We timed our visit to coincide with the short sojourn the tiny Amur Falcon makes in northern Nagaland to rest and recuperate between its long winter migration flight from the North China and Siberian plains to the South African shores.
This was my second Gadabout in Nagaland. I had decided to pack in a little more than the Amur Falcons. We touched down in Dimapur and drove directly to Benrue village in Peren. Nagaland’s soul is in its villages. Homestay culture is thriving. Though the Tourism Department is trying very hard to provide a poor alternative by building tourist lodges that lack aesthetics with standardised PWD structures. We stayed in a few of these too and the difference between these and a homestay is as chalk to cheese.
Benrue was a buzz with activity. It was the 100th anniversary of the missionary teacher who had converted Benrue to Christianity from head hunting. There was a general air of festivity and preparations for a community feast were underway.
I nevertheless found a local guide to accompany me to Mt. Pauna which is the highest feature that overlooks the village.
(View of Benrue from Mt. Pauna)
While my fellow gadabouts spent time walking in the village and engaging in conversations.
(Dzulekei with a handful of homes and abundant wild cherry trees)
We drove along arduous and sometimes non-existent roads from Dzulekei to the more familiar and previously visited Khonoma, Kohima and Kisama. Staying at Nino’s Greenwood Villa homestay was as if a homecoming.
The heart of every Naga home is in its kitchen. Life happens around the fire place with the reassuring sound of a boiling kettle . Discussions happen over many glasses of rice beer and other spirits in this wettest “dry” state, that makes its own wine.
Between sampling homemade port wines, crunchy, juicy, delicious, skewered caterpillars and picking up Hornbill feathers to compose Haikus with……
…….we gradually inched our way towards the focus of this trip. The Amurs have been coming to roost in large flocks (in lakhs…) to the Doyang area, especially the dam, where they mostly feed on termites and other insects. Ever since the efforts of the villagers in Pangti and conservationists Bano Haralu and Reverend Nuklu and a few others, this area has become a safe haven and midway, pit stop for the Amur. The little raptors fly in from the Siberian plains with their young ones and fatten up before their marathon non stop flight over three days and as many nights across the Indian subcontinent to South Africa.
However this year a disturbing trend to monetise the efforts around the raptor had lead to an Amur Festival by another village that shares the boundaries of the Doyang Dam with Pangti village. Numerous campsites have sprung up around the Dam for tourists and if this isn’t enough there was even a Rock Band in the evenings with strobe lights and loudspeakers. It is feared that the noisy atmosphere created by the festival might disturb the roosting patterns of the Amur.
This seems like an all too familiar story of the delicate balance between the environment and Tourism that we were unable to maintain around the rafting campsites on the Ganga. A conflict that centres mostly around economically milking a situation to the maximum ultimately leading to the destruction of the “Goose that laid the Golden Egg”.
(We were not professional photographers to get close ups or the lakhs of flocks but Satish’s Haiku and sketch sums it up)
Pangti village seemed much more charming, organic and truthful in spirit with its efforts to safeguard the raptor. There are many home stays in the village. During the roosting season, youngsters from the village look after the roosting sites and for a very small fee, we visitors were ushered to these sites. In fact the tourists could be charged a much heftier entrance fee to the roosting sites, instead of creating a high decibel Amur Falcon festival and frightening away the birds!
At Nzan’s homestay in Pangti I finally met up with my friend Bano Haralu who was inspired enough to save the Amur. I also met some interesting Forest officials who genuinely seemed interested in conservation. Their heart seemed to beat for the protection of Wildlife, its habitats, the conservation of Forests and to resolve the human-animal conflict.
I said “so long” to my friends and we exited Golaghat and Dimapur with yet another lovely homestay at Annie and Toshi’s Longchem, with a promise to return next year to Rev. Nuklu’s Longleng district where there was this years’s largest gathering of the Amur (about 12 lakhs) and where he has started a conservation initiative called Lemsachenlok. He kindly shared a video with me of the Amur that I leave you with here.