PICTURESQUE TOWN On the north bank of the Brahmaputrs river, Tezpur is surrounded by undulating green valleys covered with tea gardens. The hills of northern Arunachal provide a scenic backdrop to the town, and for visitors, Teapur is a convenient stop and a take-off point for trips to Arunachal Pradesh.
Tezpur means “City of Blood”, and this gory name is derived from its legendary past as the capital of the Hindu demon kings, the Asuras, said to have been vanquished here by Lord Krishna in a bloody battle. More recently, in 1962, Tezpur was close to another bloodbath when the invading Chinese army reached its outskirts before suddenly declaring a ceasefire. The ruins of the Da Parbatla Temple, 5 km (3 miles) west of the city, dating from the 5th to 6th centuries AD, bear testimony to Tezpur’s ancient past, and represent the earliest example of sculptural art in Assam. All that is left of the temple are some sculptures and an exquisitely carved doorframe, with images of the river goddesses Ganga and Yamuna on either side. Cole Park, close to the Tourist Lodge, is Tezpur’s prettiest spot, with a beautifully landscaped garden near a lake. It is embellished with 9thand 10th-century sculptures unearthed in the city. A charming 19th-century colonial church stands behind the Tourist Lodge.
ENVIRONS: The scenic Bhalukpong, 58 km (36 miles) northwest of Teapur, is set in green foothills that mark the border of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. The Kameng river flows past it. Added attractions are medicinal hot springs, and an Orchid Centre, located 7 km (4 miles) away at Tipi, with some 500 varieties of orchids native to Arunachal. Namerl Sanctuary, 35 km (22 miles) north of sq km (77 sq miles). The Jia Bhoroli river winds through its deciduous forests, which are home to clouded leopards, rnithuns (Indian bison) and the rare whitewinged wood duck. Nameri can be explored on elephant back. The Potasali Eco-Camp on the river, run by the Forest Department, organizes whitewater rafting and rnahseer fishing trips for visitors. Orang Wildlife Sanctuary, 65 km (40 miles) northwest of Tezpur,is often described as a mini- Kaairanga since it has a similar landscape of marshes, streams and grassland, the favoured habitat of the one-horned rhinoceri is This little sanctuary is also home to the Asiatic wild bull also and the Hillock gibbon.
PERCHED ALONG A RIDGE, its houses and churches standing out against the green hillside, Aizawl is Mizoram’s capital, and home of the Mizo tribes, said to have migrated here from Meander’s Chin Hills 300 years ago. In the centre of town is the lively Main Market, where local farmers congregate. Almost the entire population of Mizoram (as of Nagaland and Meghalaya) is now Christian, converted by missionaries who first came here in 1891. As a result of the schools they started, Mizoram has the second highest literacy rate in India. Blue jeans are more commonly seen today than tribal dress among the men, but the women still wear their elegant puans (long, narrow skirts). Visitors can see these being woven at the Weaving Centre in Luang-mrial, 7 km (4 miles) away.
THE CAPITAL OF TRIPURA, a former princely state bordered by Bangladesh, Agartala is a pleasant little town, its lush tropical greenery dotted with red-brick civic buildings. Dominating the town is the sprawling white Ujjayanta Palace, built in 1901 in Indo- Saracenic style. Now the State Legislature, the palace’s opulent interior includes a tiled Chinese Room with a magnificent ceiling crafted by Chinese artisans. It is open to visitors when the Assembly is not in session. Tripura is renowned for its exceptionally fine cane and bamboo work, freely available in the market.
ENVIRONS: Neermahal Water Palace, 55 km (34 miles) south of Agartala, on an island in Rudrasagar Lake, was the summer home of the former maharajas of Tripura. Built in white marble and red sandstone, this fairy-tale palace has a profusion of pavilions, balconies, turrets and bridges, and part of it is open to the public. Udaipur, 58 km (36 miles) south of Agartala, is renowned for the Tripurasundari Temple with its Bdenigasl-sttyile ncurvcedtive roof. It was built in the 16th century.
THE SCENIC ROAD from Teapur winds steeply up through thick forests to this pleasant town, at an altitude of 2,530 in (8,301 ft). The headquarters of Arunachal’s West Kameng district, Bomdila has Buddhist monasteries surrounded by apple orchards, with views of snowcapped peaks, terraced paddy fields and waterfalls. The Crafts Centre is famous for its carpet weaving. The town’s inhabitants belong largely to the Monpa and Sherdukpen tribes, who combine Tibetan Buddhism with some of their original animist rituals and beliefs. They wear a curious black cap with five “tails” projecting from its rim, that serve to drain rainwater away from the face.
AT THE HEART of Assam’s tea and oil-producing region, Sibsagar is also the state’s most historic city, as the seat of the Ahom dynasty which ruled Assam for 600 years. Originally from Myanmar (Burma), the Ahoms converted to Hinduism and gradually indigeoized after conquering Assam in 1228. The Atoms were defeated by the Burmese in 1817, and their kingdom became part of the British Indian Empire in 1826.
The Atoms were great builders, as is evident from the ruins in and around Sibsagar. Dominatin the town is the enormous 103-ha (255-acre) manmade Sibsagar Lake, with three temples on its banks. Especially impressive is the towering Shiva Temple with its 33-m (108-ft) high gilded spire, built by an Ahom queen in 1734. About 4 km (2 miles) south of the town are the ruins of two 18th-century brick palaces, Karen Ghar and Talatal Ghar. Both are seven storeys high, and the latter also has three underground floors and a warren of secret tunnels. To its northeast is the elegant Rang Ghar, the oval, doublestoreyed royal sports pavilion, constructed in 1746.
UNTIL IT BECAME the capital of Arunachal Pradesh in 1971, Itanagar was a settlement of the Nishi tribe, one of the largest among the 26 major tribes that inhabit the state. A few traditional Nishi longhouses still remain, now all but swamped by Itanagar’s newly-constructed government buildings. The Nishis are easily recognizable – they sport black and white hornbill feathers in their cane headgear, wear their hair in a bun on their foreheads and often carry bearskin bags.
The Nehru Museum, near the Secretariat, offers a comprehensive look at thee arts and crafts of all the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh, with some lovely jewellery, textiles, cane and bamboo artifacts, and totem objects on display. A pretty but bumpy 6- km (4-mile) drive north from Itanagar leads to the lovely, emerald-green Gyakar Sinyl Lake, surrounded by dense . forests. Many of the tall trees are festooned with orchids. practise a unique system of cultivation that combines ricegrowing with pisciculture. The flooded paddy fields are stocked with fingerlings, the two staples of Apatani diet thus coming from thesame plot of land. Like the Nishis, the Apatanis wear their hair in a bun on their foreheads, held with a brass skewer. Both the men and women are tattooed and the women sport huge bamboo noseplugs.
Northeast of Ziro, three other areas, Daporijo, Along and Pasighat, are now open to foreigners (with permits). The latter two are situated on the Brahmaputra river and are inhabited by the Adi tribe. The drive from Ziro to Pasighat (300 km/186 miles) is wonderfully scenic, through dense virgin forest and tribal villages with thatched longhouses.
THE CAPITAL OF Manipur (the “Jewelled Land”), Imphal lies in a broad oval valley enclosed by forested hills. Its inhabitants mostly belong to the Meiteis tribe. The liveliest part of the town is the Ima Keithel (“Mothers’ Market”) where more than 3,000 women congregate daily to sell fresh produce, fish, grain, canework and handicrafts, including the elegant striped textiles worn by the Meitei women. These formidable Imas, who sport tikes of sandalwood paste on their noses, have formed a powerful union and pride themselves on charging fair prices. Imphal’s main temple, the Govindaji Temple, stands east of the Bazaar, and on festivals associated with Lord Krishna the graceful Manipuri dance is performed here. Sagol Kangjei, Maripuri polo, is a favourite sport in Imphal (they claim to have invented the game), and an opportunity to see a match should not be missed the Polo Ground is in the centre of the town. It is a fast and furious game, with the players dressed in dhotis and often riding bareback on the agile Manipuri horses. Two well-tended Commonwealth War Graves Cemeteries are on the northern and eastern outskirts of town. Buried here are the men who died fighting the Japanese during the invasion of Manipur in World War II. Also Worth visiting is an impressive Orchidarium displaying various indigenous species. It is 12 km (7 miles) north of the town.
ENVIRONS: Mooring, 45 km (28 miles) south of Imphal, with its ancient temple to the pre-Hindu god, Thangjing, the spiritual home of the Meiteis, who celebrate Lai Haraoba here with great fanfare. During World War II, Moirang was the headquarters of the Indian National Army (INA), led by Suhhash Chandra Bose, which fought against the Allies.
THE CAPITAL of Nagaland, Kohima, at an altitude of 1,500 in (4,921 ft), is a small, pleasant town surrounded by hills which are dotted with villages. Kohima is famous in World War II history for the decisive battle, fought on the tennis court of the British deputy commissioner’s house, that finally stopped the Japanese advance into India in April 1944.
Those who fell in the battle are buried in the beautifully kept War Cemetery covering a terraced hillside. A poignant inscription at the base of one of the two large crosses here reads: “When you go home tell them of us and say, For your tomorrow we gave our today”. The Cathedral of Reconciliation, which overlooks the cemetery, was built in 1995, partly funded by the Japanese government. Kohima’s main bazaar is a good place to encounter the handsome Naga people in their colourful woven shawls, who come from surrounding villages to sell their produce. The market also offers visitors a glimpse of the diet that supposedly made the Nagas such formidable warriors – bees’ larvae and dog meat are favourites.
The State Museum, 2 km (1.2 miles) north of the bazaar, has an excellent anthropological collection of Naga masks, textiles, jewellery and totem pillars from all the 16 Naga tribes. Particularly intriguing is a large ceremonial drum that looks like a dugout canoe, kept in a shed outside the museum. The drum is engraved with stylized waves, and has gongs that look like paddles. This and other factors, such as the use of seashells in their costumes, has led some anthropologists to conjecture that the Nagas were originally a seafaring people, possibly from Sumatra. Today, a high percentage of Nagas are Christians and a church can be found in almost every corner of the state.
The original village of Kohima, Bara Basti, is a settlement of the Angami Naga tribe, located on a hill overlooking the town. Though now considerably modernized, it still has its ceremonial gateway, and a large traditional community house, the morung, with crossed horns surmounting its gable. A less modernized Angarni Naga village is Khonoma, 20 km (12 miles) southwest of Kohima, with its wooden houses, carved gateway and surrounding stone wall. The villagers are renowned for their agricultural skills – terraced paddy fields cover the hillside, growing some 20 varieties of rice, and an intricate system of bamboo pipes irrigates the fields.