The Frida Kahlo Experience

A Self Portrait of Frida Kahlo in the Garden of the Casa Azul. By Chris Raven
By Simon Raven

The first time I heard of the Mexican Artist Frida Kahlo, I was visiting the Argentine Capital of Buenos Aires. It was the summer of 2005, and I had arranged to meet a journalist who worked for La Nacion, the national newspaper of Argentina. I’d fallen into conversation with Martina in a café in the colonial city of Sucre in Bolivia some weeks before. She'd invited to show me around her city, and we’d agreed to meet outside the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano (MALBA) the day before I was due to return home to London.

During our visit to the MALBA, Martina had led me through the museum to a gallery displaying works of Surrealisms. Keen to show me one particular painting, we approached a strikingly colourful self portrait of a dark haired, dark skinned Latin woman with a coqueltish gaze. What immediately struck me was the strength and individuality of the person looking out from the painting. Southern European in looks, she wore her hair in a similar style to the indigenous women of Central and South America I had seen and photographed during my trip. Her clothes, we’re equally traditional and colourful, and her eyes framed by a thick black monobrow, that I found at the time both slightly shocking and some how hypnotic. The shadow of fine black hair on her top lip was accentuated by the black fur of the pet monkey in her arms, and the green parrot perched on her shoulder projected a similar exotic sense that this woman belonged to the earth, was natural, uninhibited and very much alive. Returning to London, I did not forget this haunting image of Frida Kahlo. She became the personification to me of Latin America; this single painting combining all the elements that had left an impression on me when traversing this exotic and culturally inspiring part of the world.

I returned to Latin America many times after my first experience of Frida Kahlo; but it was almost a decade before I would find myself arriving by overnight bus to the mega metropolis of Mexico City. I had not planned to visit the city for the sole purpose of paying homage to the birth place of Frida Kahlo. In fact, I hadn’t known that Frida was originally from the pretty barrio of Coyoacan, a few kilometres South East of the city. Intrigued to find out more about this iconic woman, I jumped aboard the metro the following morning and headed for the house where she lived that was now the Museo de Frida Kahlo. Exiting the station, I walked through the attractive tree lined streets of Coyoacan and passed large private houses with wrought iron gates. Coyoacan was least affected by the terrible earthquake that struck Mexico City in 1985, and is now an affluent neighbourhood with pavement café’s on every street corner. Walking on a carpet of purple blossom along Calle Londres, I passed a sushi delivery motorcycle and within minutes found myself standing outside a bright blue house, ‘La Casa Azul’.

Graffiti depicting Frida Kahlo on a wall in Mexico City. Photo by Simon Raven

Entering the museum, my first introduction to Frida’s world was the sight of a young girl projectile vomiting in front of a portrait of Agustin Olmedo. I stepped aside as her mother and a member of staff leapt to her aid. Studying Frida’s early work, I examined a Family portrait and caught myself smiling at how proud she appeared to be of her ethnic mix. It was Frida’s exotic appearance that had first struck me when I’d seen her self portrait in Buenos Aires. Her father was born in Pforzheim, Germany to Jewish parents and her mother was mixed Amerindian (the indigenous peoples of the Americas) and Spanish ancestry. She had embraced her Amerindian roots in her work, and later in her style and dress. Her artist husband Diego Rivera liked the powerful ‘Zapotec’ women from the region, and she had dresses made in red, green, blue, black and white. Her fashion was anything but conventional for the time, and it was not unusual for children in the street to ask her if the circus was in town.

Viewing the famous painting depicting Frida’s tragic miscarriage in 1932, ‘Henry Ford Hospital’, I scanned the room and noticed the majority of visitors to the museum appeared to be female. Standing next to a middle aged woman, I felt strangely uneasy as we both studied the striking image of Frida lying naked and exposed on a hospital bed with masses of blood covering the sheets and various symbols projecting from her; including, her damaged pelvis and her miscarried foetus. Frida's work has been celebrated for its uncompromising depiction of the female experience and form and, feeling moved and slightly shocked by this raw expression of pain and emotional loss, I couldn't help but agree. Her paintings shout, they alarm and they’re earth tremblingly dramatic.

Bronze Statue of Frida Kahlo. 
Feeling slightly nauseous, I wandered into the next room and viewed a colourful painting of water melons. One slice of melon had the words, “Vive la vida” (Live the life) written across it. I felt a rush of positivity in contrast to the scene of tragic loss portrayed in the previous painting. This is, in my opinion, the Frida Kahlo experience. I read a quote by Frida plastered across the wall. “Banks of a river don’t suffer by letting it flow.” Frida Kahlo suffered both emotionally and physically in her relatively short life, she died aged 47, but in art it seemed clear she found a way of managing, expressing and channeling her pain and anguish in a very positive way.  Before arriving at the Casa AzulI had been a little unsure of how I might feel after learning more about Frida's past, but as I made my way around her home I found myself liking her even more.

Frida had contracted polio at a very young age, causing her discomfort throughout her life and leaving her with one withered leg shorter than the other. Wearing long colourful skirts helped her to disguise this, as well as wearing boots with one heel larger than the other. To make matters worse Frida, aged 18, was involved in a terrible bus accident which left her with a broken spinal column, collarbone, ribs, pelvis, fractured her right leg in eleven places and crushed and dislocated her right foot. As a result of this she was left bedridden for much of her life, and her reproductive capacity compromised due to an iron handrail piercing her abdomen and her uterus. Frida was quoted as saying in the book, ‘Frida Kahlo’ by Andrea Kettenmann, "I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best."

As I continued to walk around the Blue House, and studied the black and white prints of Frida on the walls, I began to feel better acquainted with the woman who had grabbed my attention with such force in Buenos Aires eight years ago. For some cruel reason, before arriving I’d expected to find fault with this iconic woman, but the honesty of her work and passion in her expression seemed genuine and refreshingly pure. Frida had married a man twice her age who she had met whilst still at school. Diego Rivera was a prominent Mexican painter and was a huge inspiration and love in Frida’s life. Studying two ceramic clocks standing side by side in the bright colourful dining room, I learned that Frida had painted the time on the first clock to represent time stopping after discovering her husband Diego was having an affair with her sister. She painted the time on the second clock, when time began again following their remarriage a year later.

Climbing the stairs, I looked at the room where Frida and Diego would paint, and wondered about the conversations (and arguments) that may have taken place there. Frida and Diego lived with Frida’s parents in the Blue House for most of their married lives from 1929-54. They created beautiful work in this warm, bright simple environment. Entering Frida’s Day bedroom, I looked with intrigue into the actual mirror she painted herself in that’s positioned above the small single bed. Frida was a painter who was bedridden much of the time; she painted her feelings and her own image. She was forced to look deep inside herself and, in the loving environment of her family home, was allowed the freedom to express herself. Frida did not know she was a Surrealist until she was told by Andre Breton, a French writer and poet and founder of the Surrealism movement. Frida’s voice whispers from the walls in quotes. “I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration.”  “I don't paint dreams or nightmares, I paint my own reality.”

As I entered the last room in the house, Frida’s Night bedroom, I felt like an intruder as I scanned the walls and studied the furniture. A large urn in the shape of a frog was stood in the corner with Frida’s ashes inside. Her pet name for Diego was Frog. I smiled at the thought of her now resting inside Diego’s belly.  As I exited the doorway of the Casa Azul and walked through the tranquil streets of Coyoacan, I carried with me a feeling of alluring positivity. For a life so dark, here was a woman who spread a lot of light.

“Mountain of the Gods" Climbing Mount Olympus

Chris Raven climbing Mount Olympus. (Photo © Simon Raven)
The Raven brothers drive to Greece in their quest to climb to the top of Mount Olympus, the home of Zeus.

By Chris Raven

I have only climbed two mountains in my life. The first was Ben More on the Isle of Mull in Scotland at the tender age of fifteen. There I was, an adolescent teenager with a bumfluff moustache and skinny legs, battling through the whipping rain on an adventure to the summit. My second mountain was one in the Himalayas in Nepal. At twenty-four I was stronger, wiser, and I knew how to pierce a blister with a pair of scissors. An old Dutchman in our shelter that cold, dark night told me, “In the mountains there are only two grades: You can either do it, or you can’t”.

Now I'm in Greece, the Hellenic Republic to be exact. It’s my first visit to this beautiful Mediterranean country, and one of my missions while I'm here is to climb to the top of Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece. Greece is strategically located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. It's a country famous for feta cheese, baklava, moussaka, Philosophy, Mythology, Plato, Alexander the Great, Homer, Socrates, Aristotle and Easy Jet's Stelios Haji-Ioannou, archaeological museums, the capital city of Athens (one of the oldest cities in Europe), sea sponges from kalymnos, the Olympic Games, quite a big national debit, early retirement, 9,000 miles of coastline, 2,000 islands, Mount Olympus, Parthenon (438 BC, dedicated to the maiden goddess Athena), Greek tragedies (Ajax), and the largest maritime fleet in the world.

Our mission: To climb to the Mytikas summit.

Altitude: 10,000 feet (3,000 metres).

Location: Olympus Range on the border between Thessaly and Macedonia, about 100 kilometres (62 mi) away from Thessaloniki.

Equipment and Supplies: Walking boots, energy drink, sun protective cream, sunglasses, cheese sandwiches, binoculars, plasters, packets of crisps, water, warm clothes and bananas.

Risk factor: High altitude, indigestion from eating too many cheese sandwiches, falling off a cliff, being attacked by a wild goat or being trampled to death by a mule train.

Mount Olympus was the most worshipped mountain in ancient Greece, and has been the setting for many Greek mythical stories. Great battles were fought up here in the misty summit, with Olympian Gods booting the Titans off the rugged slopes. With their new kingdom all furnished and the blood and bodies removed, the gods would snack and drink nectar and discuss the fate of the world and the poor mortals living on it. But it wasn’t all roses in the kingdom of the Olympus gods. Should a god break an oath, he would be cursed to live nine years away from Mount Olympus and banned from taking part in any of the gods' parties and fun gatherings. So cruel.

Our journey begins in the pretty little town of Litochoro, just 5 km from the sea at the foothills of Mount Olympus. It’s six o'clock in the morning and I feel wide-wake. Making our way to the central square, we wander through the quiet lanes and admire the old wooden courtyard doors and gabled roofs belonging to the traditional Macedonian houses. After filling up our water bottles from a public fountain, we begin our accent on the beautiful country roads that lead us through the UNESCO Mount Olympus National Park. As we climb higher and higher, our attention is diverted away from the strange blowing noise coming from under the hood and is now focused on the truly breathtaking views. We pull over and gaze out across the calm Aegean Sea, and watch a sailing boat kiss the horizon against the rising fireball. It is so magical. If the views are this dramatic here, I can’t imagine what they’ll be like from the summit.  We eventually reach Prionia, the highest point up the mountain that you can drive to by car.

Within ten minutes of slipping on our walking boots, we find ourselves on the trail and knee-deep in thick forest and Greek strawberry trees. There appears to be no one around, and the feeling of having the trail all to ourselves puts a skip in our step. Thirty-two species of mammals roam the forests in the national park from the chamois, deer, ferret, wolf, bear and lynx, and over 108 species of bird. The entire area was declared Greece's first national park in 1937 and consists of eight peaks including the "Throne of Zeus" at 2,909 metres and Mytikas which has the highest summit at 2,919 metres.

The trail becomes steeper as it weaves through the beautiful, sweet-smelling forest. My trusty staff (or, moss covered branch) helps me along the way. A yellow sign nailed to a pine tree let’s us know we’re now 1,750 metres above sea level, and that it’s a three hour trek to refuge 'A'. Hearing cow bells clanking further down the trail, we quickly perch ourselves on a large boulder and wait in anticipation for the mule train to pass by. I spot the big ears of the first mule which comes into view from around the corner, followed by seven others trailing behind, all of them ladened down with sacks tied to their saddles. We both exchange smiles with the young guy and the girl riding on the first and third mule. With his long black hair and beard and her leather jacket and biker boots, I can’t help thinking they look more suited to cruising down an open road on a big shiny Harley Davidson, rather than riding on the back of a lolloping floppy-eared mule.

A middle-aged guy grasping ski poles appears from out of the trees and walks up close behind the mule train. He's in his late fifties and wearing full trekking gear. He looks agitated and is annoyed to be trapped behind these dumb animals that are affecting his pace. "For god's sake, even in the wilderness there are traffic jams!", I can hear him cry. The impatient guy strides past us at speed, with only a quick nod to express his good morning. Making a daring move, he sees an opportunity to overtake and leaps down the grass bank. He runs like an athlete alongside the mules, and just about manages to jump back onto the small trail in front of them before disappearing into the forest. Why are some people in such a rush? 

Before long we arrive at the refuge at 2,100 metres, and slump into a couple of chairs on a balcony. Si orders the cold drinks, while I whip off my walking boots and feed fresh air to my sore feet. My calf muscles feel like they are about to explode. I ask the young guy running the refuge if many tourists stay the night, and he looks serious for a moment and explains that tourism this year is at an all time low. He blames the recent protests in Athens and the economic problems in Greece that have been dominating the headlines all summer.

After a good rest, Si suggests we continue with our mission to walk to the summit and hang out with the gods. We quickly leave the refuge behind, and pass a spooky charred tree that wouldn't look out of place in one of Tim Burton’s quirky, dark Gothic movies. At around 2,300 metres, we say goodbye to the trees and enter alpine terrain. I begin to feel rather breathless at this altitude. Up ahead we see a group of people sat down beside the trail. We stop and say hello to three gentlemen, who are taking time out from their journey down the mountain. One of the men is from France, near Paris. He’s hunched over and looks exhausted. The second guy seems a little friendlier. He has a slight quiff, and we find out he was born in Athens, but now lives in Toronto. A local guide accompanying them beams. He looks as fresh as the morning dew.
  “Much further to the top?’ Si puffs.
  “Only a few hours,” the guide smiles. “Be careful of the ridge.”

Appreciative of the advance warning, we continue on our way and soon approach a heavily misted area. Walking cautiously through the mist along a narrow path, we peer over the side and can see shale disappearing into white cloud. One foot wrong and it’s over the edge we go into Zeus’s steaming cooking pot. Stone steps lead us up closer to the summits of Skala and Mytikas, and we see markers on the rocks pointing us in the right direction. It’s very rocky and barren with mist clinging tightly around the two peaks. A chamois pops its head up over the shale horizon. It looks at us and then leaps off. The steep trail soon hits another ridge, and after three hours it opens up to a wide flat grassland area and an unpaved track. We've reached the high plateau called ‘Musses’ at an altitude of 2,450 metres.

Once on the Skala peak (2,866 metres), we are rewarded by amazing views of the dominating rocky tower of Mytikas. Red markings lead the way, as we walk higher and higher along the route called Kakoskala (bad steps). With the muscles in my legs turning to jelly and my knee joints on fire, we finally arrive at Mytikas. We had made it to the top of Greece's highest mountain. We had made it to the home of Zeus. I open my arms out wide and absorb the energy of the surrounding peaks. A Greek flag dances in the breeze and sitting down on a rock, we snack on cheese sandwiches in celebration, drink nectar (well, Red Bull) and discuss the fate of the world like two Greek gods.

Opium with the Konyak King (Nagaland)

Nagaland men at roadside (India). Photo by Simon Raven
The Raven brothers explore the less visited state of tribal Nagaland in the North East corner of India, where tribal Kings still rule and environmental damage is taking its toll.

By Simon Raven
Photography by Chris Raven

In the North East of India, tribal Nagaland is the last point before the Indian subcontinent merges into South East Asia. Pressed against the border with Myanmar, the rolling hills, heavily deforested on the Nagaland side, stand in stark contrast to the virgin forest of the Burmese wilderness. This is one of the newest frontiers to open up in the much traveled destination of ‘Incredible India’. With tourist permits to the state being relaxed Nagaland is set to be the new tribal adventure destination.

Crossing into Nagaland by local bus from Sibsagar in north eastern Assam, a reminder of the troubles here exists in the form of a rusty sign that states there is a ceasefire in place in the region. We’re approached by the border police, and without much protest we’re quickly waved through and allowed to enter a state that until fairly recently was off limits to the curious tourist. Chatting to a local man on the bus, he kindly points out a large plywood factory, with a chimney spewing thick black smoke into the air, as we weave on an unpaved road between small towns and villages in the Naga hills. He speaks perfect English and explains that this region is home to the Konyak, and that Mon had become the capital of the region as a central location for the coronation of Anghs, the Chiefs of the many tribes in the region. We pass a large cliff, approximately thirty feet high, as we approach Mon, and he informs us that this was once the site of the ritual killings of outcasts and people who had committed a crime against the community. After convicting the individual for a particular crime, they would be brought here and thrown to their death from the top of the cliff by the Konyak tribal Chief.

Heavy deforestation marks the border between Nagaland and Myanmar. Photo by Chris Raven
 Arriving in the hill town of Mon in the late afternoon, we’re kindly escorted by jeep to the only accommodation in town, the Helsa Cottage, run by a Konyak woman in her sixties who everyone calls Aunty. An expanding rural-urban town, the palm leaves and bamboo walled houses we’d seen in the villages disappear and are replaced by large concrete and brick houses, with rooftops that look out over the rolling forested hills beyond the town. With roads looping around the hilly settlement we pass a large Baptist church on the hill and a group of shops at its centre. Though the people of Nagaland were animist by tradition, almost 98% of the population have embraced Christianity here under the influence of English missionaries during the past century. Welcomed by Aunty, we’re offered a room and diner, at a mid-range price, and eat a substantial meal of rice, vegetables, pork and fish in candle light as the power cuts out minutes after the sun goes down. Aunty joins the table after the meal, and explains that power and water in Mon can be an unpredictable supply. The infrastructure put in place by the British in India, hadn’t quite reached Nagaland, and consequently the road network, electricity supply and water distribution could cause a town of rapidly expanding size problems at times. I ask her if Mon has changed a lot over the years, and she relates a story about the time she came to Mon in the late 1960’s when there were no roads and she was carried up from the plains, aged seven, on the back of a porter to be greeted by a population who wore no clothes. Arranging a jeep and guide for the following day to make the journey to Longawa, a tribal village on the border with Myanmar, I collect a bucket of hot water from Aunty’s room and head to bed. Looking out over Mon from the balcony, I see candles flickering sporadically from rooftops across the town. It’s blissfully quiet, and the sound of children singing can be heard faintly in the distance.

Village girl, Nagaland. By Chris Raven
Leaving Mon early, we head deeper into the Naga hills and pass dozens of rural communities along the 42km stretch of road to the border with Myanmar. Simple villages with houses constructed of bamboo line the road surrounded by rice fields. Purple flowers carpet the floor where there isn’t any betel nut growing, and Konyak women, wearing orange and red beads, walk along the roadside with long sticks and baskets on their heads as they make their way to the fields or into the forest to collect firewood. Anyang is 36 years old and works as a guide for Jungle Travels, an adventure tour company based in Guwahati, the capital of the neighbouring India state of Assam. He first brought tour groups to Nagaland in 2001, and he warns us that in the village we’re visiting the local men smoke large quantities of opium, a tradition that has become an important part of Konyak culture since it was introduced by the British during colonial times.

As we climb steadily in altitude, the villages begin to disappear, and we pull over at the roadside and look out over the baron landscape below. The trees have been heavily logged for miles around, with the odd charred stump existing as a reminder that there was once a forest covering this entire region. We begin to see tribal Konyak men walking along the roadside as we draw closer to the Myanmar border, with black tattooed faces and muzzle-loading guns slung over their shoulders. Anyang informs us that the Konyak manufacture the guns themselves, and use them to hunt wild cat and small mammals for food and fur. We pass a teenage boy wearing jeans and a pullover, he looks up as we pass and smiles. He’s carrying the fearsome looking dao, a crude machete the Konyak used for headhunting right up until the mid-20th century.

Village of Lungwa, Myanmar border. By Chris Raven
Passing beneath a brand new road sign, which points to Mon in one direction and Myanmar in the other, we find ourselves entering the village of Lungwa. Anyang points out a military outpost marking the border between India and Myanmar on the brow of a hill. He explains that despite the Angh (tribal Chief) and the village Council Chairman administering the whole village, many young people serve in the Myanmarese army, and the country runs schools in the village portion that lies under its jurisdiction. Climbing out of the 4x4 we’re greeted by a gang of grubby faced kids, who jump around energetically and taunt us before scrambling away. 

Konyak King. Photo by Simon Raven
Anyang invites us to follow him up to the longhouse, and explains that this is where the tribal Chief lives. We’re met outside the long bamboo structure with attractive palm leave roofing by the Angh and the village Council Chairman. The Chief is wearing a cowboy hat covered in wild cat fur, and a khaki shirt that looks like it may have been given to him by a National Geographic photographer. He has a large necklace hanging around his neck with five identical heads cast in bronze. Entering the dimly lit longhouse, we join three additional Konyak men around a fireplace in the middle of the room, an old woman works in the shadows close to some shelving that contains a collection of rusty old tin cans and a mix match of crockery. One man pokes the fire, while another older man with a tattoo on his face and white hair prepares an opium pipe. The Chief mutters something to Anyang, and we’re introduced to a young guy in his mid twenties who we’re informed is the Angh son and heir. We shake hands with the proud looking boy, and watch as Anyang presents the Chief with a bottle of rum. He immediately cracks it open and pours the contents into two mugs, one for the Council Chairman and the other for himself. The Angh avoids eye contact with us, as he sips the strong alcohol from a white mug with red hearts on it. We’re offered black tea, and encouraged to watch as the men maintaining the fire prepare the opium pipe. Above the fire a metal rack hangs from the roof that’s used for smoking meat and hanging cooking pots over the fire. Wild cat tails hang over the side and a collection of small mammal skulls fill a metal tray. The ceiling of the longhouse is covered in thick black tar that has accumulated over years of cooking on an open fire. Preparing a dry organic fibre used for smoking, the white haired man smears brown opium into a metal spoon and holds it over the fire. It quickly turns to liquid and begins to bubble in the spoon. He takes the fibre and soaks it in the liquid opium. Poking it into the neck of a carved wooden pipe, a middle aged guy with swollen eyes and short cropped hair holds a piece of red hot charcoal to the opium in the neck and the Chairman takes a deep lungful of smoke. The pipe is refilled and passed around the room, and the longhouse fills with a cloud of thick smoke. Anyang explains that the totem pillar that juts out above the roof divides the house into two countries and the Angh takes his meals in India and sleeps in Myanmar. The Chief begins to relax and smiles.

Tribal man with tattooed face. By Chris Raven
Invited to walk around the longhouse, we’re led over to a blanket that has been laid out on the floor close to the entrance and squat down and study beautiful hand crated jewellery that has been made by the villagers. Konyak are adept artisans and skilled craftsmen. They create beautiful wood carvings, daos, headbrushes, headgears, necklaces and more practical items such as guns and gunpowder. A couple of women watch us from the doorway, and Anyang informs us that the former Angh of the village had 60 wives/ concubines and his jurisdiction extended up to Myanmar and Arunachal Pradesh. The world of the Angh had changed a great deal over the years, but much of the tradition of a hereditary Chief and tribal rule still continues strong. Led by the Council Chairman to the back of the longhouse, we’re shown a display of large bronze gongs on the wall and a display of deer and buffalo skulls. A wonderful wooden monument carved out of wood stands around a pillar depicting three men, one standing in the background with a spear and two men crouching down smoking an opium pipe. A large tiger is beautifully carved into the wood below. Anyang informs us there is a wonderful wooden monument like this in the village of Shangnyu measuring 8 feet in height and 12 feet in breadth, that is believed by the Konyak to be constructed by heavenly angels. The legend tells of an outcast who the Angh threw down a cliff to kill him after he had committed a crime against the community, but the fall had failed to kill him. He had started cutting down trees and carving objects out of them. The villagers could hear the sounds of many people working together, but when they approached the site where he was working, they found him alone. So it is believed that he was helped in his work by heavenly angels.

Exciting the longhouse, we look down over a Baptist church on one side, and over the thick forested hills of Myanmar on the other. We take a stroll around the tranquil settlement of Lungwa, and meet families and young children living in the village. The elder children carry their infant baby brothers and sisters in slings on their backs as they help with the daily chores of drying corn and collecting fire wood.

Logging truck (Nagaland). Photo by Chris Raven
Bidding farewell to the Angh and the Konyak of Lungwa, we head back across the Naga hills. During the journey we’re brought to a sudden halt, and watch two large trucks, heavily loaded with enormous felled trees, reverse in the road. We pass more local villagers further down the mountain carrying baskets filled with firewood, and pass a proud looking man in his senior years dressed in full tribal clothing. He’s carrying a tall spear and is wearing an elaborate head dress of exotic Hornbill feathers. We stop by Mon for tea at Aunty’s new place, and walk around the yard as she explains how tourism had been on the increase in Mon for the past few years. Many Indian Government workers used her accommodation, and she had been presented with the opportunity to expand. Looking around her newly built premises she explains the accommodation was aimed at catering to a more up market customer base, and provided rooms with en suite bathrooms. Tasting the Naga red chilli, allegedly the hottest in the world and drinking more fire quenching Naga black tea, I contemplate Nagaland and the lives of the wonderfully colourful Konyak people we’d had the pleasure of meeting during our time in tribal Nagaland. It seemed pretty clear things here were on the up. India’s boom was reaching the far corners of its frontiers, creating a lucrative industry for some with the sale of its natural resources. But what price would the Naga people pay for the environmental destruction of their tribal homeland, and how would this affect the lives of the ordinary farming communities in the region living simple self sufficient lives? In order to protect their best interests, the people of Nagaland who had earned a reputation for being fiercely independent, would need to debate the future of their fragile territory carefully, and move intelligently, unselfishly and with caution towards the promise of a more economically prosperous future.

Footnote: If you’re planning on making a trip to Nagaland be sure to pay a visit to the Angh’s (tribal Chief’s) house at Lungwa, Chui, Mon, Shangnyu, Sheangha, Chinyu, Wakching and Japoka. Konyaks are ruled by hereditary Chiefs known as Anghs. Aoling monyu is observed during the first week of April (1-3) and is a spectacle worth watching. Contact Jungle Travels in Guwahati for more information: 
www. jungletravelsindia.com

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