For her 9th birthday, Freya Stark,  was gifted a copy of one thousand and one nights. She was often ill and spent a lot of time reading at home. This book  arouse her fascination for the Orient. She went on to become an explorer and a travel writer. Over two dozen books, she wrote on her travels in the Middle East and Afghanistan.  She was one of the first non-Arab to travel through the Arabian deserts. By 1931 she had completed three dangerous treks into the wilderness of western Iran, parts of which no Westerner had ever visited, and had located the long-fabled Valleys of the Assassins. She described these explorations in The Valleys of the Assassins (1934) and received the  Royal Geographical Society’s Award in 1933. Below is a quote by her.

Woman selling bags that she had interlaced using plastic cords in bright colours at the Dimapur market, Nagaland.
Woman selling bags that she had interlaced using plastic cords in bright colours at the Dimapur market, Nagaland.
“One can only really travel if one lets oneself go and takes what every place brings without trying to turn it into a healthy private pattern of one’s own and I suppose that is the difference between travel and tourism” – Dame Freya Stark
Boat ride, between the sandbanks of the Brahmaputra looking for an ideal spot to pitch camp, Assam.

My travels haven’t led me to risky treks through the fabled towns of Arabia nor have I often traveled alone. But I have been smitten by the travel bug ever since I can remember, accompanying my father on many excursions on dirt track roads all over the eastern Himalayas. 

Three-and-a-half years ago, I shut down my business. I had a small workshop in Bangalore, creating handmade textiles that were  translated into garments, saris, scarves and home accessories. Though my products were appreciated, I still struggled to meet monthly sales targets and like most small businesses, was cash strapped quite often.  If I wanted to continue with the business, I needed to raise money to invest for marketing, building more stock and looking at foreign markets or I’d have to change the way I was working and make products that didn’t need so much of labour. 

A morning walk with my children through a small Khasi village near Umiam lake, Meghalaya.

I just couldn’t get my head around giving up the hand work. I had learned to weave as a young girl from my grandmother growing up in Assam. After a few months of being stuck at a crossroad, I decided to shut down my entire business for a while and spend time with my two little ones. I started by being more proactive at home with my kids and traveling with them, especially back home to Assam. I reconnected with travel to the north east of India. I have spent time camping on the sand banks with my kids, taking long boat  rides researching, revisiting places to see different craft practices and weaving in the region, various cuisines and reading books by travel writers.

A sketch I made of a Shaman, Apatani tribe. This tribe lives near Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh and follow an ancient religion known as Donyi-polo that worships nature.

 

It is books by Freya Stark and other travel writers that got me thinking and looking at my own travels  in a different light.  I want to spend time admiring and exploring  the various  lifestyles of the indigenous tribes that live in the north east of India , following the same customs and traditions that generations have followed. A holistic  purity that is becoming slowly fragile and vulnerable, there is no escaping the fact that everyone wants a more comfortable convenient lifestyle that meets today’s aspirations influenced by  television, missionary preachers and winds of change. As of now parts of it, are still there for one to encounter, admire and experience. It won’t be there in another 10 years or so.

 

A thatch and bamboo hut on stilts, a typical home of the Mishing tribe also known as the river people, in Majuli island, Assam.
A tea garden manager’s bungalow, Assam – a throwback to the British Raj days of the colonial empire.

 

  Let me introduce you to Curtain Call Adventures , curated experiences, that just like this blog raises a salute to a way of life that is vanishing. We hope one day you will join us on one of our jaunts. This winter, I will lead my first curated tour to explore a few areas in Assam, to understand the customs of the tribes that live there, to enjoy the natural beauty and have a memorable holiday. Encounter, admire and experience at a leisurely pace people, crafts and outdoors  of the north east of India. It is for people like me who are interested and curious about a way of life our ancestors  led, the way things were before the modern world came into existence . Come to experience rituals and encounter religions that existed before Hinduism , Islam or Christianity did. And if all this gets too much, we will help you find the perfect spot by a river or stream to cast a rod or just to contemplate existence.

Rhinos out on a stroll, spotted during an early morning Elephant ride inside the Kaziranga national park
Rhinos out on a stroll, spotted during an early morning Elephant ride inside the Kaziranga national park, Assam.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”-Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad/ Roughing it
Every year, the people of Majuli island, Assam rebuild the small bridges using local bamboo and jungle wood sturdy enough for cars to ply. They collect a small fee to use them.

Image courtesy – Supriya Menezes,Birinchi Boruah photography & author’s own