Mon greeted me with a violent storm that emerged unexpectedly just after the sunset, after a day when the blue had dominated the sky and nothing could presume this abrupt weather change, that brought also an uncomfortable chill air.
Mon, a small town located on top of hills and spread by its slopes, along winding roads, made of concrete buildings and metal roofs. Mon seems wrapped in a dull and gray mantle, where the scattered light rain creates a sad and depressing atmosphere, making dampen the enthusiasm of any visitor.
In the mountains that surround the town create an insurmountable barrier on the horizon, where the green dense forest contrast with the urban gloomy scenario. But in some places it’s visible the heaviness of human impact, where large areas of semi-tropical forest have been completely wiped out, exposing the grayish-brown soil that transmits an immense feeling of desolation.
The Nagaland mountains gathering various tribes and ethnic groups, which can count on about 16 and that under the British rule were divided between what is now India and Burma. But these modern borders don’t respect the ethnic and cultural characteristics of these people, which led to conflicts and violent actions, which lasted until 2013. Mon is the center of Konyak tribe, whose territory also extends to the north of Burma, whose physical features and Mongols faces clearly refer us to the Asian people.
The solid mountain range sheltered for centuries these Naga tribes, allowing these people to remain distant from the culture, language and Indian religion, keeping until today their own language, whose writing is curiously in Latin characters. It was also a result of this isolation that they could keep the religious practices, linked to animism, that were only destroyed by the arrival of missionaries, in the nineteen century who brought Christianity to these populations.
But despite this influence, the Konyak, kept alive their traditions, being famous as headhunters, where heads of warriors of enemy tribes were hung in the Morong (communal houses), as trophies after each fight. But from these traditions nothing remains, with human skulls already replaced by skulls of animals in the Morong decoration. But what have not disappeared yet, are the tattoos that men still show on their faces and neck, showing that they were succeeded as headhunters. These tattoos and the pierced ears are decorated with animals horns, are still used by some Konyak men, as well as colored beads necklaces, adorned with bronze carved faces, indicating the number of men killed. But only among the older ones you can find the famous tattoos of these warriors, as the times of tribal fights are getting distant.
A power cut left Mon Town in the dark during the two days of my stay, and as in the Northeast of India night arrives early, there is not much to do in Mon after 5 pm, pushing me to my room, in a totally empty hotel located on a building abandon during the night, where I was the only human presence. By nine o’clock at night, without electricity and without company, sleep settles softly.
Outside, in a total darkness only interrupted by the glare of the headlights of scarce cars or motorbikes, Mon shows up hostile and sinister.
During the day, Mon gains a certain life especially along the streets that gather most of the shops but is still present the feeling of poverty that dominates the city. A poverty not visible in houses or in people, not even in the outfits, were by the way youth wears very westernized and modern clothes, but a poverty associated with underdevelopment that shows up in the appearance of the shops, on the items they sell, in the short supply of products, in scarce diversity of the food at stores or street markets, uninteresting and monotonous food… a kind of poverty that result more from the isolation to which this population is subject, where the only access to Mon has to be done by an unpaved road, where the 65 km takes at least three hours to be covered, and where there are any accessible road connecting Mon other cities of Nagaland state. It is perhaps this isolation and the harsh conditions that make life difficult at Mon, that result in hard and closed faces, from where it is difficult to get a smile.
Where to sleep in Mon:
Pamount Guest House: located above the State Bank of India (also known as SBI), less than 5 minutes from the sumo stand. Double room by 1000 rupees but may be negotiated up to 800 rupees, because the place is empty all year except during the Aoling Festival.
Paramount Guest House contact: 9612170232; 08257811627
The room is small but comfortable and clean, with en-suite and some furniture, but there are several types of rooms with a bigger area. Curiously the six existing rooms on the top floor of this building have an odd numbered 9 to 235, jumping by 170, 210, 75, 215… which later turns out to be the number recorded in each of the keys !!!!
Just on the right side of the State Bank of India building, is the Sunrise Hotel that basically works as a restaurant, but also has rooms to rent. The room are more modest than the Paramount guest house, by 500 rupees, that can be negotiable. The Sunrise Hotel has only two rooms, but any of them with more than two beds; the bathroom is outside the building and has poor conditions.
The Paramount Guest House and the Sunrise Hotel are the only accommodation in central Mon, yet there is Helsa Cottage, which has better rooms for 1500 rupees but is a bit further away.
Where to eat in Mon:
Mon is far from being attractive in terms of food, with a small number of restaurants, all very far from the westernized patterns. During the day, along the main streets, some place serve food but are hardly localizable because there’s no indication, but a curtain covering the door means that is a place with food, basically rice with dal and curry, locally known simply as “rice”.
Being a mountainous area the meat is constantly present but you can always ask for the “rice” in a vegetarian version, making clear no pork and no chicken. However this kind of meal, which gives the right to a “refill” it costs just for 50 rupees, is nutritionally poor and because vegetables are potatoes with a few yellow-peas and the dal (lentil curry) is rather watery.
In terms of street food, Mon doesn’t have much to offer beyond samosas and other fried dough snacks, excessively oily and sold in very poor hygienic conditions.
Basically, you can say that Mon is a disappointment in terms of gastronomy judging by what is available in restaurants and street stalls.
The Paramount Guest House prepares meals by order, that can be served in the room or in the dining room, a rice with dal and curry for 100 rupees, but without the spicy touch.
Next door is the Sun Rise Hotel restaurant serving rice, dal and vegetables, since morning for 40 rupees, but doesn’t serve dinner.
Along the streets of downtown Mon, especially at Market Street, the shopping area, there are several small and discreet eateries that serve puris, samosas or rice with curry. Two puris with a cup of sabji (potato and yellow peas curry) cost 10 rupees.
Transport in Mon:
Mon has a few public bus, but with an uncertain schedule, and is difficult to get information about the destinations. There are private buses, very early in the morning, but just to Dimapur and Kohima. The local means of transport are the sumos and the shared taxis.
- Hire a taxi to Longwa costs 2500 rupees return. These taxis are stope near the sumo stand.
- The sumo for Longwa costs 220 rupees (one way) and departure at 6 a.m. or in the afternoon by 1 p.m. It is necessary to book tickets in advance at least one day. The same for the way back. At Mon the tickets for sumo must be booked in a grocery, bit further down from the police circle, on the road that leaves Mon to Sonari.
- A taxi to Mon Village (about 5 kilometers) costs 800 rupees; no sumo or shared taxis make this trip.
Sundays there is not any kind of transport in Nagaland … there is neither bus nor sumo or taxis.
How to go to Mon:
And the fastest way to get to Mon is from the neighboring state of Assam, at the city of Sonari. From Sonari sumos run daily, and this arduous journey takes three hours by a dirty road in poor conditions, where most of the journey is in a mountain area.
Being in Nagaland there are only two options to get to Mon: from Dimapur or from Kohima. From these cities run private buses and sumo to Mon, but they always need to pass through Assam and by the city of Sonari, as the roads in Nagaland state are in very bad conditions.
How to go from Mon to Mokokchung:
There’s only one road to get out of Mon, and goes to Sonari, in the neighboring Assam state; so to travel between Mon and any other city of Nagaland, such as Mokokchung, it is always necessary to go through Sonari and Assam roads, are not very good but are flat and paved.
- sumo from Sonari to Mon: 200 rupees (3 hours)
- sumo from Mon to Mokokchung: 650 rupees (8 hours)
At Mon there’s only one sumo company that run to Mokokchung, the Link Network, with sumos to leave by 6:30 a.m, Monday to Saturday.
For any trip leaving Mon, either to Kohima, Dimapur, Sonari or Mokokchung, is necessary to book tickets at least one day in advance, and soon as possible to be able to choose one of the front seats, as the back seats are narrow extremely uncomfortable for such a long trip. Whatever the destination, the sumo run all early in the morning for 6 am.
How to go from Mon to Longwoa:
The 35 kilometers that separate Mon from Longwoa are not easy to do, the means of transport are few; as there are no buses, the trip must be made by sumo or taxi. The sumos run, twice a day: 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. With the shortage of transport is required to reserve the ticket with a minimum of one day in advance.
The journey takes more than 1 hour.
These sumos don’t run from the sumo stand, like the other bound to Kohima, Dimapur, etc… but the road “down” the police circle (roundabout where sometimes is a police officer command the traffic). The sumo park in front of a grocery store, that also sell tickets.
- sumo: 220 rupees (one way)
- taxi: 2500 rupees (return)
Aoling Festival: annually from 1 to 6 April
During the festival, a show of Konyak culture and traditions, and even a few days before the city of Mon begins to get more visitors, and is almost impossible to find a room, if you didn’t book in advance, and also increase the prices. It is advisable to book in advance if you wish to stay in Mon during the festival.
Internet in Mon:
There is no internet place at Mon; neither Paramount Guest House or Sunrise Hotel have internet or wi-fi.
Right next to the entrance of the State Bank of India, in a corridor with shops, the first shop on the left side, with copies and prints, have internet (when the signal works).
ATM on Mon:
There is only one ATM at Mon, the State Bank of India, where people line up to withdraw money, as the ATM it is not always available or working.
There are frequent power cuts In Mon, affecting the operation of the ATM. So it is recommended to bring enough money for all stay, as there are also no exchange shops.