|A birds eye view|
We jumped on board the train back across the border at the beginning of the new year and re-entered Nagaland. We landed in Dimapur our first port of call, being met on the station by Amir and his fine lady- our guardians whilst here in town. A quick police check and we left in Amir's car to his home in downtown Dimapur.
The residential compound was inhabited by three sisters and their extended families (particularly now, so close to Christmas)- our host was the middle one, Oreno (Amir's Auntie). We got in contact with her through a friend we met at Kaziranga some weeks earlier, her husband John Edwards. She was a small, feisty and utterly delightful lady. We instantly fell in love with her humour and honesty.
The atmosphere in the house was bustling with family festive fun and we were integrated warmly- the evenings were spent, en-masse, round the bonfire in the garden munchin' veggie burgers (well, only us), chips and guzzlin' fosters beer. Amir showed us the town, particularly the dingy nightclubs and second world war relics.
It was a strange, but welcomed experience being surrounded by Western dressed young-adults, speaking fluent English with an international array of workplaces and homes (ranging from Malaysia, Singapore, Delhi...)... oh and the presence of a whole block of English Cheddar.
Whilst residing in the commerce hub of Nagaland, we attempted to arrange an excursion to a town some 60km away called Wokha. Earlier in the trip (in Guwahati) we stumbled across some interesting turned wooden bowls made by a self-help group based in the said town and we were invited by the chair-woman to visit her artisans. This turned out to be a mighty red herring- days of waiting resulted in nothing but a free Naga-style tie and some naff mock Naga jewelery. The NGO we were trying to 'infiltrate' were actually heavily involved in local politics and were far to busy raking in 'donations' to deal with us scruffy young uns.
We said our sad goodbyes to the Lotha clan, promising to keep in touch then jumped in a little van to Kohima- the capital.
The ride took us back into the familiar Naga hills, winding roads and lush green slopes. The air began to chill and we snuggled into our new woolies that we had gratefully picked up the day before. Kohima, didn't exactly feel like the capital of the state, but it instantly charmed us. The views were magical, and it had just the right amount of hustle and bustle a town should. We arrived around 3pm, found a room in a small dingy hotel with good views over the valley. We took a walk to explore our surroundings but before dusk had fallen the entire city had gone to sleep. Looks like the cities life has short opening hours~! We managed to find a small rice hotel for some incredibly grimey food and headed back for a night reading stories by torch light. The next morning greeted us with more promise and we took a fantastic long walk through the city. Our first stop was the state museum, initially dubious we were pleasantly surprised by what we found inside. The curator welcomed us and even walked with us through some of the exhibits. Each tribe in Nagaland was represented through their traditional artifacts, clothing and jewelery. Some wooden bowls caught our eyes and the failed trip to Wokha no longer mattered. These bowls were incredible, hand carved, on tall stands, made all from one piece of wood, a great example of the fine skills of the hill people. Happy with a morning well spent, but a whole day yet ahead of us, the cities winding streets beckoned us to explore. The original settlement area named Kohima Village offered us a vast area of attractive, colourful houses and magical terraced gardens nestled in between. We walked until our bellies rumbled.
Though we liked this city, we decided to avoid trying to travel on a Sunday and managed to wing ourselves free tea and some tickets on the Saturday morning packed bus to Imphal, Manipur. Through rumours and research, we heard tales of a magical pottery made only in the northern mountains of Manipur- a unique black pottery infused with serpentine stone and polished to a mirror finish. This we had to see.
Our luck struck true whilst travelling the mountain route, he came in the form of Asong. Whilst our bus was being jacked up and a tyre replaced, this fine chap, his lovely wife and tiny freedom fighting toddler (always off adventuring on his new pegs!) invited us into their home within the Manipurian capital and miraculously had a work colleague directly involved with the fabled black pottery.
The weekend was spent touring Asia's largest women's market (incredible) and museums (best avoided!) of this dirty, dusty, rainy city. Thank you Asong and Family for the warm welcome, terrific company and delicious food! Monday, we hit the road with Kingson (the village king's son...obviously) and meandered into the clouds. Enthused by our guide, we spent the four hour drive learning about the ceramics, discussing Manipur's drug problems and hearing all about the AIDS epidemic in the region. He spewed his humble wisdom with humility and truth- all spoken through the mouth of one with genuine care. This wasn't just a job to him.
Longpi (or Nungbi if you're a British cartographer), is the only place where this combination of geology and clay coincides, thus the only place where this black pottery is traditionally manufactured. We'll go into specifics at a later date... another one of our annoying cliff hangers.
After our ten hour drive on Monday (cheers Kingson!), Tuesday morning rolled round for our 10am bus to Guwahati! On the bloody road again... 18 hours.
After getting my wallet pinched at 4am in the Assamese capital, we sleepily journeyed south to Shillong and the abode of clouds, Meghalaya.