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Travelogue Nagaland – Assam – Arunachal Pradesh
Northeast India

 

Part 2 – From the Headhunters to the Mechuka in the Mountains !

 

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English is not our native language, so we apologize in advance for translation- spelling- and grammar errors.

 

Day 7 - Friday, December 6, 2013 - Mon

Mon is the habitat of the Konyak Naga, the notorious head hunters from not so very long ago. Although this practice was officially abolished by law in 1935 heads still rolled here well into the 60s. The Konyak Naga are recognizable by their excessive facial tattoos and big horns in their ears.

Today we will visit some villages of the Konyak Naga. After breakfast, we set off. First stop are some butcher stalls along the road just outside the town. The butchers work at this place between 4 and 9 am. Then they are sold out and leave. The meat is always very fresh. Large pieces of meat hang on the stalls. A pig's head and hooves with feet still attached are lying on the shed

 

We drive to Singha Ching Nyu. The road is terribly bad, but it's a nice trip over the mountains. Beautiful vistas. The mountains in layers one after the other. We haven't yet seen any accidents, but accidents do happen a lot on the hill roads. There is only one lane and a there are a lot of curves. Therefore it is sometimes quite a scare if a big bus suddenly emerges around the corner with considerable speed. Fortunately, we have a skilled driver who honks at every turn.

The visit to the village is very interesting. We get a private tour of the son of the chief of the village. He is the grandson of the last true head hunter-chief who ruled here. We meet in the village several exuberant tattooed old warriors. One of the warriors has zipped 17 heads in his life ... Somewhere carelessly in a corner is a mountain of skulls. When the Christians came the villagers had to remove the skulls. Many skulls are buried or burned, but at this village the "grandfather" chief clung to the old traditions and kept the skulls exposed.

 

On a bamboo deck sits a highly respected deaf and dumb tattooed man. Because he is deaf and dumb one believes that he has many silent talents. He is consulted a lot by the people of the village. We didn't meet the chief of the village. Rumors go that he is very ill.

Restaurants are not available here, so we organize our own picnic at noon at the verge of the road somewhere with mountain views. Cup cakes, nuts, fruit.

 

Longwa is the second village we visit. We will visit the chief. He is sick. He looks weak and pathetic. He stopped using opium but is still addicted to alcohol.

 

He gets a bottle of whiskey on our behalf; it's a fixed fee. There are already three full bottles beside him; the whiskey serves as a ticket to enter the village. We're here at the border with Burma. The chief is an important man. Chief of his tribe. He rules over more than 50 villages in Burma, and 10 in India. He has his own room with its own wood fire in the great big Moron in the village. He shivers with fever. We sit for a while with him. It's a strange encounter.

After our visit to the chief we walk around in the village and we look at the mountains that lie in Burma. Jan-Arend buys a kind of wooden purse decorated with skulls. We also buy some simple necklaces. The people in this area work hard. They run along the road with baskets loaded with twigs or work in the fields. We bounce around a lot in the car today. But that does not matter because it was really a very interesting trip in a beautiful landscape overfull with special meetings.

 

Day 8 – Saturday, December 7, 2013, Mon – Dibrugarh (map)

 

Waking up at 6 am, breakfast at 6:30 and leaving at 7 am. We get up ridiculously early this trip. Is this the holiday where we choose for? Do we do this the right way? The answers are simple: yes! So far we have a great trip Even on long travel days there is more then enough to see and experience en we drive in a very comfortable car. Despite the fact that it is quite tiring we love it! Today another long travel day.

 

Somewhere at a roadside stall hangs a dead porcupine. A very large porcupine! At the Hornbill festival we saw women with porcupine quills as decorations in their hair. The people make beautiful woven baskets here and the children often play homemade toys, such as a stick with a wheel at the end. Boys racing down the slope in simply assembled carts.

 

We are crossing the Nagaland -Assam border. It is striking to see how many more birds are flying over in Assam than in Nagaland. The cows and goats are also taking possession of the streets again in Assam.


En route we visit a kind of palace from antiquity, but we do not find it very impressive. The extra stop at a market along the way is much more interesting. There is also an indoor vegetable market. Fun! Fruits and vegetables, meat and fish. Someone puts peanuts in a bag with a mini bag of salt and then seals the bag ingenious with the flame of a candle. The spices look appetizing, and they smell good! We see piranhas displayed on a stall . Bully puts his car key in the mouth of a fish to show the teeth.

 

Finally we arrive in Dibrugarh. Reasonable hotel: hotel Raj Palace. First we have to arrange an extra towel and toilet paper. Always only one towel in the room. Why do they all think that we join the towel together? We both want to get dry after showering!

 

We walk around in the city. Ingrid buys a bag and we buy a school atlas containing clear maps. Dibrugarh is a good place to use the ATM machine to get money. We get our money and drink coffee in a modern coffee bar. We even find a reasonable bottle of Indian wine, Zinzi.

 

After our walk in town we go back to the hotel. There is WIFI in the hotel so we can communicate with home. We have diner in the restaurant upstairs. Dull surroundings, but very good food. The restaurant consists of a very large room with only 4 tables. Nothing on the wall. Our room was decent, a bit stuffy. No windows in the room.

 

Day 9 – Sunday December 8, 2013, Dibrugarh – Pasighat (map)

Waking up at half 7, 7 am breakfast. From Dibrugarh is about an hour drive to the departure place of the ferries on the Brahmaputra. The road is familiar bad. The ferries are docked on the shore. The boats are not so large. Most ferries can carry only two to three cars, but the numbers of bikes, motors and ... passengers the boats carry are countless! To ride with the car on the boat is not so simple. 2 narrow loose boards connect the shore with the boat. You have to drive over the boards to get the car on the boat. The boards are not much wider than the tire itself. A lot of manoeuvring. Fortunately this does not pose a problem; here are clearly men with experience at work.

 

Nice here just to look around. People, vehicles, animals. We have a nice sitting spot at the bow of the boat, just below the cockpit. Soak in the sun. The crossing takes about an hour. We have to moor the boat to another boat. on the other side of the river. There is no free mooring place on the shore. Bully therefore first has to ride the car on the other boat and then try to get ashore getting over the rickety shelves. Everything goes well, but we are very glad that we do not have to do it!

When we drive on we see women walking along the road with oddly shaped baskets and nets. They go fishing. There are pools where people do mud fishing.

 

We stop and look. Women and children wade through the puddles with their baskets and nets. At the bottom of the pool is a lot of silt. They fish to small fish that are clogged in the mud. Further on the men fish in a bigger pond. They fish with a sling net that they throw out and catch bigger fish.

We drive on to the Assam - Arunachal Pradesh border. Just beyond the border we stop in a village. We walk through the village. In this region the houses are made of straw mats and bamboo. We notice that the swine are running loose here and are no longer stored in little cages.

 

In this region one lives mainly from agriculture: cotton, corn, peppers, etc. We are invited by a woman in a pretty big house to drink tea. She is very welcoming. We get chai with milk in it. Thanks to the translation of Bully we can have a brief conversation with the woman. The woman is rice sorting. We also look inside the house. Children are watching TV sitting on a swing. A big fireplace is the central point of the house. We continue walking through the village. A cute little girl is playing with a pitcher.

 

Then we enter the final stretch to Pasighat. Once there, we eat some noodles and momo; very tasty.

We visit the local market. Many vegetables and herbs. Everything looks just fine. We see a cow that beckons to a pile of cauliflower. He is keen monitored by the market vendor. When this greengrocer helps a customer however the cow makes his move and steals a cauliflower. We can well imagine that the cow wants to eat something different than cardboard and plastic ... and this was his lucky chance.

 

We sleep tonight at hotel Anne. Not an impressive hotel. Small room with hard beds. We only have a bottom sheet so we arrange an extra piece. There is only one fluorescent tube, the other lights do not work. Little grubby here.

 


Day 10 – Monday, December 9, 2013, Pasighat – Along (Map)

 

As usual: wake up at half past 6:00, 7:00 am breakfast, 7:30 departure. We slept moderately. Ingrid has just uttered a scream because she sees a cockroach rocketing. Furthermore, we have fortunately seen no cockroaches this holiday, well .... except on the market; as a local delicacy.

The weather is perfect. Under our hotel is a laundry. Clothes, washing and pressing. The clothes dry outside on the wall.

 

We leave Pasighat behind us and drive to Along. Soon we arrive at a beautiful river. We drive into the mountains. Marvellous scenery of a lot of trees. Many different types and often very high, overgrown with weeds like parasite plants. It occasional delivers a spooky view. But beautiful!

 

In the valley flows the river Siang.

 

In this area they are quite busy with road works. We will occasionally have to wait, but fortunately it is not so bad. We stop at one of the road works. What a tough job these people have and how different as in the Netherlands! Open containers with tarmac; The container is heated over an open fire. The liquid tar is poured into buckets and watering cans and strewn on the road. The road workers want to have their picture taken. A welcome diversion for them! The road workers often only have plastic sandals on. Empty tar-barrels everywhere. Whole families work on the road and live with their children in temporary huts along the way.

We will visit tribal villages of Galo and Hill Miri (now Nishi Tribal). In one of the villages, we are invited to get something to drink on the porch of the house and we get a tangerine. Three women sit and relax in the sun. Everywhere rice is put down to dry. Women, especially the older ones, sort the rice. The broken rice is discarded en will be fed to the chickens. Admirable how deftly the old women still are.

 

Everyone in the village has its role in the household and so everyone feels more useful.

 

We provide one of the old women a candy but she really has no idea what she should do with it. She probably has never had a candy. The houses are, at least for us, broadly the same. Open fire in the middle. Because of the open flames and especially the smoke the people here suffer frequently at cataracts.

 

The roads in this area consists in one narrow lane. The roads are better than most of the roads where we have gone before.

 

We visit another village. Everything here potters around: cows, pigs, chickens. In this area are many mandarin trees. The mandarins are of very good quality. The farmers harvest the mandarins in homemade baskets. Two village elders watch it all happening. They sit somewhere, near a pig that feeds her piglings. The men wear traditional clothing. The clothing is worn down to the wire.

The children crowd around Jan-Arend. He walks around here as a grandfather with his grandchildren. We visit the government school. It is simple small school. The headmaster is married to a woman from Bully's village. We get tea and admire the school.

 

En route we have lunch at a local eatery along the way. We order noodles and tea. It tastes good.

 

We cross the bridge over the river Siang. The frame of the bridge is made of iron, the road section of timber. The section of road is like a patchwork updated with all sizes of pieces of wood. But there are still a lot of holes in the bridge! Only one car at a time can cross the bridge. There are two rivers here that meet: the river Siang and river Siyom flow together from here as one river to the Brahmaputra. A bit further we cross a suspension bridge over the river by foot. Bamboo from below, an iron frame to the side. It wobbles a lot but we dare to walk over the bridge.

In the third village we visit we see a man sitting on the ground weaving a basket. People who have worked on the land return home. In front of one of the houses the men are playing some games with each other. Chess, and another game with chips.

 

There is a kind of party going on. We are invited to join in the party. It is quite a drinking-bout. There's whiskey and a home-brewed rice wine. From the latter we get a cup filled to the brim. There is a fire and we get seats. The music is on. Women are dancing. A woman presents us a green leaf, tied with a bamboo string. The leaf appear to be filled with a substance that consists of pig's blood, guts, fat, rice and some herbs. Bully takes it as a delicacy and we .... we keep these delicacies with love for him. We don't want to be rude. So we tell the villagers that we are vegetarians. Bully works all packets away with taste.

People everywhere are equally warm and welcoming to us. We are often spontaneously invited. What a feast it is to be able to tour around here. The sunset is early here!

 

If it is almost dark, we ride the last part to Along. In Along we stay at the Hotel Toshi Palace. We get a good room with a large bright red old plush sofa. A few minutes later they bring us tea. Everything is well organized again.

 

We have diner in the restaurant at the top of the hotel. Fine food again. Before going to sleep we have some moments for ourselves sitting on the couch in our room. We make use of the laundry service of the hotel. No risk, Because we will come back to this hotel in a few days

 

Everything is recharged. Tomorrow an early wakeup call; 5:30. Leaving at 6:00. We will have breakfast somewhere along the road. Ingrid just cannot find our room back. How is that possible? Well just ..... Our room number 202, comes after room 203, 204, 205 and 206. OK, maybe a little bit confusing.

 

Day 11 – Tuesday, December 10, 2013, Along – Mechuka (Map)

We leave at 6 o'clock, no breakfast. We are surprised , because it is the first time we don't have clear weather. It is even drizzling a bit. We drive into the mountains. Slowly the clouds are breaking and the sun pops-up. Beautiful scenery along the river! Lots of green again. The fun of travelling in this area is that you never know in advance what will happen and what you are going to see. Never a dull moment. Always new and interesting events and meetings.

 

At our first stop we see some men make rice wine. A large fire. For us, it looks as if they burn all the rice. All black. It does not look very attractive ! But there is a clear plan behind. There are several men around the fire, but only one older woman is clearly the boss. She directs and gives instructions. Only she knows exactly how it should be done.

Just down we have breakfast along the side of the road. There is almost no traffic so we sit quietly and reasonably free of dust. Bully spreads out a rug an lays some bread, fruit juice, jam and peanut butter on the rug.

 

The car we use to travel is only six months old . It is a Mahindra . Bully says he needs to buy a new car every 3 year because of bad roads. If you keep the car longer the garage bills will cost you more than a new car.

We often stop. Just because we like it. We stop at an ingenious irrigation system of bamboo stems. It works well. In a sort of hill station we stop to drink tea. There is not much traffic, but all the cars that are out there make a stop here for eating and drinking. On our way to the restaurant we see a bunch of tiny piglets. We didn't see piglets that small till now. At most a few days old. They wiggle and hop around happily and their tails are making overtime. They walk with their vacuum snout all along the road looking for something to eat.

 

Children playing, adults, goats, chickens in a sort of big Styrofoam box with holes. Their heads and necks stabbing out. We think it's their last trip ... There is much to see.

 

We stop again at a place where workers are working on the road. Fierce! Striking many women. They are excited when you stop. They work in their regular outfit. They pour the hot tar in a bucket, sometimes even with a child on the back. Slippers on, fierce puffs! One woman proudly poses with her baby. Two women walk a long way with a bucket of hot tar on a bamboo stick. The women are very enthusiastic when we hand out some toys, candy and soaps


2 women carry stones in a net woven around two bamboo stems. Four women sit half squatting next to each other on the road. They sweep away the stones of the road with their brushes. Two women and a man run along with an iron trolley. In the cart, open flames and lots of smoke. The wheels are not very round, so it looks like they will roll off any time. You do not want to know what would happen in case of an accident. The bigger kids are playing in a pile of sand. Men treat a kind of hard, black glass with their bare hands. It is the resource for the bitumen. Here you realize even more the benefit of the country we were born in!

 

Again a little further we stop at yet another open wood fire along the road. Large chunks of meat are prepared above the wood fire. There is a pig slaughtered. A man lifts the head of the boar high. We are invited to enter the house next to the road.

 

If you built a house or barn here, you don't pay money, but you take care of food and drinks for everyone who helps. This is exact what is happening now. They build something next to the house with lots of corrugated iron. There is a thank you dinner for the people who help. We sit inside at the open fire (which is nice because it has become quite cool).

 

We get rice wine offered. It is prepared in a basket with leaves. The host serves the wine with a big ladle. They want us to drink a considerably quantity. Again we get stuffed pig intestines offered, but we really do not dare to try and eat it. Fortunately Bully explains again that we are vegetarian. Everyone is very welcoming, and it's enjoyable, to sit together at the big fire!

 

Time to go on. Somewhere along the road we see a girl of about 6 years old. In front of her house she is smashing big stones into smaller stones with a hammer A lot of people do that here, but she is really very young! Bully explains that road constructors like to use hand-beaten stones for equalizing the roads. For 1 truck load full the people are paid $ 30! ... We stop at two men we pass. One is a village elder. He is very honoured by the attention and presses our hands extensively! In another place, we make a stop for tea and noodles. We take some pictures and film of beautiful people who do not understand why we find them interesting. We pass an iron bridge completely in ruins. Construction fault; The bridge has never worked and will never be finished..

 

Meanwhile, it is starting to rain, and it becomes fresher. Then, after about 160 miles driving on a narrow road along sometimes steep precipices, we arrive at Mechuka. What a different world here! Mechuka is a small village in a valley surrounded by big mountains. Mechuka owes its name to pure water which has medicinal properties. Men - meaning medication, Chu - is water and Kha - is snow. These words have the same meaning in Tibet which is not surprising because we are not far from the Tibetan border down here. The Mechuka valley is one of the most beautiful valleys of Arunachal Pradesh and the home of the Buddhist Memba tribe. It is cold and we see snow on the mountains.

We first try to get lodging in a new home stay owned by a high government mocker but the reservation is not understood. We cannot stay. Although there are no other guests. Fortunately, the old home stay is just down the road. They give us a warm welcome there. Excellent. We get a good room with three beds and a great special stove. Looks homemade by an amateur but the stove works extremely efficiently . It's cold and dark. There is no electricity , (yet ) but the owner succeeds to improvise a connection with a wire to the outside, so it doesn't take long before we get heat and light. After a hot cup of tea we are settled and everything is well. Deliciously cosy all. From our window , we have a view of the snowy peaks of the Himalayas . In the evening we would eat in the kitchen of the house, but it is so cold that we decide to eat in the room. So we eat our meal sitting around our stove. Rice , piece of fish , dal , vegetables and a cup of tea. All fine! We have a glass of wine . 20.00 hours the light goes off again and not much later we crawl into bed .

 

Day 12 – Wednesday, December 11, 2013, Mechuka

Wake up at 6:30. No washstand only a washtub. The boy brings us a bucket of boiling water and a bucket of cold water. We don't use it, because we have no towel. It's cold. Unfortunately, the snow-capped mountains are in the clouds. We have breakfast in the kitchen of the house. There is an open fire and the owner is kneading dough for fresh sandwiches. They taste great! We also get a bowl of spiced potatoes. Good, hearty breakfast.

 

After breakfast we leave. We first visit a holy place for both Sikhs and Buddhists outside Mechuka. Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism and the first of ten Sikh gurus has meditated here in a cave with two apostles. Numerous legends are told about the visit of the Guru at this place. Guru Nanak would have had a combat with a bear. The bear threw a rock at him, but the rock did not injure him.

 

The rock continued stabbing and lined as it were the head of the Guru. And indeed, the rear wall of the rock resembles the carved silhouette of the head with turban of the Guru. The Guru needed water; he had to descend to the river. A rock barred the passage but spontaneously cracks in half creating an entry so that the Guru could get through. And indeed there is a cleft rock where you can just get through. It is said that you have a good heart if you succeed to pass the rock . We try; we can just get through it. At the riverside where you end up is a pond containing black and white stones. You can try to pick up one of the stones out of the water. White stands for good, black for bad luck. We don't try our luck again, and leave the stones for what they are. It is said that the water in the waterfall is not as cold as you would expect; another gift from the gods to the Guru. In short, a place full of mysticism. very special!

We drive by car to a parking, park the car and walk to the Samden Yangchak monastery on a hill on the banks of the river Yargap-Chu. That's quite a climb! But we survive and enjoy the view. In the monastery are two young men. They are a monk in civilian clothes. For us, a little strange. One of the two monks went to Bangalore to study Buddhism for 7 years. The monks show us the monastery. The Dalai Lama was here in 2000. We get butter tea with cookies. In the corner of the room is a mother cat growling in a box, with some kittens. The boys are here for a month. Every other month two new monks take service. There is no water in the Monastery . Each time they want to have water they have to make a steep climb to collect water in the valley. The landscape around us is beautiful. After tea we walk by a different route back down.

Bully is a great lover of birds. He has a 400 mm photo lens on loan. Nice that he loves photography. He also regularly takes a photo of us together, and that's fun.

 

They are building a new monastery by the river. As soon as the new monastery is ready the old Monastery at the top of the mountain will be moved. The hill monastery was attacked a few times, they have been robbed and there has been a fire. The Original monastery was also downstairs, so it is thought that the problems on top of the mountain are a sign that the monastery should be moved back to the original spot.

 

At the bottom of the mountain we arrive at a newly built freshly painted stupa. There are a lot of stupas scattered in the landscape. Such a stupa is usual established by a village or an important family/person. This new stupa is now initiated. It is a celebration. We are invited. Butter figures are drawn up in a tent as a sacrifice. There is also al lot of whiskey for the gods (and for the villagers). We get a cup of chai and are asked to stay for lunch. And so - totally unexpected - we eat rice and dal with villagers from the valley.

 

Today we walk a few times on a footbridge over the river. Such a suspension bridge is made of bamboo , wood and cables . One of the bridges hangs very much askew so it doesn't feel very comfortable to walk over this bridge. The boards and wires do not all look equally strong ... But it goes well.

 

It has become very cold and drizzling. We go out to Mechuka for a turn in the village but there is not much to do. Many soldiers. There are few foreigners here. According to us, we are the only tourists here at this moment. The villagers are watching us with wide eyes. No shops selling beautiful scarves or so. All shops with the same daily goods; sweets, biscuits, boots and old-fashioned western clothing.

In our room we stir up the stove. Sometimes there is considerable smoke !

 

In front of our stove we drink the Indian red wine we have bought. Our food is brought. We chat a bit. We are very tired.

 

Dag 14 – Thursday, December 12, 2013, Mechuka – Along

 

Wake up at 6:30. Bucket of cold and hot water . 7:00 am breakfast in the kitchen near the heat of the fire. It artfully to see how the people manage to keep the fire burning with as less wood as possible using simple techniques. Outside it is raining. The snow-capped Himalayan peaks are unfortunately still in the clouds .

At half past seven we leave for the 180 km long journey back Along. Initially it is cold and rainy, but the weather gradually recovers again .

 

We see a woman with special, traditional earrings. We stop and take a picture. She is rightly proud of her jewels. Despite the clouds we can still enjoy the beauty of the landscape. Most houses look relatively large and are beautiful, but there are also some shabby huts.

 

The road workers are back on the road again. The women recognize us when we pass and wave exuberantly . A lot of kids with snot !

We stop again at the eatery. It's half past 11 and after 4 hours bumping on the road, catch up and wiggling back and forth between the pits on the narrow road, we really need to have a hot drink and some food!

 

During the time the tea is prepared we walk around. Just a moment to stretch our legs. In the kitchen is a fire with chairs around it. Outside under a lean down a couple of kids eat with their hand rice from one big bowl

 

A heavily pregnant goat is trying to scrounge some food. Ingrid buys some cookies for the goat. The goat ( and Ingrid ) is so thrilled !

 

The goat is a fierce lady who jumps on Ingrid! When Ingrid tries to give the dog a cookie she has to do that very tactical because the goat will attack the dog with her horns forward. The owner of the restaurant looks with abhorrence and disbelief . Buy cookies for a goat and a dog .... it should not get crazier with those tourists .

 

Around 15:00 pm we arrive in Along. We are dropped off at the market . We look around . We buy some traditional beaded necklaces and slowly walk back to the hotel. In the hotel we have the same room as before. Our laundry is clean and ironed


Part 3: From the Apatani women with their nose plugs to Tawang in the Himalayas