Thursday, 25 February 2010

Winter Days in Lodhi Garden

Park life, Lodhi Gardens in Delhi

For most of the year the inhabitants of Delhi - or at least those who can afford it - spend the vast majority of their time indoors. This behaviour is dictated by the climate which from April to September makes the North Indian planes excruciatingly hot. The constant layer of smog over the city does not help. So most people stay inside their A/C-cooled homes and take a car to the parking basement of their A/C-cooled office. Those who really have it worked out may spend as little as 5 to 10 minutes outside daily. Due to this excessive "in-doorsiness" I have on my own body experienced the paradox that I turn as pale from a summer of harsh Indian sunshine as I do from a grey and sunless Scandinavian winter.

So when winter arrives, the sun starved - although usually not so pale - Delhiites come swarming out from their dark dwellings to take advantage of the fresh, mild air and temperatures. Barbecues are had in people's gardens, parties go on all night on rooftop terraces, kids play cricket in any free patch of road or field and the cities' parks become teeming with life.

No park in the capital is more popular than Lodhi Gardens in central Delhi. It is probably the city's most well tended and clean park, and to add to the attraction it is filled with historical monuments as well as a lake that attracts many different bird species.

So last winter we joined the throngs of people who enjoyed their winter weekends in this lively place. Mostly we would just chill with a picnic basket on a blanket in one of the park's many lawns, but I also took out some time for bird watching and photography. Below are some of my best shots from our winter days in Lodhi Gardens:

One of Lodhi Gardens' many colourful flower beds

Crowds of picnickers in front of the Sheesh Gumbad, which is the tomb of an unknown family

Sheesh Gumbad is one of the few tombs in Delhi, which still has some of it's original tile work. In fact Sheesh Gumbad means "Glass Dome" after the glazed tiles once covering it

Park Traffic Jam

Two friends taking a stroll in a quieter part of the park

The old stone bridge taking many visitors from the entrance into the park

Teamwork! Two boys working to retrieve a lost sandal from the pond

Another group of boys looking, perhaps, for treasures in the water?

I find a strange beauty in the brownish colours of the withered water plants

One of the my best bird sightings from Lodhi Gardens - a beautiful Common Kingfisher, which despite the name is not so commonly spotted in Delhi. The only one I have ever seen in India (despite looking hard)

Another very nice bird - a male Black-Rumped Flameback

Palm trees and pedestrians in front of the tomb of Mohammad Shah (died 1445) of the Sayyid Dynasty

Sadly, many people in India like to defile old monuments with carved names, dates and declarations of love. Even the palm trees of Lodhi Gardens are not safe

(The events in this post took place in January and February 2009)

Sunday, 21 February 2010

The Konyak Villages

Traditional Konyak houses of Longwa village. Notice the large size of many of them.

My last few posts were all about the people we met in the Naga Konyak villages of Shangnyu and Longwa. This post - which will be my last from this trip to North East India - will focus on the villages themselves.

Both are interesting for the traditional houses made entirely from natural materials according to methods probably almost unchanged for hundreds of years. However, Longwa is the more beautiful of the two, almost as taken out of an old National Geographic Magazine. Another interesting characteristic of this village is that lies on both sides of the national border between India and Burma. However The Burmese government has no permanent presence here, so there is no passport control here and locals and foreigners alike can freely walk across the border. In fact, the local Angh (chief) - whose house stands at the top of village hill - crosses the border every time he moves from his bedroom to his kitchen as his house stands right smack on the border.

A view to the Indian military base at Longwa with the national border clearly marked by a fence. However the fence does not continue into the village (Picture: Ole Agersnap)

A grand view of a big part of Longwa Village. Only the military base, the church, the guest house and two or three other buildings are made of concrete. Everything else is built entirely from natural materials like wood, bamboo and straw

A really nice and typical house. In general they are not small huts, but large houses which can house entire families. The walls are made from some weaved material, possibly bamboo, the doorway and some supporting beams and framework are made from wood, while the roofs are made from thatch straw. The result is very aesthetically pleasing in my opinion.

For some reason many of the Konyak houses have three "poles" made from straw on the roof. Not sure if there is any significance to this apart from just decoration. If any visitor knows, please let me know in comments.

More houses

The enormous house of the Angh here stands characteristically on the top of the ridge. This picture is taken from the Indian side.

Interiors of the Angh's house. As you walk down the hallway you are literally walking on the border.

My brother in what appears to be the Angh's trophy room. In this picture he is standing in Burma.

Naga houses are traditionally built without windows - but light still manages to get in

Wooden beam with carvings. It appears to be a tiger on top.

Although less spectacular Shangnyu is also an appealing place, with the main attraction here being a large single-piece wooden panel with various fertility related figures and reliefs adorning it. According to myth it was carved divine angels, but I haven't been able to find an estimate on when that happened.

Wooden warriors with big "weapons"

Headhuntin is out but skulls still play a big role in Naga culture. Here a small hut is decorated with skulls from buffaloes and other animals

A look into the local super market in Shangnyu. For bigger purchases the villager have to go to Mon.

Naga men around the fire in a local kitchen

And this concludes the pictures from our big North East India trip. However, this blog is heavily behind real life, so I have actually been on many travels in the meantime, which means that many more adventures are coming up on this blog. In future I will mark the time at which the events described actually took place. In the posts to come you can look forward to among other things reports from Corbett National Park, Hong Kong, Ranthambore Tiger Safari, Goa as well as a new Northeast Trip. I will also be showing some pictures from our biggest adventure of them all - becoming a first time parent! You are more than welcome to come back and follow it all.

(The events in this post took place on 8 and 9 December 2008)

The Next Generation of Konyaks

Konyak boys bringing firewood home

My previous post was focused on old Naga warriors, men who spent their youth in a very different time. However, when you visit these villages, old men form only a small fraction of the people you meet. In the Naga villages most families still have many children, so children and teens make up most of the population. Many kids as young as 5-6 years can be seen carrying around their younger siblings as a way of helping in the household.

Curious kids surrounding my mother and brother as they look at carved wooden figures

These boys and girls can still hear their grandparents tell stories of inter-tribe warfare, but as they grow up they are more likely to go to school, possibly marry a person from one of those other tribes and perhaps even move to a bigger city where the smartest of them might join India's growing middle class.

Although the kids here are a bit more reserved than those you meet in the Indian heartland they are still very curious and quite willing to let themselves be photographed. So without further explanation or sub-text I am going to show a few of the most interesting pictures I took of the next generation of Konyaks:

Saturday, 6 February 2010

The Last Living Head Hunters

One of the last living head-hunters of Nagaland, Longwa Village

In pre-colonial times the Naga peoples did not share the sense of common identity that they do today. Rather the individuals' identities were vested entirely in the different Naga tribes - instance the Ao, Sumi, Angami and Phom tribes - which often waged war upon each other as well as on the more peaceful peoples of Assam. A peculiar aspect of Naga tribal warfare was the brutal and feared concept of head hunting. It was believed that by taking the head of your slain enemy as a trophy you would gain some of his power and spirit.

Headhunting is obviously no longer practised in Nagaland. The British preferred to leave the Nagas to their internal warfare, but as raids on their Assamese tea plantations increase they saw no choice but to invade. The British who were usually not very focused on missionary causes as colonial masters, saw the spread of Christianity as a tool to control this unruly lot. The idea worked and over time as Christianity spread, the old cultural practices, including head hunting, fell increasingly into disfavour.

These days head-hunting is no longer practised. But it has been less than 50 years since the last head was taken in the early 1960s, which means that you can still meet living head hunters in Nagaland.

Former head-hunter, now makes a living by selling carved wooden figures

The Konyak tribe resisted christianization and modernization for longer than most other tribes, so their homeland in Northern Nagaland is probably the best place to meet these living and breathing relics of the past.It is not difficult to recognise the head hunters; as an honourary mark a young man would receive a prominent facial tattoo when he managed to take an enemy's head.

This boy will be growing up to a very different life than what hsi grandfather had

Old guy but this one without a tattoo. Perhaps he did not participate in any wars or perhaps he just wasn't successful enough to earn his facial tattoo

On this trip we were lucky to meet several of these old warriors in the villages of Longwa and Shangnyu. It won't be more than a decade or two before there is not a single one left, so it was a privilege to meet and talk to some of these people. Especially one of them told us very vividly of their battles, speer techniques and war cries. Even though he is now thin and weak from old age, I still wouldn't like to go into battle against him!

Warrior with weapons in the traditional loin cloth. This is the one who told and showed us how they would set the enemys huts on fire and then wait outside to pierce them with the spears when they would come running out

Some have adopted less traditional dressing habits

Opium smoker