Bob Nelson Photography
Photographer Bob Nelson India Photographer Bob Nelson India

North East India

North East India is sometimes referred to as ‘India’s Lost World’. It shares borders with Myanmar, Tibet, China, Bangladesh and Bhutan. The Indian states we visited, included Arunachal Pradesh (‘Land of Dawn-Lit Mountains’’), Nagaland (‘Switzerland of the East’), Assam (‘Home of the Brahmaputra’) and Meghalaya (‘Abode of Clouds’).

This book is comprised of a selection of images I took in North East India in 2011.We took the train from Calcutta to Guwahati to begin a 5 week adventure in one of the most interesting and least visited areas of India. Our vehicle was a moderately  equipped, 4 wheel drive land cruiser.

During the first 3 days we drove over the Sela Pass, at 14,500 feet, to reach the 400 year old Tawang Monastery, where the Dali Lama took refuge when he fled Tibet. It was here we encountered a severe snow storm which made the roads totally impassable for 3 days. This delay enabled us to spend extra time in and around this fabulous Monastery. The Monks were very welcoming and had no problem at all if we wanted to take photos of them, even when they were praying.

After leaving Tawang we drove to Kaziranga National Park. Our hut was built on stilts with as many modern facilities as we could expect in this remote location. The following day we rode elephants to look for Tigers, endangered one horned Rhinos, Wild Water Buffalo and Barking Deer.  After riding our elephant through thick, deep grass land for about an hour, The Mahout suddenly yelled “Tiger!,Tiger!”. We had frightened a Tiger and it quickly disappeared into the tall grass. We spent another 2 hours looking for Tigers with no luck, but had an amazing encounter with some One-Horned Rhinos. As our Elephant approached a female Rhino with her calf, she decided to charge us. A Park Ranger on another Elephant fired twice in the air to stop the Rhino from charging. It amazed me that, to protect her baby, a Mother Rhino would charge an Elephant. The saddle on the elephant was so wide it almost split my body in half. After riding around for over 3 hours I didn’t think I would ever walk again. 

In the following days we arrived in Mon, Nagaland. Nagaland was closed to foreigners for many years due to the Government’s concerns for the safety of the visitors. In the recent past, Mon was famous as the home of the ‘Konyak Nagas’, who were reputed to be the most feared headhunting warriors in Nagaland. The traditional practice of Headhunting was used to prove a young man was ready for marriage and manhood. Later we reached the village of Lungwa, on the border of Myanmar. In fact the border of Myanmar and Nagaland passes right through the middle of the Chief’s house. Due to the proximity of these villages to a very remote part of the Burmese border, opium is readily available. We were shown the laborious process of making the opium but graciously refused any participation. Nearby we visited a village where, starting from a simple piece of metal pipe, a villager demonstrated his skill as a blacksmith by making rifles. This skill has been passed down from generation to generation and restricted to very few. Shortly after, we were proudly shown a partially buried collection of human skulls.

Several days later we arrived in Kohima where they were celebrating their ‘Sekrenyi’ festival dressed in brightly coloured, traditionally woven costumes. There was a lot of  dancing and excitement as the men continuously fired guns in the air to help create a festive environment.

Days later we entered Assam. As we drove past lush, green tea plantations we saw large groups of Hindu women immaculately dressed in brightly coloured saris, pruning the tea bushes.

When we reached the Brahmaputra, we watched our small ferry being loaded with 2 vehicles, including ours, 4 cows, several goats and close to 100 people. Several months later we found out that a ferry in the same area had capsized and over 130 people died.

Before we began the 1.5 hour river crossing on the Brahmaputra, I threw a coin in the river for good luck. It worked, as we later arrived safely on ‘Majuli’ Island. Majuli Island is the ‘world’s largest river island’ which UNESCO has declared a World Heritage site.  We stayed for several days here while we explored the local villages and temples that had survived the recent floods. Majuli is famous for their colourful festivals, handloom fabrics and ‘beaten clay pottery’. The process of beaten clay is almost a lost art, as a potter’s wheel is not used.

We looked to go further off the beaten track and found a rough road that wound it’s way through dense tropical vegetation. We drove, for what seemed all day, at an average speed of a mere 15-20 kilometres per hour. On one occasion, when I left the vehicle to take a photo of a panoramic view of a mountain valley, I noticed a significant amount of fresh blood on my right foot. I’m told by our guide that the leach which had dined on my toes had obviously had a good fill and voluntarily dropped off.

Out trip was always full of surprises. By chance, we came across several village weddings. One wedding, with over 100 guests, included the sacrificial offering of 5 large Mithun Bulls as a blessing for the wedding couple.

At one point we drove to a small village where we traversed down a steep incline to a ‘living root bridge’. These bridges in Cherrapunji are constructed entirely of living tree roots. The bridges take ten to fifteen years to build and can be over 40 metres long. 

There was a continual challenge to find a working ATM that a didn’t have a 2 hour line up. Power failures are a frequent inconvenience. Since we had some American Money, we often borrowed money from our guide as the local people had no idea what an American dollar bill looked like.

My passion for travel is always supported by experiencing different cultures and interacting with genuinely friendly people. We were welcomed into homes where we would sip tea on an immaculately swept dirt floor, around an open fire and, through an interpreter, discuss their culture and beliefs.

The purpose of our trip was to see a fairly remote and interesting part of India. Five weeks did not do justice to this fascinating part of India and it is my hope to return sometime in the future.