Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Nagaland Inner Line Permit Procedure

Nagaland is one of the 3 North Eastern States that still requires tourists to obtain the Colonial Era 'Inner Line Permit.' One can get the Inner Line Permit (ILP) for Nagaland in Dimapur. We got our Inner Line Permit issued at the 'Deputy Commissioner Office' in Dimapur.

It is a fairly simple process but a little time consuming. The permit is issued for 30 days by default. The documents required are a photocopy of address proof, one passport size photo and the ILP form needs to be duly filled in block letters. Post this, a picture of yours is clicked while submitting the form. After this we had to wait for the DC to sign the ILP. The entire process took us about 3 hours and we were armed with the official permit papers to visit Nagaland.

We were charged Rs.10 per form and Rs.130 per person for the permit. However, we were not provided any receipt and upon questioning all of a sudden came the language barrier and our further questions were unanswered. After this we were pretty certain that it was not a fee but a polished way of taking bribe.

There are various Army check-posts in Nagaland that may ask for your ILPs so remember to keep them safe and handy.

If you are flying into Dimapur, ILP can be obtained at the airport.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Experiencing The Beauty Of North East India

Loktak Lake
Our very first slow backpacking trip was to one of the least explored territories of India, North East India- the land of festivals. North East India has always been a fascination for us as she is so inviting and beautiful. Mother Nature has been very kind to this part of India blessing her with pristine lakes, magical streams, gorgeous rivers, breathtaking waterfalls, blue mountains, deep caves, rich flora and fauna. Of course, it is not just the natural beauty but also the kindhearted people residing there that make North East India an amazing destination to explore.

Willong Khullen
We backpacked across Nagaland, Manipur & Meghalaya cherishing each of the 53 days stay here. North East India gave us quite a few unforgettable experiences of a life time. Doyang, a tiny village in Nagaland, home to migratory birds- Amur Falcon, gave us a chance to drift into deep wilderness and we saw the great migration of millions of Amur Falcons. With the orange sun setting behind the hills we saw these amazing birds take over the entire sky.

Millions Of Amur Falcons 
Another memorable experience from the trip was heading to Longwa village in search of  Konyak tribesmen who were headhunters and are famous for their tattooed faces. Over bonfire we heard gripping tales from the last remaining headhunters while they smoked up opium.

Konyak Tribesmen
In Manipur, we went canoeing in  Loktak, the largest freshwater lake in North East which is known for the phumdis. Loktak is also home to the only floating National Park in the World, 'Keibul Lamjo' where we went in quest of the shy and rare dancing deer 'Sangai.' Another hidden treasure of Manipur is our very own 'Stonehenge' - Willong Khullen.

Only Floating National Park In The World
The tiny town of Dawki at India Bangla border opened up absolutely crystal clear blue waters and from the boat we could see the 'Unmagot' river bed and marine life. Mawlynnong village in Meghalaya is where we spent days strolling around and belting traditional Khasi food. This village was awarded the title "The cleanest village of Asia" by the travel magazine Discover India in 2003.

Magical Dawki
Cleanest Village In Asia
Cherrapunjee, one of the wettest place on the planet, gave us amazing views of some incredible waterfalls and an insight into hundreds of monoliths in 'Nartiang.'

Nohkalikai Waterfalls
We trekked an entire day to see the bio-engineering wonder of the world- "The Double Decker Living Root Bridge." The trek of over 3000 steps for over 4 hours to reach this wonder was a mind boggling experience and we were also very fortunate to experience the rare phenomena of how locals grow these living root bridges.

The Double Decker Living Root Bridge
A little further from the Double Decker Bridge and we reached stunning natural swimming pools of "Nongriat" Village that will forever be edged in our memories. The crystal clear turquoise blue water was so clean and clear that fishermen find it difficult to catch fish. These magical isolated places made us realize that Nature has so many hidden treasures to offer mankind if only we have the eye to observe.

North East being termed the Land Of Festivals is no mere understatement. During our stay, we attended three elaborate festivals that ran for days showcasing their indigenous games, culture, art, music, warfare, legacy, traditions and history. The festivals were a one stop shop for us to experience the culture of several tribes that have been living in this region since time immemorial.

War Scenes From Hornbill Festival

We experienced great hospitality from the locals, soaked ourselves in tribal traditions, were part of their festivals and celebrated it like ours. Many a homes generously opened their doors and hearts for us. In true village style, we traversed the country roads with friendly villagers, sharing seats with livestock and baskets of vegetables and fruits while gunny bags and bamboo cushioned our feet.

Traveling With Locals, Like A Local
We got a chance to experience local flavors and try authentic tribal food accompanied with homemade alcoholic beverages that kept us warm and tipsy. Almost every house had a garden and they grow their own fruits and vegetables even breeding their own livestock, living a very organic and healthy lifestyle. They love having nursery outside their homes and have a thing for decoration. The houses painted with vibrant colors were a treat for our eyes. Our stay in thatched huts and homes built with bamboo were one of the best travel experiences.

Authentic Manipuri Thali
Reaching remote parts of North East could be pretty difficult due to terrible road conditions or the roads could be good but with no public transport and even locals would have to accommodate themselves in a single jeep that plies on a daily basis to the nearest city. The challenge in accessing these places could be considered a blessing in disguise as even after several years the beauty still remains intact.

Their obsession with Sports is very promising. Their love for Football is evident by the sheer number of football fields that you can spot even in remote villages and these grounds just don't seem to exist, they are pretty much in use and you can see them play a game daily. And if you thought it is only Football that have them occupied, you are wrong, It were the people of North East who introduced to the world the game of Polo and now proudly host annual international tournaments.

Capt Kenguruse Memorial Tournament 
International Annual Polo Tournament, Manipur
People here are very warm, friendly and interested in having lengthy conversations despite language barrier and genuinely want to know our likes, dislikes, lifestyle choices et al. The life here in North East India is very relaxed and chilled out. Though people seem to have less they are a very happy lot. They are extremely proud of their tribes culture and wear it on their sleeves. The sheer number of folks both young and old who to-date adorn their traditional attire on a day to day basis is a startling testimony to the fact that they are so proud of their lineage.

Lotha Tribesman
Religion plays an integral part in their lives and you can see them dressed in their best on Sundays all set to go to church. Though Christianity has taken over, the age old traditions and festivals are kept very much alive. The artifacts from ancient times take centre stage in all the households that we stepped into. They are fashion conscious as well, setting new trends and love shopping. Women seem to enjoy a lot of freedom. They are working for their community and willing to bring about a change. Not just waiting for the government to do things or complain but actually working on improving things on their own.

The people are not just friendly but very welcoming too. Among the very few tourists to attend Tokhu Emong Festival in Wokha district, we were welcomed with open arms and were invited to their community celebration and were treated with royalty. Our visit to Doyang was made possible all thanks to these kind and wonderful friends we made in Wokha.

One night we lost way to our hotel in Kohima, a kind family not only offered to drop us but also treated us to one elaborate dinner at their home the next day. During our stay in Mawlynnong, where one of us suffered from a sore throat, the old and kind couple running the homestay nursed us and took care of us like their own kids. All these instances moved us beyond words and we were filled with immense respect and gratitude for having the opportunity to meet these people.

Eco Friendly Huts
Northeasterners are well read and show a keen interest in what is happening in other states. Be it politics or some natural disaster, their concern is genuine and it is such a shame that most of us
cannot even locate where a place from North East is on the map.

It is disheartening that many of our Countrymen call them names and are racially profiled. A geographical area that is very much a part of India is neglected. We Indians are the biggest racists and hypocrites who disrespect people from other parts of our country but when the same treatment is meted out outside India we cry wolf.

Amidst all this calm and beauty there is a bit of chaos and unrest. We were shocked and overwhelmed to see multiple massive Army carcade comprising of many jeeps mounted with automated weapons manned by bunch of smart, fit and able men and women of the Indian Army. They were completely covered from head to toe, we couldn't even see their eyes. We understood how lethal and professional our Army could be, tirelessly working to keep our Nation's interests and borders safe from internal and external threats. However, unfortunately events like Malom massacre have also happened under the Army's watch.

Memorial At Malom Bus Stop
Whatever demands or needs both sides have, it would be best to drop weapons and find solutions to all problems through constructive dialogues and lay foundation for real development that would benefit the future generations of our Country.

This trip taught us to quit the habit of surrendering ourselves to commercialization and make memories and experiences rather than collect materialistic things. It also taught us to introspect on how we have done some irreparable damage to Nature and have been living surrounded by toxic environment, processed and contaminated food and plastic people. We really need to get back to our roots, start respecting Nature, consume healthy and chemical free food, breathe fresh air without the help of filtering masks. We have to be very thankful and content with what we have.

"You Only Live Once But If You Do It Right, Once Is Enough."

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Sarnath Lion Capital Of Ashoka

Our happiness knew no bounds and our smile was plastered from one ear to another. After all, it was time for another childhood dream to turn to reality- visiting Sarnath. The place that houses the Lion Capital of  Ashoka aka Ashoka Pillar, the iconic National Emblem of India.

Sarnath is considered as one among the 4 holy sites that are related to the life of Buddha. This is where, after attaining enlightenment Buddha gave his first sermon. This event is known as the "the turning of the wheel of the Dharma."

At the end of 12th century, all the buildings and structures were destroyed by Turkish Invaders and the site now shows the ruined state of what was once a thriving school teaching valuable lessons of Life.

According to Hiuen Tsang, the temple at which Buddha used to meditate was 61 meters tall and we can now only see the remains of this temple.

One such ruin that stands tall at 128 feet is the Dharmekh Stupa and it is believed that at this spot the first sermon was conducted by Buddha. On this structure, we spotted intricately carved stones with geometric patterns, leaves, swastika and many others designs.

The Ashoka Pillar is a monolithic sculpture of four lions standing back to back and is entirely made of sandstone. The four lions represent power, courage, confidence and pride. The base of the pillar though still stand in the original place, the Lion Capital is on display in the Archaeological Museum in Sarnath.

Another master piece in this museum is the massive monolithic ten armed Shiva who is also sporting a beard. This sculpture depicts a fierce lord Shiva killing a demon and collecting his blood in an urn as it was believed that every drop of blood from the demon that touches the earth will give birth to another demon. Another striking feature of this fine sculpture is the weapons in Shiva's hands, especially the maze that is made out of human skull. One has to preserve this sculpture in their memory as photography is prohibited inside the museum and safe deposit lockers are made available.

The ruins and the site are maintained very well by ASI. The pathways are very well laid out and are a beautiful sight. These pathways are pretty much used by snakes as well to cross over and hide under one of the many ruins. So do not be surprised if you come across one.

Sarnath would be an ideal day trip from Varanasi as it is only 15 km away.