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Why I Quit My Job To Travel

Smiling faces

Last week, I took a wee trip to Rishikesh – the land of sadhus and of many people’s spiritual rebirth. I have a personal affection, some attachment to this place. This is where I once spent two months, practicing meditation and taking spiritual lessons.

But this time, my arrival was accompanied by a sense of unexpected realization. I wondered, as I grabbed myself walking along its frenzied, confused walkways, that how lucky I am to experience places like Rishikesh again and again. And yet, it is never the climax of my trip. It is always the beginning.

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls” Anais Nin

It has been more than two years now, since I quit my job and started travelling, yet I never shared here why and how it all happened. It would be nice to say that I wanted to understand myself, and find my inner consciousness, but frankly speaking, it’s not true. The only part which is true is that I’ve had enough living the same boring 9 to 5 corporate life every day. I wanted to do more than that. I wanted to see the world. Meet new people. Learn better ideas. Find out what’s wrong with this system of corporate culture, that it never made anyone happy – no matter what they achieved in their life. Simply put, I wanted to educate myself in a way that no school, no job ever did before.

traveller

But one thing is saying that I want to do this and the other thing is realizing I am actually doing it.

Traveling is no less than a pursuit of happiness for me. Yet, throughout this time, I’ve often stumbled upon questions like “Why I quit my job to travel” or “How did I manage to make such a decision” or “What’s next” – with all this, what others actually wanted to ask me was why did I not go for a two-week calculated holiday (or a couple of month’s sabbatical, if I am being pretentiously brazen about it) to quench my thirst of travel, as an averagely sane person would otherwise do.

The truth is, there is no fun in that. I have taken enough of these recreational holidays – as people often term them – in my life. When I was working I found myself claiming the boundaries of my city almost every weekend, with a couple of friends, drinking a bunch of beers and coming back, but that was no solution. The minute you enter the premises of your office, the next day, it feels as if that sweet, sally trip, that in fact, went past in the blink of an eye, actually never happened. I wanted something more than that. Something bigger. Something permanent.

Discontentment Is Good

Discontentment is the very first step to a new beginning. My discontentment towards my job brought me into this. I’d always loved India, but I never loved my life in India. I loved my profession (of writing), but I never loved my job. It seemed I was just accepting things as they came, and as everyone says “this is life and you got to learn to deal with it.”

But I think I never managed to master that art. Though I tried to suppress my unsatisfied soul the traditional way, by changing jobs and running after money. But it was just not enough. My audacious, fertile mind – discontented and grumbling – kept pushing me until I shifted focus.

writing

The Journey That Changed It All

I took my first solo trip back in 2014 (you can read about it all here), while I was still working, to trek for a few days under the colossal Himalayas. It was a life changing experience. Though there was nothing extraordinarily great about the journey, the freedom in travelling solo was, in fact, quite addictive. And that was it. I spent the next few months, saving as much money possible from the job I was doing, having a very clear focus in my mind – to leave this lifestyle behind and travel the world.

“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world” Mary Anne Radmacher

Though it may sound cool and easy how I managed to quit my job and get ahead with the mission See-The-World. But trust me, it wasn’t.

Two years Later

Though my journey as a solo traveller and as someone on a perpetually limited budget – particularly during the first year of travel-blogging – has had many highs and lows, when I look back and think of what travelling has given me during all this time, if there’s one thing that comes to my mind, it is: a mileage of a different kind.

I mean forget about the money I’ve made and the number of sponsored trips I’ve scored during all this period, the kind of self-transformation travelling have provided me with, compensates everything.

And speaking of what’s next, I think I’ll continue travelling for as long as my heart will desire, and if I ever wanted some stillness, or a periodic absence-of-movement in life, I can always go back and resume what I was (before 2016) doing. But this time, to only do it much better!

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Hallan Valley: Himachal Pradesh’s Another Best Kept Secret

There are some places in the world that keep a piece of you, places that time and again feel irresistible, regardless of your frequent visits there. Hallan Valley in Himachal Pradesh is one such place for me. And its tranquil locale, a friendly atmosphere, and an away-from-the-tourist-trail charm are in fact, the reasons.

The first time I happened to visit Hallan Valley, it was a year and a half ago. I was returning from a solo motorbiking trip in Spiti Valley. But as I left Manali for Delhi, and rode about ten or twelve kilometres, towards Kullu (on old Manali-Kullu highway) I came across a dull looking signboard on the left. “Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna“ it read, and pointed toward uphill, with a bit more information about the road length and other mechanical gibberish. I can’t remember what else it said, but the term “Gram Sadak”, that translates to ‘village road’ in English, felt quite assuring.

At 10 in the morning, the weather looked perfect to be riding on the Hallan Road (Google for where I’m talking about). At a winding pace, thanks to a smooth road, the continuous steep uphill didn’t bother much. With every kilometre, the valley widened a few more meters. A few tiny villages also fell on the way before disappearing with every quick turn. After about 5 or 6 km of a steady uphill, the road concluded in a village (call it the last village on the Hallan Road) and that was it — in less than 15 minutes I explored Hallan Valley from its one end to the other.

Hallan Valley: One Of The Tiniest Valleys In Himachal

Perhaps one of the smallest valleys to explore, Hallan Valley comprises of no more than a dozen villages on its either side and stretches for about 6 km with a connected motorable road, before coming to an end.

There are literally no eating joints or any fully-functioning guest house in the entire valley at the moment, and the only option for anyone wanting to stay in Hallan Valley — as I always end up doing — is a basic homestay located in the village of Charanag (the second last village from its top end) with a shared bedroom at your disposal, offering a maximum occupancy of 4 people.

There’s also not much to see and do here for a regular tourist, except for just relaxing and soaking in a laidback Himachali life.

So Why Even Bother Visiting The Hallan Valley?

Popular for its apple and red-rice farming Hallan Valley offers a rustic village experience, away from any hustle and bustle of a popular tourist place like Manali or Solang.

Here you can spend your holidays blissfully, in solitude, or while interacting with happy villagers. Lacking any modern-day facility (even not matching with that of what you may find in the most offbeat corners of Parvati Valley or someplace else near Manali) Hallan Valley is a moreover only meant for travellers not interested in visiting places but experiencing a different way of life.

Hallan Valley, indeed, is a place for slow travellers.

I visit Hallan Valley almost every two months (especially when I’m not travelling) and it feels more home to me than New Delhi does. I know more people in the village of Charanag than I do in my own neighbourhood.

Speaking of my typical day in Charanag, when I’m there, all I end up doing is accompanying the locals to their fields, crafting my own trek-of-the-day and exploring the nearby villages, playing with local kids after school, dining (and often getting drunk) in local families’ house, eating fresh apples from the fields, or relaxing and soaking up the fresh views from my homestay in Charanag.

[Further Reading About: The Town Of Charanag]

Those looking for a more practical reason to travel to Hallan Valley, however, can visit a few centuries old temples, with Vasuki Naag Temple being the most popular. Hallan Valley is also a great place for camping, with magical views of the adjoining Kullu Valley down below.

A few offbeat treks including the popular-among-locals trek of ‘Foota Saur’ — a place considered auspicious for its green-water late.

[Also Read about Sethan In Himachal Pradesh — Another Offbeat Place Manali]

Getting There

Though an unheard of place, Hallan Valley is well listed in Google Maps. Just Google Hallan Valley, or Hallan Road and that’s it, you won’t have any problem arriving in Hallan even if you’re a first-time visitor. Also remember, you do not need to drive all the way to Manali (if coming from Kullu). Take the old-Kullu Manali highway from Kullu and you will come to the town of Naggar. At about 3 km from Naggar (towards Manali) the road to Hallan will come on your right.

Those coming from Delhi or Chandigarh in a public bus can take a local bus to Naggar, from Kullu (so book your bus only until Kullu, and not Manali). From Naggar, a taxi will drop you anywhere in Hallan in under 300 Rupees. From Manali, taxis take around 500 Rupees.

  • Please note that there are two Hallan (Hallan 1 and Hallan 2) and we are talking about Hallan 1 here.
  • Also, note that there are no cash points in Hallan Valley, so get all the cash you may need before you get there.

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An Ideal Guide To Char Dham Yatra: Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, Badrinath

It is said in Hinduism, that no act can be more righteous and religiously pious than taking your parents on a pilgrimage to Char Dham. And I ended up living that statement, earlier in the year 2017, upon my mother’s continuous request to take her across to the Char Dham — the four holy sites for Hindus: Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath — in the Indian Himalayan state of Uttarakhand.

It happened when my mother kept requesting me to a point where any repeated denial felt like a hopeless try. The deal was, however, we were not going to book any of those lame Char Dham yatra tours that cover every experience possible — from fighting for the front seat in the tour-bus everyday, to sight-seeing more tourist places (that fall on route) than something religious, to sleeping in the smelly guesthouses ever — but nothing spiritually uplifting.

 

So taking no risk of that sort and regretting in the end, we agreed upon following my way — of literally backpacking to all the four sites of Char Dham. For a period of nearly 10 days, we experienced uncountable rickety public buses, waited long hours for shared taxis, worked and reworked on our itinerary (though still following the agenda of starting the pilgrimage with Yumnotri and ending at Badrinath) and booked our own hotels, while on the go.

And if you’re planning something similar — of completing the Char Dham Yatra in one go, without booking a special tour, this travel guide is for you.

Following The Right Way

Not many people are privy to the fact that the Char Dham Yatra follows a pattern and end up visiting the four holy places the way they fancy. From what is believed, the pilgrims should first visit Yumnotri then Gangotri, then Kedarnath, and in the end, conclude their visit at Badrinath. Why so? Well, as my mother.

Things To Note

Please note that the temples at four Char Dham sites open only between a limited period of April to October/November, with every year having a different opening and closing date based on Hindu tradition of parikrama or clockwise circumambulation. One can check the exact date of opening of Char Dham Yatra on the official Uttarakhand Tourism website here.

Though people allowed to visit the four pilgrimage sites throughout the year (if the roads are not blocked already due to heavy snowfall in winter) the temples remain locked from outside. It is moreover quite impossible to find public bus connections once the Yatra has been officially announced as discontinued for the season!

A self-planned trip may take a few days extra, as you may end up spending a little more time in finding accommodation or waiting for public transport, but rest assured, there’s going to be much more freedom and peace of mind throughout the journey. The entire trip may also just feel a lot cheaper than booking a per-pax, all paid for the tour — particularly if you’re two or more people and hence sharing hotel rooms.

There will be enough regular buses and shared taxis moving along the route between the official opening time of the yatra. When the yatra is officially discontinued, finding transport can be a problem. So plan accordingly.

Understanding The Route

Despite the four sites of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath being located pretty close to each other, the higher mountain regions here makes it pretty impossible to have any direct road connection between them — forcing travellers to take longer detours and thus travelling longer distances. Consider a full day drive (7-14 hours) from one destination to the other.

Day 1: Rishikesh To Janki Chatti

Morning buses from Rishikesh leave at the first light (around 4 AM) and take nearly 10 or 11 hours to reach Janki Chatti. Buses can be booked in advance at the bus station in Rishikesh or right on time. Those who have missed the bus should have no problem in finding shared taxis that may charge slightly extra. The route takes you from zero to a whopping 2,800m altitude above the sea level.

Please note that the road concludes at Janki Chatti from where you need to trek 5 km (and back) to Yamunotri. And since the trek may take around 4-5 hours and then another hour to enter the temple (if it’s crowded) it’s a good idea not to trek the same day and rather do it the following morning. There are enough budget hotels for stay at Janki Chatti. A few guest houses can also be found at Yamunotri, but in peak season, it may be possible that they’re all fully booked.

Day 2: Trek To Yamunotri. And Back To Janki Chatti

Yamunotri is the source of river Yamuna, which, according to Hindu belief, is considered pure and bathing in its waters is believed to absolve people of their sins.

The trail connecting Janki Chatti and Yamunotri is pretty much a wide concrete path, with almost no chance of someone losing it. A GMVN rest house lies a kilometre from the starting point to the left. The town ends after a kilometre and a half after which the route gets slightly steeper. There are three temples along the route and the first (Ram temple) lies to your right just after the town ends. You will be treated to a hot spring at Yamunotri.

Depending on how fast you walk and how busy the temple at Yamunotri was, it can take 4 to 5 (or even) hours to get back to Janki Chatti. Relax at Janki Chatti.

Day 3: Janki Chatti to Gangotri

Janki Chatti to Gangotri can feel another long journey, though still not as brutal as the previous one. Even if you catch a bus at 6 or 7 in the morning, you should be fine reaching the town of Gangotri before it gets dark.

Now, the temple at Gangotri is located in the town of Gangotri itself, confusing many about whether or not to go all the way to Gomukh (the source of river Ganga) and only pay tribute at the temple in the town of Gangotri and leave. Trek to Gomukh, from Gangotri, takes at least two days and requires to complete an 18+18 km trail.

If you wish to skip the trek, skip Day 4 & Day 5 below.

Day 4: Gangotri To Bhojbasa

Trek to Gangotri to Gomukh takes two days, with the first destination being a flat valley named Bhojbasa. The trek to Bhojbasa — 14 km from Gangotri, starts at the front courtyard of the Gangotri temple — following a steep climb of around 100 steps which leaving you pretty much exhausted before you even start. But once you’re done with it, there’s only a gentle uphill climb throughout.

It may take 6 or 8 hours to complete the trek, depending upon the fitness level. Regular ongoing pilgrims will keep you on track. However, if you’re visiting Char Dham when the chances of finding regular pilgrims are less, it’s advised to hire a guide or walk in a group.

Bhojbasa has a GMVN government guesthouse or a much cheaper Lal Baba Ashram where you can stay for 250 Rupees a night, including your food and stay.

Day 5: Bhojbasas to Gomukh. And Back To Gangotri

Since Bhojbasa has located 4 km from Gomukh, continue your journey early next day and reach Gomukh in an hour and a half. Gomukh is the source of river Ganga (or the Ganges) that completes your pilgrim to Gangotri.

Spend some time at Gomukh and walk back to Bhojbasa. Have another cup of tea at Bhojbasa if you fancy or continue your walk back to Gangotri. Since Bhojbasa to Gangotri is pretty much a gentle downhill walk, there should be no problem in completing in nearly 4 hours. Find a place in Gangotri and stay for the night.

Day 6: Gangotri To Gauri Kund. And A Pit Stop At Sonprayag

The route to Gangotri to Gauri Kund is the longest distance between any two Char Dham locations — a whopping 310 km and can take as long as 14 hours to complete it. The buses leave around 4, with the first light, until 7 after which there are no direct buses between the two locations and one may have to break the journey (Gangotri to Uttarkashi to Gauri Kund) and reach Gauri Kund if they apparently even could.

Gauri Kund is where the road concludes itself. From here, there’s only a walkable trail.

Now, please note that for Kedarnath yatra you also have to obtain a medical fitness certificate. This certificate can be obtained from the medical centres at Sonprayag. They check your blood pressure and inquire about your medical history. If you couldn’t prove yourself as medically fit to walk, you won’t be allowed you to go to Kedarnath by trek. In this case, you will have to go to Kedarnath by helicopter. Your bus will drop you at Sonprayag, from where you’ll be required to get the medical certificate and get a shared taxi to Gauri Kund (a 10-minute journey).

Day 7: Gauri Kund To Rambara

After the June’13 flood in Uttarakhand, people think that the trekking route from Gauri Kund to Kedarnath route is very risky and unsafe. But this is untrue, the trek has become safer now, perhaps as safe as the trek to Vaishno Devi — with around 8 ft to 10 ft wide trail and an iron railing on the edges.

Some people complete the trek from Gauri Kund to Kedarnath, and back in one day. But if you don’t mind sparing an extra day, two days make for an easy and enjoyable walk to Kedarnath. Located around 11 km from Gauri Kund, Rambara has a GMVN tent accommodation, with fresh food and hot shower.

Day 8: Rambara To Kedarnath. And Back to Gauri Kund

From Rambara, the site of Kedarnath is only a 3 km or an hour’s walk away. As you reach Kedarnath, the first thing you notice is the big commercial helipad. Next to the helipad, there are camps and cottages made by NIM for overnight stay of tourists, but since they go full during the season time, it’s always a good idea to stay at Rambara, unless you have a booking.

It may moreover take up to two or three hours to get into the temple at Kedarnath, so start early.

Once done, walk back to Gauri Kund and stay there for the night. If you’ve time, you can also consider taking the shared taxi to Sonprayag (the town where you got off earlier to obtain the medical certificate) and stay in Sonprayag. This may make it easier for you to catch the morning bus to Badrinath the next day.

Day 9: Gauri Kund/Sonprayag to Badrinath

Gauri Kund/Sonprayag to Badrinath is a 300km long stretch and can take 10-12 hours to complete the journey. Buses leave from the same point in Sonprayag where you got off earlier to obtain the medical certificate and can be booked in advance to confirm a seat.

If you’re planning to leave for Rishikesh and take the early morning bus, visit the temple in the night and book a bus ticket for the next day. Buses leave as early as 4 Am.

Practical Tips & Other Factual Mumbo-Jumbo

  • Consider paying 500-800 Rupees per person for every bus journey. A shared taxi, which is quicker, may charge 200-300 Rs extra than a bus.
  • You can find a twin sharing room for 500 or 600 Rupees at most places, except for the GMVN tent accommodation on the way to Kedarnath. They’re quite expensive for a price of 800 Rupees per person in a 6-8 mixed-dorm tent.
  • Make sure to carry at least one photo ID card with you.
  • Avoid visiting Char Dham between May and June because of the peak tourist season.

Also Read: Uttarakhand Travel Guide

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Padavedu In Tamil Nadu: An Idea Example Of A Progressive India

Throughout all these years of travel, I have learned that every city, every town, has its own charm. You visit Dharamshala, in the Indian Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh, and you get a sense of reverence in its air; Shimla, on the other hand, despite being located in the same state has nothing to do with reverence and only makes sense as a hill resort buzzing with happy vacationers. Similarly, not every destination leave a deeper impression on life. Some do, while some don’t. But my recent visit to Padavedu, a cluster of villages centrally located among Vellore and Thiruvannamalai, in Tamil Nadu, was definitely one of those when you end up learning something useful in life — a kind of experience that helps you grow just as much within, as without.

I visited Padavedu on a blog-tip with Srinivasan Services Trust, or SST, to learn a bit about sustainable living and various community-empowerment initiatives run by them. From pottery making to basket weaving, individual money generating activities to community services (like waste management and healthcare and education) SST teaches people different skill sets, and in the process creates an ecosystem, a testimony to how if people work together as one force, they can really shape their tomorrow better.

Padavedu — just like thousands of other villages adopted by the Srinivasan Services Trust, in five different states across India — is an ideal example of a progressive India!

A Quick Overview

One day was definitely not enough to understand and grab all that SST has been doing for local communities in Padavedu. In less than eight hours, we were taken to a family that was now solely dependent on pottery thanks to SST, a local Balvadi (a pre-school) that was more efficient and prompt than any pre-school I’d seen in life, a self-help group of women that found a new source of income weaving baskets out of banana leaf fiber, and later in the day, to a few 12th century excavated temples in the region that are now fully-funded and looked after by SST.

I had heard if put in good hands, local NGOs can transform communities, but to see it all and experience for the first time, with such purity, was overwhelming.

Pottery In Keshavapuram

We kickstarted our day by visiting a local family in Keshavapuram. Sekhar and his family were pretty much solely dependent on pottery since SST introduced pottery as an effective source of income to them. They create different earthenware including flower pots, vases, kitchen crockeries like pots and pans and occasional, pen/candle stands and smaller artefacts.

Now how SST comes into the picture, other than teaching the skill and providing the basic hardware including the spinning wheel, is by providing bulk orders to the families, in addition to whatever small business they generate on their own.

Sekhar and other artisans sell their creations in various markets in and around Padavedu. Sometimes bulk orders provided by SST even help them sell their creations as far as in Chennai. A flower pot costs approximately 50 Rupees, whereas something smaller around 20 Rupees. Cooking pots and pans about 100 Rupees.

I was told, as I tried my hands creating a small oil lamp for myself as a souvenir, after a few quick instructions by Shekar, how he managed to make 2000 Rupees in just one day, last Sunday. A smirk on his face was a living testimony of SST’s honest work in the area.

Visiting A Local Balvadi

SST works as facilitators, not financiers. If there is a toilet requirement in a school, for example, they facilitate the process by working together with existing donors. In most sectors, they support and empower people with information about various government schemes available and encourage them to use it.

The local Balvadi of Keshavapuram, that now entertains a 100% enrollment of local kids and help them make a better tomorrow, was founded by SST. They provided the infrastructure — right from the foundation of the classrooms to toilets to all the teaching material — and then handed it over to the government. Nearly 4L Rupees has been invested in each school in Padavedu.

We were told about different activities and lessons that kids upto the age of 5-year old hone here before they get ready for the first standard. While their parents are away working, these Balvadis help kids learn a bit more about the discipline and get their first few lessons for a civilized world.

Meeting The Empowered Women Of Cheena Puttur

A small village in Padavedu, Cheena Puttur is popular for a very unusual craft — of weaving baskets and small boxes out of banana leaf fibre. SST has formed several self-help groups for women who were trained in the art as an additional source of income. SST provides them with metal frames and other hardware, before helping them get bulk orders.

Without getting much into the mechanical gibberish, I asked how it helps individual ladies in having an additional source of income out of this, and everyone had a success story to share.

Chitra and Devi, who belonged to a self-help group called Sri Ganpati, with 16 other group members, shared how this activity has personally helped them save money for their young kids. Three years ago, their self-help group took 4L Rupees as credit from the bank as an initial investment. Three years later, and after a complete repayment of the loan, they all have started saving money in their group’s shared bank account. Life cannot be better than this, they shared, with a smile.

Prema, another woman belonging to a self-help group called Power Manni (meaning Full Moon in English) shared how in 2010 they started their self-help group with 16 members, taking 7L in credit as the initial investment. By 2016, they repaid all the loan, with each member in their self-help group now having a personal saving of 30,000 Rupees. Each member of her group also has another primary source of income like tailoring or farming, among others.

Making A Big Difference

Founded in 1996, SST works around 6 key focus areas — economic, education, environment, health, infrastructure and social while keeping the community as a focus.

Once done with its background research, SST adopts an entire village (or a cluster of villages) and introduces several life-altering initiatives, while keeping a check on the ongoing government macro initiatives like ‘Make in India’, ‘Digital India’, and ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’. For example, other than all the economic development programs, that SST, in Padavedu, was responsible for, it also had a keen focus on segregation of degradable and non-degradable waste, and in the process, collects over a 100 tons of vermicompost every month. Money generated from the sale of vermicompost (over 4 Lac Rupees every month) is then used for the development of the villages.

This is just one of the thousands of other similar cases, across five states in India, where SST is active and has developed a model that works well with the villages. I am sure if SST keeps working at a pace they’re maintaining right now, their working model will act as a wake-up call for the nation.

Disclaimer: I visited Padavedu on a blog-trip with Srinivasan Services Trust (or SST). Though my trip was sponsored by them all experience and viewpoints are solely personal. I only recommend what I personally experience, and find worth appreciating.

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Revisiting Majuli Island: India’s Largest River Island

I remember back in the summer of 2015, I fell in love with the Majuli Island — a 450 sq km of an untouched land (and India’s largest river island) that appears to have been forgotten by today’s new-age influence and of any technology. Here people still pedalled a manual bicycle to work. Hand manoeuvred boats were preferred over the motored ones. What is often termed as India’s largest river island, Majuli Island, at least to me, revealed itself as a no man’s land where simmering mat of yellow rice fields and water meadows bursting with hyacinth blossoms were more in mass and number than there was life.

More than two years later as I revisited Majuli in December 2017, to meet a friend, I figured that Majuli was still pretty much the same. If the rest of India was developing at a rate of 6, on a scale of 10, Majuli was still somewhere in decimals below 1. Roads were still deprived of any concrete. A chaay and a samosa still cost less than 10 Rupees. The only increase in any number that I noticed anywhere was of indigenous Mishing people’s homes (the tiny one-room bamboo huts) that were now lined adjacent to the road as I made my way from Kamlabari ferry point to deeper in the island. And they only made the entire scene look a bit more surreal.

Getting Unwind In Majuli Island

After backpacking in Nagaland for nearly three weeks, when an idea of finding refuge in a place where I can unwind myself and write about my recent travels, struck my mind, Majuli seemed like a perfect option. Its open rice fields and an old-world charm let you seek the inspiration within you. With more bicycles on the road than anything with a motor, the island of Majuli assures a tranquil experience.

So I stepped out of the ferry and took my first deep breath of Majuli’s fresh air. I knew what I was going to do in Majuli this time other than a bit of writing for the next three days here, and that was, repeating its usual charms — of relaxing, eating well, and being merry!

Revisiting Majuli & Finding A Home Away From Home

If there was something different about this visit to Majuli (than the previous one) it was that I knew where I was going to stay. Ygdrasill Bamboo Cottage, a tourist bamboo facility, run by a friend and a local philanthropist who has spent just as much time taking his business forward as helping indigenous communities on the island.

I had three days to spare in Majuli before I had a flight to catch for Chennai, and no part of me wanted to spend them anywhere else in Majuli than the Ygdrasill cottage. I knew how mornings cannot be more surreal. I recalled as I made my way to Kerala Gaon (the place where Ygdrasill Cottage is located) how during my previous visit, I would wake up to the sound of the birds as the first morning light would peek into my bamboo cottage. Outside, and at a distance, flocks of the birds would be busy sunbathing on the green pastures and chilling with the grazing cows — a kind of setting that would pull out the poet in you.

In the month of January, when fog dominated the expansive boundaries of Majuli Island and with the sun setting down as soon as five in the evening, the experience was, however, slightly different, but much pleasant than how I’d previously felt it — sweating, and drinking more water than ever. Between November and March mark the best months to visit Majuli. This is when the temperature remains moderate, with the minimum temperature falling as low as 15 degrees Celsius, promising an easy movement.

What To See & Do In Majuli

If anything, Majuli is a place to find stillness in life. A place meant to relax, laze around and be in harmony with nature. Yet for the first time visitors, here’re some top vacation ideas:

Visiting The Satras

While Majuli’s biggest charm is relaxing and unwinding, it also acts as a spiritual abode for many — a hub of neo-Vaishnavite culture, initiated around the 15th century by the revered Assamese saint Sankardeva and his disciple Madhavdeva. With over 30 recognised Satras (or Hindu monasteries) Majuli represents a colourful ancient Assamese culture and help its followers not only gain the first few lessons in Hinduism but also enhance their skillset and learn one or many arts.

Among the many Satras, a few prominent ones which should be on the list of travellers visiting Majuli are Kamalabari Satra, Dakhinpat Satra, Auniati Satra, Samaguri Satra and Garamurh Satra.

Learning About The Mishing Community

An indigenous tribe, that primarily hailed from Cambodia hundreds of years ago, Mishing community now makes for one of the biggest indigenous communities in Northeast India, most of whom have settled in and around the Majuli Island. From what I’ve experienced, Mishing people are highly friendly and hospitable, and any chance of being invited to their house for some rice wine should not be missed.

Speaking of their house, imagine it as a big room standing on bamboo stilts with no walls or temporary partitions inside. At one corner you’ll have the kitchen, and at the other, a sleeping mattress (or a bed if the family can afford to). The entire family would eat and sleep together with no definitions of personal privacy whatsoever. If someone has a bigger piece land or a massive house, it’s only going to be a larger room from inside, with still no partitions — indeed a very interesting form of architecture.

Exploring The Island On A Bicycle

In Majuli, where a majority of people still ride a bicycle to work, pedalling a pair of wheels and feeling like a local has its own charm.

Just rent an old school bike for 100 Rupees a day (sometimes even 50) and you will come across beauty unparalleled — with sometimes gilded rice paddies and rolling meadows keeping you entertained, and sometimes a rickety river bridge, as a tributary of the Brahmaputra.

Witnessing The Everyday Life

The everyday life in Majuli takes you back in the time — with everything around having its own slow and careful pace. A fisherman taking his boats out at sunset for the day’s last catch. A group of cyclists hormoniously pedalling together to home. Wide open grasslands with a shepherd tending his cows and goats together. A paddy field worker seemingly carrying a stash of liquid gold. All these may appear like different life-stories, but if put together, they all speak of the time of yesteryears.

In Majuli, everything conspires to restore your faith in the beauty of the world.

Also read, from my previous visit: Majuli Island In Photos

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Travelling In Nagaland — Is It Safe?

“Though it’s totally peaceful at the moment and the local rebellion groups have agreed to a ceasefire, nothing can anyway happen to a tourist ever. Ye log, vaise bhi, tourist ko kkuch nahi karta (they mean no harm to tourists)” I clearly remember how brief, but aptly assuring, the answer came to me the first time I inquired about the safety for a tourist travelling in Nagaland.

And as I later repeated the same question, almost every two days, every time I saw an army personnel (to be honest, anyone wearing the camouflage army pants!) I got the same answer. “For a tourist, Nagaland is completely safe”

And to tell you the truth, I wanted to believe that too — with all the goodness and faith in me. But given what we keep hearing about northeast India and with the indigenous Naga tribes always having maintained a deadly image to the outer world, it was just too tough for me to reconsider, at least without having any first-hand experience.

Experiencing The Offbeat Nagaland

My first experience of an offbeat Nagaland took place in Pfutsero, a small town (in the Kohima district) inhabited by the dominating Chakesang tribe. The journey to Pfutsero was undeniably unusual too and happened all of a sudden when a cab driver in Kohima spoke about his home in Pfutsero and left me (and a few other friends I was with, in Kohima) with a choice of accompanying him, and to a place, we had never heard of before. The only inspiration was, he told us that Pfutsero was Nagaland’s highest inhabited town, and with that, the coldest too. The next thing we knew, we were in a shared taxi accompanied by three other locals, with one of them surprising holding on to his 12-inch machete.

The town of Pfutsero revealed itself as a little eccentric, but undeniably friendly. Despite half of the locals being alien to the idea of tourism, all we had in store for us was sharing smiles and befriending the local Chakesangs. We trespassed in people’s property, offered candies to kids, drank rice beer in somebody’s house, and explored the town as confidently as we would explore the far-out corners of Himachal Pradesh or another part of the country.

[More on Pfutsero: The Highest Inhabited Town In Nagaland]

To me, people in Nagaland appeared to be just as friendly and kind as you generally expect people to be. They would treat you as guests, tell you directions if you’re lost, invite to their house if shared a smile, or walk with you if you’d time. Though it’s true that Nagaland once complimented the ‘Wild East’ stereotype, since the introduction of Christianity the entire state has transformed into a humble shadow of its once fierce self — a place where people would want to live beautifully, eat well, make friends, and be merry.

How Christianity Changed It All

Nagaland has always been known for its headhunting tribes — the fierce indigenous groups who would chop of an intruder’s head that seemed a threat. What made it worse is that they took pride in doing that. They would ostentatiously hang the head they had claimed on the entrance of their house and talk about it loud — with a simple belief that the more head one would claim the better will be his reputation. Men would claim the heads and their wives would tattoo their body as a reward and for showing affection.

And this was prevalent in Nagaland in until the 70s before the British missionaries entered the region and gave the people of Nagaland a reason not to do so. They introduced Christianity and taught indigenous tribes to “Love Thy Nature”. Since early 80s headhunting and clan-killing totally stopped in Nagaland with many proud headhunters now feeling guilty of their brutal practices. They buried the heads in the ground, stopped talking about it, and moved forward to a harmonized society.

Though headhunting practices are only a dying myth today, tourists still find the ages-old practice just too fearful to travel Nagaland. And to tell you the truth, so was the case with me, as I landed in Dimapur, and with that, in Nagaland, for the first time ever.

Travelling In A Pair

When an invitation to attend a blog trip for the Hornbill Festival in Kohima landed in my inbox, I decided not to return to Delhi after its completion in three days, and rather stay back and explore a bit of Nagaland. The only problem was, no part of me wanted to do it on its own — and this was for two reasons. One, because travelling in Nagaland is a costly affair and sticking together helps in saving money. And two, because of the obvious reason of personal safety.

So for the first time ever, since my two-plus years of the solo travelling stint, I considered not being on my own, and rather tag with another blogger from Kerala. For the next 15 days (out of my 20 day travel period in Nagaland) we stick together, acting as each other’s helpless guardians before I slowly gained confidence and parted to travel on my own for a few days.

What Am I Actually Trying To Convey

Travelling is Nagaland is just as safer as any other part of the country, with the local insurgency groups being totally inactive at the moment, and hopefully going to stay that way. But even if not, and from what I’ve experienced, people in Nagaland understand what value tourism brings to the state, and can never harm tourists for coming all the way to their neighbourhood only to spend money.

During my 20-day backpacking trip in Nagaland, I hitchhiked about 6 times, with twice on my own; camped once, again on my own; blindly trusted on locals and ended up sipping hot tea or a cup of rice beer in their house, and in the end, it all went just well.

So just be aware of what’s going on around you and not feel afraid. Take necessary steps to minimize risk wherever needed and you will see that people in Nagaland are just as friendly, hospitable and kind as you expect people in mountains to often be

More on Nagaland: Hornbill Festival In Pictures | Khonoma Village: In Pictures | The Village Of Longwa, In Mon

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Visiting Longwa, In Mon: My Highlight In Nagaland

Want to explore rural Nagaland, and experience the life of headhunting tribesmen? Visit Longwa, in the district of Mon.

Nagaland has always been a mystery to the outside world, with a very little being known about this as-often-termed ‘godforsaken’ place. Considered as the ‘wild east’ Nagaland is home to some 16-odd headhunting tribes, who, until very recently, valiantly fought off any intruders. They would chop-off their enemy’s head and ostentatiously hang it on the entrance of their house as a showpiece, with a simple belief that more heads one claimed the better is his reputation. And to tell you the truth, this was prevalent in many places in Nagaland until late 20th century, before the British missionaries came and finally turned the entire state into a big Christian community.

Though of course, Nagaland, as we know it today, is only a remaining shadow of its once fierce self, and much of the south of the state has already been fairly developed, in the north, however, one can still find tribespeople in exotic attire who continue to live a traditional lifestyle (minus the headhunting ritual ofcourse).

And in search of ‘that’ exotic, I visited the border town of Longwa, in the district of Mon.

A King With 60 Wives

It is said that the king of Longwa (locally known as ‘Angh) eats in Myanmar and sleeps in India because a part of his house is located in India, and a part, in Myanmar. He has 60 wives in total and he rules over more than 70 villages extended to Myanmar and Arunachal Pradesh — a lavish life indeed!

And that’s not it, the king, in addition to all the residents of Longwa, hold a dual citizenship for India and Myanmar, though it’s a different thing that many might not have stepped outside the tiny boundaries of Mon in their life.

Five Reasons For Visiting Longwa. And My Biggest Fascination

There are many reasons for Longwa to be falling under the tourist radar. For one, Longwa is home to an influential king, and his house (I repeat, a part of which is located in India and a part in Myanmar) remains a dominating attraction. Accessible without any prior permission and without for any cost, the king’s house in Longwa takes you back in time and through some of the rare artefacts of a losing Naga (and the local Konyak tribe’s) culture.

Two, Longwa is one of the biggest villages in Mon and a rather ‘tourist friendly’ one, with enough information on it and enough tourist homes for anyone to spend a night or two. Compared to the main town of Mon, it’s also much cheaper to stay in Longwa. So all in all, if you’re visiting Mon and want to experience Nagaland’s culture, there can’t be a better & a safer place.

Three, the town is known for being India’s opium den, where tourists can enjoy the company of opium sucking locals (though not advised, as it’s illegal to do so) and be merry. One can also see the complete process of cooking the opium and locals sucking it through bamboo pipes with tribal engravings on it.

And last but not the least, it’s one of the rare places in Nagaland where spotting the last of the tattooed hunters is an underlying possibility. Tourists can moreover photograph them, though of course at a fixed price of 100 Rupees per photograph, and if one wants them to show off their tattooed bare-chest, they always have the option of paying a little more.

But among all the reasons, why I wanted to visit Longwa, at first place, was because of its distinction as being the last border town. At Longwa, India concludes its territory to Myanmar. Tourists are, however, free to trespass, walk into Myanmar for a day, and return. There’s also a viewpoint right outside the town, with a milestone installed over it. The milestone mentions the name of the two countries, and with that, divides them with an invisible borderline.

My Visit To Longwa: Long Story Short

Public transportation in Nagaland is a nightmare and to make sure you get a seat on a bus, you’re required to book it several days in advance. Moreover, if you happen to travel on a Sunday, consider it your biggest misfortune. Because when Britishers left Nagaland, they taught the local Nagamese to not do anything on a Sunday and only visit the church and relax, and it seems everyone in Nagaland took it just too seriously. Nagaland+Sunday = A Dead World!

Since I didn’t book a bus ticket in advance and decided to travel from Kohima to Mon (and then to Longwa) as my heart fancied, it took me a long long way and a couple of days to reach Longwa. After getting lucky with hitching from Kohima to Dimapur, I took a train to Bhojo in Assam, followed by a sleepless night at the train station in Bhojo. The next morning, as it happened to be a Sunday, I travelled from Bhojo to Nagaland’s northern entry-point of Namza. From Namza another lucky hitchhiking effort (though after 4 hours of waiting) took me to Mon. Where a bus would have taken 800 Rupees and a little over 12 hours to reach Mon, from Kohima, I spent one-third of the price but bled an unnecessary 48 hours — a kind of experience that doesn’t make you feel very proud. After a night in Mon, I made my way to Longwa in a shared 150 Rupee taxi the next morning.

Tip: If travelling from Kohima, book your ticket at least 24 hours in advance. Don’t try to break the journey, and make it long and tiring. The bus leaves on 1 pm every day (except for Sundays) and reaches Mon early next morning. From Mon, you can get a shared taxi.

Longwa: An Ideal Place To Understand The Rural Nagaland

Despite being a popular tourist trail, Longwa offers an unparallel experience for tourists to understand the village culture in Nagaland. Come here for spotting the last of the tattooed headhunters or getting closer to the border on Myanmar, travelling with locals in a shared taxi or driving your own car, come here for anything, because if you happen to spend a day or two in Longwa, you will get a good idea about the everyday life in this part of the world, where most families have no money to survive and where younger generation still thrive on no employment, yet everyone, as a society, live beautifully, eat well and be merry.

Where To Stay In Longwa

As far as I know, there are two tourist homes in Longwa. One belonging to the community offering a more tourist-like experience, and the other, to a local (but influential) family. The homestay of Jeilei (who happen to be a distant relative of the king of Longwa) is a perfect place for tourists and backpackers alike and enjoy the village culture.

Jeilei’s homestay is moreover an incredible place for experiencing the Konyak lifestyle, in its more truer and more conscious form. Their massive kitchen has a central fireplace where food is slow cooked and is the ideal place to continuously sip black tea, have lengthy (and often confusing) conversations and get to know one another. An extensive collection of rural and traditional artefacts such as the real beak of a hornbill, wooden carvings, and a muzzleloader gun makes is also available for a purchase.

The food is moreover as organic as it can get and their service is excellent.

With their homestay being a good source of income, they take great care of the guest. The rooms and sheets can be expected to be clean, with thick duvets to keep you warm. The rooms moreover have incredible views of the neighbourhood.

The homestay charges around Rs 500 per bed per person. Food is Rs 150 and 200 per person per meal for vegetarian and non-vegetarian respectively. All in all, the experience is great, and Jeilei’s is a perfect village home with basic amenities, but kind and welcoming hearts.

Have you been to Longwa? Would you like to add anything to the article? Spill in comments!

More from my travels Nagaland travels: Hornbill Festival In Pictures, Asia’s First Green Village of Khonoma, The Highest Inhabited Town In Nagaland: Pfutsero

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Khonoma, Asia’s First Green Village: In Pictures

In the world of ever-changing realities, we all secretly crave for some stillness in life, and with that, for visiting someplace that has been technologically forgotten and kept isolated from the real world. During my visit to Nagaland, I ended up visiting one such place — the village of Khonoma, often regarded as Asia’s first green village, can be anybody’s long-nurtured dream of losing themselves amidst nature’s serenity.

Located 20 km from Kohima, Khonoma is easily accessible and offers an unusual rural-Nagaland charm. Readily available taxis (in Kohima) take around 500 Rupees per trip allowing tourists to visit Khonoma on a quick one-day or a half-day trip, while at the same time, a few tourist homes offering enough options for slow-travellers to spend a few days, or a week, in the village.

What Makes Khonoma Special

Rural Nagaland is beautiful and friendly. The only is, it doesn’t have the infrastructure for tourists — a prominent reason why many people visiting Nagaland return home without visiting anything beyond Kohima and other popular big towns like Mon and Mokokchung. This is where Khonoma makes a distinction.

Despite a small world appearance and a village culture, Khonoma offers all facilities to a tourist. The town has its own tourist centre, almost every other family here is eager to host people, proper walking paths and the many sustainable tourism efforts moreover continue adding to a comfortable experience.

Khonoma also offers immense opportunities for birdwatching, trekking or simply rejuvenating yourself amidst a setting where chirps of birds and crickets and the burble of torrents dominate the soundscape. And if something is still missing you always have the local Angami tribe to learn more about. Explore their achievements in moving ahead from their own traditions and creating a more conserved and sustainable ecosystem. Get a glimpse of their lifestyle and understand how a tribe (the Angami Naga tribe of Khonoma) that was once known for largely depending on nature for their food and hunt on a mass level, gave up on their centuries-old practices and ended up being eco-activists. This is the quaint village of Khonoma, in pictures.

As seen from the other side of the valley, the village of Khonoma is surrounded by a thick canopy of a natural green

As a part of the Green Village Project, all the roofs were painted green few years ago, but now the paint has slowly peeled off giving all roofs a rustic and a more traditional appearance

Most village houses here are made of mud flooring and bamboo walls — with a small fencing made of stones surrounding them. A unique thing about the Angami tribe living in Khonoma is that they bury the dead relatives just outside their house

The Morung (or the traditional community house) at Khonoma Village. Acting as an educational institution, a Morung is where young boys and girls would gain their first few lessons of cultural & traditional knowledge through folk music, dance, folk tales and oral traditions. During the time of war, they were also used as used as a guard-house

Some rare artefacts that are now restored in the Morung in Khonoma

Terrace paddy fields in Khonoma — setting a juxtaposition with the surrounding jungle

It’s lovely to see how the village has been carefully designed & looked after. With bit of available space being covered in a careful green, walking in Khonoma makes it for a memorable experience

One of the many properly installed walkways in Khonoma

With zero non-degradable waste, finding a forgotten piece of plastic anywhere (even if it’s a dump yard) is a rarity here

Local families in Khonoma are always found welcoming tourists. With all due respect, feel free to peek into a house, share smiles and freeze some kids in action

A fresh morning in Khonoma with expansive views of natural forest from ever terrace

The beautiful people of Khonoma, always ready to smile and strike a (though often confusing) conversation


More on Nagaland: Hornbill Festival In Pictures | Pfutsero: The Highest Civilized Town In Nagaland | Planning A 3 Day Trip To Hornbill & Kohima

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Pfutsero: Visiting The Highest Inhabited Town In Nagaland

Somewhere not much deeper in Nagaland, as I took a sip of my morning tea (in the unsung town of Pfutsero) watching the clouds playfully swirl around the green-lush mountains, I heard my last night’s Naga friends lovingly tending to their vegetable gardens at a distance below. The mist descended heavily on our postcard village of Pfutsero, as a group of men approached me with their massive 14-inch grass machete knives, avoiding any eye contact. The valley echoed with the laughter of women and children. A periodic bwak of chicken was moreover noticably prevalent. This may not be the most beautiful place I’ve seen in the world, said a voice inside me, but it was surely something closer to that – where people live beautifully, eat well and be merry!

The town of Pfutsero was never on my agenda, and well, neither were many other places I ended up visiting during my three-week backpacking trip in Nagaland. The biggest motivation for visiting Pfutsero was, however, the fact that it is technically the highest town in Nagaland and also the coldest. In the month of December, little snowflakes sometimes claim the adjoining valleys and turn them from a beautiful green to a magical white — though only during the wee hours of midnight.

For those who have never heard of it, Pfutsero is located at only 50km from Kohima, but it’s surprising how despite being located so close to Kohima, hardly any tourist ever visit Pfutsero, and with such hospitable locals, the fact becomes even more baffling. Civilized by the Chakhesang tribe of Nagaland, Pfutsero remains one of my highlights in Nagaland.

Reaching Pfutsero

My visit to Pfutsero was undoubtedly quite unplanned. It all happened while I was still staying in Kohima, with more desire than ever to spend a few more days at the Hornbill festival, and met three other travel bloggers (Johann from EscapingLife, Shubham from TravelShoeBum and Jita from TheTravellingSlacker) who were interested in travelling to this much unheard of town. They told me that Pfutsero is the highest point in Nagaland — enough for me as a distinction to change my plans and join them.

Next thing I remember, all four of us were making our way in a shared taxi, having our own expectation from Pfutsero (pronounced as ‘footsero’).


Tip: Those wanting to travel in public transport, as we did, may note that regularly shared taxis run between Kohima and Pfutsero and cost around 200 Rupees per person per journey. Though only a 50 km from Kohima, it can take around 3 hours to drive between the two towns, as roads in Nagaland are always in an appalling condition. During monsoon, the route becomes even more time-consuming and dangerous, with the total travel time being highly subjective to the frequent landslides. So be warned!

Planning Your Visit: What To See & Do In Pfutsero

Hiking To Glory Peak

Located at over 2100 meters above the sea level, Pfutsero is regarded as Nagaland’s own little Switzerland. And this is for two reasons: one, because Pfutsero is the coldest civilized town in Nagaland, and two, it’s also the highest. And in Pfutsero, Glory Peak remains the highest peak — offering expansive panoramic views over the adjoining valleys.

If you’ve your own vehicle, you can drive all the way to the viewpoint. But even if you’re hiking, a gentle 20 to 30-minute walk can take you there. Glory peak also has a massive campsite, enough for a group of 10-15 members. There’s a small hut and a beautifully designed treetop sitting area too, to further add to the camping experience.

Exploring The Town

From exploring unexpected Cherry Blossoms to sharing smiles with the happy locals, there are plenty of reasons for anyone to wander around the many bylanes in Pfutsero. And if you are picturing Pfutsero as a tiny mountain village, be known that the town is a decent size offering enough attractions and this to see and do.

Eat a strange looking fruit or try a Naga chilly, or simply walk around the neighbourhood and capture some pictures.

If you visited Pfutsero during Cherry Blossom season (i.e between November and December) you will be treated with immense beauty. But even otherwise, you can surely have great views of open valleys, distant peaks and rice terraces along the slopes.

I particularly loved how hospitable and friendly the local Chakesang tribe in Pfutsero was. Almost everyone was eager to invite us to their home for some rice beer, and if someone’s not into it, just follow them in whatever they are doing and start an engaging conversation. People in Pfutsero definitely didn’t qualify for the common stereotype of Naga people — i.e strange and uncivilised.

Drinking The Reeeeeal Rice Beer With Locals

Throughout Nagaland, the best rice beer (also the cheapest!) was always only found in local people’s house. Just ask anyone around a few people, wherever you’re staying, and you will be taken to a secure abode.

I learned this during my visit to Pfutsero as we happened to ask a group of men about where we can find some rice beer, as they took us to a local drinking place — someone’s house. Unlike a price-tag of 50 Rupees, for a 200ml drink, as I was regularly drinking in Hornbill Festival for a couple of days, a 1.1L gigantic rice-beer mug, in Pfutsero, only cost Rupees 30. The mug was, in fact, so huge that I couldn’t finish it all and had to share.

One cup and soon you’re drunk enough to share some stories.

Hiking To Tsupfume

Though Pfutsero-Tsupfume isn’t really a hiking trail and the two towns are well connected with a motorable road, the walk is unusually pleasant to miss. Overlooking the gorgeous rice fields, as you make your way towards Tsupfume, you’re treated with flowers of all shades rimmed beautifully by the road. Periodic cherry blossoms moreover come your way regularly making the entire scene look quite magical.

For a 7km straight walk, it takes less than 3 hours to reach Tsupfume (from Pfutsero). Those wanting a bit of comfort can opt for a hired taxi that costs around 800 Rupees per trip. Please note that there are no guesthouses or homestays available in Tsupfume, however, if less in strength (consider 2 an ideal number) a local family may just be more willing in hosting you. There is moreover enough place to camp and stay in Tsupfume.

We also wanted to stay in Tsupfume, but since we were four people we couldn’t find a place that had enough space for us. So we explore the town quickly and back to Pfutsero the same day.

Where To Stay In Pfutsero, & Costs

For a regular backpacker, there are enough budget hotels in Pfutsero. We stayed at a place called The Mini Tourist Lodge that charged us 800 Rs for a double bedroom per night. Meals were charged 120 and 200 for breakfast and lunch/dinner respectively. The guest house was located outside of the town, offering beautiful panoramic views of the town.

Also Read: Hornbill Festival Pictures | How To Spend 3 Days For Hornbill Festival & Kohima

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Hornbill Festival: In Pictures

Where the stories of Nagaland’s impressive past and an immersive culture is unfortunately slowly dying today, the best way, at least for a tourist, to get closer to its people and their culture, on a fast track, is by attending the 10-day carnival of the Hornbill Festival.

Celebrated every year, between 1 and 10 December, Hornbill Festival is where all Naga tribes (16 in total) come together and exhibit their wears, enact their daily life and re-create their energetic festivals at one place. Imagine spending a year travelling through rural Nagaland, witnessing their way of life and celebrations, and then think about bringing it all together in one go. That’s hornbill festival for you.

And bringing The Hornbill Festival 2017 in pictures, all at one place, here’s what I have for you:

A tribesman from Khiamniungan tribe getting ready for a performance, as he fixes on his helmet. Their traditional attires consist of bright red and bright deep blue coloured dresses, and the ornaments are made of cowries and conch shells

Despite most of the tribesmen attending and performing at hornbill festival, being unfamiliar with the tourists, one thing that makes Hornbill Festival special is the friendliness of local Nagas towards the tourists. Just ask anyone what they’re drinking, and they would all be happier to share a sip

The tribesmen of Yimchungru tribe drinking the local rice millet beer from a massive bamboo cup

Like that of other Naga tribes, the origin of the Khiamniungans (before the British Raj days) is totally uncertain, and the only source of information about their ancestors & oral traditions is in form of folktales and myths. Today, the Khiamniungans occupy the easternmost part of India and northwestern part of Myanmar

A traditional Morung of the popular Konyak tribe. Back in the days, the tribesmen would carve a nearly-possible image of their deceased family members on the wooden frames of doors and windows, as a memory — the only way to remember them

Other than traditional Naga Morungs and various performances, the festival of Hornbill also showcases various art exhibitions, for example, this: An exhibition on the Last of The Tattooed Headhunters of Nagaland

The tribesmen of the popular Kiamniungan tribe laughing and celebrating their victory after a tug-and-war match

A display stall weaving and selling the traditional hats of Agami tribe living in and around the Kohima district

With different stalls offering “Zothu” and “Thutse” (local alcoholic beverages made of rice) and the authentic food of the all the sixteen major tribes of Nagaland, Kisama offers a plethora of options for foodies and the bibulous

Where most food stalls in the Hornbill festival sell a diluted and much lighter version drinks for tourists, the tribesmen often go for something much stronger. Not sure if it was actually a drink or I was fooled, they call it the “ORS”, and it tastes similar to how a neat Whiskey does

The Hornbill festival is a great way to meet the tribes, interact with them, visit their villages and be blown away by their charming hospitality and friendliness. And not be mention, all the fun of the festival, where you’ll be participating in drinking, eating, singing, dancing and merrymaking

A powerful Khiamniungan tribesman posing for the camera

Each tribe at hornbill has their own dedicated traditional Morung, where they perform traditional dance and even sell local food. Don’t feel shy about trespassing anywhere or clicking pictures as they dress-up (though with all the respect!)

The most popular among all tribes remain the Konyaks — better known as the headhunters. Until as recently as 1969 the Konyak tribe had a reputation of being fierce warriors who often attacked nearby villages of other tribes and took great pride in taking the heads of opposing warriors as trophies to hang in the Morung. With each head a Konyak will take, his wife will carve a tattoo on his body. The more the tattoos, the better the reputation

A proud Konyak standing tall, enjoying the traditional games at the Hornbill

 A tourist busy clicking pictures as a group of tribesmen pose together

Yimchunger tribe is another major Naga tribe that dwell inside the Tuensang district in Nagaland and around the areas of Burma


Also Read: Planning A 3 Day Trip To Hornbill Festival & The Town Of Kohima

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Planning A Three Day Visit For The Hornbill Festival & Kohima

The land of colourful festivals, indigenous tribes, intricate art and craft, and strange food, Nagaland has always been a place of mystery and attraction for people. With over fifteen odd headhunting Naga tribes, this tiny bit of India, today, speaks for its once fierce self — the rare place that never saw a colonial raaj in its history, unlike the rest of the country.

Where the stories of Nagaland’s impressive past and an immersive culture is unfortunately slowly dying today, the best way, at least for tourists, to get closer to its people and their culture, is by attending the 10-day carnival of the Hornbill Festival. Celebrated every year, between 1 and 10 December, Hornbill Festival is where all Naga tribes come together and exhibit their wears, enact their daily life and re-create their energetic festivals at one place. Imagine spending a year travelling through rural Nagaland, witnessing their way of life and celebrations, and then think about bringing it all together in one go. That’s hornbill festival for you.

My Visit To Hornbill Festival

My visit to Hornbill happened more out of luck than an immediate desire. It all started when a 3-day blog trip invite with Datsun India, and three other travel-bloggers, landed in my inbox, and I couldn’t be happier because attending this festival was in my bucket-list, ever since it started more than a decade ago. However, due to one reason or the other, I could not make it.

What made the invite even better was the fact that other than Hornbill Festival, we were going to explore a few other places in and around Kohima. In short, we there was more for us in store than just the cultural overdose of the festival.

A Three Day Travel Guide To Hornbill Festival

Day 1: Arriving in Dimapur & Driving Further To Kohima

Dimapur has the only airport and the train-station in Nagaland, making it inevitable for anyone to start their journey from anywhere else but here. Though to be honest, the town doesn’t offer much beyond a dusty city like experience, what Dimapur lacks in beauty it makes up for a cozy evening Christmas market (only if you’re visiting during the Hornbill Festival, and around Christmas) and a fancy Christmas concert taking place around the city landmark — the miniature Eiffel Tower.

Tip: If you arrive late in Dimapur, it’s well worth spending a night in the town, as Dimapur-Kohima road isn’t very good in shape and can take 3 to 5 hours for just a 70km distance. During winter, daylight in this part of India is moreover very limited and often gets dark before 5pm. If you plan on staying in Dimapur, I can recommend Hotel Lake Shilloi that offers good views of the city and the landmark city tower, with Christmas carols playing loud and a few Santas dancing on its tunes. The only thing that may make you reconsider is their high prices (particularly for backpackers!) but then again, in Nagaland, nothing is cheaper.

Since we arrived in Dimapur before lunch, we decided to take our chances and head to Kohima. Despite having a brand new Datsun redi-Go, driving from Dimapur to Kohima turned out to be a nightmare, because of the poor road condition. The road was under construction (and in the very initial stage, during Hornbill 2017) transforming a seemingly narrow dirt-track into a four-lane highway, and with that, changing everything bit of a beautiful green into a dusty yellow.

Though only a 70 km stretch, it can take anywhere between 3 to 5 hours to drive from Dimapur to Kohima, and if you end up driving during monsoon the same journey can take up to 7-8 hours due to landslides. [Read More About The Road Trip From Dimapur To Kohima]

Day 2: Visiting Kisama Heritage Village & The Hornbill Festival

The actual site of Hornbill festival is located at about a half an hour drive from Kohima, in the Kisama Heritage Village. Kisama, the Naga Heritage Village, which hosts the main festival, is well maintained and the scenic beauty around the area is breathtaking.

Starting early in the morning, we left our hotel in Kohima around 8 am and reached Kisama Heritage Village around 9.30. Though only a 20 minute journey (of 12 km) from Kohima to Kisama, traffic congestion in Kohima, during Hornbill, can be dreadful, and can tire you for the day before you even open your eyes and gain senses. But the atmosphere inside the Hornbill festival makes it up to you.

With different stalls offering “Zothu” and “Thutse” (local alcoholic beverages made of rice) and the authentic food of the all the sixteen major tribes of Nagaland, Kisama offers a plethora of options for foodies and of course to bibulous like me to start with.

Different tribes have different dedicated stalls for showcasing their cultural & tribal festivities and sell local food, art and craft. The stalls in Kisama close their affair by 6 in the evening; however, the night does not get over so soon. The Rock Contest, the Music Festival, the Hornbill Night Bazaar and many other activities kept the nights alive and young. But it’s always a good idea to visit Kisama early in the day because there’s just so much to see and do.

Other than a dedicated stall for each tribe, a common performance area, there is a war museum, a massive horticulture display, and much more.

 

We dedicated our entire day to the Hornbill Festival, savored our senses with lovely performances and exotic Naga food and left Kisama around 7 in the evening — as we were staying in Kohima (again, a long drive back, thanks to the unrealistic traffic congestion). The traffic at the entry & exit of Kohima (towards Kisama) can be brutal during the Hornbill, and can sometimes take as long as two hours to clear, so plan accordingly.

Tip: Contrary to what many people believe, the actual site of Hornbill festival is located at about a 20-minute drive from Kohima (if the traffic isn’t brutal) in the Kisama Heritage Village. And those not bitten by the idea of staying in the capital city of Kohima, should consider staying in the town of Kigwema (the next village at only a walking distance from Kisama) to avoid bleeding unnecessary time in the traffic. Compared to Kisama, which more or less offers a crowded and bustling city experience, Kigwema is, moreover, less-crowded, laid back and provides all necessary comforts for a tourist. And one place I can particularly recommend in Kigwema — where I ended up staying after my blog-trip — is Vicha Homestay (very suitable for budget travellers).

Day 3: Visiting The World War II Cemetery, The Khonoma Village, & Driving Back To Dimapur

Leaving early towards Dimapur, we stopped at the World War II cemetery in Kohima — a memorial which lies on the battleground of Garrison Hill. Dedicated to soldiers of the 2nd British division of the Allied Forces who lost their lives at Kohima in the Second World War, the cemetery contains a total of 1420 Commonwealth burials in addition to 917 Indian soldiers — Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs who were cremated as per their faith.

It is a moving experience just walking there, reading the tombstones. Many of these casualties were Nagas (mostly belonging to the Angami tribe) but there are no statistics for them, except for one — a 21-year-old Saliezhu Angami, the inscription on whose grave reads, “The big-minded warring youngest son of mine shall arise and shine like a star.”

Tip: The war cemetery is located on the main highway in Kohima and can be quickly visited in 10 to 15 minutes. Another place of interest in Kohima is the Catholic Cathedral popular for its architecture which incorporates various elements of traditional Naga houses.

Next in the list, and on the way to Dimapur, was the quaint little village of Khonoma. Also known as ‘Asia’s first green village’ Khonoma is located at 5,320 feet above sea level in Dzukou Valley. A loner’s paradise, Khonoma village surely deserves a couple of days than a few hours (as we ended up visiting it for) but if short with time, a quick visit around the village is surely recommended to get an idea of the unrealistic beauty rural Nagaland offers.

Inhabited by people from Agami tribe, the Khonoma village offers a rustic village setting with mud flooring and bamboo walls. One can also visit the Ancestral home belonging to Agami tribe. There’s a small tourist entry fee of 30 Rupees to visit the town.

Finishing the two brief, but memorable pit-stops on our way to Dimapur (from Kohima), we made it back to the dusty NH29 taking us back from Kohima to where our journey started — the town of Dimapur. Three days well spent; a global cultural event, well explored!

Disclaimer: This trip was sponsored by redi-GO provided by Datsun India. Though our trip was sponsored, all experiences and recommendations are solely mines. I only recommend what I personally try, and find worth appreciating.

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