Sunday, 21 June 2009

Into the Naga Villages: Medziphema

Semi-traditional residential house with courtyard, Medziphema Village, Nagaland

Nagaland is not a state of great cities. So one of the great attractions of travelling in Nagaland is to visit some of the state's many small towns and villages and we continuously did so over our stay. The first we visited was Medziphema, a village belonging to the Angami tribe located just a few hundred metres off the main road between Nagaland's two most important cities: the economic hub of Dimapur and the political capital of Kohima.

(For those interested in going to Nagaland and visiting any villages this is the best map I have been able to find. Medziphema can also be found on this)

Given its location on the most important highway in Nagaland, this is by no means a place untouched by modernization. By Naga standards this is very developed village, but still a nice and idyllic place to go for a wander and many of houses are still semi-traditional: Weaved from bamboo thatch and other natural materials (as seen in the picture above) rather than made from concrete and processed wood. However these semi-traditional houses are not architecturally not as interesting as houses here would have been in older times, and most have at the very least a metal roof.

One of the more modern houses, built from wood and even with a small car parked outside

Flowers are everywhere, both wild and cultivated

As in most Naga villages the church is the biggest building. During our visit it was under restoration

Worker painting the cross on the church roof

This would be my family's first impression of the "real" Nagaland in the hills. And it was a great success. My mother loved the chance to see how people live in a semi-developed village like this and the locals were very friendly - albeit much more reserved than mainland Indians - and we were followed around by an entourage of curious kids, as this is not a place where tourists normally come. We were invited into several houses and at the end we were even given a bag full of delicious pomelo fruits plucked fresh from the tree.

A kitchen in one of the more traditional houses. It does have wooden floors...

...yet the section (in the same house) around the fireplace only has a dirt floor

A more advanced kitchen with gas hotplates instead of a fireplace.

Female workers carrying big bamboo sticks

Another lady worker smiling despite her hard physical labour (photo: Ole Agersnap)

One of the many kids following us around. He was quite naughty this one.

Another naughty one

A shy, not so naughty one

And yet another. It took a bit persuasion to convince this child to be photographed but I think the result is priceless. I love the facial expression and the folded hands

Local man picks Pomelos for us with baby helping out

On the village's main road, my mother carrying the bag of Pomelos. In the picture you see my father, mother, brother and our friends Lone and Troels, who had joined us for the wedding celebrations.

Women and Children in front of the local rice mill, as I understood a state project to support the local economy.

Inside the rice mill

A skull hung on the wall - this is an old custom for many Naga tribes

One of the more reserved boys observing us from behind a wooden fence

The road back to Dimapur is lined everywhere with small shacks selling fresh pineapples picked from the nearby fields that very same morning. Incredibly sweet and good compared to the ones you can buy in Europe., at virtually no cost.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

The Beginning of an Amazing Journey

My parents and brother, Ole, all excited in the taxi just after landing in the Northeast.

Back in November 2008 my parents and younger brother came to India and we set off on a trip, which my mother would later describe as the journey of her life, far surpassing the exoticism and adventure of any travel she had done before.

The main purpose of the trip was for Nitoli and I to celebrate our marriage with a celebration in her home state of Nagaland. However, we had decided that this was our chance to show my family more of the largely un-touristy and amazing Indian Northeast surrounded by Burma, Bangladesh, China, Bhutan and Nepal, only connected to mainland India only by a long, narrow land corridor.

Over the following weeks I'll show images from this fantastic trip which took us from the Naga wedding to an amazing tribal festival in Kohima, into Assam for some rhino-hunting (only shooting with cameras though) and back up to the remote villages of Northern Nagaland, where the old head hunters can still be found. We even made an informal crossing just over the border into neighbouring Burma.

First leg of the trip, which I will cover today, was a short flight from Delhi to Guwahati (capital of Assam) followed by a 5-6 hour train ride to Dimapur, which is the largest and most developed town of Nagaland, which is home to Nitoli's parents and therefore also the venue of the wedding celebration.

Lunch in Guwahati at one of the best restaurants in the Northeast (Tandoor at Dynasty Hotel)

On the train to Dimapur. It may look like night, but it was actually a day journey. I still had a nap in the top bunk though.

Unlike the rest of Nagaland, Dimapur is not situated in the hills, but rather on the hot plains making it a bit less "Naga" and a bit less interesting - although living standards are higher here than in the rest of the state. Never the less we spent a day there before the wedding, checking out the local market and some roughly 700 years old ruins left by the Kacharis (a people who ruled area before the Ahoms and later the Nagas conquered it), which are pretty much the only proper tourist sight in Dimapur. If it all looks a bit familiar, it might be because I have written about it all before.

The Kachari ruins of Rajbari Park, dominated by a number phallic pillars, probably serving some cermonial purpose.

The single largest pillar stands oddly alone in the park far away from the others. The reason for this is not known today.

The park also has a nice lotus pond.

Very close to Rajbari park is Dimapur's atmospheric daily market, with small stalls under bamboo-thatch canopies

Naga baby playing with his mother's necklace (photo by my brother Ole Agersnap)

Young vegetable vendor. One kilo of cauliflower would sell at perhaps 40 rupees (aprox. USD 0.84 or EUR 0.60), but this varies greatly depending on season - could go as low as 20 rupees or as high as 60.

One of the very popular local products. Nagaland is home to the hottest chillies in the world, far surpassing anything you'd find in Mexico

Another popular product at the market: Dried seafood - in this case a form of shrimp. This is probably a freshwater shrimp from the rivers of Assam or the lakes of neighbouring state Manipur

Yet another product of the market: Bee larvae. These are considered a delicacy here and are still alive when you buy them. Before eaten they are usually boiled with chili and bamboo shoots, plus possibly some local herbs.