with you. They should be dry and reasonably fresh. (Yellowish tablets are losing their potency).

Carry a small, portable water filter.

Avoid ice. Freezing doesn’t kill organisms and ice often comes from an impure source.

Avoid milk unless just boiled.

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Sunday, March 20, 2016

Travel free - Is it joke or reality?

No, I don’t think anybody can travel free. It is simply not possible. I have searched lots of forums, blogs etc. and found people lying about the topic. Nobody really travels free. I feel amused when see headings like “Travel the World when you have absolutely no money”, “Ultimate Guide to Travel when you have no money”, and so on. They work, they do all sort of austerity to maintain a slim lifestyle during travel, slow living and other stuff, but never free. I travel solo, and have traveled to many places including overland traveling. I have seen lots of backpackers who lived a very austere life for their traveling passion. In a way that’s good, I don’t have any issue with that, but many bloggers show a far-fetched dream of traveling without money.

That being said, I also don’t like the idea of luxury traveling. It may be good for people who are not really enjoy traveling but try to escape from the monotony of the daily situation. Virtually they do exactly or expect to do the same thing in a different setting. That’s the idea of traveling for them. I am not here to do any critical analysis of traveling agendas of people. 

Related Link

There are two primary expenses: getting somewhere, and living there. Here I suggest certain budgetary plans, work plans in this topic and hope it will help people who are practical in their approach. These tips are not exclusive for backpackers but people who love to travel and at the same time engage in job, family and other things. Needless to say, these are not for luxury tourists, honeymooners and 4-5 days tourist trips. Lastly, these tips are for single people because I am not a family man and I don’t want to complicate the subject matter with my naivety.

Before Traveling

Start your planning early

First trip with most of the things borrowed (ignore the date)
We Indians have lots of obligations, even certain obligations, which are more of a burden than desirable duties. I generally plan my travel plans early in the year; destinations, travel budgets, days and job leaves.  Many people do cubicle jobs, some stay outside of their hometowns, so they need to manage time to visit their homes as well as fulfill their traveling ambition. So, the trick is, take your traveling seriously like any other job, and plan early.

Start a monthly saving scheme

Many travelers, backpackers suggest this method of saving a separate account for traveling. What I do, I open three recurring deposit account of 2000, 3000, 2000 at different periods of the year. In a year I get three good lump sum amounts to travel. If you have to travel by air and don’t want to empty your bank balance on airfare, I can also suggest you to book tickets on your credit card and ask your bank to convert it into monthly EMI. 

Related Link

Book early

It comes to the first point that is to plan early. If you have a clear idea where to go and when then it is better to book early your flight tickets.

Don’t book hotels

If you are not traveling to some exotic destination, you always find hotels no matter what is the season. Most of the cheap hotels or homestays do not advertise in internet, if you explore it well around the place, even in the most remote places of Himalayas, you can find accommodation.

During Traveling

Engage in money making process

This is for people who have left regular jobs for travel. If you don’t have a definite objective for travel, I suggest don’t just leave your money making process. No matter how romantic it sounds, at the end of the day, you will regret that you don’t have any money left. The situation of Indians and westerners are entirely different in terms of finance, social, cultural and personal will. If you write relatively okay, you can try your hand on different freelancing websites. Again, it is not an easy way to do it. Apparently, it seems very rosy to do freelance writing, earn and travel, but trust me, I am in this field for 6 years,  it is not. In India nobody pays you.

If you have facility to do work from home, you can give a try in your office. Small companies generally don’t mind to cut your salary and give you work from home for a definite period of time, so you can try that option.

If you have some special skills that can fetch you some money, you can do it.

a) Open a shop in eBay – It sounds ludicrous but people earn through it. There are number of people who are interested in postage stamps, coins, comics, old books etc. if you have something, you can start a shop, selling those stuff. Needless to say, if you are a hobbyist, this selling thing is not for you.

b) Day trading – If you have a relatively good idea about equity market, you can earn some money through day trading. The fun part is you can earn lots of money both when the market is up and market is down. There is a risk factor involved in day trading, so if you are not experienced, don’t do it.

c) Use your professional skills – If you are good in finance, you can search for auditing firm or CA firm or similar business and ask for a freelance financial analysis job for you. I know it is extremely difficult in terms of credibility, but if you have a good resume, it might possible you would land up with good job. If you have a skill in photography, you can ask for freelance projects from small companies.

d) Learn new language – For a long-term travel plan, you need to be very specialized in your profession. For example, if you plan to leave your job after two years and travel itinerantly, learning extensive language course would be a great idea. You find lots of opportunities like translator, tour guide, interpreter, language instructor etc. Money is good and it gives you lots of flexibility.

Related Link

Walk more, use public transport

In almost every place, public transports are the cheapest way to travel. If you are not traveling in scorching summer, you can walk. I walked in Bangkok every day; in fact, I walked almost 25 km whole day and then returned back by ferry. So, walking gives you a certain amount of joy, know the place more, explore things better and it’s free.

Free Food

Well, I never tried it because I never had to. However, you can if you think living such an austere life is an adventure so as to sleep on rugs and eat free lunch. There are many ashrams, churches and of course Gurudwaras where you can look for free food. 

Make lots of networking, be an extrovert

Networking helps to find free accommodation, at least for couple of days. Find all friends from schools, colleges, universities and even offices and start connecting them through Facebook, Whatsapp and all possible ways. To have a good public relation is a great way to do lots of work. You can engage in travel groups, both locally and internationally and start interacting with people more often. Only thing one should remember, people are no stupid, so don’t try to push things in groups, be honest and be what you are. Ironically, humans are fond of honest people.

Related Link

FAM trips

I am not a big fan of FAM or Familiarization Trips that are offered by travel agents to give information and content for definite destinations. Reason for not being a big fan is these tour agents look for established players who already have earned good reputation in the blogging world. I got twice these types of trip offer but when I thought about it, I denied because I didn’t want to stay in a resort and do some stupid activities and write about it. Which traveler wants to be dictated on terms of travel agents?!?! Honestly, if I get something that blends with my traveling agenda, well, free trips are always welcome.

Staying in camps

I do it always when I travel in Himalayas. Northern Himalayas and villages are quite hospitable towards backpackers, and though there are rules not to camp anywhere in India, you can always do it. However, this point won’t go with the very first one to engage in freelance work while traveling. You can’t camp in the middle of a village or town, you have to go outside or stay in the forest where in all possible ways,  you won’t find any internet.


Traveling free is not possible, but yes you can do a lot more shoestring than you anticipate, only thing is the courage and inclination to do that.  If you leave everything and dedicate a period of time for traveling, I think you must have courage to ask hotels, hostels, restaurants and all odd places to ask for free things in exchange of work.  If you have a rich parent who's for some bizarre reason ready to sponsor your travel, then it is entirely a different thing.

If you have any suggestions/tips/invaluable advice, please share it in the comment.

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