India: Headhunters of Nagaland

A photography tour through the rugged and remote northeast

with Jock Montgomery and Annie Miniscloux

  • March 23 – April 7, 2017, a 16-day tour with up to eight participants

Introduction

A Nagaland village elder

A Nagaland village elder

Tucked away in the far northeast of India, wedged between the borders of Bhutan, Burma, and Tibet is India’s lesser known states. This area was not part of India until the 19th century. Except for a few anthropologists and surveyors, little was known about it until late in the 20th century. Tourism was not permitted until 1995. India’s northeast is still a place few tourists visit. Poor roads make travel slow. A minimal tourist infrastructure makes access challenging. Stories of headhunters and rebel armies keep away the squeamish.

But we are undeterred. Much is offered, especially the experience of seeing traditional people’s lives with limited impact from modernity.

We will spend time with the Apatani, a tribe that cultivates large swaths of land with neither modern tools nor animals, practice traditional ritualistic dances, and whose older women wear large black noseplugs–meant to make them less desirable to other villagers. We will experience the artistic richness of the Mising who live in scores of villages on a delta of the Brahmaputra. We will have the opportunity to watch the Aoling festival in Nagaland when Konyak villagers come from all around the region, dressed in their finest ceremonial clothes to celebrate spring planting, the beginning of the new year, and challenge each other in dance competitions. We have arranged for home visits and portrait sessions so you can carefully and thoughtfully photograph these truly unique people.

If you have a spirit for rugged adventure and a desire for uncommon photographic opportunities, join Jock Montgomery on a unique journey to northeast India and return with memories of the unexpected.

Photography

On our photography tours we frequently work with serious amateurs and some pro photographers, but we are open to photographers of all experience levels, and accompanying spouses are also welcome to join us.

There will be ample opportunities to work with Jock Montgomery and Annie Miniscloux in the field so you can rapidly improve during the trip. Jock and Annie will help you work effectively in different lighting conditions, create compelling content and refine your personal style of photography. They will show you how to respectfully work with locals to create meaningful photographs.

Typically during the harsh midday light or in the evenings we make time for you to edit your work. Every other day, using an LCD projector and a large screen, we meet to review our work in a friendly group setting. When it comes to organizing and editing your files, Jock can give you expert instruction and tips in Photo Mechanic, Lightroom, Photoshop and more.

Most importantly, Jock and Annie can lead you to places with colorful human activities that call out to be captured as a memory.

Highlights

  • The maximum group size is only eight participants, allowing for more one on one guidance, greater overall flexibility and less impact for us as a group
  • Receive guidance and critiques from professional photographer Jock Montgomery.
  • Have portrait sessions with tribal people such as the Apatani in Arunachel Pradesh, the Mising in Majuli, and the Konyak in Nagaland.
  • Experience the colorful Aoling festival of the Konyak tribe when they celebrate the coming harvest and reenact some of their ancient ways–such as headhunting.
  • Explore the exceptional craftwork of tribes in Majuli, a vast delta on the Brahmaputra.
  • Spend time with the world-famous mask makers from Majuli whose work has now become world-renowned.
  • Visit the homes of the Apatani whose older women are most noted for their large nose plugs.
  • Watch traditional music and dance performances from young monks on Majuli.
  • Spend time photographing the always fascinating and diverse street life of Kolkata.
  • Visit Kaziranga National Park, a World Heritage Site, that contains a large population of tigers and one-horned Indian rhinoceroses.

Dance performance by young Hindu novices, Majuli Arunachal Pradesh, India

Dance performance by young Hindu novices, Majuli Arunachal Pradesh, India

Asian one horned Rhinoceros, Kaziranga Nat. Park

Asian one horned Rhinoceros, Kaziranga Nat. Park

Kenya tribal people celebrating the Aoling festival, Nagaland

Konyak people celebrating the Aoling festival, Nagaland

Recommended Reading

General

India: Northeast Adventure Map

Compass Rose Expeditions’ Reading Lists

Itinerary

Mother and daughter on Majuli Island

Mother and daughter on Majuli Island

We make every effort to keep our plans, but we will also remain flexible so we can adjust to unexpected problems and take full advantage of opportunities as they arise. Please note: three meals a day are included in the cost except for first and last days as noted in the itinerary.

Map of our Journey

Day 1, 3/23: Kolkata

Upon arrival in Kolkata (Calcutta), you will be greeted by Jock and Annie who will assist you in transferring to the hotel.

Founded 300 years ago by the East India Company, Kolkata (Calcutta) was the British capital until 1911. The city is rife with glaring contrasts: a curious blend of old and new, East and West, a European city imposed on an Asian landscape;  a mixture of wealth, culture, and creativity amidst abject poverty.  Step onto the streets and prepare to experience a photographer’s paradise.

You will stay at The Oberoi Grand, a palatial villa dating from the 1880’s that features colonial-style prints, wood furniture, and posh rooms.

Day 2, 3/24: Kolkata

Before breakfast, we will take an early morning trip to the flower market, situated on the banks of Hoogly River near the iconic Howrah Bridge. The place will be alive with vibrant colors as pilgrims and traders arrive to buy their flowers for temple offerings. After breakfast, we visit the Victoria Memorial, built during the British Raj in the 1920’s as a memorial to Queen Victoria. This splendid park offers a tree-lined walk amidst lakes, statues, and busts of eminent people. Later, we visit the sprawling used book center known as the College Street Book Market.

In the afternoon, we visit some very large, intriguing, and always lively bazaars such as the Nafar Babu’s Bazar. We also visit the potter’s quarter, Kumartuli, where craftspeople make intricate clay idols of Hindu gods and goddesses. The style, elegance, creativity, and sheer volume of work make this one of the wonders of Kolkata.

If there is interest, and time allows, we will visit the Mother Teresa Memorial House, built where the  humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mother Teresa was baptized. We may also visit several  Jain temples, part of an ancient Indian religion that practices non-violence toward all living things.

Day 3, 3/25: Nameri

In the morning, we board a flight to Guwahati, a fast growing city set between the banks of the Brahmaputra River and the foothills of the Shillong plateau. We will visit the Kamakhya Temple, a set of structures dedicated to different forms of the mother goddess and an important pilgrimage destination for Hindu and Tantric worshipers.

In the afternoon, we drive to Nameri Wildlife Park, an area home to a large number of endangered birds, nestled at the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas. This scenic sanctuary is situated in between the eastern border of Assam valley and the mountainous Arunachal Pradesh.

We will spend the evening in a tented eco-camp.

Day 4, 3/26: Ziro

In the early morning, we begin a long drive in an SUV to the remote tribal town of Ziro, with a population around 12,000 and a surrounding population of around 60,000.  Ziro and the Apatani are recognized by UNESCO as a potential World Heritage Site.

En-route to Ziro, we will visit Nishi villages, which are noted for their ceremonial bamboo helmets spiked with porcupine quills and hornbill feathers.

We will stay in a basic hotel, situated at an elevation of 1,500 meters, with views of the Hapoli Valley.

Day 5, 3/27: Ziro

Using Ziro as a base, we spend the day visiting surrounding Apatani Villages. We have the opportunity to visit and photograph people living in their traditional bamboo houses.

The Apatani maintain an extensive, sustainable agricultural system without the use of animals or modern equipment. They maintain their history and mythology through oral tradition, including ritual songs that may last up to twelve hours. They pray to sun and moon gods and offer animal sacrifices to offset misfortunes that are the result of malevolent spirits. The many animal skulls that fill their homes attest to their fervor for protection. The women insert large, black plugs on the sides of their nostrils ostensibly to make them unattractive to members of other villages–a practice discontinued in the 1970’s.

In the evening, we experience and photograph a private traditional tribal dance, performed by some Apatani women.

Day 6, 3/28: Majuli

In the morning, we will travel to Majuli, a set of villages on an island delta situated at the confluence of the Brahmaputra  and the Subansiri rivers. While the ever-changing delta threatens many of the villages, this wetland area is habitat for over 100 species of birds, supports vast meadows bursting with brilliant green leaves and purple water hyacinths, and offers flat land ideal for cultivating numerous varieties of rice. There are relatively few motorized vehicles, so Majuli feels a lot like the rest of India did some thirty plus years ago; the villagers and laid back and friendly, allowing us a chance to have a quiet, yet culturally rich experience.

The people of Majuli, primarily the Mising, make up about 144 villages. Most are part of a neo-Vaishnavite religious sect, a monotheistic offshoot of Hinduism that eschews the caste system. Currently, there are 22 active monasteries, or satras, for the training of monks. Some of these structures date back to the 16th century. In addition to educating young monks, the satras preserve ancient traditions of dance, music, and poetry. Most satras have museums.

Later in the day, young novice monks will give a private dance performance for us at one of the satras.

Day 7, 3/29: Majuli

Today a temple monk will join us for part of the day and offer special insights into the daily life of the monk, which typically includes working in the fields, tending cattle, prayer, discussion, and study.

Each satra tends to specialize in a particular art form, the most famous of which is mask making. This highly refined practice is centuries old and practiced by some of the finest craftsmen in the world. While these masks have traditionally been used as part of sacred ceremonies and festivals, they now have become known throughout India and the world. We will spend time with these mask makers, have the opportunity to try on a few, and perhaps watch an impromptu performance.

We also visit other highly skilled craftspeople such as drum makers who create instruments from leather laces, cowhide, and hand-carved wood; women who make fine clay pots, pans, and oil lamps on small hand-turned wooden wheels; weavers who operating handlooms filled with brightly colored threads; and boat makers who still use traditional carving methods.

Day 8, 3/30: Kaziranga

In the morning, we will take a ferry to Neematighat and drive to Kaziranga National Park, a World Heritage Site that holds one-third of the world’s remaining population of Indian one-horned rhinoceroses along with a high density of tigers.

Kaziranga is 430 square kilometers in the eastern state of Assam and offers a stunningly beautiful landscape of savannah grassland; green and fertile plains of the Brahmaputra River; swamp forests of evergreens and deciduous trees.

In the afternoon, we will take a Jeep safari with a local guide. We stay at the Diphlu River Lodge, overlooking the river with environmentally sensitive cottages that combine modern comforts with the ruggedness of wild India.

Day 9, 3/31: Kaziranga

In the early morning, we take an elephant safari across the grasslands of the park, a vantage that allows us to get very close to both adult and juvenile rhinos.

Later in the afternoon, we will travel further into the park by Jeep and have the opportunity to see many other animals such as the capped langur, hoolock gibbon, Bengal tiger, clouded leopard, sloth bear, wild boar, water buffalo, gaur, sambar deer, barking deer, pythons, cobras, monitor lizards, and a wide variety of birds.

We enjoy a memorable evening at the lodge underneath a canopy of stars.

Day 10, 4/1: Sibsagar

After a late breakfast, we begin our drive to Sibsagar.

Sibsagar, was the capital of the Ahom kingdom in the 18th century; several temples remain from that period. Sibsagar is now primarily a tea-processing town. We will have the opportunity to see colorfully dressed women plucking lush, green tea leaves–a great opportunity for photographs.

Day 11, 4/2: Mon

Today, we take bumpy, windy roads into the mountainous region of Nagaland, a place inhabited by seventeen primary tribes, each with its own unique dress, customs, and language. Along the way, we will see numerous tea plantations as well as hills that have been denuded, burnt, and then planted. Small bamboo huts for the farmers dot this strange looking landscape.

If time permits, we visit Phuktong, a small village of around 1,000 where the primary language is English. The village has two great Morung, a longhouse and sleeping quarter, where elders traditionally taught young boys the customs and traditions of the tribe, stored weapons for battle, and kept collections of human heads. We may also have the opportunity to visit the chief’s residence.

We will check into our basic cottage accommodation near the center of town.

Day 12 – 13, 4/3 – 4: Mon

Our trip is organized around one of the most interesting events in the five-day Aoling festival of the Konyak. This large celebration marks the end of the year and the beginning of spring, marked by the sowing of spring crops. This is a time for celebration and prayer for a bountiful new harvest.

After three days of preparation, men and women from different villages arrive in Mon to show their dancing skills and participate in general merriment and laughter. Each village will have their own costumes and compete in a dance competition. The faces of the older are covered with elaborate tattoos created with indigo dye and sharp bamboo needles. Younger men will shoot rifles into the air pretend to hold their enemies head in their hands–a reminder of a recent past when the number of human heads a person owned was a matter of great pride.

From our base in Mon, we visit other villages such as Longwa, Shangnyu and Hongpoi where we have the opportunity for more portrait sessions and visit Morungs.

Day 14, 4/5: Dibrugarh

In the morning, we drive to Dibrugarh, situated at the northernmost tip of Assam and known as the Tea City of India. Lush, green tea plantations set the backdrop for this small town, situated along the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra.

After a long drive, we will  check into our luxurious, heritage tea plantation bungalows, an excellent setting to review and edit our photos.

Day 15, 4/6: Kolkata

We have a leisurely morning with time to finish our photo editing do a final presentation of our work for the group.

In the afternoon, we board a flight to Kolkata.

Day 16, 4/7: End of trip

Breakfast at the hotel will be the final meal of the trip.

Leaders

Jock Montgomery

Jock Montgomery

In 1983, Jock moved to Nepal to train raft guides and lead river expeditions and treks across much of the Himalayas. He was based in Kathmandu for twelve years and now makes his home in Bangkok, Thailand.

He is in demand as a commercial and editorial assignment photographer. He teaches and leads private photography workshops throughout Asia.

He has been leading trips in the United States since he was a teenager. He now leads river running, sea kayaking, trekking and mountain biking trips; as well as expeditions across the Himalayas, throughout Southeast Asia, North America, Greenland, Patagonia, Ecuador and the Galapagos islands.

More about Jock Montgomery …

Annie Miniscloux

Annie Miniscloux

 

Annie is one of Compass Rose’s most enthusiastic and engaged trip leaders, especially on photography tours. As a creative director at a Bangkok design agency, she has significant experience in critiquing the quality and usefulness of images, photographs, and design concepts. She has designed more than a dozen coffee table books. Annie is also Jock Montgomery’s wife–so he pays extra attention to everything she says.

Annie is originally from a small island along the Atlantic coast of France. She moved to Bangkok from Hong Kong in 1992 to continue her career in graphic design. Her work includes designing books for well- known writers and photographers.

She takes a leading role in developing all the design elements for Compass Rose Expeditions, including web development, videos, photography selection, and clothing design. (See her portfolio.) She goes on many exploratory trips with Jock and helps design itineraries. Annie is also Jock Montgomery’s wife–so he pays extra attention to everything she says.

More about Annie Miniscloux…

Majuli Island in the Bramaputra River

Majuli Island/Delta

Video Project

Cultural life in Majuli, a large delta on the Brahmaputra River in northeast India.

Nagaland, Konyak tribal elder

Portraits of Headhunters

Photography Project

A selection of photographs of Konyak tribal elders, Nagaland. Many of them have traditional tattoos. The gentlemen don’t hunt heads, but their parents may very well have, as headhunting stopped around 1950. All images were shot using window light only, and a backdrop.

Nagaland video cover

Aoling Headhunter Festival

Video Project

The headhunters of Nagaland celebrate the Aoling festival to honor the end of spring planting and sing prayers for a bountiful harvest.

Dates

March 23 – April 7, 2017

Prices (in US $)

  • $9680 with 4-5 participants
  • $8880 with 6 participants
  • $239 for two one-way domestic airfares, the price is subject to change. (Kolkata-Guwahati and Dibrugarh-Kolkata)
  • $1450 Single Supplement

Payment Schedule

  • Deposit: $1,000 (non-refundable)
  • Balance Due: 90 days prior to departure

Cancellation Fees

  • 61-90 days prior to departure 50% of trip cost
  • 60 days or less prior to departure 100% of trip cost

Required

What is Included

  • All ground transportation inside our destination(s)
  • All entrance fees
  • Hotel porter tips
  • All meals except first day (only dinner is included) and the last day (only breakfast in included)
  • Bottled water
  • Accommodations as specified

What is not included

  • International airfare
  • Customary and optional tips for local guides
  • Immunizations
  • Personal expenses including laundry, snacks, drinks, alcohol, etc.
  • Overweight luggage charges

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