Travelling around Assam and Nagaland


When my friend and I saw the itinerary to Assam and Nagaland advertised by Bangalore-based F5 Escapes in September, we felt we had to go! It had everything that we valued greatly - Kaziranga, and Majuli Island in Assam, and Kohima, Dzuleke and Khonoma in Nagaland, including the Hornbill Festival in Kisama. I think it was Majuli Island that was the first tipping point in favour of this trip -  it is the largest river island in the world, and is fast shrinking because of erosion. We have been following the story of Jadav Payeng, a farmer who single-handedly planted an entire forest on Majuli island with the intention of saving the island! I have been wanting to go there just to meet him, and so when this itinerary mentioned Majuli, I fell for it. The other thing was that I had never been to the northeast, and was dying to discover the fascinating natural and cultural world of the 'Seven Sisters'.

I am always wary of signing up for a trip months in advance since it involves a financial commitment, plane tickets, etc. Another reason against booking in advance was that since last year, my father has been unwell on and off. But optimism and temptation got the better of me, and Kobita and I went ahead and booked the trip and the flight tickets, which we got for a very reasonable amount. There was also the feeling that I deserved this break, and that this holiday would also be my reward to myself for doing the book on Warangal, for which I slogged the last 4 years. Like most women, I seem to have a need to justify good times, although my conscience encourages me to be guilt-free most of the time. 

The trip was coming close but I did not realise it because I was very busy with completing the Warangal book. We had fixed the launch for 17 November 2018, and were working feverishly to complete it. I was glad and relieved when the launch was done because this was a very important project for me. The trip was now only two weeks away and I started preparing with some trepidation because it was going to be tough terrain and it would be very cold. 

Then, a week before I was to leave, there was a setback in my father's health again, and I made another trip to Warangal for the weekend. He seemed better so I got back and began packing, and buying some warm clothes that I needed. Then, one day before I left, things didn't look good once again, and I almost decided not to go. My almost packed suitcase looked imploringly at me, and I was very tense as I made a million phone calls. But my amazing extended family reassured me that they would take care of my father and that I should go. They even said I deserved this break...I will never forget my uncle's reassuring tone on the phone, and the relief I felt when I heard him say that there was nothing seriously wrong, just go! I will always be grateful for a family like this. 

It is also for this reason that this trip is so precious to me. 

So here are some photos with detailed captions from our travels around Assam and Nagaland that were as exciting as I had imagined them to be. 


First stop - Kaziranga National Park: The elephant safari in Kaziranga was at 5 am. It was misty and cold, and the elephant we were on, and another next to it were having animated conversations, and trumpeting once in a while, which was scary, considering that we were strapped to them! And when other elephants went right, these two wanted to go left! They were sisters, we were told :).

We saw at least six one-horned rhinos, and two of them were mother and child! :) We also saw a herd of at least a dozen water buffaloes wading into a water body, and in the mist, it made a beautiful visual. Also saw deer and wild boar.

We were rewarded by the sighting of Great Hornbills. I managed to capture this one as it flew away, with my old Canon, which has an awesome zoom!


Enroute from Jorhat to Majuli island: View of the river bank from the ferry we were on. The erosion is very clearly seen here, making it easy to understand how Majuli island is shrinking. According to 'Forest man' Jadav Payeng (who we could not meet on this trip), it is for this reason that he planted trees and single-handedly created a forest on this island. 
Sunset on the mighty Brahmaputra, which is vast, like the sea. We were very lucky to be able to see this sunset because we were sitting to the East, and regretting that we were missing it when suddenly our ferry turned, and at the same time this fish trawler came into view -- all in a matter of seconds -- allowing this photo to be made! :)

We reached Majuli in the night and checked into La maison de Ananda. This is a bamboo house on stilts, the home of a local from the Mishing tribe, where we went for our freshly cooked meals. 


Majuli island is green and beautiful, with bamboo houses on stilts. Apart from being the largest river island in the world, it is also the first island district in India. 

There are several Vaishnava Satras on Majuli Island, which are also called monasteries. They were founded by Sankardeva, the father of Assamese culture. The Satras are repositories of valuable religious and cultural documents, and are centres of traditional performing arts. One of the Satras we saw was akin to a university, albeit only for boys and men.
Kohima, Nagaland: From Majuli, we took a ferry back to Jorhat and drove all the way to Kohima via Dimapur. It took almost 12 hours. Dimapur is the entry into Nagaland, and it sure is a dusty entry...there are literally no roads in this state (seriously, why not?). In this photo, behind where I am standing is an aerial view of Kohima. At night it looks like it is enveloped by a blanket of twinkling lights, with churches being conspicuous. Nagaland is predominantly Christian.

The War Memorial in Kohima: Our history books never mentioned Japanese attempt at invasion into Nagaland. The Kohima War Cemetery is the exact location where one of the fiercest battles was fought and won by the Allied Forces during the Second World War, forcing the Japanese army to retreat. The war memorial has about 1,420 graves belonging to Indian and British soldiers who fought there.


The location of the cemetery is on the ridge below and above the tennis court, which has been cemented and preserved for posterity. The battle, which took place from  4 April to 22 June 1944, is also referred to as the Battle of the Tennis Court. 


The food habits of people of Nagaland are more akin to those of people in Southeast Asia. During a stroll through the local market, we saw white mice, frogs, pigeons and snake fish being sold. We observed the lack of any life either in the sky or near water bodies or grasslands...whether this absence of birds and animals is linked to their diet is a question in our minds.   
The Hornbill festival in Kisama: This festival is an exposition of the Naga culture, their dances, sports and crafts. This man is from the Konyak tribe.


There are 16 tribes in all - Angami, Ao, Chakesang, Chang, Khiamniungan, Konyak, Kuki, Lotha, Phom, Pochury, Rengma, Sangtam, Sumi, Yimchunger and Zeliang. All of them have different costumes.

A wrestling-like sport in progress. Behind, an art installation of a tree with great hornbills. Unfortunately, even though the festival is named after it, the great hornbill is seen rarely here. Blyth's tragopan is the State Bird of Nagaland. Hornbill is actually the State Bird of Arunachal Pradesh.

Waiting for someone special?
This is probably my best photo :)

The Chang tribe collectively made percussion music, using this this wooden panther
as base, and hitting it with some kind of hammers.


On the drive from Kohima to Khonoma, we were taken aback to see this inscription on a pillar. But some background reading and a chat with one of the village elders made us understand that the demand for a sovereign state has been there since pre-independence days. Naga independence movements and guerilla armies have been fighting over several decades for 'Nagalim' or 'Greater Nagaland' - an independent country that would unite all the tribals in a land of their own. The elder also told us that they also feel that they are very different from the rest of India, and one theory was that they were a run-away group who migrated from China, not wanting to participate in the building of the Great Wall! Another theory was that they migrated from Israel.   
Dzuleke is a nature hotspot, very close to the virgin forest declared as the Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan Sanctuary. We were told by several people about the Khonoma villagers' efforts at conservation. They told us that they had effectively stopped traditional hunting in these forests. They also do not cut trees, and encourage planting only native trees. All this is very commendable indeed!

The village practises a sustainable form of jhum cultivation that involves nitrogen-fixating Alder trees. These are the only trees that the Angami tribes-people cut for use as firewood and furniture. They are 'pollarded' (a method of pruning) at a certain height, and then are left to fallow for 2-4 years. It cheered us up when we heard of the active participation in conservation efforts, by the youth of this village.


The terraced paddy cultivation practised by the Nagas is a breathtaking sight, and it looks as though the hills have carefully been carved out. A network of water channels irrigates these fields, and sometimes bamboo pipes are also used to regulate the flow of water. 

A child having a meal sitting on the compound wall. Note the user-friendly 'plate' he is holding.

The mountain people are often very photogenic, are they not? The Angamis in Khonoma 
were quite willing to be photographed.

Red and pink hollyhocks against the blue blue sky.

A young boy sits in contemplation.


A street in Khonoma village. The population of this village is about 3000.

A view of Khonoma in bright and welcoming morning sun. When we visited, the night temperature was an unbearable 6 degrees (considering that we stayed in a villager's home and there was no heating).

The group of F5-ers: smart, savvy, sportive, adventurous women who were great company!
From left to right: Meenakshi (Paediatrician, Bangalore), Harshita (Hospitality professional, Delhi), Kobita (naturalist/artist, Hyderabad), Meena (Business woman, Chennai), Sadhana (editor-writer/naturalist, Hyderabad), Rashmi (Dermatologist, Mumbai), Chaitra (from F5 Escapes, Bangalore), Mohita (Business Analyst, Bangalore) and Sandhya (Chennai)


The trip wouldn't have been the same without these awesome people, and the long chats with them, especially on long drives. It made us understand how each of us have our minor or major battles in life - both as women and as human beings - and this helped us become friends quickly. We hope to travel together again! 

One of the things I love about travel is getting back home! And as always happens when one sees the lives of people who live in the mountains, there is realisation of how much easier our lives are, compared to theirs. There is also the amazement, yet again, of how different every state in India is - I always felt we should've been called the United States of India! I feel very fortunate to have discovered a state one never thinks about - Nagaland, India's forgotten frontier - which I will reflect on and read about now.  

Thank you, F5 Escapes, for organising this wonderful, sensitive, offbeat trip that totally suited our interests. Look forward to the next one with enthusiasm.

PS: My father is fine, and I am happy I went on this trip after all. 

#F5Escapes #Assam #Nagaland #HornbillFestival


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