The tea party we were invited too at Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh.

I remember that concall with Julie telling me and Subodh about this “curated tour” to the North East.

Places like Ziro and Tezpur were completely new to me then.

Since Subodh can’t take long bumpy drives anymore, I decided to do this on my own with Harini, who willingly agreed to join me. This was going to be our first girlie holiday together. When I met Sita for lunch, I casually mentioned about this trip, and Sita was keen too! Sita was lucky to be the last person to sign up !

So started our memorable Eastern Sojourn…..

After a very hectic week of meetings, presentations and late nights, we finally set out on an early morning direct flight from Bangalore to Guwahati to be pleasantly received by a glamorous Mekhala Chador clad Julie, proudly representing her state Assam, that we were on the verge of visiting. It was excitement galore for us especially to meet Sita who joined us from Shillong that morning.

Then followed the visit to Kamakhya Temple (of the Goddess of Desire) – a must do when in Guwahati, so we were told by some of the locals. We got a taste of the distinct architecture, especially the typical temple dome that is also replicated in a contemporary style at the Taj Vivanta main building.

The visit to the Assam State Museum was as fascinating with it’s various galleries depicting the rich art and culture of the region. The most interesting was the Ethnography gallery depicting the artefacts of the different groups of the tribal population of Assam. Rich beautiful textiles artistically displayed were a treat to watch. The village life of Assam gallery was so realistic and gave a glimpse into the lifestyle of the people back then.

It seemed unbelievable that the ever so beautiful and serene Brahmaputra river could rage and flood and devastate villages during peak monsoon year after year!

Our ferry ride was absolutely calm with the locals staring at us and some very busy on their smart phones!

The bumpy roads were compensated by lush green paddy fields with fire flies (by night ) and many shops along the roads selling beautiful cane and wood work, especially cane baskets, moodas, hats ,etc at very reasonable prices.

The morning and evening jungle safari at the Kaziranga National Park was an absolute treat. Such a surreal experience!Watching the One horned Rhino and other animals and birds was thrilling and brought out the child in each one of us!

Majuli was an experience by itself. Though the hotel and food there was pretty mediocre, it was compensated by a beautiful river where we went for a quiet walk and watched different birds and even horses grazing across the river. A picnic here would have been ideal!

Visit to the monasteries was nice, especially the dance performance inside the family monastery depicting a story from the Ramayana with the artistic and colourful masks was par excellence!

The simplicity of the people and their way of life is very touching.

The drive to Ziro was scenic with so many flowering trees in bloom like the pink cherry blossom and white pear blossom alongwith what we called the delicate red ‘’Assamese Sakura’’!! The wild ferns, grass,bamboos and banana plants were a treat to the eyes. We were lucky to sight a few Mithuns along the way – a good omen, according to our driver Rupu.

We thoroughly enjoyed the drive along the curvey narrow roads listening to some melodious  Assamese folk music to add flavour to our tour.

We were shocked to find out the rate of the strings of beads in the market ranging from Rs 5000 to even Rs 5,00,000!!! We were told that the Apatani tribal women do not wear gold or silver, instead they wear beads made of river stones that are passed on from generations within the family and hence cost so much!

The Apatani women are so beautiful inspite of all the tattoo marks on their faces that were supposedly made so that they looked ugly to save them from invaders.

They are a happy lot, farming, growing kiwi, rearing pigs and children and enjoying their rice wine. It amazes us to see them living the way they do in this time and age!

They live in simple bamboo and pine wood homes on stilts with no furniture. A steep ladder takes you inside their home which has a fire burning in the center of the room, on top of which they cook their meat. They still believe in animal sacrifices and spirits! It sure is a very different world!

The slightly well to do people however, do enjoy the luxury of owning modern gadgets like the rice cooker, TV, refrigerator, mobile phones, beds, cupboards, chairs, tables, etc

Walks in the Bamboo and Pine forest were very enjoyable. Wish we had the time to do to more such nature walks.

After a long and tiring drive to Tezpur, we were happy to spend the night in a comfortable 4 star hotel. Agnigarh in Tezpur was very interesting for it’s history and scenic view. Glad that Sita found it on Google else Tezpur would have been uneventful with no agenda!

Not to forget our shopping on this tour….ranging from baby potatoes, fresh rajma, palm jaggery from the market to shawls, necklaces, beads, bracelets, mufflers, wooden rhinos, Mekhla chador, muga silk and saris, Eri dupattas, cushion covers,  cane baskets, etc etc from emporiums, street shops, dhabas, technical centre and even airport! We all contributed well to the State’s economy for sure!

All in all, the tour was very enjoyable. Julie being a local person helped a lot. It was heartening to see her mingling so freely with everyone, whether it was the shop keepers or the Apatani tribal women. She was so considerate that she even carried biscuits for the little kids in the villages! The drivers and the Innova cars were excellent. The hotels in Guwahati and Tezpur were really good. The ones in Ziro and Majuli could have been better though.

Julie took care of little things like coffee for everybody and drinks too. She was a great help in guiding us regarding our shopping as well, fabrics, pricing, quality, sourcing, etc. Thanks to Sita for organising the wonderful picnic lunch!

Thanks to Julie’s aunt Maya for having us over to her charming house for a lavish and delicious dinner spread. Was really nice to meet her family.

 

What I took from the trip was a lot of learning…about simplicity in living especially after looking at the lives of the Apatanis, met such lovely ladies and made new friends, got to learn quite a bit about the NE and the culture there, and much much more than words can say……..