Longwa is a remote village in a hilly area and so walking was the only option to reach a place. Thankfully I was hitting the gym in those days, so walking up hills was not a difficult task unlike my other two friends who would run out of breath after every fifteen minutes. We visited the village where brass necklaces worn by the headhunters were made. I picked up one with a single head for myself. They even added some traditional beads to make it more glamorous and pretty. Some of the Konyaks are into gun trading business with Myanmar. These guns are mostly used for their own safety, as the area is full of wild animals.
While mornings were spend in envying the villagers while looking at the mist covered hills and exploring the area, evening were spend around the fireplace in the kitchen sipping on black tea, nibbling on home made bread and chit chatting with the family members in broken English, as they weren't very fluent in it. But you don’t really need a language to understand each other, do you?. On one such evening, as I sat in the kitchen, listening to the cracking of the woods in the fire, and cupping my cup to feel the warmth of the tea, I looked up at our host’s mother who was sitting right across me. With rosy cheeks and kind eyes, the contentment on her face was bliss to my eyes. Not only her, but everyone I met in the village were so happy and gay. There is absolutely nothing to do and life was very simple, but still these folks were so warm and self-sufficient. That night, we feast on the most delicious food, and can almost tell that it’s been cooked with ingredients grown there in their backyard; dinner was a cucumber curry and an unknown animal’s meat which was slow cooked with vegetables served with rice. After dinner, as we walked towards our room, I saw the moon casts a haunting glow on the carved old doors which made up our rustic hut, and back in our room, a gentle breeze and the sounds of the night kept us company. When I woke up at midnight to go to the bathroom outside, I heard the wind getting ferocious and coaxed myself back to bed!
Now standing at the border, I felt like time flew away in one glance and today was our last day in Longwa. My heart already felt heavy just thinking about leaving this place. My musings were interrupted by the guide voice:
Let’s go down and meet the chief.
We started ascending down. I particularly had difficulties and I wasn’t wearing proper shoes. They were slippery sneakers and did not suit the region. But my friends supported me whenever I needed help. With some ‘i’m gonna fall’ and ‘come back, I need help ‘cries, we finally reached the village. One peculiar thing that I noticed was that wherever we went, the villagers would come display a range of jewelry and craft items that they’ve made or produced from Myanmar. This time too, it was no different. Out of all the items displayed, one thing that caught our eye was a chimpanzee’s hand that can be used as a back scatter. My friend wanted to buy it but our guide warned us that it is an illegal item. With a longing look on his face, my friend kept it back and we moved on.
At the chief’s house, we were fascinated to learn that the sleeping quarters were on the Myanmar side whereas the kitchen was on the India side. Unfortunately the chief was sleeping during that time and we missed our opportunity to meet him. But fortunately, we were treated to some black tea and bread. Also my friend forgot about the scratter by the sight of food. With a filled belly and satisfied soul, we thanked the chief’s wives and started on our way back to the homestay. By the time we reached our destination, the sun had already started setting down slowly. I sat outside the porch of our hut to cool myself down. A bunch of kids were playing football with a ball, which was made out of plastic bags. Their clothes and faces were soiled with the dust all around. Looking at them, it dawned on me how attached I have gotten to this place. Far away from the city’s hustle bustle, this place was virgin and fresh. I don’t remember when was the last time I breathed such fresh air. Wilding away time doing nothing was something new and I enjoyed just sitting outside here watching time go by. I realised I will miss waking up everyday to an orchestra of birds, a welcome change from the shrill sounds of the alarm clock. I looked up and saw the sun reaching the horizon but that didn’t have any effect on the kids playing. They were still in their own world laughing and taunting each other jokingly if someone missed a kick. Suddenly, I felt a chill in my bones. The wind was gaining momentum and the windy winter evening was on its way. I gathered up my thoughts and went inside to wear something warm.
That night, our host entertained us with some tribal folk songs while stringing on their locally made instruments. My friends even took few drags from the beautifully carved bamboo pipes used for smoking opium. Anyone in this moment could make out that in this quiet village of Longwa, it is a case of oneness – one village, one identity but two nationalities. Konyak people live on two sides of the boundary line but the emotional bonding among them was strong. This merriment went past our usual bedtime but we didn’t care, time just froze for us.
This January, it was three years since that night in Longwa. Surprisingly, I vividly still remember each and every detail. I didn’t take any notes while I was there but the memories are so strongly ingrained in me that it keeps visiting me every now and then. I don’t know when I will go back to this little village again, but I have been recommending it to every soul who wants to travel in North East India. Unknowingly, this place has made its own comfortable space in my heart and refuses to go away, but I am more than happy to let it stay for as long as it wants.
P.S: the unknown animal I ate turned out to be the Indian Giant Squirrel. I’m glad I didn’t know the name then because when I saw the photo, I cringed.
Photo credit : Syamantak Bhutan.