The eight states of India’s North Eastern Region make up only eight per cent of the country’s land mass, but they are home to over one hundred tribes, each with its own unique culture. The terrain, predominantly hilly, ranges from snow-capped Himalayan peaks to tropical rainforests. Noted documentary filmmakers and photographers Dipti Bhalla Verma and Shiv Kunal Verma have produced a book on this captivating part of the world.
1. A Zeliang youth wearing the tribe’s distinctive headgear. The popular folksongs and folktales of this tribe range in subject from migration to agriculture, and from headhunting to songs about the self.
2. The Tangkhul are simple people and the women have much the same status as men. Today the prime focus of the Tangkhul is to revive and re- establish their traditional art and culture. Accordingly, certain older festivals are being revived. Among these, the eleven-day-long Luira is the most important. It is celebrated with sacrificial offerings and preparation of khor, the traditional rice beer.
3. The name Mechuka derives from the Tibetan me (medicine) + chu (water) + kha (mouth of snow). The valley is also known as Banja Shingri, or Hidden Heaven. The Samten Yongcha Gompa overlooking Mechuka town has cast its benevolent presence over the lives of the people—from daily chores to festivities and celebrations—since the middle of the seventeenth century.
4. A Monpa woman at her loom. This craft has been traditionally passed on from one generation of women to the next. From wool and cotton yarn to yak’s hair; from loin looms to treadle looms to low wrap looms; from blankets, bags and even tents to carpets; from dragon motifs to flowers to snow lions to birds, this is a treasured craft.
5. Chang men in full headhunting attire, which includes a little basket attached to the back to bring back the heads in!
6. The Brahmaputra catches the golden glow of the setting sun at Tezpur. In ancient times it was called Sonitpur—sonit in Sanskrit means blood. After Lord Krishna’s army clashed with Banasura over the rescue of Aniruddha, Krishna’s grandson, there was so much bloodshed that the whole place was awash in red.
7. A Cheetah helicopter’s rotors push its limits, rising to rarefied heights to capture a spectacular view of the less familiar north face of Kangchenjunga. A rare day, when against cloudless skies, the planet’s third-highest peak paints a magnificent picture.
8. Rupa Monastery: The two western districts of Arunachal Pradesh—Tawang and West Kameng—are almost entirely Buddhist. The Sherdukpen are concentrated in the Dirang and Singte valleys of Kameng region and in Kalaktang (Bomdila) area, while the Monpa are settled in the Tawang valley.
9. The Imphal valley is the rice bowl of Manipur. Never-ending rice fields stretch in all directions.
10. Temple carvings where every surface is transformed by the sculptures timelessly etched on silent rocks.
11. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose pausing to study a map during the onward push of the Azad Hind Fauj.
12. The spotted laughing thrush, a part of Sikkim’s avian family, which numbered 574 species of birds at last count. (Photograph by Dhritiman Mukherjee)
Images reproduced with permission from Life and Culture in Northeast India by Dipti Bhalla Verma and Shiv Kunal Verma, published by Mapin Publishing, Ahmedabad.
Dipti Bhalla Verma is a filmmaker who makes films on people, cultures, the armed forces. She has authored several books over the years—she is co-author and photographer of the acclaimed From Ocean to Sky – India from the Air.
Shiv Kunal Verma is the author of several books including the well-known North-East Trilogy, 1962 – The War that Wasn’t and The Long Road to Siachen. He currently holds the prestigious Chair of Excellence at the United Service Institute.
Along with his partner and wife Dipti, he has made several books and films – The Standard Bearers, a film on the NDA is an all-time classic.
Dipti and Shiv have founded the film company KaleidoIndia to support their passion for India and its people.