I used to be a head-hunter also
19.02.2011 - 25.02.2012 20 °C
"I have heard stories that you eat dog here". "Yes - we eat all gods creatures", replied the assistant Manager in the Nagaland hotel. I decided to go for chicken.
My aborted attempt to trek around the Garo Hills in Western Megalaya at least meant really pleasant 6 hour mini bus journey through the rolling hills, passing tiny village communities. As we drove past, wrinkled old men with beetlenut stained teeth stared at me, the only foreigner on the bus and possibly one of the only ones in the region. My destination was Guwahati, the capital of, tea producing Assam. In the early 1970's much of it was carved off to create Megalaya. Shillong used to be the capital of Assam.
Sprawling Guwahati is quite the most filthy state capital that I have seen in India (and I have visited most of them). It smells and looks like one big garbage dump The weather is relatively mild although I can imagine what it is like in the Summer. At least it gave me more impetus to leave the city to visit the state of Nagaland. I had been told that Nagaland and almost all the North East states had removed the need for a visa. Although hotels, the Assam tourist office and even the respective state websites contradicted this. A two hour round trip, fighting through the traffic to the outskirts of town took me to the Nagaland state office. Fortunately they were able to confirm that they were now a permit free zone.
Sorry Guwahati I take it all back. For half a day or so I did visit a few sites that totally redeemed the city for me and certainly made it worthwhile. An oasis of cleanliness and calm are provided by a large man made lake and small park. The 10p entrance fee somehow deters the litter droppers. Later I chartered a boat (the public one had stopped running) at sunset to the middle of the Bramaputra river to visit a temple on a Peacock Island. The city took on a new character from the Island and actually looked beautiful. The Umandir Mandir Shiva Hindu temple on a hill 8 km out of town provided an even better view the following morning. It was a Sunday and the place was teaming with worshippers. To add to the atmosphere cages of doves were dotted around as were dozens of bleating goats. I had read that these animals were ritually sacrificed. I saw a goat nibble away at a bouquet adorning a vehicle (wedding car perhaps) but did nothing to stop it. A last meal for a condemned goat! As an act of comaraderie with the goat (and because I don't like queues) I didn't follow the queue to the inner sanctum of the temple. I did however observe the crowd. It all got a bit Wickermanish when they started chanting something. I was the only foreigner there, hence standing out like a sore hoof. Time to go I think.
To escape the sacrificial onslaught, the next day I took a 6 hour train journey into Nagaland, home to a multitude of tribes, including one that apparently used to practice head-hunting. There are also a number of tribal languages, some of which do not have a written form. Indeed the official language is English. Everything is written in English and not Hindi. Most people can read but many cannot speak English. Many can speak Hindi but not read it. Confused - well I was?. For the first night I stayed in the fairly ugly commercial centre of Dimapur for 12 hours(8pm - 8am). The next morning I took a shared taxi to the Kohima, capital of Nagaland. The place is spread attractively over a number of hills. My hotel room boasted a fine view that was improved even more my the view from the rooftop. Overlooking the hotel at one side was a sports stadium on a raised plateau. It must be one of the most stunning places for a cricket match in India.
Although Kohima doesn't seem to have the poverty of some cities in India, there is also no indication of extravagence either. No fancy hotels, restaurants, boutique shops et. It is quite a perfunctionary city that is hardly touched by foreign tourists. In fact in 3 nights the only foreigner I saw was an American girl. People are certainly a bit more reserved than many Indians and seem rather shy. They are quite prepared to stare however as if I had just come off a spaceship.
No fancy food in Kohima although snails (pretty every day here) were for sale in the market and indeed I did see dog for sale in one restaurant. The nearest thing I had however to real hot dog was my glass of Lassi. Don't expect Crufts to be held here.
So it was really quite a nice change. Not really much to do other than visit an open air ethnic village museum and visit the immaculate war Cemetery. Nagaland wasn't turned into a quaint English hill station although it was pivotal in the war with the Japanese. The contribution to the allied efforts by the "brave near naked soldiers with spears" was acknowledged by the Brits in a local museum.
All over the North East states there are military check points on the road. Soldiers often nip into a cafe or a shop with a riffle over their shoulder. At first this was a bit disconcerting and then I got used to it and it became rather reassuring. There have not been any major incidents throughout the region for a number of years.
I could have been involved in a potentially embarrassing diplomatic incident at the check point going into the next North East state, Manipur. This was a refreshment and toilet stop. I needed to relieve myself as the ridiculously winding and uneven road surface (100 miles takes 6 hours) plays havoc on the bladder. I asked for directions to the loo and was given a vague turn of the head to indicate that the loo was up a flight of stairs. Someone saw me hesitating at the top and indicated left. I know it sounds stupid but toilets and urinals in India come in all shapes and sizes. I went in a small, smelly room with a narrow drainage channel at the back. Well I've used loos like that before. I made a quick retreat to see a lady hovvering outside the door, giving me a quizzical look. The next door was open, the room being identical to the one I'd been in. Only this one had a pile of washing. Oh my God - was this a laundry room and not a loo. Just in case I had caused the ultimate faux pas I left as quickly as I could, got on the bus and hid behind my rucksack. Until the bus drove off, horribly thoughts of torture and beatings were swimming through my mind. I had been reading an excellent semi autobiographical novel called Shantaram that recounts an Australians experiences in the Indian penal system. Fortunately the driver honked the horn to indicate that we were on our way to Imphal, capital of Manipur. Knife fights with the sisters in the prison laundry room were reserved for another nightmare.