They wouldn’t let me take a photo of the Angh. He wasn’t feeling too well. Actually the headman of Longwa was very poorly but nobody seemed to really care in that room because everyone was too busy getting high.
Sitting in the Angh’s long house on the Burmese side, I thought back of the week when I was at the India-Myanmar border waiting for my permit to cross over for almost a day and here a step, shuffle and side later I am in Myanmar again!
The village of Longwa lies over 2 countries. Actually the national borderline crosses through the King’s house. But here no visas are needed and the villagers openly cross the invisible line everyday to get to their farms and to visit their relatives.
Uncomfortably sitting/squatting on a small straw stool (clearly for not made for large Fijian women) in the opium den, I hear one of King’s children (bore from one of his many wives and concubines) crying somewhere in the house. After declining an offer to ‘puff’, I presented the King with 200 rupees and a bar of chocolate from my bag as a token of appreciation. Next time King botal leyta hai, said a doped villager (next time bring a bottle of alcohol for the King). Sure when I make it over next. Never.
I have to admit. I am disappointed. Actually more than disappointed. I am mildly furious. 7 torturous days to reach Mon and then another 2 jolting hours to Longwa and here I am sitting in an opium den discussing how they bring the stuff over. (I mean interesting stuff but I’ll let CNN do that, right?)
The guide walked me through the village trying to point out through mobile towers this and that but could see he had already lost me. The young boys’ ‘training room’ looked like a sham (initiation training into the tribe customs). Some leftover animal heads outside homes but that was pretty much it. Where was all that stuff?
I came to Nagaland to see the stuff off National Geographic and BBC magazines. What I found was that life has no High Definition lens, no edit and crop options. There are no filters you can put on reality and no matter what GSM paper and glossy finish the stories are printed and bound on – the naked truth is always unattractive.
The truth is that Nagaland maybe the land of tribal Indians who once were ferocious warriors with their customs and rituals however today they are converted, God-fearing Baptist Christians. The 3-day road trip from Kohima to Mon took me through many mountain villages and while the people are still living in grass and mud huts there is a high concrete church looming above every village.
Truth is that those headgear and colourful tribal wear is now only costumes, which are brought out a few times a year for festivals or when travel journalists or celebrities make their way to see the Nagas. Check out the impressive Hornbill Festival. Even Gordon Ramsey made it out to Nagaland.
Truth is most Naga artifacts and handiworks are not in museums and are now lost because they were burnt down.
Truth is most of the Naga people walk around in t-shirts and pants and have never been outside their villages.
Truth is that Nagaland maybe the remotest state in India but there are gigantic mobile towers in each village. The village elders run a lucrative opium racket which only a few benefit from.
The ‘we-want-to-keep-our-way-of-life’ façade and the insurgency have managed to keep the law away but the truth is that the Indian government failed the ordinary citizens in this region.
Truth is my young Koyank guide is a frustrated 24-year old youth who has tasted the city life for a couple of years and is now back in Nagaland because his parents want him to stay near. He thinks the Indian constitution is flawed when it comes to the people of Nagaland and even though there is only 1 representative in the parliament, he wouldn’t join politics because ‘he won’t be able to not stay incorrupt.”
Truth is that the Naga way is already dead.
Do not mistake these violent, opium-smoking, gun-carrying folks for the once-machete carrying tribal Naga people. No matter how exotic and remote travel writers make this place sound, the truth is our globe’s evil vices have already made its way here.
I stand in the middle of the empty village football field almost touching the clouds, the hymns from the Sunday church service ringing in the mountains. I also close my eyes in a quick prayer.
Life is no travel magazine.
All views expressed are my own. Photos remain property of whereishyamn.com unless otherwise credited. Do not copy or publish without prior consent