ChaloHoppo to experience the Aoleang festival of the Erstwhile Headhunters
It is a rare occasion when, in a span of a week, one gets to explore places and cultures which are so fragile and their existence is a race against time. The journey to the world’s largest river island and then exploring the remote world of the erstwhile headhunters of Nagaland, will be an experience to remember. And yes, you will experience a safari through the Kaziranga forest.
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Vacation Style Holiday Type
Activity Level Leisurely
Group Size Small Group
Majuli island in Assam, the largest river island in the world may get submerged submerged forever due to the rapid erosion happening in the island, and then you visit the villages of the Konyak tribe in Nagaland, the last of the feared tattooed headhunters who are octogenarians. The practice of headhunting and tattooing the victorious headhunters was abolished in the 1960s but you can see glimpses of the warrior instincts when you celebrate Aoleang festival with them in their backyard.
It so happens that these two cultures thrive in places of immense natural beauty and you get to see different terrains, different flora, while you are welcomed by the naturally hospitable Missing tribe and the Nagas!
To get some international perspective, here’s how The Lonely planet exudes Majuli’s charm, “The island is a relaxed, shimmering mat of glowing rice fields and water meadows bursting with hyacinth blossoms.” On the other hand this is what famous historian William Dalrymple writes about his visit to Mon,”By the time we had risen into the heights of the easternmost ranges of the Himalayas, the old men all wore elaborate body tattoos, while many had inserted antlers and tusks into their ears and noses. The young men carried shotguns slung on their backs as they rode around scowling on Enfield Bullet motorcycles. It felt properly wild, a real borderland..”
Before you get ready to hangout with the headhunters of yore, the safari through Kaziranga national park would warm you up well. Who knows what you may end up spotting in the wilderness!
- All accommodations on twin sharing basis.
- Transport from Guwahati airport through Kaziranga to Majuli in a Swift Dzire or similar.
- Transport from the ghats in Majuli to the stay and drop back to ghat in a Tata magic or similar.
- Ferry charges to and from Majuli.
- Transport from ghat through Nagaland and drop to railway station in a Scorpio or similar.
- All permits(including Inner Line Permits) and parking charges
- Bike/ Scooty on rent for a day in Majuli.
- English speaking guides in Majuli, Mon and Longwa.
- ChaloHoppo guy as the tour leader.
- Breakfast and dinner on all days.
- Lunch on two days.
- AC 2 tier tickets from Simalguri to Guwahati.
- One jeep safari in Kaziranga national park.
- Airfare charges
- All food & beverages costs apart from the ones mentioned above
- Fuel cost for bike rental in Majuli
- Any camera fees
- Hotel & driver tips (if any)
- Tips to be given to the Konyak king aka Angh and other locals if required
- Entry ticket fees to Museums, Parks, etc.
- Any personal expenditure (Toiletries, medicines, etc.)
- Cost incidental to any change in the itinerary/ stay on account of flight cancellation due to bad weather, ill health, roadblocks and/or any factors beyond control.
- Elephant safari (we don’t encourage people to go on elephant safaris since it leads to harsh treatment of elephants and capture of the wild ones)
- Anything not specifically mentioned under the head “Inclusions”.
Driving to Kaziranga national park
Welcome to Assam! Today you drive to Kaziranga through a highway that is straight like an arrow. You will pass many small villages and paddy fields will become a regularity. Eventually you enter the animal corridor and the lane starts getting narrower. Reach Kaziranga to settle in your comfortable room and sleep early to wake up in time for the morning safari at 5: 30 pm.
Total drive time from Guwahati to Kaziranga will be 4 hours.
A wildlife safari before ferrying into the river island
Good morning! Your grogginess should be shrugged away for today, since the animals in the wild and a ferry at the bank of the Brahmaputra awaits you. Breakfast can wait till after the safari. While you are almost certain to see the famous one-horned rhino and deer, you could get lucky and spot the Indian leopard, the clouded leopard and even the Royal Bengal Tiger.
Drive to Nemati ghat to catch your last ferry to Majuli island and float on the waters of the Brahmaputra at dusk. Now that you have reached your stay for the night, it is time to enjoy some delicious food and a perfectly brewed glass of the local black rice beer aka kala apong.
Total drive time from Kaziranga to Nimati ghat will be 3 hours
Total time take taken by ferry to reach Kamlabari ghat(Majuli) will be 1.3 hours.
Exploring Majuli on two wheels
Let life slow down while you explore the Mishing villages of Majuli. The island, being a haven for vibrant Vaishnavite culture has a lot of activities that you may indulge in. Whether you choose to visit the famed mask-makers house or maybe experience the traditional hymns and dances in the Xatras(Traditional Schools of Vaishnavite culture), Majuli has a lot to offer. You can rent some cycles or scooters if you would like to explore the island on your own. You can also go on a country boat ride if you can request the fishermen to do so. Overall you will experience the bliss of Majuli and the calm of this river island will definitely have a soothing influence.
Entering the wild 'east'
Drive past the Assam border to enter the land of the Nagas, and not any Nagas, the Konyaks also known as the last of the tattooed headhunters. You will slowly leave the plains and tea gardens of Assam and head towards higher elevation on bumpy roads. The drive slowly starts to give you the feeling that you are entering a different zone, something unknown. Thatched huts and flowering plants serving as boundaries of homes will welcome you into Nagaland. The clouds should be right up there with you. But you have to understand that this will be one of the bumpiest rides of your life and hence prepare accordingly. Check into your comfortable stay for the night after trying some local food. For non vegetarians, this will be a beginning of a different trip, a food trip.
Total drive time from Majuli to Mon town will be 7 hours.
A day with the author of “The Last Tattooed Headhunters”
Today we hope to meet the last surviving face tattooed headhunter Angh, i.e. the chief or the king of a Konyak village. Usually he is found sitting in his kitchen drinking dearly bitter black tea with other old men, all of whom sport tattoos on their wrinkled skin. The king or his men don’t really speak English but a conversation can be facilitated with the help of the local guide cum translator. Don’t forget to ’pay’ your regards to the Angh.
A further drive of 2 hours on absolutely terrible roads takes you to the village of Shiyong where you meet the author of “The last of the tattooed headhunters”and live in her working farmhouse overlooking a tea garden. You have to understand that it is a homestay but Phejin is a lovely lady. Spend the evening in the village or in conversation with the author and learn about the Konyaks and their tattoos.
We will spend some time picking up handloom and handicraft products from the local market. The Konyaks make some amazing products and this is a great way of supporting the local community as well as have a fascinating shopping experience.
Total drive time from Mon to Shiyong village (30 kilometres) will be 2 hours.
Please note that the roads are in such a bad shape that you may have to get off the car every now and then.
Celebrating Aoleang festival with the villagers
This is the festival that you have come to witness and you shan’t be disappointed if a strong dose of culture and rice beer is your kind of cocktail. Aoleang is the most important festival of the Konyaks and most Konyak people living in the cities return home to be a part of the festivities. Everybody is in high spirits and the generally hospitable Naga people may open their homes and make you a part of the celebrations. Dancing, singing, some gunshots to ring memories of a wild past and you have a colourful event and mostly un-orchestrated.
A night at the opiated border town of Longwa
The day has to be started early. Pack some bread and jam and grab a few bananas and off you go another bumpy ride(on the same road) to visit the village of Longwa known for the unique geographical location of the village chief’s house. The house is split exactly in half between India and Burma. Take a walk through the King’s house and then pay a visit to the opium den where locals go about their daily routine of smoking opium sourced from Burma. The village gets more fascinating as you visit the gun maker’s house and understand the nuances of the gun culture in Nagaland. It doesn’t end here as now you have the option of buying some really cool craftwork from the blacksmith’s house(if he’s home). It’s a very special experience to buy an artist’s work from his workshop and that’s what Longwa offers.
You can head back to your homestay for lunch, which is a delight in itself with a beautiful view of the Konyak hills from every room. Take some rest and head out for a walk to explore the border and village in general.
Total drive time from Shiyong to Longwa will be 4 hours.
A day in Longwa exploring the unique border village
You can experience a beautiful sunrise in the village and if you are an early riser, a hike up to the India Burma border pillar no 155 will give you a bird’s eye view of the village. Ignore the men with rifles patrolling the pillar and the border and focus on the clouds below you. Rest of the day you can spend as you like, walking and hiking.
This day has been added on request and feedback from travellers who wished they had an extra day in this border village doing nothing but just soak in the beauty of the place.
A night in the train reflecting on the trip
Today it is time to bid goodbye to your hosts and to Nagaland. We drive out by 10 am.
Total drive time from Longwa to Simalguri(railway station) will be 5.5 hours
Fly out of Northeast India
The train chugs into Guwahati early in the morning. Board your flight with memories for a lifetime.
Any flight after 12 pm can be booked.
Dhansiri eco camp
Extend your safari to the wild side of Assam by booking yourself a cottage which is true to the promise of Kaziranga. No, there isn’t any electricity in the stay!
Le Maison de anand
No Frenchmen running this property but the Mising man is a sweetheart who serves up some delicious traditional cuisine.
This is as luxurious as it gets in Mon. You have got a geyser, clean beds, homely food and a warm host.
The most aesthetic stay option in the whole of Mon. This would be the best way describe the property.
Konyak tea retreat
A tea estate in Nagaland, not Assam! Aren’t you curious already? There are only two rooms in the farmhouse and they are awesome.
In a place as remote as Longwa, getting somebody’s home to stay in, is a blessing. On top of that every room, though absolutely basic offers a stunning view of the Naga hills.
The cultural diversity of northeast India is so vast that we can’t blame outsiders for not being aware of communities in the region who are purely vegetarians, so much so that they avoid eating onions( they are indigenous to the region, in case you are thinking about communities from mainland India who have settled here). Having said that, we must admit that the region’s food habits especially in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya are predominantly non vegetarian with a whole lot of red meat based preparations. But the states have warmed up to tourists recently and almost every place you visit will provide the Indian staple diet of rice, dal and sabji, even chapatis if you are lucky. As far as Tripura, Assam, Manipur and Sikkim are concerned vegetarians have decent number of options. Your craving for butter paneer may not be satisfied, but you will do just fine as far as maintaining your health and strength is concerned.
Entry to Nagaland will require an inner line permit for domestic travellers. Foreigners visiting Nagaland have to register themselves at the nearest police station.
Extra nights can be booked based on availability. You can also visit our Custom trip section to plan a different trip.
A most definite yes, as long as you are okay travelling in a mixed group of other solo travellers or small group of friends.
The sources of such warnings should be checked and speaking from the perspective of locals living in the region we can say that though some parts of Northeast India do have cases of groups clashing against government forces from time to time, it doesn’t affect a tourist as long as the route is chosen wisely and hours of commute are decided smartly, much like travelling in any other part of the world.
If you have seen warnings in the advisory pages of governments, then we would like to remind you that governments (of different countries)will always take precaution and not be in sync with the real situation. Northeast India is absolutely safe with warm and welcoming locals. You should have no issues even going to the most interior places. As with any other tribal dominated region, respect the local culture and don’t hurt their sentiments, and you will have a great time in a beautiful place.
Because so less is known about the region in general, it may be a wise idea to get in touch with some travel experts before you plan your trip.
The roads in Nagaland are terrible. To describe the condition of the roads it would be fair to say that there is just a symbolic presence of a road amidst potholes.
The Aoling festival happens every year from the 1st to the 6th of April, every year.
The first 3 days of the Aoling festival are called Hoi Lah Nyih, Yin Mok Pho Nyih and Mok Shek Nyih.The days are spent preparing for the festival by weaving traditional cloths, collecting the animals that will be sacrificed and preparing food and rice beer for the festival.The fourth day, known as Lingnyu Nyih, is the most important day of the Aoling festival in which all the members of the Konyak tribe dress up in their best colourful traditional tribal clothes and jewellery. Usually the 4th day is the fun day which is spent dancing and singing songs.