Wednesday, February 24, 2016

An English summer

Summer. The tell-tale petunias, geraniums and what-nots spilling out of their baskets at every street corner, public house and building. Summer brings the crowds out onto the streets, into parks and public spaces in London. It also brings in a rush of tourists who seem to have a whale of a time.  
Is it fun for the residents too, having their city invaded by multitudes each summer? Do they wish for a quiet, sunny corner to catch a nap, read a book, sip some wine and just day-dream?

Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace
History, geography & all the rest

Admiralty Arch, soon to be hotel
History, geography & all the rest

Arches as seen from Trafalgar Square

A London pub on the riverside in Southwark
History, geography & all the rest

Sunshine, Hyde Park & the distant London skyline
History, geography & all the rest

Even the trees seem to reach out &
soak up some sunshine

Ah! Good old London Eye. For that 360 deg view of the city
History, geography & all the rest

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Summer sky

Used only to the many moods of Indian summers, I landed in the midst of a beautiful English summer. 

Colours of the earth & sky

July 2015, 9PM, Oxford, England, UK

Scattered clouds floating in a crimson sky. Daylight stretching beyond the notions of (Indian) propriety. Beer(s) under the shade of old trees in farmhouse pubs. Walking back home in companionable silence. In the air remained the promise of a similar summer day, the next day & many days afterwards. 

North Eastern Odyssey 6 - Mokokchung

To get to Mokokchung from Mon, our driver did not use any of the interior roads within Nagaland. I am not sure if he was worried about any untoward incidents occurring along the way or the condition of the roads or both. We followed the highway back into Assam and then drove into Nagaland, closer to Mokokchung. The roads this side of Nagaland were surprisingly good, at least far better than anything we had seen on the Mon leg.

Across the border into Nagaland, in a few minutes we met our first check post. Our vehicle got a thorough once-over, even our bags were checked. The men on duty were polite but firm and more than a little surprised that two women were travelling around the countryside on their own (according to them, I don't think the driver counted as 'protection'). As we left the checkpost, they assured us there was no trouble but we too should take care and not be out on the roads or streets after dark. 

We reached Mokokchung after 5 hours on the road. On the way side we passed neat little villages that looked straight out of a postcard with wooden homes and well-tended gardens, flowering away. Clouds rolled over the hills, sometimes above us and sometimes below.

Early in the morning before the sun could
chase away the clouds

Picturesque scenes like this dot the landscape

We stayed at Metsuben in Mokokchung town, a well-known hotel it seemed, as a lot of different government meetings and seminars were being held while we were there. The hotel was comfortable and had far more amenities than we expected. The next morning we were up fairly early but there was no guide available. The hotel was supposed to arrange for one and they had goofed up. While they were sorting it out, we visited the viewing tower a little way behind the hotel and took some photographs, ooh-ed and aah-ed over the breathtaking view. Absolutely breathtaking. 

Mokokchung town spread out before us. 

Another view of Mokokchung

Our guide for the day finally arrived, T, a recent graduate, was still figuring out the 'what next' in his life. In the meantime he was moonlighting as a tourist guide. He showed us the places of interest but wasn't involved or as knowledgeable as an experienced guide would be. 

Mokokchung district is mainly populated by the Ao tribespeople. We first went to Longkhum village. We saw the log drums which are now preserved but in the old days were beaten to signal war or celebratory feasts. We also walked a stone pathway in the midst of a thickly wooded area. The place looked ancient as if the trees were centuries old (probably were!) and the stones that formed the pathway were thrown across to create a passage through the trees. There are some interesting legends - of Jina and Etiben, their very own Romeo and Juliet, of secret tunnels near the pathway that go on for miles, opening into the heart of the forests and more. 

pic courtesy: INTACH
For the complete document click here

In Longkhum there seemed to be a different vibe in the surrounding forests. Wherever I was in Nagaland, I never felt far away from nature, especially with the brilliant green and the floating clouds around every corner. But, in Longkhum this feel was intensified, it felt like I was entering hallowed grounds, following in the footsteps of centuries of people before me. There was a particular 'oldness' to the place that is indescribable bringing with it silence and peace, amplified only by the sounds of nature. (Yes, amplified :) because it didn't disturb the atmosphere, but added to it). 

Stone path through the forest

Log drum at Longkhum

Granaries set up away from the main village area to prevent
loss of food-stock incase of fire or other accidents

Another log drum
We visited the home of a local inventor too, known in these parts as the 'scientist' - the man was no more but his family were gracious enough to allow us to look at the inside of their home which was a curiosity in itself. The doors and windows throughout the house could be opened/closed sitting at a distance, with a system of levers and handles the man had set up, all by himself. He had even constructed a boiler which heated water with pipes running from the fire in the central fire place. This would have been a boon for the family all those years ago when electricity hadn't reached the village and running hot water was unheard of. It was an interesting house and the family was very proud of the old inventor's accomplishments. Unfortunately, I didn't take any photos in the house.

Ungma village was our next stop. Supposed to be the oldest village where the Ao Nagas settled. The village was pretty but the old ways were gone. Some aspects had been preserved. Their training place known as Riju here, (morung in Mon) had been recreated. There was a log drum here too safely housed next to the Riju. We also saw a really tall pole in the centre of the village. T claimed it was a stairway to heaven which men climbed to get closer to the Gods. At Ungma we also visited a weaver who was creating beautiful fabrics and shawls in the traditional design of the Ao tribe. 

The Riju in the village

The log drum in Ungma, created in 1935

Cloth in a traditional design on the loom

Most women in the northeast learn to weave as soon as they are old enough to handle a loom. Nagaland is no different. Each of the tribes have their distinct designs woven into the cloth and shawls as a mark of identification. This is illustrated quite well through displays in the State Museum in Kohima

Later, after lunch, we wandered around Mokokchung town for a bit, shopped for handwoven shawls and bags which are a speciality here in Nagaland. The younger generation from the northeast are known to be the most fashionable in India and the shops in Mokokchung and Kohima proved just that. There was quite an interesting mix of the traditional and modern in both these towns.

Mokokchung town before it awoke in the morning

The next day we left for Kohima. Our last stop before we headed back home. 

On the way to Kohima

More on Nagaland:
Kohima (State Museum)
World War II Memorial, Kohima
Razhu Pru, Kohima (a Heritage Villa) 
Mon 1 
Mon 2