Monday, March 3, 2014

25 things you would love to know about North-East India

1. Diversity

The North-East has more than 165 tribes, each with distinctive ways of dressing, food and dialects within parent languages.

2. Football

Football is the sport of choice, not cricket, which is as it should be—it’s the people’s game after all.

3. Largely free of caste system and dowry

Most North-Eastern tribes don’t have a history of caste-based discrimination—social equality is a given, just as it is not in most parts of the country. Dowry was unheard of till 20 years ago. There are stray cases of dowry demands in Assam, but it is still largely a foreign concept.

4. Hairstyles

  • Once heavily influenced by South Korea and its Arirang TV, the North-East’s intrinsic sense of fashion starts right from the top. 
  • Curls, braids, straight, side-shaved, mohawk—hairstyles are experimental, especially in Mizoram and Nagaland. 
  • Nagaland is also the fashion capital of the North-East, heavily influenced by Western designers. Fashionistas frown upon Bollywood bling. 

5. The forests of Arunachal Pradesh

  • New species from the animal kingdom are still being discovered here. Arunachal Pradesh’s green cover and national parks like Namdapha continue to be one of India’s richest repositories of clean air. 
  • Around 80% of the state is covered by forests. 
  • The Eagle Nest Wildlife Sanctuary is home to rare birds like the Bugun Liocichla and Yellow-throated Fulvetta.

6. Rice beer

Available widely, even in states under prohibition, there are many versions of the rice beer. The apong from Arunachal Pradesh takes about three months to prepare. A mixture of rice and millet is dried, smoked on fire in damp weather, fermented and then filtered. The first flush is considered the best in potency and taste.

7. Star athletes
Chekrovolu Swuro

There’s just one Mary Kom—no other woman boxer in the world can lay claim to five world championship wins and an Olympic medal. The seven states produce some of the country’s best athletes—from Baichung Bhutia to Kunjarani DeviThoiba Singh to L. Bombayla DeviJayanta Talukdar to Dingko SinghShiva Thapa in boxing and Chekrovolu Swuro in archery are rising stars in the national arena.

8. Home-made wines in Shillong, Meghalaya
  • Shillong resident Michael Syiem started the Shillong Wine Festival, and it continues to be an annual event in the capital of Meghalaya—usually in cold November. 
  • Syiem was quoted in local papers in 2013 saying the festival has grown. 
  • He said people are even thinking of wine-making as a business.

9. Assamese ‘gamcha’

Ubiquitous among the locals, the handwoven white and red-bordered gamchas are the best way to greet outsiders.

10. Tattoos

  • Tattooing in Mizoram and Nagaland is all about wearing a piece of personal art. 
  • Manipuri tattoo artist Mo Naga, the most famous tattoo artist from the region, closed his studio in Delhi’s Hauz Khas village in 2012, to open Headhunters’ Ink in Guwahati, Assam, the first tattoo training school in the North-East. 
  • Mo says he wants to preserve tribal motifs of Manipur and other North-Eastern states through his art.

11. Sounds of music

A history of missionary education and music lessons have ensured that every other North-Eastern youngster will play you Stairway to Heaven even on a guitar with three strings missing. Following the legacy of Shillong’s grand old man, the North-East’s Bob Dylan, Lou Majaw, the region continues to produce a wealth of musical talent. After the Shillong Chamber Choir’s success, the city’s Aroha Choir made of musicians from Meghalaya, Manipur and Nagaland, and led by Pauline Warjri, is touring across the world. Shillong’s Soulmate, Nagaland’s Alobo Naga & The Band, Guwahati’s Lucid Recess, and Shillong’s all-women rock outfit Afflatus play across the country, including at the NH7 Weekender and Mahindra Blues Festival in Mumbai.

12. Ima Keithel, Imphal, Manipur

  • Ima Keithel or Mother’s Market, around 100 years old, in the heart of Manipur’s capital, is run entirely by women. 
  • Around 3,500 women work here. Irrespective of communities and religion, any woman can set up a store here.

13. Fiction

Shillong’s poets, new novelists including Jahnavi Barua, Anjum Hasan, Aruni Kashyap, Temsula Ao and Ankush Saikia, and stalwarts like Nagaland’s Easterine Kire Iralu are taking the North-East everywhere.

14. Literacy

At 91.06% in the last census, Mizoram has the third highest literacy rate in India. Tripura also has a high literacy rate of 87.8%.

15. Chicken Neck

" Chicken neck" connects NE to the rest of India. It is narrow corridor of 33 km on eastern side and 21 km on Western Side.

16. Khar

A healthy, delicious Assamese dish made with raw papaya and water filtered through ashes of a banana tree trunk.

17. Teer shops in Shillong, Meghalaya

Teer is a legalized form of betting in the state, which combines interpretation of dreams with the state’s ancient archery tradition.

18. Sunset at Majuli, Assam

The large river island known for solar power, ancient satras (Vaishnavite religious centres) and wilderness has the most spectacular sunset over the Brahmaputra.

19. The Tezpur-Bhalukpong-Bomdila-Tawang route to Arunachal Pradesh

This is an exhilerating 350 km stretch of road. Starting from Tezpur, Assam. The Kameng river flows through it. There is an orchid sanctuary, the Craft Centre and Ethnographic Museum at Bombdila, and hilly vistas covered by floating clouds.

20. Bio-diverse region

Norman Myers 2000 recognized Northeast India as the 7 most bio diverse regions of the world.

21. Jayanta Hazarika

The songs of Bhupen Hazarika’s younger brother, Jayanta, are about love, longing and separation—as much a part of Assamese culture as the political ballads of his famous brother.

22. The Naga shawl

Tabled to grant the Geographical Indication status, the beautiful Naga shawl is handwoven with bright-coloured geometric patterns on a base black weave.

23. Ratan Thiyam’s Chorus Repertory, Imphal, Manipur

Built mostly with bamboo, surrounded by thick foliage, it is an arts sanctuary envisioned by theatre director Ratan Thiyam.

24. Amur Falcon

Nagaland made headlines last year for a staggering wildlife conservation story. Killing of the Amur Falcon, a small, insectivorous migratory bird, was common before 2013. In 2013, not a single bird was harmed.

25. The early sunrise and time zone debate
  • At most tea garden offices in Upper Assam or Darjeeling, the clock is one hour ahead of IST. 
  • Dawn breaks no later than 6am, so the Assam chief minister’s proposal for a separate time zone—the rationale being it will save energy and resources—has united rival political parties. 
  • Evidently everyone in the North-East loves an early nightcap.

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