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I knew the airport was 17kms far from the city of Dibrugarh, Assam. As I landed I was apprehensive about finding my way to the city, I hadn’t arranged for transport. But luckily I found share autos waiting outside and I promptly got into one. In front of me were green fields and in the far distance were faint traces of mountains and clouds.
We drove alongside the famous tea plantations, they grew on flat plains. It was new to me; I had only ever seen tea plantations growing on mountain slopes of Munnar, Ooty, Coorg and such. It was almost evening and young boys and girls in school uniforms flooded the streets and railway stations. We passed by a surprisingly high number of railway stations between the airport and Dibrugarh. I guess the local trains were quite popular, the road ran parallel to the tracks for most parts.
Once we entered the city of Dibrugarh, the green countryside transformed into a dusty town that seemed to be in a strange flux. I stopped in front of the only hotel I knew, Hotel Raj Palace and I got myself a room for 600Rs. I was relieved; I thought fun times lay ahead. The hotel was situated on the banks of Brahmaputra, between the hotel and the river, was a slum. I walked down to the river, through their houses despite strange glances and children screaming me at me “Bhoot” (meaning ghost in hindi). It was strange to see the mighty river flow gently knowing what ravages it had wrought upon whatever came in its way. One thing that didn’t occur to me was the time zone disparity that far in the east. It was barely 4.30PM and it was already getting dark! I had to rush back to my hotel because by 5PM it was pitch dark.
If you are wondering why I chose to fly into Dibrugarh in Assam than Dimapur in Nagaland, you’d find your answer if you look at the map. Dibrugarh is very close to north of Nagaland. And I wanted to visit north Nagaland for that is where the Konyak tribes reside. So the next morning I changed two shared vehicles to reach a shady looking town called Sonari, very close to the Nagaland border. This journey took me through the remote border villages of Assam, where houses were built on stilts and water flooded almost everywhere. The road was always lined with green fields or tea plantations on either side. People kept getting into the mini bus to Sonari, so much so that the bus was tilting to one side. A little girl sat in my lap and the lady in front of me had live birds in hidden in her bag. I knew because they were making noises and moving constantly. Almost all of the people were chewing tobacco.
Very luckily, after confusing quite a few locals around and getting confused, someone directed me to the Nagaland State bus stand in Sonari. It was 1 in the afternoon and the conductor was quite puzzled looking at me with the backpack asking for a ticket to Mon. I asked him for a window seat and he gave me one. The bus to Mon had to be one of the dirtiest buses I have ever been on, but at that point I had no choice and frankly I didn’t think the ride would last long.
The bus was almost empty save for few men in few seats, it was worrying. Few women boarded the bus soon and that comforted me a little. After 15kms, we crossed the border at Tizit and I officially entered Nagaland. The bus was relatively empty until then and at the border, it was packed to full. Sonari to Mon, Nagaland is just 54kms on the map, but the roads were so bad and through such mountainous terrain that it would take almost 4 hours to reach Mon. The bus passed by remote villages and I got to see the famous Konyak elders, who were headhunters of the previous days.
After few stops, a Konyak man with a tattooed face and traditional attire complete with strange skeleton jewelry got into the bus and sat near the driver. I couldn’t take my eyes off him! I wondered how many heads we might have claimed and what stories of terror he might have known. The gentleman sitting next to me wasn’t looking like someone from Nagaland, he talked good Hindi too. Sometime later he tells me, he is a Rajasthani businessman who migrated to Nagaland 16 years ago! I was surprised to see how people migrate to such far away unknown lands for better opportunities. Later in Mon, I observed more than half the shops in the market were run by people from Rajasthan and Bihar! For now, the bus was still traveling at snail pace negotiating the steep slopes and broken roads.
It was almost dark by the time bus arrived at Mon. Situated along the mountain slopes, Mon was a town only for namesake. I walked towards Paramount Guesthouse, one of the only two hotels in Mon. I stood in front of a huge seven storied building, of which two floors were of Paramount Guesthouse and the rest were office spaces and empty portions. The building was locked and there was no one around. Luckily my phone caught signal and I called up the lady who owned the guesthouse. She asked me to wait while she’d send someone to open the hotel for me. While I waited, the one thought running in my head was that the whole damn building was empty and that I’d be the only occupant that night! Again! Nope, not even a receptionist at front desk. With this, it would be three times I landed in a place where I was the only tourist around and the only occupant of a hotel. A young girl opened the lock and showed me my room but the light wasn’t switching on. She informs me, recent rains had caused damage to power lines and whole of North Nagaland has been living without electricity for the past two days and also that it is highly unlikely that power would be restored tonight. It was 5PM. It was pitch dark. And I was all alone.