We descended from Arunachal to the plains of the Brahmaputra river in Assam. A month in the wild and undeveloped state was enough to forget about the crowds and noise of lowland India. Going down to the first town after the Arunachal/Assam border made us aware of the existence of pharmacies, hardware stores and gas stations. And for the first time since leaving Ziro Valley, we could connect to the Internet.
We wanted to explore one more tribal state – Nagaland. It is famous of its ethnic groups, who used to fight with each other for ages, and were the last head hunters of Asia. Just like their cousins from Arunachal, they wear tattoos and decorate their bodies with spectacular jewellery. Unlike Arunachal, the visit to the land of the Naga people does not require a permit, so all we had to do was to cross the mighty Brahmaputra. The river was so wide and lazy, that it looked more like a huge lake.
We boarded one of the wooden ferries and together with the Assamese crowd set off for a relatively short ride across the water.
After some days spent in the city of Guwahati (nice time!) we rolled towards the entry point to Nagaland. To our surprise, the first man we encountered, was an elderly head-hunter! You could imagine what our first impression of the state was!
During the first days we had been looking for more people wearing their traditional clothes and maintaining the old traditions, but it turned out, that only some of the old people from remote villages still do so. The rest of the Naga people dress in special clothes only during the annual Hornbill Festival or other local festivities.
Cycling through the state was not easy – the roads were rough and steep, winding through a hilly landscape, covered by an endless jungle. From time to time, we passed by the patches of burned forest – fields to be. The “slash and burn” technique is still widely used by the Nagas.
Some of the villages we passed through had interesting, bamboo gates. The settlements of the Konyak tribe on the North of the state were particularly original, with the common houses called “morong” in the middle and bamboo huts around.
We were invited by a lot of people during our visit. That was great! We could taste the local hospitality – mostly dictated by a Christian lifestyle, as the majority of the Nagas converted to Christianity years ago.
In the old days, warriors used to display their power by hanging the skulls of the killed enemies on the walls of their huts. Now the human skulls are displaced by those of animals.
The Nagas seemed to be quite proud of their conversion to Christianity. The people we talked to were ashamed of the headhunting past of their forefathers. The Christian missionaries are considered by the Naga people as the saviours out of the headhunting tradition.
The gathering house, or “morong” was reserved for the male part of the community. Some of the communities still keep the skulls of the dead foes. Interestingly, the Nagas used long log drums, to communicate with neighbouring clans and make the announcements.
Nowadays farming is the dominant occupation of the Nagas. We met a lot of people working on the fields, mostly burning the remaining plants.
Hunting is still quite popular, yet not as much as in the past.
Burned fields everywhere… Madmax landscape!
We took the advantage of the bamboo huts normally used by the farmers to relax during their work.
Cooking sugar cane juice:
Since Christianity (different denominations) is the religion number one in Nagaland now, we were many times approached by Christian fanatics and asked strange questions. Just like that, in the middle of the street: “who created you?” or “do you pray to the Lord”?
It was difficult for us to put together headhunting, jungle life, bamboo huts with churches, pastors and Gospel. Well, apparently everything is possible.
Cycling through Nagaland was a bit boring for us – the landscape consisted of burned fields or jungle, the villages and towns were mostly dull and ugly, the people not as friendly as in the other parts of the North East. It was difficult to find good food (almost no restaurants), most of the shops used to get closed at 4pm and the guesthouses asked for ridiculous money for very basic accommodation.We met some nice people and were treated rather well by the locals, but we had the impression, that Nagaland is worth a visit only during the festivals.