It’s update time! This past week has been filled with many bumpy roads (literally) and beautiful sights! I’ll pick up from the bus from Tezpur to Dimapur (Dec 2) where immediately following the bus, we were rushed into a rickshaw through a very busy and polluted city centre to the sumo/taxi station. If I were to redesign the transportation aspect of North East India, I would put the train, bus, taxi and sumo stations next to each other. Not on the opposite sides of town like their current set up, crazy thought right? Luckily for us, on the bus we met a young woman named Pranami who was also on route to Kohima. It is very handy to have someone travelling to the same place as you that speaks english well and the local language! With some back and forth, she got us into a sumo. A sumo is a shared taxi, the vehicle is similar to a Range Rover that is 25+ years old and is constantly on the brink of breaking down. They packed 2 people in the front seat, then the driver, then four people to the middle and back row of seats. That’s a nice squishy ride with 11 people. I was just thankful that the drive began after sunset, so in addition to the already crammed ride, it wasn’t also a sweaty one. Very very hilly terrain. Upon arrival in Kohima, we were swarmed by local drivers. We selected the most charming and were soon rushing along in yet another taxi the 15 km to Kigwema Village where we had arranged a homestay for two nights while we attended the long anticipated Hornbill Festival! We spent the next day at the festival, a convenient 15 minute walk from our front door! The festival exhibits 13 tribes of Nagaland, each with their designated thatched roofed tribal homes, unique dances, spectacular costumes, energetic chants and slightly odd food! There were performances by all the tribes and stands displaying crafts, art, tattoos (tempting, but no new tribal ink here) and food of course. I don’t want to say this was a highlight, but there was a Nagaland Coffee stand which roasted “to die for” coffee. I think my western coffee addicted body needed this stop and man oh man was it delicious! They were roasting the beans and we sniffed it out in no time.
The next morning (Dec 4) we were driven by the son of the host family to Kohima. Our initial game plan was to get a bus or taxi to Imphal, Manipur. That dream was killed when we were told that bus operations there had been suspended since the “ban” began. The ban is referring to road closures between Manipur and neighbouring states due to conflicts. Nagaland and Manipur do not have the best functioning relationship. We decided to get a taxi on to Dimapur where we could see if there was another option to get to Imphal or activate, an as undetermined, Plan B! That’s another thing I’ve learnt about India, it’s that you don’t run so much on what your itinerary is, but really on when the transport can get you somewhere. For instance, when we got to Dimapur and were told Imphal was not an option, we formulated plan b which was to get to or get close to either the State of Mizoram or the State of Tripura. After a train to Lumding and a negotiated private taxi, we made it to Silchar that is the best entry point to Aizawl (capital of Mizoram) and Agartala (capital of Tripura). Again, the rough game plan was to get to Silchar and immediately get a train or bus to either Aizawl or Agartala. The advertised 4-5 hour drive to Silchar turned into a 10 hour drive on what can not be considered a road. I really wish I was better at taking photos or videos to depict the state of this route, but sadly I’m awful and have nothing to show. With that delay, there were no buses or trains running after midnight (obviously) and we found a room at the first open hotel we came across.
After a much needed sleep we set off in the morning to the train station with the intention of going to Agartala. That dream was quickly postponed because we had missed the train by an hour, so the next plan was Aizawl! I could not be happier that this was the case because I absolutely loved Aizawl. Pronounced “eye-zole”. We sumoed (yes, I’m making that a verb) there in 7 hours with a full car and a driver that could possibly be a drug runner with how many stops we made once crossed from Assam to Mizoram. Then again, maybe he just has a lot of friends on the route.. what do I know.
This city is stunning. It is surrounded by mountains with the city pouring over the side and the roads winding down or along the ridge. It was unlike any city I’ve ever been to. The main difficulty being that it defies all maps. Not only could we not find a street map, but we began to think that one probably doesn’t exist. We were there for 3 days and it is interesting how quickly you get to know a place and feel comfortable. This place was so surprisingly modern, in terms of both architecture and people. The buildings were mainly built with cement, some signs of bamboo, but predominately stronger building materials. I can understand not wanting the fate of your house on a couple bamboo sticks. Then again, that is the way the majority of traditional houses stand on the mountains in most of the North East. The women were what really caught my attention. To put it simply, I thought they were badass. They wear modern clothing, drive and walk on their own, smoke and drink openly, and so on. I notice such a change in female independence and I loved it! It is crazy how modern this place is when it is in the middle of nowhere. It is also incredible to feel such a connection to a place that you had no idea existed up until a week ago. I guess that’s a big part of what travel is.
We then took a painless (and not full) sumo back to Silchar (Dec 8) where we would look into getting a train to Kumarghat, Tripura to explore some ancient archeological sites at Unakoti!