I’m not too good with water (hate it) and that’s why I wasn’t looking forward to rafting. But I put on a brave face. We left at 9 am. A vehicle picked us from the camp and dropped us at the starting point. Our raft was more of a buoy. Before us, there were was a couple (cute senior citizens) boarding a buoy, much smaller than ours. I suddenly felt brave. OK, just a wee bit. We put on our vests, transferred our lunch vessels and off we were. On the way, we talked to Latun, our oarsman. The younger boy was relatively quiet. Latun showed us birds, chatted about people and tigers. When the rapids came, he steered us to safety. There weren’t many rapids and that’s why this was more of a raft ride, in the river, than rafting. But yes, the river is quite deep. The birds, the picturesque scenery and the silence, makes the ride an unforgettable experience.
As we reached the river bed, the sun was shining quite brightly. Latun and his assistant started assembling wood and preparing our food. We walked a little (the rocks were too hot to sit on) and collected stones. There were fish swimming close to the bed, but we couldn’t catch any. Our meal was rice, fried fish, dal and roasted baingan. When you’re hungry, sitting in the middle of a river bed and forest, this basic meal felt like a feast. It was nice to share our meal with them and listen to their experiences. We carried onwards and reached the bank where the vehicle was waiting to pick us. We rested in the afternoon and wanted to bail out on the evening visit, but didn’t.
If you’re into culture, you can visit the Mishing tribes that live and cultivate farmland. Mr. Sharma arranged for dinner at local Mishing house – not very far away from our camp. Sapna, our hostess, had separated from her husband and had a young child to support. Mr. Sharma told us to give her whatever we felt was apt. At 8 pm, Dhon took us to Sapna’s house. Her house was a bamboo hut, built on stilts. There were few chairs kept outside, but we chose to enter in. A single room held a central furnace for cooking, an old almirah for clothes and a bedside for her sleeping kids. We managed to squeeze in, I was half afraid Basil would bring her house down. The house creaked but stood still. Below the floor of interwoven cane and bamboo, was a goat’s pen. There was no electricity. Yes, we are in 2014, I thought. A lone kerosene lamp was the only light among the anxious faces in the room. We ate our vegetarian meal with our hostess. Our camp guides sipped on rice beer, the children slept and our hostess’s sister looked shyly. I didn’t know what we were eating, but it was good. We sipped on rice beer. It tasted more like white wine. Dhon, our guide, was sad as we were leaving the next day. I didn’t know what to say. We paid our hostess money for our wholesome meal and stepped out. There were two looms next to her hut. She spun traditional ‘Mishing’ fabrics as well as Naga patterned shawls. I wished we could’ve come during the day. But, it was time to go back to the camp (and to the city) – that hid from us how the native tribes still lived in 2014.