Sagada is Northern Luzon's best kept secret. Just 275 kms. away from the capital city of Manila, this mountain town is humble in their approach and holds a lot of interesting aspects in its caves, coffins and parks.
Travelling local is off course the best way to experience any place. Our journey started from Lingayen to Baguio and then Sagada. The thing about the Provinces in The Philippines is that it is starkly different from the heavily Americanised influence in the cities. The raw culture was evident here and it reminded me of Meghalaya with its petite houses and the mountain feels.
We found the homestay wherein we were the only guests. We settled in and took in the place at ease. Found a cafe we liked and spent the rest of the day planning our adventures for the days ahead.
The Hanging Coffins are a unique ritual of the Igorots residing here. Apart from being married and having grandchildren you also have to be contributing member of the society to be eligible of being in the hanging coffin. The belief is this practice allows the souls to reach the Almighty faster as opposed to burying when the evil can access you faster.
Its a trail through coffee plantations and jungle streams to reach the Echo Park. In the thickets here, you can spot the last of the few hanging coffins and the eerieness is not at all present like I expected. The chirpings of the birds and the chattering of the Chinese tourists made it a much more intriguing experience. The Igorots are rather keen on preserving their culture and spread all over the world including Assam and other parts of North East India. We learnt that they have now started hanging coffins in the depths just so it is not made into a tourist activity. The last one was hung in 2009.
The entrance of the Lumiang Cave has 300 odd coffins and many of the skulls are popping out as almost they are peeping to see their visitors. The dead are put in foetal position and most of the coffins are of the same size. One can evidently see the symmetry of life and the respect given is the respect taken when you leave for your eternal abode.
The route is called Cave Connection and starts here and finishes at Sumaguing Caves. They are filled with bats and you can hear the shrieking sounds as you enter. Walking barefoot is suggested and you are guided into the cave with sarcastic jokes which the Filipino think is funny but is enough to keep you entertained even in the darkest corners here.
Sagada was full of stories. The food is particular to the province and was flavourful. We enjoyed Lemon cakes and Pork Sisig and even chanced upon a sauce called 'Jolokia' which is an Assamese word meaning chillies but was produced in Cuba and imported from USA. Ah! the Cycle of Life. Feeling embraced, we sat in this cafe for hours drinking their local wine and listening to their anecdotes.
Walking all through the town of Sagada, taking rides in Jipnis, we saw its pottery farm, tasted Kopiluwak coffee from the civet cat and basked in its warm sun.
The Philippines which is full of teal waters and surreal coves is in dark contrast to the mountains as they are still untouched and raw. Kalinga which is very close to Sagada is home to the last of the family making the renowned bamboo tattoos. Have you been there yet?