I travelled extensively in North-East India last December, exploring many remote and rural locations in Assam, Nagaland and Meghalaya. There were many things common in photographing people across the three states – they were all very friendly, approachable and also very shy. One experience that stood out among all these was a short time we spent in a small village of Rangma Nagas on our way to Kohima.
We were on a long drive from Mokokchung—a small town in the northern part of Nagaland—to Kohima on a pleasant sunny afternoon. We stopped for a short break nearly an hour before reaching Kohima, in a small village inhabited by Rengma Naga people. At the road leading off the main road to the village, we met a man holding a rifle who saw us and stopped by for a conversation. He was out hunting birds, and did not seem to have any catch that day.
A few minutes into our introductions, he invited us into the village and called us home for a cup of tea. It was a pleasant surprise to be invited home by a complete stranger and we were more than glad to tag along. At his small but beautiful dwelling, we were welcome by the lady of the house who quickly got around to lighting the stove and making some black tea. We did not even speak each other’s language, except one of us who spoke a bit of Nagamese and interfaced us.
For the next fifteen minutes, we made conversation that neither party comprehended much, but their warmth and friendliness was very evident in the way they treated us. Soon after tea, and a photography-session later, we bid good-bye to them and headed back towards our car. But there was more of Naga hospitality to come our way.
On the way back, we met a few women coming home from work and struck a conversation. In the next minute, we were following them to their house for another cup of tea. In this place too, we were treated like visiting guests rather than complete strangers. It was a repeat experience of the same warmth and hospitality that we experienced in the first house.
Was this the end of the story? Yes and No. On our way back to the car, we were once again invited for tea by another person we encountered on the way. But we politely declined this time.
I was overwhelmed by the village’s way of treating visitors. ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ was practiced here to perfection.
All through this hour of visiting the village, I kept shooting at regular intervals, sometimes working on a few compositions with the help of hosts and also catching a few candid moments. While I was pleased with the images made that day, I will remember the place less for the photographs and more for the experience.