Sunday, 8 November 2009

Rhino Spotting in Kaziranga

One Horned Rhinoceros in Kaziranga, Assam

Kaziranga is a National Park in Assam which is famous as the home of the endangered one-horned Rhino. It is another place on this big North East India tour which I had visited before, but I was more than happy to come back with my family since it is one of the highlights of the "Seven Sisters" - an affectionate name for the seven states of the North East.

A visit in Kaziranga virtually guarantees seeing these fantastic wild rhinos. This is especially the case if you go on an elephant safari. Elephants and rhinos live peacefully side by side here, so rhinos will be less disturbed by humans on elephant back than humans in jeeps. However, we also took a jeep trip to be able to cover a bit more ground. In all we got very close to about 4-5 rhinos and saw dozens over longer distances. We also saw wild elephants, wild boar, tons of deer and a couple of birds I have never seen before including the very cool pied kingfisher.

For nature lovers going to the Northeast a visit to Kaziranga is a must, in my opinion. I hope these pictures convey the reasons why.

Elephant in the morning mist

The mist lifts to reveal a Ranger's Cabin

First Rhino spotting of the day in the woods near the park gate before we had started the safari proper

The only proper transport for rhino safaris is elephant back

The scaly bum of the second rhino spotted on the characteristic grasslands of Kaziranga

A third rhino taking a good look at the intruders into its territory. It clearly decided we were not important enough to fight off.

Typical scene from the park. The little grey dots on the meadow across the water are rhinos. I count 9 of them in this picture - a concentration you will not find anywhere else.

Here you can just see the top of a wild boar, which I was lucky enough to spot (it is said to be good luck to discover one). They love the tall grasses of Kaziranga, which act as excellent camouflage.

Wild elephant crossing the road in front of us. Contrary to popular imagination wild elephants are much more dangerous than wild rhinos and cause many deaths in Kaziranga and rest of India every year. They must to be treated with utmost respect.

An elephant eye. This particular one is domesticated.

Sunset over one of Kaziranga's watering holes. A pelican enjoys a late night swim while other birds take to the trees for the night.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Return to Kohima

Fire trucks at Kohima fire station

Although I had been to Kohima before, I also wanted my parents to experience the place so we made sure to spend a few hours exploring the place before moving on to Assam. I managed to fit in a few sights, which I missed the last time around so even for me it was an interesting return to Kohima. The must-see attraction of Kohima is the immaculately kept War Cemetery for the British casualties of the legendary WWII battle of Kohima, which turned the war fortunes in the Asian land war in favour of the allies as the Japanese failed to take the town and thus block the Imphal road supplying the British forces in Manipur

But we also managed to go visit the decent State Museum (pictures not allowed, so not included in this post) and we made it to an abandoned British Tank, which came under Japanese fire and tumbled sideways down a hill. Amazingly the crew, despite landing close to the Japanese positions managed a safe return by forcing the tank's guns to auto-rotate and auto-fire and escaping in the confusion. According to their wish the tank was never moved from the spot where it landed on that day in 1944.

Me at the abandoned British Tank

On the way we also visited this small covered local market to buy some fruit

A bunch of larvea for sale

Nitoli pretending to eat one. However, despite being a Naga, she is pretty squeamish about this kind of food so it never got further than the pretending

My mother and brother wandering around Kohima's War Cemetary

One of the many, many hundred grave stones here. Each stone marks the name, religion (many Hindu and Muslims Indians fought for the Allies), rank and age of the person buried beneath. This particular stone is noteworthy for being for the highest ranked soldier buried at Kohima: Brigadier W.H. Goschen.

A dignified memorial tablet. As far as I understood this covers those who bodies went missing or for other reasons couldn't be buried here.

My parents going back to the car while my brother Ole and Nitoli chat in the lower part of the picture

At the lowest point of the cemetery a small monument has been erected in honour of all those who fell here. It bears a very beautiful and sad poem of remembrance:
When You Go Home
Tell Them of Us and Say
For Your Tomorrow
We gave Our Today

Monday, 28 September 2009

Village Life Around Kohima

Old ladies carrying firewood in Khonoma Village

For the majority of Nagas life is predominantly lived in the village and so you have to go to the villages to see what Naga life is all about. So after the Hornbill festival we visited a couple of villages near Kohima - neither our first nor last visit to Naga villages but still worth a picture series.

The first village we visited was Kigwema, which is very close to Kisama, where the festival takes place. It is a very big village but only a few traditional houses left. However, the village is very much alive and it's possible to see lots of activity such as women weaving traditional Naga shawls.

The following day we went to the smaller and quieter, but much more picturesque - and historically significant - village of Khonoma, which Nitoli and I had visited 2 years earlier and also wanted my family to see. Below are pictures from both villages. This post is quite long with many pictures, but I hope you find it worthwhile to look through them.

Houses of Kigwema Village

Angami lady weaving a shawl outside one of Kigwema's nicest houses with traditional Naga wood carvings on its facade.

Another lady weaving - this is all manual work, with very simple tools to assist. The shawls are such an important part of Naga culture, hopefully not a custom which will die out with modernization

Another house with a semi-traditional facade and some really, nice and huge weaved baskets below - probably containing rice

The boys dormitory (morung) which is an important institution in Naga society. This is the closest traditional Naga equivalent to a school where Naga boys would learn about the norms, values, knowledge and traditions of their tribe.

In most Naga villages the animals roam freely looking for food. I particularly like the chick which is second from the right in this picture. Look how cool its head is.

Village Elders enjoying the December sun (yes, I'm that far behind on my blog!)

Another village elder sitting outside on his low bench and watching life go by - you see this a lot

Yet another bench and another old villager. The oldest of these guys would have seen and perhaps even participated in the WWII battle of Kohima

Naga girls in front of a commemorative tablet in central Kigwema village

A new day and new sights: Rice terraces on the way to Khonoma

The big gate welcoming you to Khonoma Village signifies that this is a place, which - by Naga standards - sees a fair amount of visitors.

View of Upper Khonoma Village. On the left you can see the new Catholic church which lies on the road between Khonoma and the rest of the world. On the right you can see a few of Khonoma's famous rice terraces.

The exact opposite view taken from the Catholic church - showing the woody side of the hill on which Khonoma is situated

One of many little circular spaces surrounded by painted stones - an important meeting place in Angami villages

Old lady enjoying a cup of morning tea

View from Upper Khonoma down to lower Khonoma and the rice terraces in the bottom of the valley

My brother Ole in front of the rice fields of Khonoma

In Naga villages you don't necessarily go out and buy your baskets - when you can weave your own

Everything is done entirely by hand

Idyllic street in lower Khonoma

An older girl sitting with her younger sibling

Naughty boys chasing each other

My dad taking a picture in the Catholic Church

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Chilling Out at the Hornbill Festival

Tribal dance at the Hornbill Festival

In my last blogpost I dwelled upon the various organised performances of the Hornbill Festival. These were quite interesting, but even more fun was it to walk around the whole Kisima heritage complex to observe the many activities taking place and to interact more closely with the tribal participants, who whenever they were not doing the official acts would go to their respective areas of Kisima with the houses corresponding to their home region. Here they would drink, smoke or dance together or simply just taking some time to rest. The tribes are extremely colourful and very different from each other - making it interesting to walk around and compare their different styles of clothing, dancing and their very different houses.

These women all found my brother adorable so they were all eager to have their picture taken with him.

My mother and brother, Ole, enjoying a glass of locally brewed rice beer. This is the only kind of alcohol, which is legally available in Nagaland.

Men share stories and a drink around a small bonfire. You can almost hear someone : "Do you know the one about the rabbi, the priest and the sailor who walk into a bar..."

"... and then the sailor said: No, it's just my wife!"

Pretty nice cup this one had! All made from bamboo.

Another tribe took the opportunity to do some more dancing

And yet another tribe did some drumming on a logdrum shaped after Nagaland's magnificent state bird, the Great Indian Hornbill from which the festival also takes it's name.

These girls were tired of dancing so they sat down to get a snack. I think it is inside the leaves they are holding.

One of the tribes gave tourists a fun way of getting a picture as a tribe member without actually having to change clothes.

A dancer's shoulder bag decorated with little skulls - presumably coming from local monkeys

This Dutch lady decided to join in the dancing with some young girls of the Kachari Tribe. Strictly speaking the Kacharis are not ethnic Nagas, but since they hail from Dimapur, which these days is part of Nagaland they are included in the festival . They make for a nice addition with a very different colour scheme from the red and black which tends to dominate in the Naga tribes.

One of the young Kachari men with his mobile cam demonstrating that the participants were taking almost as many pictures as the tourists.

Very friendly couple from local Angami tribe in front of Kisima's Angami style house

Here a house belonging to the Phom tribe

Compare the Phom house above with this one belonging to a different tribe. Quite different, right?

Animal skulls adorning one of the house walls as per Naga tradition

Apart from the tribal groups the festival area also had shops with local handicrafts and food stands with local dishes. Unfortunately I'm not a great fan of Naga cooking, but the rest of my family likes it. The newest attraction of the complex is a brand new WWII Museum focused around the legendary battle of Kohima, which halted and eventually reversed the Japanese advance into India. The museum, which is small but well made, was opened on the first day of Hornbill Festival.

All in all we had a great time at the festival and can recommend it to anyone else who might be able to make a trip to Nagaland in the beginning of December.

The main hall of Kohima's new WWII museum

A huge moth outside the museum. There were so many of them - bigger than any others I have seen.

Our good Icelandic friend Alistair shopping for spears. He actually managed to get two of these on the plane back to Delhi.

Our Danish friend Sidsel shopping for more peaceful items - for instance Naga scarves - in the bamboo built shopping "mall" while being offered some pork rinds, which are interesting very popular with Nagas and Danes alike.