The Last Of The Tattoed Headhunters

‪Mon, ‪Nagaland is home of the ‪Konyak Nagas. They were once ferocious headhunters known for their unique ‪tattoos all over their body. The last headhunting raid, I am told happened in 1990. Phejin Konyak, my host at the Konyak Tea Retreat has co-authored a book titled - THE LAST OF THE TATTOOED HEADHUNTERS" with Dutch photographer Peter Bos. They have done it entirely on their own expenses and support from friends. In this book they have documented the unique body ‪art of the Konyaks which sadly will disappear soon enough. Very few Konyaks are left with tattoos now with most of the former headhunters aged in their 80s and 90s. The book awaits publication and will have 3 versions - English for international readers, Konyak language for the locals and an illustrated children's book.


The Konyak Tea Retreat

I stayed at the 2 room Konyak ‪Tea Retreat surrounded by the 250 acre Sayeang Tea Estate. It is located 26 km further ahead of Mon town. Host and owner Phejin Konyak is an independent researcher of Konyak tattoo traditions, planter and farmer. Phejin who loves to hike and trek, cooks and takes care of guests herself while they stay at her home. Expect great, genuine conversations of her land, her people, her life's journey and her book "The Last of the Tattooed Headhunters" which awaits publication. Best time to visit: Mid November/Mid December when the orange plucking season is on. If you like spending time with yourself, you can spend hours doing nothing at the Sayeang Tea Estate. I am told, there are beautiful hikes too in and around to enjoy the rolling hills, including one that takes you to a waterfall. Something which I couldn't try because of the monsoon.

Morungs - Where Boys Became Men

Morungs in present day‪ ‎Nagaland may lack the lustre of its yesteryears, yet it refuses to fade away. But what a fantastic idea and fascinating institution. Imagine a finishing school back in the days where bachelors from around eight years dwelt. Where boys were educated by older housemates about personal and communal living. They were taught how to recognise and make use of their instincts when traditional hunting skills were passed on. Morungs also served as a store for the village weapons, a centre for art, craft and entertainment and a place to make important decisions. What fascinated me the most in the Morungs I saw in ‪‎Mon was this huge piece of hollow wood on which, it is said, the inmates used to jump to declare the death of a warrior from their clan.

In Mon, Do Like The Konyaks Do

Tip for itinerary planners: "Breakfast" as we in the travel trade or otherwise know and are used to, is an alien concept in ‎Mon, ‪Nagaland . For the hard working Konyak Nagas of Mon who head out early in the morning to their farms and fields (mind you the family who own the 250 acre Sayeang tea estate, timber plantation and orchards slog it out just like and alongside workers to whom they pay salaries - a way of life and a part of their lifestyle) it is rice and whatever is left from last night's dinner for " breakfast" and then straight to the fields and farms. Our "loaf" (that's what they call bread), cereals, eggs, rotis (Indian Bread), subzee (vegetables) et al - "breakfast" as we know and understand is simply not good enough to give them the power and energy they need for the intense manual work on the fields - hence alien to the local culture. Even those with desk jobs don't have "breakfast" we know because - simple - they don't make it at their homes. And understandably, the locals aren't good at all in making the "breakfast" we know or understand. So here's what I recommend - when you have clients in Mon, ask for fresh steamed rice, lentils and boiled eggs for breakfast. Bananas too. End it with cup of Tea. And your clients are sorted for their full day tour. Can carry fruits for an afternoon session of munching. In Mon do like the Konyaks do. They will still make you the "breakfast" you know, but well, don't tell me I didn't warn you.

Did You Know

90% of the population in the state of Nagaland are Christians and it is the largest Baptist state in the world? Interestingly there is no opposition party in the Nagaland government. All elected members irrespective of their political parties and ideology are a part of the ruling Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN). Nagaland is a dry state where you can't buy alcohol off the shelf, yet the friendly bootlegger is never too hard to find with the right connection, the staggering prices notwithstanding. Almost 3-4 times of what you would pay in Assam from where the booze is smuggled in. Despite knowing everything, the Nagaland government maintains the status quo, one of the reasons is the powerful Church. Never ran out of booze during my stay at Mon though. But it did burn a hole in my pocket.

Dine In India Sleep In Myanmar

Lungwa village on the Indo-Myanmar border is 2 hours from Mon and what's fascinating here - No1 is - our conventional wisdom about "International Borders" and everything that comes with it - fencing, border patrol, visa, immigration - flies in the face of it. Myanmar is just across the road - a mere 5 steps and you are at a school - the locals here call it the "Burmese School" because it is on the Myanmar side. Kids of Lungwa study here. At one of the intersections, a dirt track takes you to the Saigagng division of Myanmar and the village of Khamoi and beyond that Lahe (and beyond that Khampti and Homalin - just in case you want to google) and unless you are told you will never realise it. No 2, the village of Khamoi on the Myanmar side with its 200 families doesn't have a single shop for their daily needs. So they have to shop for everything in Lungwa. This is what the villagers of Khamoi do - they pay these boys from their village to run errands. They come with their Chinese bikes and the shopping list. They shop in Lungwa on the Indian side and return to Khamoi on the Myanmar side. Every single day there are bikes zipping in and out of India and Myanmar. And who is running a shop in Lungwa who has clients both on the Indian and Myanmar side - a certain gentleman from Churu, Rajasthan. No 3 the boundary between India and Myanmar runs through his house of the village chief of Lungwa. His kitchen falls in India and his bedroom is on the Myanmar side. So he dines in India and sleeps in Myanmar. How cool is that.

Reccomneded Itinerary

13 nights/ 14 days – Kolkata – Guwahati-Kaziranga –Jorhat-Mon – Kolkata
KOLKATA (3 nights) (including Full day excursion to Chandanagore, Bandel, Bansberia, Chinsurah etc ex Kolkata for an insight into the mad scramble for power between the Europeans – French, Portuguese, Dutch, English et al) - fly to GUWAHATI (2 nights @ Prabhakar Homestay, including day trip to Sualkuchi - home of Endi- the non-violent silk ) - drive to KAZIRANGA (2 nights/3 nights if staying at the Diphlu River Lodge. 1 night at leisure to enjoy the lovely property) - drive to JORHAT (3 nights @ Puroni Bheti Lodge, day trip to Majuli, Asia's largest freshwater river island and the hub of Assamese culture ex Puroni Bheti Lodge + 1 night at leisure to enjoy the property - walk around the estate, cycle around, fishing in the pond, visit the tea factory, make use of the free Wi-Fi, go to Members only Gymkhana Club for drinks and dinner etc) - drive to MON, NAGALAND (3 nights @ The Konyak Tea Retreat amidst the rolling hills of Sayeang Tea Estate. Get to know about the tattoo and headhunting traditions of the Konyaks from your host, visit the Lungwa Village on the Indo-Myanmar border or/and the Chan Village known for its fascinating traditional Konyak woodwork, spend time at the Sayeang Tea Estate and the Orange orchard of your host, meet her family in the nearby Shiyong village over a cup of tea) - Drive to DIBRUGARH airport via Moran ... fly Dibrugarh - Kolkata nonstop in the afternoon OUT ..... OR... During the HORNBILL FESTIVAL (first week of December every year)- Drive to DIBRUGARH airport via Moran Dibrugarh - Dimapur nonstop (3 days a week) - continue to Kohima for the Hornbill Festival (3 nights) - Fly Dimapur- Kolkata nonstop (daily flight) OUT