Green and serene Seven Sisters (Northeastern States of India )

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May 1st 2019
Published: May 1st 2019
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Walking across a border usually feels a bit nostalgic. Sometimes it’s one big annoying time wasting bureaucratic experience. Most of the time it’s a little bit like in a time machine going from one timezone to another with just one step. Walking through the India Bangladesh friendship gate entering Meghalaya state in northeast India was easy, the border police and immigration officers on both sides were friendly, and although the actual time difference is only 30 minutes, it felt like going back to the future, with one step we immediately saw and felt the difference between the two countries.

Meghalaya was the first of the four northeastern states, called the Seven Sisters, we would visit. Immediately we could not only see the difference with Bangladesh, but also with the rest of India. Meghalaya is predominately Christian, with a lot of people speaking very good English, and the cities and streets are clean and people dress differently. These northeastern states have long been ‘closed’ to foreigners but are now opening up. We did not need a permit for any of the parts we visited. Because of these states being closed to foreigners we expected the region to be maybe a little bit more backwards and neglected, yet although some parts are still disconnected and a lot of people live a very traditional life, the region is developing fast and growing strongly. It’s clear from appearance that the people are very different from ‘mainland’ India, but at the same time they appear Indian in their ways.

From the border we catch a ride with a driver who just dropped a few people and he brings us to Shillong. We spend Good Friday in this town and we see some of the many churches overspilling with people yet also a procession of a large group of Hindus celebrating the birthday of one their gods Lord Hannuman. A lot of the buildings and also the park in town are preserved from the colonial time and the old tea estate buildings, the police stations and churches can easily be the background of a movie.

We go to Guwahati, in the state Asssam, where we visit a museum and learn a lot about the tribes that have been living in the northeastern states and we walk along the wide Brahmaputra river. Next day we go to Jorhat where we take a ferry across the river to the river island Majuli. Majuli is the biggest river island in the world and is surrounded by the Brahmaputra river, although at some points the branches of the river are rather narrow. We end up staying four days in an authentic and comfortable bamboo hut, part of a guest house run by a local family. We ride a bicycle around part of the island, which is a great way to see the island life of the tribal people here and seeing them doing the same thing now as they have already been doing for decades. The people are both modern, connected to the rest of the world, and traditional, working on the land, weaving on their looms under their bamboo houses on stilts, they are friendly and cheerful. We visit a Hindu monastery where we have a delicious lunch with one of the monks.

We walk around and visit a small Mishing tribal village where the people live a bit more traditional because it’s quite remote. We are invited to drink some of the traditional home brewed rice beer and we chat with one of the guys who speaks very good English because he has worked abroad a few years. Now he is back in his home village and he enjoys the local life, which is extremely peaceful, low paced, close to nature and social within the small community. He shows us the bamboo huts he is constructing, his local tourism project for the future.

We travel by rikshaw, ferry, another rikshaw and train to Dimapur and the next day onwards to Kohima and then the small village of Khonoma, in the state Nagaland. Khonoma is an Angami tribal village on top of a hill, overlooking beautiful valleys and terraces for agriculture. The village is idyllic, green and clean and the people are again so proud, peaceful and friendly. We arrive on Sunday and all inhabitants of the village spend some part of this day in church because they are all Christian. We walk around and see the mix of modern and traditional life and we see some beautiful remains of a very tribal history. We stay with the Kose family in their home stay, a beautiful two storey cottage at the edge of the village. They treat us well and prepare a lovely local style dinner with all ingredients coming from their garden, even the rice comes from their own paddy fields. Because India has just one time zone and we are in the extreme east of the country, the sun rises very early as do the people, so we wake up early after a good night of sleep.

We spend one night in Kohima in the historical Heritage hotel in an old colonial building with antique furniture, classic rooms and wooden floors and a pretty garden. We visit the local state museum to learn a bit more about the tribes of Nagaland (which were headhunters….). From Kohima we travel with a variety of vehicles, including our preferred Tata Sumo, to Imphal, in the state Manipur, the last of the northeastern states we will visit this trip.

Manipur and Imphal appear to us a bit more modern and developed compared to the other sister states. Because we are about to leave India (to Myanmar) we enjoy the Indian food and a Manipuri thali consisting of ten different small dishes while we can. We visit the local market which is run by 4000 women, making it the largest of its kind (in the world?).

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