Monday, February 20, 2012

Mokokcheung Madness

OK, so, again, I really don't have much time, so, I'm just going to try and provide a list of the highlights of the last few days.

I've definitely been having plenty of brightly colored experiences out here on the eastern fringes of India, and I don't feel like I've been wasting my time. On the other hand, it's become apparent that traveling out here in Nagaland is very different from going to a place like Ladakh, the Garwahl Himalayas, or the Andaman Islands..tourism is only just starting out here, and what there is certianly is'nt geared towards poor backpackers like myself. In order to explore this place properly, I would need vastly more time, money, and resources....however, all that means is that, now that I know what the region is like, I want to come back again, better prepared.





Also, one thing that I've noticed is this: almost all the guidebooks I have are not especially useful. My Lonely Planet provides almost zero information, and what it does is incorrect. Rough Guide is a little better, but not by much...someone needs to produce a proper guide book covering this region. For one thing, if tourists knew what to look for, a whole lot more revenue would come in.

Anyway, a few highlights:

1: Climbed Mt. Japfu, near Kohima (9500 ft.) Me and my guide Avilei (the brother of the woman who's guesthouse I was staying at), woke up at 3 A.M. and started the 4500 ft ascent in darkness, getting lost in an Angami Naga potato farm on the way up. Later, as the sun was rising, we entered the sort of thick, primordial looking jungle that I had always imagined Nagaland to be covered with...then we got lost again. The path the two of us follwed, which was now impossibly steep, faded out. By this point the slope was more or less vertical, and was composed of rotten trecherous rock and loose dirt, covered with jungle. We were forced to climb straight up rock-climbing style, hoping we would hit a ridge that the peak protrudes from...... We did. After that, at about 7500 feet, we came up into a pretty remarkable Rhododendron forest. I was told that the worlds tallest Rhododendron tree is in the near vicinity. Going further up from there, nearer the peak, the trees got shorter and more stunted, and there was still a little snow on the ground. When we finally came out on top, the peak looked like it was covered in tundra from far off, but when we got closer it became apparent that it was coated in a forest of, thin, stunted, high altitude bamboo...which is just tall enough to get lost in, which me and my guide did.....
Later, as we were coming back down through the jungle, we heard the sound of frustrated old ladies coming up through the green wilderness. Walking downhill a little way, we came to an intersection in the trail, where there were about seven old Angami Naga women engaged in loud prayer. They were on their way up to Japfu Peak as well, but upon arriving at the intersection, didn't know which way to go. They therefore called upon the lord to show them the way...and then me and Avilei arrived. Avilei showed them the way, answering their prayers, while my presence, Americans being rare in this corner of the world, particularly in the middle of the jungle, was taken as an exceptionally good omen..the old Angami women, many of them in their 80s, continued on their merry way up the mountain signing "Hallelujah! Hallelujah!"

2: Just earlier today, I went out to an Ao Naga village called Longkhum. The Ao Nagas live around Mokokcheung, the Angamis to the south around Kohima, and the Konyaks to the north, around Mon, where I'll be going on Thursday. Anyway, on the outskirts of he village, me and my guide went down to a series of caves in the jungle, and spent the better part of two hours just exploring various underground chambers, one of which the local villagers consider to be what their Adam and Eve figures used as a kitchen...they weren't the most spectacular caves in the world, but there was a bunch of good climbing. There was also a bat sleeping in one of the caves. My guide started throwing pebbles at it.

3: Kohima was the site of a major battle in WWII, where the Japanese, having come up through Imphal, were trying to force their way to the town of Dimapur over what is now National route 39 (I think). Anyway, there's an old American M3 Grant/Lee tank just sitting in a little park in the middle of the city. The tank was disabled the battle, and the park was built around it after the war. The vehicle had been advancing against Japanese positions during the monsoon season, when it slipped off the side of a hill and then broke a track as it came to rest. The crew then bailed out under fire, but only after jamming both the main guns in recoil position. The guns remain in that position today. Though it is a bit sad...People throw trash in the tank.

4: Avilei and some of his friends invited me to a wrestling match put on by "The Angami Naga Catholic Sports Association." The wrestling itself was rather reminiscent of sumo wrestling, only....smaller. Actually, the wrestling got to be rather much of a muchness after about 30 minutes (and me and my friends were there for about 5 hours). However, we did end up eating unusual Naga foods...or, rather, huge chunks of pork and beef and prodigious quantities of snails. I've found that I like snails...hmmm...also, they demanded that I take big bites out of a large sheet of cow skin that they had (these were the refreshments served during the match, you see). The skin was a little nasty...I was reminded of the one scene in Dances With Wolves where the one Sioux fellow demands that Kevin Costner take a big chunk out of that Buffalo liver (or was it a heart?)...I guess I can relate to his character now. Then the guys went off a bought a bunch of illegal booze (Nagaland being technically a dry state), drove up to a secluded spot in the hills, and built a big fire, around which we all had a lengthy, alcohol aided geo-political discussion...I tried to be conservative in the amount I drank, me not being drinking man. But since it was contraband, I felt it should not go to waste.

5: Nagaland is 95% Christian now, and, in fact, I would say that Christianity dominates the landscape here even more than Hinduism or Islam do in other parts of the country. In fact, your average village will have two or three huge churches. Anyway, I wound up meeting the Pastor of the primary church in the Angami Naga village of Kigwema. There's actually about 4 different Christian sects working in Kigwema alone, including the Ubiquitous Baptists, 7th day Adventists, Catholics, and a sect unique to the Northeast called the Revivalists. They're a group that branched off from the Baptists in the late 1950s, when the insurgency in Nagaland was much hotter than it is now (though it's still very much on-going). The pastor was from this group, which seems to have attracted quite a few followers in the past six decades. His church was the primary Revivalist church from the entire Southern branch of the Angami group (there being one branch of the Angami tribe for each direction). But he gave me a crash course in Revivalism: A: The end times are near. B: Any follower of the Revivalist church has come to be so because he has been guided towards the church by God. C: Prayer and fasting are of the utmost importance...so much so that next to the church there are small rooms where followers of the sect from elsewhere in Nagaland can come and fast and pray, sometimes from 40 or 50 days straight. D: The most important bible verse for the Revivalists is John 16:13: "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come." The Revivalists feel that they are the ones who are being talked about in that passage. The Baptists found this claim controversial, and because of this the Revivalist Church came into being.

6: I went to a Catholic mass in Mokokcheung, which was exactly like a Catholic mass in America except for all the Nagas. However, then, just as a cultural experience, I attended a service at the main Baptist church in Mokokcheung, which was much more heavily attended than the Catholic church. There, a woman who happened to be half Ao Naga, half Khasi (a group from the northeastern state of Meghalaya), sat next to me, and demanded I sing along with the hymns, which were in the local language....I explained to her that, neither did I know how to read music, nor did I know the Ao Naga language...but she was having none of that, and rather tersely explained to me that "Impossible is only in the dictionary of fools." Therefore I had no choice but to attempt to sing hymns that I didn't know the tunes to, in the Ao language, in Mokokcheung, with a half Ao, half Khasi woman. She then translated the sermon for me, which was nice.

That'll be all for now.

[Am in the city of Shivsagar now, in the state of Assam..it took a few tries to complete this. Had some much more brightly colored experiences over the next few days...will get to those in the next post.]

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