The 2018 JournalDocumenting The Journey of AOB '18
Ambassadors Of Bodoland 2018: A Journal
We started the first edition of ‘Ambassadors of Bodoland’ with 12 travellers from different parts of India. All of them were on their maiden trip to Bodoland. Being a destination far removed from the highway of hashtags and social media check-ins, let alone travel guides and listings, except the itineraries and guidelines provided by our team, the travellers had limited information about the experiences awaiting them in Bodoland. Ambassadors of Bodoland 2018 was a curious and adventurous bunch who were ready to delve into novel and fresh experiences. Starting with a festival in the banks of the river ‘Aie’ or ‘the mother’ in Bodo culture, we explored this untouched land through its food, people, flora and fauna, festivals, music and dance and much more.
Flag Off & A Day At Dwijing Festival
The first edition of Ambassadors of Bodoland was flagged off by the Tourism Minister of Assam Shri Chandan Brahma. Our morning started with a breakfast buffet, followed by an interaction with the Tourism Minister. He gave us some valuable insights into the geography and culture of Bodoland and briefed us on the socio-political evolution of the region. As we wrapped up the discussion, the Ambassadors of Bodoland van arrived and it was time for the flag-off ceremony. After a round of photographs, we began our journey to Dwijing Festival.
Dwijing was a truly local festival. The people were welcoming and brimming with energy and enthusiasm. Dwijing Festival offered a lot of ways to feel pulse of the place and for us, it was the ideal way to get introduced to Bodoland. The festival is set up in the temporary sand banks formed when the river ‘Aie’ retreats. ‘Aie’ means mother in Bodo language and every, the mother river changes it’s course, creating the banks at varied locations. Walking by Aie and soaking in a culture that embraces and celebrates ephemerality was an exhilarating and a deeply touching experience.
The art exhibition ‘Blurred Perimeters’ curated by Waheeda Rahman was a tribute to this temporality and the importance of the river in the life of Bodo people. Soon after reaching Dwijing we met the curator and the artists and spent some time engrossed in the nuances of the art works that helped us look at the culture of Bodoland from various perspectives. We spent the rest of the morning hours browsing through the stalls selling handlooms and handicrafts. The craftsmanship of Bodo people is mesmerising and you can see it everywhere in Dwijing – right from from the beautifully woven patterns on the Arunai to the soothingly swaying bamboo hanging bridges built over the streams.
For lunch, we had our first Bodo meal and enjoyed the cooking of the Bodo women who had set-up makeshift kitchens at Dwijing. We also had our first bite of hot ‘pita,’ made in open fire in front of the food stalls and became hooked. Post-lunch, we roamed around and enjoyed music, dance, local dishes, games and all the other festivities. Over dinner on the banks of Aie, we had an interaction with the Deputy Chief of Bodoland Territorial Council Shri Kampa Borgoyari . He briefed us on the history of Bodoland Territorial Council and narrated many interesting episodes from the history of the Manas National Park, including the story of the triumphant one-horned rhinos of Manas.
By The Banks Of A Himalayan River & In the Backyard Of A Serene Bodo Home
On Day 2, an amazing surprise was awaiting the Ambassadors for Bodoland. Based on discussions we had with the Deputy Chief of Bodoland Territorial Council Shri Kampa Borgoyari the previous night, Kalamati was added to the itinerary for Day 2. This exquisite valley surrounded by the Himalayas shares a border with Bhutan. We were thrilled and had to visit our beautiful neighbouring land which was just a few steps away. And thus we made a totally unexpected international trip.
Kalamati means ‘black soil.’ The name is inspired from the black lick soil found in this region. Animals from the nearby woods frequent this natural mineral lick to consume the soil which provides them essential nutrients and minerals. In this region, the rickety forest paths open into a beautiful view of the serene Kanamakara river gurgling over white pebbles smoothened and rounded by the cold and pristine water flowing from the Himalayan Ranges. We breathed in the fresh, crisp air, enjoyed the stunning view and of course took so many photographs.
From Kalamati, we drove to Kaliagaon, a Bodo village in the Chirang district, to visit a family and spend the rest of the day with them. Our hosts were warm and generous we were blessed with a beautiful afternoon in a Bodo home. They had a traditional Bodo home and with a small garden and a small farm in he surrounding yard. The spaces were beautifully maintained – the plants were in full bloom, the smooth mud floor and walls accentuated the earthy elegance of the home, the open-kitchen in the yard was a seamless extension and a utilitarian expansion of the bijou home.
A beautiful family from Bongaigaon was our hosts. They had a beautifully-maintained house built in traditional Bodo architecture and small farm in the surrounding yard. As we walked around and interacted with the family, getting to know the traditional Bodo lifestyle, hot pitta (rice cakes) and lal cha (red tea) were served. Later, we had our lunch in their yard. It was a sumptuous meal of rice and many curries, a lot of them being prepared using ingredients from their household farm. Later in the evening, we visited two more houses in the village – to see silkworm rearing and traditional Bodo handloom. One of the houses had a backyard with mustard fields and we spent the sunset hours enjoying the yellow beauties and posing in their midst for photographs.
Off to Jungle Tents & Jumbo Pals
Manas National Park
On the third day, we checked-out from the city hotel and began our trip to the wilderness. The drive was long but worth it because we were on our way to one of the most pristine, verdurous and biodiverse regions in Northeast India. We arrived at Manas by afternoon and had a bountiful buffet lunch from the Smiling Tusker Elephant Camp. During lunch, the majestic beauties of the camp Rathnamala and Jayamala, were came to the restaurant area to greet us with a few welcome trumpets. The elephants were the showstoppers for the rest of the day.
Post-lunch, we went to the nearby stream to give them a bath – their tough, creased skin was washed with the chilly water of the streams and scrubbed with the leaves plucked from the banks. Occasionally, the jumbo bathers squirted the water from their trunks and made sure that everyone around got wet. Once Rathnamala and Jayamala were glammed up, the girls took us on a long walk through some picturesque locations.
We began the walk through the beautiful tea plantations of Manas. The rays of the evening sun streaming through the trees tinted the green of the tea bushes with glints of gold. The jumbos lead the way and we followed them on the narrow pathways, enjoying the serenity and breathing in the cool, crisp evening air. Through the tea gardens, we entered a Bodo village in a semi-forested area called Barangabari. As we sauntered down the long forest paths canopied by overhanging trees, the elephants stopped occasionally for a snack of bamboo branches. In Barangabari, we met some generous people who welcomed us into their homes and told us more about Manas and their village. We also had hilarious yet hearty conversations with a few others.
We returned to the camp for a truly mesmerising evening. It was cold and quiet. We huddled around the campfire and had some memorable conversations. We gazed up at the starry night sky which was a marvel in itself. Sipping red tea (lal cha) and munching on hot pakoras, we shared our travel experiences, funny stories and ideas for new projects. Those were some true bonding moments for us as a group.
Enchanting Journeys Through Ethereal Landscapes
Manas National Park
It was our first sunrise in Manas. At the break of day, the natural beauty of Manas attains an ethereal quality. As the first rays of the sun sift through the misty air, the sky in various hues, the mountains peeking through the morning haze, the flora slightly wet with the dew and the fauna moving around in morning cheer blend together and create picturesque landscapes.
The elephant safari was an enchanting journey through these landscapes. Waking up so early on a chilly morning for the safari was a difficult task but, but it paid off – the natural beauty of Manas we got to see is far more than what words can describe or even photographs can capture. Once the elephant safari returned to the camp, we has some delicious breakfast and got ready for the jeep safari.
What we saw during our jeep ride through the forest paths helped us better understand and appreciate the magnificence and diversity of nature. We explored the diverse terrains inside the national park, passing through thick forests, grasslands, sandy areas and so on. In between, we spotted the inhabitants of these lands – rhinos, golden langur, peacocks, bison, flying squirrels, elephants and small, colourful birds. We drove through green canopies and reached the banks of the beautiful Manas River. It was one of the most scenic spots in Manas – resplendent and mellow, rapid and placid, meditative and vivid, all at the same time. The drive through the jungle extended for almost 7 hours; through the thickets, we went as far as the Indo-Tibetan border.
After the long day of safaris, we were back in our snug camp huts by evening. As usual, the sun disappeared by evening and the cold set in and we were looking forward to sitting around the campfire, swapping stories and sharing munchies. It was our last night in the camp and hence special – a group of dancers were invited to the camp for a Bihu Dance performance. We enjoyed and admired their soulful music and their graceful moves. It was a peppy and rhythmic performance with simple, graceful and synchronised moves. Towards the end of the performance, the dancers, dressed in an elegantly ornamental attire, invited us to join them. We followed their moves and it was a fun night of spinning, swaying and bouncing in the cold and crisp weather.
Beginning The Day In The Company Of Brave Souls & Concluding Our Journey With A Fun Night At Dwijing
Manas National Park
The last day of the trip was a heart-warming experience where we got to meet a bunch of inspiring people. The morning was a bittersweet farewell – leaving our camp in Manas was saddening but we were eager to meet the members of the Manas Maozigendri Ecotourism Society. After breakfast, we bid adieu to our cozy huts in Manas and drove to Baksa.
The huts were just the perfect place to curl-up in the magnificence of Manas. The place had all basic amenities provided by a regular hotel or resort but they managed to provide these simple luxuries without disrupting a beautiful camp / jungle-resort setting. We were going to miss the thatch above our heads, the small verandah with the easy chair, the jungle sounds that penetrated through the nut-brown walls, the occasional trumpet sounds from Rathnamala and Jayamala and of course, the buffets and the endless rounds of lalcha.
The journey to Baska was a part of our itinerary that we were looking forward to. Manas Maozigendri Ecotourism Society is a community based society that conducts conservation activities and promotes eco-tourism in Manas. Some of their conservationists are reformed poachers. We were fortunate enough to meet these wonderful people. The brave souls who are now the guardians of Manas narrated their life journeys right from their poaching days.
Currently, in addition to guarding 250 square kilometre of land and running anti-poaching and anti-logging campaigns and activities, they have also launched many initiatives to promote sustainable tourism in Manas like building of cottages and log-huts, conducting various guided tours like jeep safari, trekking and village trails. The society prioritise the community as well. They work for improving the life in the villages through initiatives like building roads and educating the younger generation and continue the awareness campaigns in the villages in Manas. They are on a mission to make sure that the children of Manas grow-up to become its protectors.
We left from MMES after a delicious lunch and spent our last evening at Dwijing Festival. We strolled through the festival and soaked in the sights from our final night in Bodoland.