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Friday, August 12, 2022

Everything You Need To About BODOLAND – #1 Tourist Destination!

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Bodoland and Bodo Tribe

When one hears the word Bodo or Bodoland, what comes to mind is militants, killing and mayhem. 

BODOLAND

Since I love to explore the unexplored (after all an anthropology grad.), I wanted to learn about the Bodo community. Honestly, I was a bit apprehensive, but excited at the same time. 

Just rewind yourself and go back to approx.10-15 years ago, when the name Bodo was synonymous with insurgency, militancy, territorial disputes etc. Who would in their wildest thoughts think of visiting Bodoland, forget about staying with the local families? Well! I’m so very happy that I had one of the most beautiful and memorable trips of my life.

When you actually meet Bodo people and try to get through the skin of the region, you don’t see many distinctions and certainly no hints of danger and instability. However, unfortunately, the stigma and fear still remain of being a fearful land. If you ask me if it’s safe to visit Bodoland? My answer will be a resounding ‘YES’!

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Situated at the foothills of Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh and on the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra River in Assam, is this picturesque beauty Bodoland, officially known as Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR). Bodoland is now an autonomous region in Assam, officially recognized by the Indian government in 2003. BTR is made up of 4 districts, namely, Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri.

Picturesque Bodoland

Who are Bodos?

Bodos or Boros, are the scheduled tribe/minority group, the single largest ethnic tribe in Assam (making up to approx. 6% of the state’s population belonging to the Boro-Kachari family of ethnolinguistic group. Though they inhabit all other districts in Assam and in some parts of Meghalaya, Bodos are mainly concentrated in BTR. 

A journey less travelled:

Smooth buttery road drive of 2.30 hours from Guwahati took us to this beautiful quaint village where the meandering roads with lush paddy fields on either side, cute little bamboo bridges over the water canals, tall bamboo trees swaying musically to the songs of the wind led us to a busy town Tangla in Udalguri.

Bhaskar Jyoti, (Bhaskar da, as I fondly call him) a Bodo tribe himself, was our host for the next few days. He welcomed us into his humble abode while his mother and sister hurried to lay the table for lunch. Home cooked meals prepared with much love and affection were relished in no time which indicated sumptuous, lip-smacking food and our super hungry tummies. Customary betel nut was served soon after.

Quiet, lazy afternoon with cool breeze was just perfect for another long drive to explore the villages around and experience the true Bodo culture. 

Tall bamboo trees fencing the mud-bamboo houses gives one a feel of a beautiful rural fairy land. A little further, a vast green carpet of tea plantations seemed waiting impatiently to welcome us. All around the aroma of fresh tea was very refreshing. It was just the beginning of the tea plucking season. Bright green tea leaves eagerly waiting to be plucked and the tea tribes in their colourful attire busy plucking the tender leaves. Oh! it was a sight one would want to stop for a scenic pic. I couldn’t resist myself and joyfully joined them in plucking the leaves. Looking at me so ecstatic, they gave me a bamboo basket, tied it on my head to drop the plucked leaves. While I tried my best to be as perfect in the job as them, they giggled and laughed at my flawed efforts. Few selfies and videos with them surely gave them little bliss on a tiring day. I certainly enjoyed myself with them.

Bodo Community

Plucking tea leaves with the tea tribe.

We visited a few villages around Bodoland and wherever we went, many curious eyes were watching us, not with suspicion or scorn, but with surprise, enthusiasm and kindness. They were surprised to have tourists visit them and stay with them. (We were the first tourist ever to have visited this village).

Our thirst to know more about the Bodos and their life then and now, was evident by the way our curious minds kept pouring questions. Jazper (my friend from Udalguri) and Bhaskar da patiently answered them all. As our car zoomed the bylanes of the village, aimlessly looking out of the window, I wondered how and why such an amazing tribe were labelled as the militants. 

Bodo Tribe History:

Folk traditions and mythology play an important role in understanding the history of some of the early settlers. Similarly, it is believed that the Bodos along with the other groups are prehistoric settlers who migrated a few thousands of years ago. Mythologically it is believed that Bodos are the offspring of son of Lord Vishnu and Mother-Earth. 

Bodos were the most marginalised communities as they faced problems of ethnicity, race, land ownership, etc. Having often felt alienated and discriminated against, they thus time and again demanded separation from Assam. In the course of their decade’s old movement, land ownership became an important agenda. From the early 90s onwards, Bodo extremist groups started targeting non-Bodos, including Muslims, Adhivasis, and others such as Bengalis, Biharis, Hindus, and drove many of them out. 

Militancy, insurgency etc. is a thing of the past now. It’s been almost 2 decades since Bodos have been living a reformed and peaceful life.

During my stay there, I had an opportunity to meet one of the Bodo tribes, who surrendered his weaponries two years ago and is now living a reformed life, taking care of his mother and younger siblings, busy in the paddy fields and tending to his cattle. Listening to him about his reformed life was indeed very heart touching.

BODO LIFE & CULTURE:

Bodos live a very simple life, which revolves around agriculture and tea cultivation. They are so warm and kind hearted that one can just walk into anyone’s house (with a genuine smile, of course) to explore their day-to-day life. They rely on simple livelihood. Most families can be seen busy in the fields or tea gardens or weaving or fishing. Living in mud-bamboo houses, cooking fish on firewood, weaving through the loom is a common sight in Bodoland. 

Agriculture is their main occupation here. In addition to growing rice, they practise fishery, piggery, poultry and jute cultivation. Betel nut cultivation is also seen here in addition to tea plantations.

Since tourists in Bodoland are rare, it is possible that people may appear a bit reluctant to your presence, but that will be out of pure shyness. In reality they are very hospitable, loving and open to welcoming tourists. 

At the moment, Bodoland as a territory isn’t popular but some of the places in Bodoland are. Manas National Park (MNP), for example, is one such place recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site and a popular tiger reserve. MNP is well known for its rare and endangered wildlife. It’s more popular for its one horned rhino. 

During the Bodo insurgency period, Manas national park lost all its one horned rhino. But when the peace agreement was signed and Bodoland Territorial Council was formed (in 2003), MNP was put on the list of World Heritage in Danger. Soon the process of relocation of wild animals (from Kaziranga National Park) including rhinos began. Today MNP has over 50 rhinos and over 10 tigers.

Driving our way through the tea gardens, we reached Dimakuchi to visit Satradhikar late Harekrishna Mahanta Monjul Baruah’s ashram where his teachings of Brahma Dharma are taught and followed. It’s a place of community gathering. A warm welcome and the hospitality from the present Satradhikar and the staff was amazingly heart-warming. We were in awe of their humbleness.

Ashram at Dimakuchi

BODO RELIGION:

Since the past few decades, Bodos have been influenced by the social reforms under Bodo Brahma Dharma and Christianity (those following Christianity are called missionaries). While the majority follow Hinduism (followers of Lord Vishnu), however, there are many who follow Bathouism. Bathouism is based on the 5 elements or principles such as Earth, Fire, Water, Air, Sky. These elements are the 5 powers of the Bwrai Bathou which Bodos worship as their supreme God.

Hindu religious statues adorning the village

We then drove to this stunning village Samdrub Jhongkar at the Bhutan border. After seeking permission from the army personnel stationed there, we went along a mildly dense jungle path which was scattered with elephant dung intermittently, unlike the cattle dung which is a common sight in any village. Well, we were walking through an elephant path. I was super excited with the hope that our paths would cross, but sadly none of those gentle giants were in sight, except their poop, an evidence of their presence around. However, I was thrilled to see hornbills and other birds happily chirping. 

The seal marking India-Bhutan border

The elephant path took us to this white riverbed where Samdrup river silently made its way through the foothills of Bhutan. You cross the river and you enter Bhutan territory. Be advised that trespassing is illegal. However, one can surely enjoy this serene and beautiful landscape and see Bhutan from a not-very common entry point.

River dividing India and Bhutan

In Tangla, while exploring the villages, we came across families busy with their weaving techniques. It was interesting to know that the locals weave their own clothes, especially the traditional attire. 

LANGUAGE:

Bodos speak the Bodo language belonging to the Sino-Tibetan language family. Many people are bilingual i.e., they speak Assamese too. It’s such a pleasure to know that the language of this fascinating tribe is one of the official languages of Assam and that it’s also one of the 22 languages listed in the 8th schedule of our constitution.

CUISINE: 

Rice is the staple diet in Bodoland which is eaten with lentils, vegetables, fish, meat. Chicken and pork are consumed here mostly. Often, you’ll find pork delicacies on bamboo plates being roasted over firewood. 

Roasted pork

Traditional dishes: We were pleasantly surprised when few traditional snacks were offered to us. This was a good introduction to Bodo culture. Both are rice preparations, one slightly sweet and the other salty.

Alcoholic beverage:

Rice beer: is consumed by one and all. Produced from different types of rice, most often rice beer is consumed during festivals, marriages and communal gatherings.

FESTIVALS:

Rongali Bihu or Bwisagu festival is the most cherished festival, famous for its myriad colours and merriment. It’s the spring festival, an advent of the new year, celebrated in mid-April. The festival ground was like a huge stage displaying rich cultural colours of the Bodo community. 

Attending the festival with the local people was one of the most cherishing moments. Being honoured and felicitated with the traditional scarf in the presence of the entire village and being seated with the Member of the Parliament (the guest of honour for that evening) was a honey moment for us.

Traditional dance and folk songs were the order of the day. Children, young boys and girls, men and women were seen singing and dancing in their traditional attire.

While driving down to the village, on our way to the festival ground, little children dressed in their traditional attire, were singing and dancing, playing traditional musical instruments; doing all this to ensure car stopped so that we too can join in their fun. Ohh! The love, joy and happiness of the Bodo people was seen and felt everywhere. 

With Bodo children on the way to the festival ground

ATTIRE:

Aronai: A green coloured scarf called Aronai with Hajoi (hill) Agor (design) is often used to felicitate guests as a mark of respect. It is said that in the ancient times, Bodo women would weave Aronai and present it to their men as they set out for the battlefield. At the time of war, the Bodo warriors used Aronai as a belt in the battlefield.

Dokhona: is the traditional dress of the Boro women; worn to cover the whole body from the chest region to the legs by wrapping one round at a time over the waist. Bhaskar da’s mom and sister ensured that I wear the Dokhona (Bodo dress) and the Mekhla chador (the Assamese dress) to get into the Bihu festivities. And I’m told I’m the first one ever (a non-Bodo) to be decked up by them. 

Time for some makeover:

Bodoland, a new tourist destination:

Visiting Bodoland, I loved every bit of it. From its warm people to their loving hospitality, to lip smacking food, to gorgeous landscapes, everything about this place is worth appreciating and exploring. 

For most Indian travellers, visit to North-East India means not beyond Sikkim or Meghalaya. Places other than these two remain a mystery and clearly out of the itinerary. 

Now every time someone asks me, is it safe to travel to Bodoland, I reply, “Yes, it is just as safe to travel to Goa or Manali or Meghalaya. In Bodoland, wherever we went, we were welcomed with a big smile, open arms and a loving heart. 

Make your next trip to this awesomely beautiful place to experience the love, hospitality and rich culture this awesome tribe has to offer. People here are eagerly wating to welcome more tourists. I can’t wait to head back to this beautiful Bodoland.

This blog is contributed by Roshni D’ Souza.

About Roshni

Roshni is from Mumbai. Though a city girl, she generally spends her time with the tribes in India, understanding them and also writing about them.

She has a corporate experience of 12 years. Currently, she primarily works with NGOs in wildlife conservation, rural empowerment, education in village schools and youth rural development.

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