It was not my first visit to Manas National Park, I always knew that I am definitely going back again. The beauty of nature, the “keka” (call of the peacocks as we call it in Bengali), the quietness of the jungle, the unpredictable rain, the sound of the flowing water of the river Manas kept calling me back over and over again. And true as I knew I went back when the call came and this time was to celebrate the beauty of nature along with the tradition and culture of the fringe villages near the Manas National Park.
The Manas Spring Festival that took places on 7th and 8th April, 2018 was a bold and very noble initiative on the part of Puspanjalee Das Dutta, Mitali G Dutta and Saumar J. Sharma along with WWF to arrange the festival with the sole intention of giving an alternate means of livelihood to the people of the fringe villagers near the Manas National Park who belonged to the Bodo Community.
To know more details about MANAS NATIONAL PARK, how to reach here, places to stay and other activities to do, read my previous posts HERE-
What is Manas Spring Festival about?
Assam is one of the most colorful states in our country. There are a lot of ethnic groups and tribes in Assam. The Bodo tribes are the linguistic aboriginal group. They are the plain tribes of Assam and most of the people are concentrated in Udalguri, Baksa, Chirang, Sonitpur, Goalpara, Kokhrajhar. Agriculture, weaving, tea plantation are their main occupation. The Manas Spring Festival was all about uplifting the people of the Boro community of the fringe villages near the Manas National Park by giving them an alternate mode of livelihood.
It is one of those tribes in Assam which has its roots in dance, culture, tradition, and weaving. For around a decade Manas National Park was completely shut down due to the Boro movement and chaos prevailed all over the national park. The local poachers wiped out the entire population of Tiger, Rhinos, and Elephants.
Things gradually came down to place, normalcy was back and an attempt was made to revive Manas National Park. The government signed a peace accord with the Boro insurgents and it encouraged the people of the local community to look into the conservation and protection of the wildlife. But the jobs they were offered were not enough as many remained unemployed and with the UNESCO recognition of Manas National Park into a World Heritage Site many private resorts and hotels came up thereby minimizing income avenues of the local people.
Manas Spring Festival was an initiative to give the local Boro people an alternate means to derive maximum benefits of tourism. Due to a low-income source, they depended on the wildlife and jungles but this initiative with the assistance of WWF is an attempt to minimize- actually complete irradiation of their dependency on the forests of Manas National Park.
Manas Spring Festival, 2018- An initiative to give an alternate
livelihood to the fringe villages near Manas National Park
The two-day festival was a new and delightful experience for me. Right from the journey that began with none other the Kalyan Karmakar, food writer, food blogger, travel writer, author of the famous book The Travelling Belly and curator of one of the award-winning foods blogs “Finely Chopped”. It was a privilege for me when Puspanjalee Das Dutta who is also my blogging coach asked me to receive Kalyan Karmakar from the hotel and accompany him along with Sisir who is also a food lover and reviewer to Manas National Park. I grabbed the opportunity and as not every day we get a chance to travel with Kalyan sir. We have breakfast and lots of discussions related to food, culture, blogging.
Day 1- 6th April 2018
Our entry to Manas National Park on the first day of the event was indeed grand. As the moment we entered the gates we spotted two One Horned Rhinoceros enjoying a dip to cool down themselves in the soaring heat.
The inaugural program began with a press meet where the guests briefed the press about the events and the main aim behind it and it was followed by cultural dance program. Chef Gautam Mehrishi and Joi Baruah were other distinguished guests for the festival. The cultural program began with the famous Boro dance form Bagrumba which is a Folk dance of Assam. It is performed at important festivals by the men and women. Bagrumba was followed by local dancing troupes performing Jhumur dance which is a popular dance of the tea garden tribes of Assam. The inauguration ceremony ended with the main traditional folk dance of Assam Bihu.
Lunch for the day- Food and Jou Mai (Rice beer)
The lunch was very interesting with all sorts of ethnic dishes of the Bodo cuisine. Rice is the staple food and accompanied by either pork or chicken. They also served fried silk worms, boiled snails, small fish cooked with jute leaves which are quite bitter in taste, smoked fish, Napham a fermented fish item.
The rice beer which is called Jou Mai is an important traditional drink of the Boro tribes in Assam. The tradition of preparing the drink is handed over generations and it is prepared from fermented cooked rice (jumai) and they eat it with locally prepared yeast cake called Amao. Jou is mainly of three kinds- bidwi, finai and gwran and is the integral part of all social events like marriage, worship, etc.
The most delightful part of the event was the cooking session of a traditional dish called Onla by Chef Gautam Mehrishi, he gave the ethnic recipe a traditional twist. The main ingredients of Boro dish Onla are Rice flour, chicken, Khar (Alkali) but chef added some jaggery, baby aubergines, local flowers and herbs, rice beer and gave it a delicious makeover keeping the main essence of the dish intact. The Boro cuisine consists of meat (Pork/Chicken), herbs, leaves, small fish – smoked, fermented or cooked with other ingredients.
The ethnic community center called GUNGZEMA which is the community based Ethnic Food and Cultural Centre for the Boro community was the main hospitality and food partner to enjoy authentic food and rice beer or Zou Mai and get a glimpse of the culture of the Boro tribes living there. On your next visit to Manas National Park you can pre-order your food and enjoy the traditional Boro cuisines. Since the community is in its nascent stage they will be taking the orders strictly on a pre-order basis. You can contact them from the details given in the picture below.
Weaving technique and some Shopping!
Dokhna is the traditional dress of the Boro women which you can see in the pictures and they take Aronai over it. They drape is around the body from the top which is little different than draping a saree. It’s pure hand weaved and most of the Boro household have a loom. The Dokhnas are always bright in colors with various motifs related to flora and fauna weaved. We did some shopping and when we visit even you can get yourself a handwoven Boro outfit. Ask the local ladies they will teach you how to wear a Dokhna just like my friends Debjani did.
An important information of the weaving technique as my friend Dwithun Brahma shared with me gave me is that for the Weaving first of all the thread is bought or made from silkworm cocoon specially called ‘endi’. Then rounding the thread in a tool called ‘Bobin’ and then to ‘musra’. After that pulling the thread from one end to the other end in the courtyard and the main thread to be weaved is tied to a particular thread called ‘nw’. And finally, the thread is weaved using the design. They are also expert in preparing different kinds of handicraft items made of wood or bamboo which was also displayed in a stall there.
Day 2, 7th April 2018
The second day began with an exciting jeep safari into the forest reserve. It started raining really heavy. Make sure you carry your raincoat and umbrella whenever you visit Manas as the rain is unpredictable. We spotted beautiful dancing peacocks, at least five of them and the moment was so enthralling.
There are lots of peacocks in Manas National Park. When the rain stopped we could spot an Asiatic water buffalo on way to Mathanguri and two across the river Manas in the Mathanguri range, we sighted quite a large number of elephants in herds and various birds. The quietness and the greenery were intriguing.
On the way back I got the chance to see the elephants being given a bath. The elephants belonged to the Smiling Tuskers Elephant Camp and the bath is given just near the resort and you can enjoy it too on your visit. Generally, it takes place between 11am-12.30pm, try to reach the spot on time. Utmost care is taken while giving the elephants a bath by the mahouts. These elephants are taken care by the Smiling Tusker Elephant Camp.
After reaching the festival location I had lunch which again consisted of the local Boro dishes. There are lots of other activities like cycling, river rafting, village walk which you can enjoy at Manas National Park. As we were approaching the end it was mandatory to click photographs, I brought back lots of fond memories of the two camp. Also, it was the first time I stayed in a tent, camped in the middle of a reserved forest under the open sky.
The festival gave me the chance to meet some wonderful travel and food bloggers from all around the country and also beyond that as there were travel lovers from Srilanka, USA, Bhutan and many other places. I camped with them, made good friends, shared my blogging experiences, journeys and also knew about theirs too.
I shall also publish a separate post with all the pictures of the wildlife I clicked which I sighted during my jeep safari of four hours. The two days festival left behind a mark on my memory and I have made sure to visit again to experience the hospitality and food of the local Boro tribes staying there. Being born and brought up in a state like Assam which is so diverse in language, ethnic groups, tradition, customs and food that I feel a single life will fall short to experience it all.