Before embarking on a solo circumnavigation trip, I had placed a bet with an Indian Navy commander. He offered to treat me to a lavish spread in a Mumbai restaurant if I could spot and click pictures of any bird or animal in the hills of Manipur & Nagaland. He described them as ‘silent hills.’ I accepted the bet as it sounded simple enough.
On reaching Manipur, I kept my mobilephone handy to shoot pictures. I thought I could easily spot some birds.
On the first day of my visit, I travelled from Silchar in Assam to Imphal in Manipur. It was a 10 hour-long journey. I boarded a jeep at 6 am and had an awfully bumpy ride (so bad that I developed an upset stomach the next day). I could not find a single bird throughout the ride. But I wasn’t going to give up so soon.
The next day, I travelled from Imphal to Ukhrul, one of the four district headquarters of Manipur. It shares a state border with Nagaland and an international border with Myanmar. During my two day stay here, I only spotted hens (and their pictures weren’t going to win the bet for me).
The local district collector was my host (we had interacted on Facebook after a common friend introduced us). He offered me a vehicle for sightseeing. I was happy as I expected to spot some animals this time at least. The driver asked me l where I would like to go and I told him about the bet. He couldn’t stop laughing. The driver too placed a bet with me that no animal or bird, except poultry or livestock would be spotted. He offered to get me a mug of good quality Assam tea if I won the bet. By now, I had realised that this task wasn’t going to be simple.
We drove in the hills and jungles of Manipur. After a long time, the driver suddenly halted. He pointed out to a bird hanging from a stick of grass. It appeared to be stuck and was making noises.
We guessed that one of the locals had laid a nasty trap. He had put an adhesive on some grass and attached a worm to it. When a bird tried to get to the prey, it got stuck horribly onto the stick of grass. I requested the driver to free the poor thing. But he refused stating that it was now the hunter’s property and probably his meal for the day. I told him we would deal with the hunter later and it was necessary to free the bird first.
The driver claimed the bird wouldn’t survive even when freed as its feathers were damaged and it couldn’t fly anymore. He reluctantly touched the bird. It started to make even louder noises and attacked the driver with its claws. But after a few minutes, it stopped attacking. We did our best to take the glue off the bird’s feathers but it couldn’t fly properly. We then noticed a guy coming down the hill and decided to get into the vehicle to head home.
During my three week long journey in North East India, I noticed that very few people cultivate. If they do, it’s usually just rice. They don’t consume vegetables or milk and rely largely on meat for subsistence.
Everyone (even schoolgoing kids) carry weapons for hunting__ usually a slingshot. Whenever they spot a bird or animal, they kill it and cook it for food. They consume all kinds of meat from snakes to frogs, deers, dogs and rats. (I did not see cats or elephants being killed for meat though).
One of my teachers had told me that the Naga tribe is dominant in Manipur and Nagaland. They consume everything. I wonder if that’s the reason for no birds being spotted in the skies.
The Navy Commander was probably right (and I lost the bet). I had experienced the silent hills.