So, the evening conversation flowed over a glass of Rice Wine while we tried to know a bit about each other. There was a sense of trying to find some common footing with him. He was the owner of the Homestay where I was staying in Haflong, Assam. Over the discussions, I realised that he is a traveller cum historian with a passion for preserving the region’s history. He asked me what I was doing here, probably thinking that I was interested in seeing all the tourist places in Assam. I mentioned that I wanted to see the Offbeat Assam through the eyes of the Haflong. He said the remote Naga settlement near Hangrum, where one can see the tri-border region of Nagaland, Manipur & Assam. So thus, was born the Journey to the remote Naga Settlement of Hejalio. Offbeat Assam for the curious traveller had commenced.
Offbeat Assam for the curious traveller
Culture diversity of Naga tribes
I highly regard the Nagas because I am curious to know more about them. I have a lot of interest in Nagaland art and culture. The Nagaland culture and lifestyle are unique. They have held on to the past. Maintaining a grip on to their unique traditions, which exist in their remote villages even to this day. Modernity has crept in, but there are still bastions of cultural inclusivity holding strong.
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One needs to understand that the Hangrum region of Assam is quite remote, and in fact, Google maps do not even show me a route to reach this place. While receiving many tourists and having numerous articles on things to do in Assam, the state still has areas that are secluded even to this day. So naturally, I was inclined to follow the gentleman and take up the gracious offer he made to me visit Offbeat Assam as a curious traveller.
Early next morning, I am up, and by 8, we are rolling. A Naga guide with us will be the point of contact to reach the village. The sun has just strengthened as the day stretches in front of me as we move towards the winding Highway that one has to take to exit Haflong, part of beautiful Assam. The mist is still in the lower mountains as the two vehicles quickly progress on the empty roads.
Journey to Hejalio Naga Village
Soon after covering 10 km, we take a detour, and within a few moments, I am plunging headfirst into narrow mountain roads that take me to places not listed in the travel brochure on Assam. The surrounding mountain ranges are home to numerous villages with a minimal population who exist peacefully with the local nature.
The village structure consisted of a few households and careful management of cultivable fields, a local church or a place of worship, and a school. Indeed, life seemed sparse and contained to suit the life led out here. The journey continues ahead as we head on towards Mahur. Mahur happened to be a village of considerable modernity with a bustling market and catered to the requirement of most of the villages that were spread out in the neighbouring mountains.
After purchasing water for the entire day, we headed out to narrower trails broken in most places on paths cut into the mountains. Our next target remains the village of Leikul, from where it was told me that there is a trek route newly opened to the mountain Tumjang. I was asked if I wanted to attempt that, but then I declined with the schedule in hand, but then maybe someday I can think of it. Offbeat Assam for the curious traveller in me was offering me interesting bucket lists of ideas.
Offbeat region of Assam – Laisong
The roads were offbeat, and indeed was the region. It was mentioned that this area is only opening up now. Infrastructure facilities are being put in place to make the lives of the villages here more stable in terms of hospitals, schools, road connectivity, and mobile networks.
I crossed the scenic village of Laisong and Hazaichak . Laisong remains one of the largest village of Dima Hasao district. It is one of the largest centers of the Zeme Naga village culture. Hangseuki , which is traditional dormitories for the Zeme Naga boys can be seen here. The objective of these traditional dormitories is to inculcate the traditions within the young boys of their heritage and culture.
After a drive for four hours, we reached the village of Hejalio. The moment I enter the village, I am told that we had come at a time of the Hega Ngi festival. Imagine my luck that I get to go to a remote Naga village which has a festival and celebration in progress. Hornbill is the most famous festival of Nagaland, but then there are numerous festivals celebrated in Nagaland by tribes that inhabit these mountains. The boundaries of Inner-State do not make much difference to these tribes.
The traditional Naga culture is very unique. The Naga tribe culture has its own cultural dress, history, dances and legends. The word Hejailo means a littoral zone which is the shore area of any lake. The traditional Zeme Naga religion encompasses elements of animism, which is the belief in the existence of spiritual beings inhabiting this world. The village, the only one among the Zeliangrong Naga, has every villager practising the indigenous belief/religion called PauPaisie, an amalgamation of multiple beliefs and festivals. There are some specific rituals practised to this day that altogether forbid the presence of outsiders.
Hega Ngi festival
The festival called Hega Ngi is celebrated annually here. The Hega Ngi festival is one of the most important and largest festivals among the Zeme Naga community. It falls in December every year.
The festival is to invoke the blessings of the almighty God. Ask him to shower his blessings and goodwill on the village community. Young couples invoke his blessings to get united as well for their future. The festival is announced with various programs and merry-making lasting for five days. On the first day, a pig is sacrificed and then eaten together. After that, the boys and the elders reside only in the dormitory and not their homes.
The subsequent days have sports competitions, including long jump, archery, shot put, etc. This is only the village that celebrates this festival in this region amongst all the other Naga villages . The younger generation who studies outside or works in other parts of the country return to their roots to take part. It most auspicious and happy coming together of the entire community over one week.
What is my blog about ?
My blog focuses a lot on historical journeys through India as well as Himalayan landscapes. The ruins of Hampi ( read here ), Cave temples of Badami ( read here ) and Panch Kedar in Uttarakhand (read here ) are few examples of diverse Historical grandeur and legends. I have been fortunate to have got the opportunity to see these gems of India.
My experience of Hega Ngi festival
The festival’s theme is to honour the house that has cultivated the whole grain for that year. Something similar to the harvest festival of Nagaland. I reached the third day of the ongoing rituals.
Today was the day when they would be finding out which household had cultivated the maximum grain for the year. The ceremony involved the coming together of the village males in traditional attire with a smearing of auspicious paste on their forearms and legs. The coming together is accompanied by the playing of musical instruments as well.
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Initially they ignored me and I could understand for I had arrived unannounced but my patience paid off Soon they opened up to me clicking pictures and observing their rituals. As the hours moved ahead , they insisted that I take part in the ceremony of drinking the locally brewed wine which was flowing in copious amounts. The mood was joyous and upbeat with lots of laughter and observance of traditions.
My thoughts on Offbeat Assam for the curious traveller
Soon the Sun in the Eastern Hemisphere was on its way down. It was time for me to leave this secluded happy place on earth and head back to Haflong. That was a good three hours away. I bid my goodbye to the villagers amid exchange of greetings. We left behind the village of Hejalio snuggled deep in the mountain forests of Assam. The journey continues for me in Assam however this particular day spent in the company of the Zeme Naga tribe will always be treasured by me.
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