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Among The Headhunters. Part 4

part 3

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Konyaks love to smoke opium, and although the student’s body has banned it, the Angh and his old friends still smoke it. They smoke the opium in unique bamboo pipes. I had four drags that made me see multi-coloured stars and duly crashed out nice and proper. I had a nice sleep and in the morning I discovered that I had slept in Myanmar! Half of the Angh’s house lies in Myanmar and the other half in India. His jurisdiction runs over 50 villages inside Myanmar, and we accompanied him on a day’s trek inside Myanmar through the dense tropical forest to visit some villages.

Traditionally, an Angh has many wives, and the present Angh’s father has twenty. ‘I have only two at the moment’ said the young Angh with a wink. The Anghship is hereditary, and the eldest son becomes the Angh after the father decides to retire.

Nagaland has a large number of primary schools, and it is a lovely sight to see little kids with bright handloom bags make their way to the school. But not every child can make it to school as we found some very young girls filling water in bamboos to carry them home. Allover the northeast, the children, are made to realize their responsibilities, and you can find a little girl or a boy carrying a younger sibling on the back. All these schools teach in English medium, and it took us by surprise when we came across a school in the village where the Myanmar script was followed. Lazar, a teacher in the school, said that since many people from the village go to Myanmar for work, so teaching the Myanmar script makes sense. But does it really?

I have every reason to believe that Nagaland has the highest number of muzzle loading rifles in the country. These guns are not like the ornamental ones like in Rajasthan. They are simple ones and are regularly used.

It is believed that the Konyaks had invented gunpowder long before the British had landed in India. And they are master craftsmen too. Almost every single house has some fantastic old wooden sculptures and beautiful metal ornaments that reminded me of the comic-‘Tintin In America’. These artifacts are priceless museum pieces, and even these will disappear after a few years. Unscrupulous antique dealers are sweeping the villages off all such artifacts.

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These craftsmen make fabulously finished flintlock muzzle loaders that look like they have come straight out of a Robinson Crusoe movie. It has been a long time since I fired a muzzle loader, and I fired at will in the jungles. A man proudly showed me an immaculate replica of a Winchester .22 repeater rifle that he had made himself. And it was a dead shot too.

We wanted to spend a few more days but ran dangerously low on fuel, and there was no way that we could have made the return journey to Mon through that treacherous road. Major R. Singh of the Assam Rifles regiment posted in the village gave us 10 liters of petrol on a returnable basis, which we duly did later. Returnable, because it is only once a week that a helicopter delivers supplies to the regiment.

After five days, we bid goodbye to the Angh and all the friends, and they ensured that we left with a heavy stomach. But that day we traveled all of 1.5 kms. A little bit of rain and a friend’s old mother persuaded us to unpack our bags in their house on the edge of the village. My friend Longshah was blessed with a son and was supposed to be baptized the next day, and we were the honoured guests in the feast. But the feast never happened as the baby passed away in the evening due to some complications.

After the funeral early next morning, we left with a heavy heart but again the road cheered us as we met and made friends with some lovely people along the way to Mon and on to Sonari.

If you are anywhere in Nagaland in the first week of April, head straight for Mon for the Konyak festival of Aoling. Warriors, old and young in traditional regalia and war paints perform mind-blowing war dances. Gunfire and war cries fill the air as the Warriors go on a mock headhunting expedition, and the pulling of the huge log drum from the forest to a morung is a ceremony that simply can’t be missed. Stay in the village during the festival and you will never forget the amazing spectacle. The war cries, drum beats, the dances and the warm tribal welcome will stay with you long after you return to your cut-throat world of competition and pollution in the big cities.

Travel is the mother of all education, and it becomes all the more interesting when you learn the lessons from the seats of a motorcycle.

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