Every time the train halted at the Dimapur Railway Station during my journeys, my soul would yearn for the distant hills that stood guard at the periphery of Dimapur, the largest city of Nagaland in India. Never did I ever imagine that I would eventually be climbing its highest mountain, the mighty Mount Saramati. Located at the India-Myanmar border, Saramati has an altitude of 3,826 m (12,553 ft).
To represent Assam and be the first team from the state attempting to summit the peak enthralled me. With the team of Global Adventure Association, the expedition began. Fun and laughter involved us in the five-hour train journey from Guwahati to Dimapur. Leaving the only plains tract of hilly Nagaland – Dimapur, we headed to its capital city Kohima on the 4th of April, 2016. We reached our destination somewhere on the outskirts of Kohima surrounded by high hills and dense vegetation.
KOHIMA MORNINGS & THE PUNGRO STARS ( DAY 2)
The romanticism of the dawn, the clouds against the hills, the sun and its dispersion effect playing with the beauty of clouds, the sound of the roughness of water, the cheerful birdies flying up from their nest for the day filled that Monday morning walk full of happiness.
A 12-hour journey from Kohima to Pungro (Kiphire District), through the heart of the hills of Nagaland introduced us to its lush green terrace fields, jhum patches, maize cultivation and streams flowing beside those fields. Comparing the shapes of the clouds to fish and gorillas; jhum patches to the maps of countries like Australia and India. Stopping at check gates, visiting Jessami (Ukhrul Dist of Manipur), peeling of sugarcane with the incisors and canines, ‘pomegranate conversations’ and its mention in the Assamese Bihu folk songs are some of the moments that made the journey worth it. The lunch at Meluri town (Nagaland) with pork and boiled mustard greens was delicious.
We reached G.A Guest House, Pungro around 7 in the evening. Experiencing the day right from dawn to sunset is something I never did before. It was the icing on the cake when the jovial Extra Assistant Commissioner (EAC) of Pungro Mr. Chonpenthung Ezung visited us, briefing us about the village Thanamir and his trekking experience to Mt. Saramati. The session was filled with deep inputs about trekking, laughter and best wishes.
Gazing at the canvassed sky of twinkling stars and the lights of the villages shining brightly down the hills gave a thrill of being in space. The sensation of the chilled blow of wind, the galaxy of stars, a glimpse of lightning above the faraway hills, are the moments I shall treasure of that Pungro evening.
DAY 3: PUNGRO CLOUDS & THE APPLE VILLAGE-THANAMIR
“Lose an hour in the morning, and you will be all day hunting for it.”~Richard Whately
It was 5 in the morning, I stood on the yard of Pungro Rest House and glanced over the fence. Beneath was the mesmerizing view of the blanket of clouds, and the villages that could be seen through it. Amongst the clouds at the top of a distant hill was a church commanding its presence. Beside them were hills signifying its supremacy over each other.
The five-hour journey from Pungro to Thanamir provided some exquisite landscapes. The hills here, upright somewhat cylindrical resembled those at the beaches in Krabi, Thailand. Such was the excitement that with the sight of every gigantic hill, I would assume it to be Mt. Saramati.
Thanamir is the base village of Mt. Saramati. Known as the ‘apple village’, it falls under the Khongsa Tehsil of Kiphire District in Nagaland. It is inhabited by the Yimchunger Naga ethnic group. Back in the 1980s, the jawans of the Assam Rifles gifted four apples to the then village head. He planted them in his backyard, and later distributed grafts to the villagers. Apples are grown here on a large scale now. To empower the apple farmers, an annual Apple Festival organized by the government. Pears are also grown here. The fun and excitement of the village kids roared as we toured their village. They would follow us jumping and dancing along the way. The village headman played the huge log drum which functioned as an alarm during emergencies or wars.