Notes from Nagaland : The beginning of an Adventure

Saturday, April 13, 2013

"It was 5PM. It was pitch dark. And I was all alone."
I knew the airport was 17kms far from the city of Dibrugarh, Assam. As I landed I was apprehensive about finding my way to the city, I hadn’t arranged for transport. But luckily I found share autos waiting outside and I promptly got into one. In front of me were green fields and in the far distance were faint traces of mountains and clouds.

We drove alongside the famous tea plantations, they grew on flat plains. It was new to me; I had only ever seen tea plantations growing on mountain slopes of Munnar, Ooty, Coorg and such. It was almost evening and young boys and girls in school uniforms flooded the streets and railway stations. We passed by a surprisingly high number of railway stations between the airport and Dibrugarh. I guess the local trains were quite popular, the road ran parallel to the tracks for most parts.

Assam Tea Plantations
The tea plantations growing on plains around Diburgarh, Assam
Once we entered the city of Dibrugarh, the green countryside transformed into a dusty town that seemed to be in a strange flux. I stopped in front of the only hotel I knew, Hotel Raj Palace and I got myself a room for 600Rs. I was relieved; I thought fun times lay ahead. The hotel was situated on the banks of Brahmaputra, between the hotel and the river, was a slum. I walked down to the river, through their houses despite strange glances and children screaming me at me “Bhoot” (meaning ghost in hindi). It was strange to see the mighty river flow gently knowing what ravages it had wrought upon whatever came in its way. One thing that didn’t occur to me was the time zone disparity that far in the east. It was barely 4.30PM and it was already getting dark! I had to rush back to my hotel because by 5PM it was pitch dark.

If you are wondering why I chose to fly into Dibrugarh in Assam than Dimapur in Nagaland, you’d find your answer if you look at the map. Dibrugarh is very close to north of Nagaland. And I wanted to visit north Nagaland for that is where the Konyak tribes reside. So the next morning I changed two shared vehicles to reach a shady looking town called Sonari, very close to the Nagaland border. This journey took me through the remote border villages of Assam, where houses were built on stilts and water flooded almost everywhere. The road was always lined with green fields or tea plantations on either side. People kept getting into the mini bus to Sonari, so much so that the bus was tilting to one side. A little girl sat in my lap and the lady in front of me had live birds in hidden in her bag. I knew because they were making noises and moving constantly. Almost all of the people were chewing tobacco.

Very luckily, after confusing quite a few locals around and getting confused, someone directed me to the Nagaland State bus stand in Sonari. It was 1 in the afternoon and the conductor was quite puzzled looking at me with the backpack asking for a ticket to Mon. I asked him for a window seat and he gave me one. The bus to Mon had to be one of the dirtiest buses I have ever been on, but at that point I had no choice and frankly I didn’t think the ride would last long.

Nagaland State Busstand
This is the busstand at Sonari, Assam and there is only bus per day to Mon, Nagaland.
The bus was almost empty save for few men in few seats, it was worrying. Few women boarded the bus soon and that comforted me a little. After 15kms, we crossed the border at Tizit and I officially entered Nagaland. The bus was relatively empty until then and at the border, it was packed to full. Sonari to Mon, Nagaland is just 54kms on the map, but the roads were so bad and through such mountainous terrain that it would take almost 4 hours to reach Mon. The bus passed by remote villages and I got to see the famous Konyak elders, who were headhunters of the previous days. 

After few stops, a Konyak man with a tattooed face and traditional attire complete with strange skeleton jewelry got into the bus and sat near the driver. I couldn’t take my eyes off him! I wondered how many heads we might have claimed and what stories of terror he might have known. The gentleman sitting next to me wasn’t looking like someone from Nagaland, he talked good Hindi too. Sometime later he tells me, he is a Rajasthani businessman who migrated to Nagaland 16 years ago! I was surprised to see how people migrate to such far away unknown lands for better opportunities. Later in Mon, I observed more than half the shops in the market were run by people from Rajasthan and Bihar! For now, the bus was still traveling at snail pace negotiating the steep slopes and broken roads.

Mon Town, Nagaland
Mon town plunged into darkness, from the roof of my hotel, I could see the milkyway!
It was almost dark by the time bus arrived at Mon. Situated along the mountain slopes, Mon was a town only for namesake. I walked towards Paramount Guesthouse, one of the only two hotels in Mon. I stood in front of a huge seven storied building, of which two floors were of Paramount Guesthouse and the rest were office spaces and empty portions. The building was locked and there was no one around. Luckily my phone caught signal and I called up the lady who owned the guesthouse. She asked me to wait while she’d send someone to open the hotel for me. While I waited, the one thought running in my head was that the whole damn building was empty and that I’d be the only occupant that night! Again! Nope, not even a receptionist at front desk. With this, it would be three times I landed in a place where I was the only tourist around and the only occupant of a hotel. A young girl opened the lock and showed me my room but the light wasn’t switching on. She informs me, recent rains had caused damage to power lines and whole of North Nagaland has been living without electricity for the past two days and also that it is highly unlikely that power would be restored tonight. It was 5PM. It was pitch dark. And I was all alone.

Welcome to Nagaland.

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49 comments

  1. wow! that milky-way is just awesome!

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    1. Thank you! It was even more stunning because I was able to see it from a rooftop unlike the other times where I was in wilderness.

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  2. Looking forward to more stories from Nagaland....

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  3. That sounds sooooo scary!!!
    You are one determined traveler!!

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    1. Frankly speaking, I didn't know what I was getting myself into. Freaked out for quite a long time in the darkness, then comforted myself thinking of all the other crazy things other travelers have done. :)

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  4. Hi Neelima: We know so little about our own country's remote areas. The pics are beautiful and am looking forward to some Naga warriors pictures. Thanks

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    1. I agree with you completely, there is so little we know, which is why I love exploring India so much. There is never dearth of interesting stories round the corner.

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  5. Finally!! Looking forward to reading more on the area in the series.

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  6. what a trip that must have been Neelima!!!! cant wait to read about the rest!!!!! and that pic of the milky way? awesome!!!

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    1. It was definitely a scary trip, but after every trip I feel this way. Thanks Anu. :)

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  7. Welcome to Nagaland indeed!

    I spent a good 2.5weeks in Nagaland and its people are the friendliest I've ever met.

    Nagaland offers one hellava adventure!

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    1. I so envy you for that. Barely spent a week there but could gauge there are lot more stories untold and places unexplored. Eagerly waiting for all your posts. :)

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  8. Good start!! Waiting for the rest!!!!

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  9. Replies
    1. All the enthusiasm here is surely some motivation to start penning down the next post. :)

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  10. Freaky. Hope all went well later...

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    1. The adventure continued till I took the flight back. :)

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  11. Awesome post and pics... Waiting for more..

    MANUPONNAPPA.BLOGSPOT.IN

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    1. Thanks, very soon!
      Did you get a chance to read my article on cycling? Hope it answered your queries.

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    2. Yes Neelima... I read that article and it had answers to all my queries.. Thanks for that.. Now just waiting to go on a cycling trip..:)

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    3. Awesome! Let me know how the cycling trip goes, all the best. :)

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  12. Sounds exciting. Waiting for the enthralling stories to begin!

    http://rajniranjandas.blogspot.in/2013/04/talakona-waterfalls-hidden-secret.html

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    1. There are not many stories, it was a short visit. :)

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  13. Great...!! Alone to Nagaland!! All the best for your trip. Post more pictures :)

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    1. I am done with the trip, it was last year. I was just being lazy all this while. :)

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    2. Okay :( I will wait for your next trip then :)

      Siva

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  14. Most interesting observations. There is a lot of freedom in travelling alone. Next visit to Nagaland go to the PWD Rest Houses or Circuit Houses. If a room is available you will get it without the playing hard to get games one is accustomed to in other parts of the country. Nagas are friendly, hospitable and considerate.

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    1. I'll try this PWD/Circuit house thing the next time. I found the people there really nice too, they were very friendly. Although at times I felt, the ill-effects of too many visitors is already showing a bit. Hope it doesn't get worse.

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  15. I was waiting for Monday to read the rest of the story and instead you got me entangled in your images of tents. It worked, but I am still waiting - what happened next? And reading the posts above a lot of people are waiting!

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    1. Sure looks like everyone is waiting for the next part, that's some good motivation. Just returned from a 2 week assignment, will get to work ASAP. :)

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  16. The Milky Way picture looks like a shot from movie. Very well captured :).

    Nagaland sounds interesting. Wondering from where I should start in North East when I get chance. Each state sounds so similar yet so different :)

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    1. Oh these states are so different. it's like comparing apples and oranges. :)
      Maybe you could start with the easier states of Sikkim, Assam and move towards the more remote states.

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  17. Interesting one, nicely done.
    i guess, you will cover more states of northeast sometime soon. :)

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  18. Very exciting, Neelima.
    Where are the other posts on Nagaland? :)

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    1. Coming very very soon, in print, then here. :)

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  19. I just chanced upon your blog when searching for Andaman travel stories! And this seems like something I can never imagine doing. It sounds so scary. But, the konyak man and this milky way should truly make all of it worthwhile, right?

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    1. Aathira, yes, it was scary but was worth it too. Just so I know how much I am capable of. :)

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  20. Did you need to get ILP for nagaland ? I am planning to go there, so needed info. Thanks.

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    1. Officially you do need an ILP, though they don't check it always.
      More info here - http://tourismnagaland.com/Queries/EntryForma.html

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  21. check out this article....

    "Terror in the Name of Christ in Northeast India"

    http://blogs.swarajyamag.com/2015/01/07/terror-in-the-name-of-christ-in-northeast/

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  22. Nice shot of the milkyway. Loved the write up. Well known as the Tea City of India, Dibrugarh is one of the two main cities in the state of Assam. There are places to visit in Dibrugarh and adjoining areas which offer its tourists a unique blend of tourist attractions.

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  23. Absolutely loved the write-up, planning to go there myself. It's only when we do crazy things like this, we get to know what we are actually capable of. Kudos to your courage girl :)

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