We journeyed to India with the primary purpose of seeing a tiger in the wild so we signed up for a trip that took us on safari in two of India’s national parks. Our hope was to meet that expectation. Our trip included a stop in the village of Ziro where we would meet some of the local Apatani people and learn about their culture. (Ed. Note: The Apatani Cultural Landscape is a tentative UNESCO World Heritage site.) There, we could take part in the annual tribal celebration of Myoko, which included warm hospitality along with ritual animal sacrifices after which the gods and goddesses would bless the village.
Let the wildlife viewing begin!
Via Delhi onward to Guawahrti: From there, we were off to Kaziranga National Park. We were excited to see wild animals! We traveled no more that quarter-mile in our open-air jeep before we spotted a wild Asian one-horned rhino. As we rounded a bend we spotted seven more! There were also wild Asian elephants, Asian buffalo, deer, Asian badger and an array of birds. And all this on the first day! On subsequent days, we took two more safari trips and were never disappointed in the variety and number of animals we saw, including the elusive king cobra.
Following Kaziranga, we drove through the rice fields and tea plantations that make up the state of Assam. The luscious greens from both crops flooded the countryside. We arrived at the Brahmaputra River to catch a ferry to take us to the island of Majuli where we visited a monastery. The monks there practice a form of Hinduism called Vaishnavism. There, the younger monks performed a drum dance for us honoring Vishnu.
After leaving Assam we had a grueling yet visually exciting seven hours of travel to the state of Arunachal in far northeastern India. That is where the old village of Ziro is, nestled in a valley in the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains. In that area we lodged with Apatani tribe members for a homestay and explored the area. Some of the older women still have traditional facial tattoos and large nose plugs although that tradition is no longer practiced among the younger women.
Apatani tribe’s Myoko celebration of prosperity
We traveled into the larger town of Ziro in time to watch the celebration of the Myoko. Male members of the Apatani tribe, including small children, march and chant carrying cane branches as they parade throughout town to welcome Myoko. Following this part of the celebration, homes are opened to anyone to visit and share food and rice beer or millet wine. Our local guide took us to several homes to meet some of the people and to partake in this part of the celebration. It was an incredible experience to be with the people in their homes and to share in their generosity.
The next day is the main day of celebration with sacrifices so that the gods and goddesses will bless the community. Pigs are brought to the sacrificial alter before sunrise. Recently married women appear in festive attire and sprinkle rice flour and rice beer over the dozens of pigs. (Ed. Note: The priest selects a few pigs for a special ritual where the pig’s belly is cut open and its heart is ripped out while the animal is still alive!) After the sacrifice there is more celebration, focusing on prosperity, friendship and fertility. This was an experience I could have never imagined and will remember forever.
When we left Ziro we headed to Dibrugarh, which is only miles from the border with Myanmar, to fly into Kolkata (Ed. Note: formerly known as Calcutta) where we spent a couple of days sightseeing. We visited a renowned local painter who mixes his own paints from local plants and materials. We saw an ornate Jain temple (there are many throughout India), the Queen Victoria monument, street artisans, vendors of all kinds, and the omnipresent free-roaming cattle. And we will not forget the multi-course Bengali dinner!
On Safari in India: Wildlife viewing calls
But our goal was to go on safari so we boarded another plane which took us to Raipur then onward to Kanha National Park. We went out on safari in India several times and were not disappointed with what we saw. While we saw one tiger at a distance, we were incredibly fortunate to spot two different tigers, both male and both of which walked in front of our jeep with only a couple of yards distance separating us. This was the thrill we had hoped for, and we were not disappointed. What majestic creatures. There, our stay at the Singinawa Jungle Lodge pleasantly rounded out the journey.
Kanha National Park
Kaziranga National Park
Island of Majuli
Singinawa Jungle Lodge
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