Stopping every few kilometers, we managed to reach Sonari late evening and checked into a small hotel named Seven Sisters Hotel And Bar. The unusually strong sun had exhausted us, and we hit the bed immediately, least bothered that our legs hung outside the bed.
Although we did not see any of the seven sisters, we found that the food was cheap and very good, and the beer was chilled. Anuj has this amazing ability to strike up a funny conversation with just about anybody, and the owner of the hotel was so taken in by him that he waived off the charges for breakfast and two beers. We were traveling on a shoestring budget, and any concession was more than welcome.
Mon Town is at a distance of around 60 kms from Sonari in Assam and it took us all of four hours to reach there because every few kilometers we would stop to take in the beauty of the land and chat up with the friendly people in the small settlements along the way. The motorcycles were great attention grabbers wherever we stopped because the locals hardly see any motorcycle mounted tourists.
I have been to Mon quite a few years back, and I realized that nothing much has changed except for the fact there were quite a lot of vehicles on the road. It is like any other small town – crowded and so we decided to ride another 35kms to the village of Sayeang and stayed at the Sayeang Tea Estate with Phejin Konyak who lets out her house for home stays. Since there are few hotels in the town you can count on home stays in the villages and enjoy the local food. Naga people are a friendly lot, and you will definitely find some one who would take you in.
Sayeang and the nearby legendary village of Wakching look quite prosperous with concrete houses slowly replacing the traditional thatch houses. But tradition always pulls strongly at one’s heart, and I have seen owners of many concrete houses maintain a traditional hut, even if it is a small one, in their courtyard.
After spending a couple of days in Sayeang , we rode 45 kms south of Mon Town to the village of Langmeng via the legendary village of Chui and Aboi. 45 kms is not a great distance but it takes time as the roads are narrow with deadly drops on one side, and the first mistake might very well be the last. It is said that the Angh (the village chief) of Chui village is the most powerful among all the Anghs in the Konyak society. A few years back, the Angh had 66 human skulls in his huge house but they have been relocated to some other place that was not disclosed to us. It is the custom to pay a visit to the Angh before visiting anybody else in the village, and we duly paid our respects to the Angh of Langmeng. He is a young man and had inherited the Anghship from his father.
He took us to a ‘morung’ or dormitory in the village and in one corner of the huge structure, in the hollow of a tree were 55 human skulls…trophies from a battle. The skulls are not allowed to be taken out of the morung and it was an eerie feeling to shoot them in the dark room and firelight. I guess the spirits of these dead men did not mind being photographed because nothing untoward happened to us during the rest of the journey.
Most of the villages in Mon had their own collection of skulls, but many of them were destroyed because the church thinks that it is uncivilized and barbaric to display them. But the Angh of Langmen certainly has other ideas, as he wants to preserve and showcase the tribal heritage to the world, which I feel is a good thing to do.