From the Assam plains to Nagaland mountains… from Majuli to Mon

It’s time to say goodbye to the stillness of Majuli and the plains of Assam to heading up the hill to the challenging Nagaland. With the sunrise was time to get out of bed and prepare for departure from the island of Majuli, with the fields still wrapped in a fine mist. The first ferry leaves the island at 7 am, but to get there you have to wait on the roadside for a crowded bus heading to the makeshift pier, that is forced to change location according to the ups and downs of the Brahmaputra river.

Ferry boat Pier at Majuli Island. Assam
Ferry boat Pier at Majuli Island. Assam
Ferry boat Pier at Majuli Island. Assam
Ferry boat Pier at Majuli Island. Assam

The boat ride is calm and monotonous landscape invites to sleep, but as soon as we landed in Nimati Gaht, this quietness is broken by the tempos drivers, who hurriedly try to put the largest number of passengers in their own vehicle, always in bigger number than space available.

The trip until Jorhat takes no more than half an hour but is uncomfortable enough for us look forward the arrival in the city, where we are “dumped” on a street where taxis and rickshaws line, and where each driver tries to push us to his vehicle. In this situation, when we don’t know where we are and have no idea of the direction to take, the best is to walk a bit, away from this chaos and look for reliable information. So it was time to find same food. But again was impossible to avoid the monotonous paratha with the usual curry of yellow peas and potatoes. To get trustful information in places where the English language isn’t “lingua franca”, the best option is to look for a pharmacy, where usually the owners speak a reasonable English.

With precise guidelines about the direction to take, it was time to start the trip with another series of buses and many transfers… from Jorhart to Sivasagar, from Sivasagar to Sonari, finally from Sonari to Mon.

As not everything follows the logic that we used, not always the buses leave us in the terminals, but somewhere along the road, at the mercy of tuk-tuk and taxi drivers who eagerly wait for disoriented passengers. But as always happen n this kind of long journey, someone shows up willing to help: or giving directions or sharing part of the ride, with the communication resumed to basic words or by using gestures.

Despite the discomfort of the buses, the many transfers, the warm weather, the journey from Majuli flow quit well, with good coordination between different means of transportation and short waits between buses, which encouraged me to go on the same day to Mon, saving me from stay one night in the unattractive and dusty town of Sonari.

"sumo" stand at Sonari. Assam
“sumo” stand at Sonari. Assam

Nagaland is reputed to be dangerous, especially Mon… perhaps because tribal wars have lasted until recently, perhaps due the proximity of Burma and opium route, or more likely by the isolation and negligence that is voted on this region, where scarce basic infrastructure and were is evident a certain underdevelopment. So often I received warnings not to travel alone in Nagaland, and especially never walk at night on the streets.

With this warnings, it becomes a priority to arrive as soon as possible to Mon, situated in a part of the country where the sun goes down before 5 pm. The only sumo waiting at Sonari was already full and there was no guarantee if there will be more sumos that day. Having glimpsed some space on the back of the Jeep, I could explain why gesture that there was still room for one more. Immediately the friendly driver proceeded to the reorganization of the goods on the top of the Jeep, to get some space near the other passengers, that despite not speaking English received me with smiles.

Nagaland_road Sonari-Mon_DSC_8624
Road from Sonari to Mon. Nagaland
Road from Sonari to Mon. Nagaland
Road from Sonari to Mon. Nagaland

It was easy to know when we leave Assam and entered in Nagaland: Assam is flat… as soon as we start to go up the mountains we know that we are in Nagaland!

The road that leaves from Sonari, though asphalted is in poor condition, goes flat through tea plantations and warm temperature, into the direction of the mountains. Nagaland begins in the village of Tizit, and from here is always up until Mon, by a dirt road, where trucks and Jeep move slowly, overcoming bumps, avoiding pits and crossing small water stream. Is a road opened on the mountain slopes, with scattered villages, but where the impact of human presence is evident, by intense deforestation that leaves the poor top soil exposed to erosion, stolen life to this green forest, that is replaced by a brown color.

As we get closer to Burmese border, it is clear that we get in a sensitive area of the Indian territory, by the proximity to the opium route and by the ethnic and tribal conflicts that have kept this area in a war until 10 years ago. Along the way we are stopped by several checkpoints, by police and the army, and even by civilians who make rough inspections of vehicles, goods and passenger documentation, with foreigners being controlled with more bureaucracy.

One of the checkpoints along the road from Sonari to Mon. Nagaland
One of the checkpoints along the road from Sonari to Mon. Nagaland

The arrival at Mon was a bit grim, mainly because of the warnings about being a “dangerous” area, that never revealed or specified the risks, but that left a shadow of concern in the air.

The optimism and enthusiasm that characterized this journey from the plains of Majuli island, faltered on arrival Mon… maybe due to the tiredness, maybe because of the dark sky… but probably as a result of the heavy energy of the place. But the arriving of the night and the rainy weather didn’t allow to see more than a cluster of houses, spread along the hills, where the gray tone of the sky blends with the rusty metal roofs.

Paisagem a caminho de Mon. Nagaland
Landscape on the way to Mon. Nagaland

Permits:

It is not necessary any permit for entering and traveling in the state of Nagaland.

But you must give a copy of the passport in the check-point in Tizit. If you don’t a copy, you find a shop across the street that can make one for 5 rupees.

How to go from Majuli to Mon:

Is a long and demanding journey, but with luck it’s possible to be done in a single day, saving a night on the uninteresting town of Sonari. But if necessary Sonari has accommodation. Another alternative is to stay in Sivasagar one day, taking the opportunity to visit the famous temples, and start the second stage of the journey on the next day.

  • The journey begins at 6.30 am in the morning to catch the first ferry out of Majuli at 7 am.
  • As you arrive at Nimati Gaht take a tempo (small shared taxis that carry more than 8 squeezed passengers) from the pier to Jorhat. All tempos end their journey on the main road at Jorhat, next to a petrol station. In front of the petrol station, there are tempos and tuk-tuk (also shared) following to the Jorhat Bus Terminal, located at the entrance of the city, close to the highway.
  • At the bus terminal is necessary to look for buses to Sonari, or in an alternative to Sivasagar. Outside the terminal, also stop private buses, bound for Dibrugarh, passing through Sivasagar. This was the option avoid the long wait for the ASTC (public company) buses, but these private companies have the disadvantage of stopping at much more time to collect passengers… but still are faster.
  • At Sivasagar is needed to take another bus to Sonari, from the Bus Terminal. As these two cities are close, there are regular services is this connection works as a local bus. You can buy the ticket inside the vehicle, but it doesn’t ensure a seat.
  • At Sonari, the bus stops at the main street, and you need to take a tempo to the sumo stand to Mon. It’s located on a side street, parallel to the main road. There is no indication or schedule of sumos… the later it gets smaller the chance to find a sumo for Mon. If necessary, in this place there are basic accommodation and you can make a meal based on rice and curry (50 INR) while waiting.
  • The sumo trip to Mon is long and uncomfortable, with the first part along a ruined pavement road, along a flat area. After crossing the border with the state of Nagaland, marked by a police/army checkpoint at Tizit, the conditions get worst, becoming a dirty road, in very poor condition, going up the mountain. Along the way, the sumo stops several times to drop goods and passengers, but there is no village around. Only halfway we find a small group of stalls selling fruit and vegetables and where you can buy water.
  • The travel from Sonari to Mon takes about 3 hours depending on the number of stops, obstacles on the road, and the various checkpoints where sometimes the passengers must get out.
  • The arrival Mon is almost by the end of the day but before 5 pm.
food at the "sumo" stand at Sonari, before start the trip to Mon. Assam
“not that bad” food at the “sumo” stand at Sonari, before start the trip to Mon. Assam

Summary:

Bus until Kamalabari Ghat: 15 rupees (15 minutes)

Ferry from Kamalabari Ghat (Majuli) to Nimati Gaht: 20 rupees (1.15 h)

tempo from Nimati Gaht to Jorhat: 30 rupees (30 minutes)

tempo from Jorhat (petrol station) to the Bus terminal: 10 rupees (10 minutes)

bus from Jorhat to Shivasagar: 50 rupees (2 hours)

tempo from Shivasagar to the bus stand: 20 rupees (5 minutes)

Bus de Shivasagar for Sonali: 30 rupees (2 hours)

tempo de Sonari to the stand sumo (to Mon): 10 rupees (10 minutes)

sumo de Sonali to Mon: 200 rupees (3 hours)… for just 65 km!!!!

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