How I spent a surreal rural holiday in a remote Mishing tribal village of Assam? - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Friday, April 06, 2018

How I spent a surreal rural holiday in a remote Mishing tribal village of Assam?

Traditional hat and traditional loom - Mishing Tribal Village, Assam, India

Imagine this!

Lush green environment at Panbari Mishing Tribal village, Assam, India

You are surrounded by lush tea gardens and mighty tall trees of the Kaziranga National Park. You are staying in a chang house (house on stilts). You wake up to the sound of the whistling thrush and you sip your evening tea to the chatter of a rich number of bird species. You are truly in the lap of nature. Where farm lands end, the forests begin. Greenery, pristine nature and calmness is omnipresent.

Smiling kids of Panbari Mishing Tribal Village, Assam, India

And that’s not just it. Every day, you are treated to lip smacking authentic Assamese cuisine and some home brewed rice beer. Your leisurely walks include walking by paddy fields, vegetable gardens, banana plantations and tea gardens. And for more excitement there is always bird watching and wildlife sightings. For company, you have smiling kids and very humble and affectionate locals.

Delicious Assamese meals at Mishing tribal homes

I was treated to such an experience during a rural holiday in a remote tribal village of Assam. This village called Panbari is situated in the floodplains of the mighty Brahmaputra river and is located tantalizingly close to the Kaziranga National Park boundary.

People of mishing tribe at Panbari, Assam and fresh green paddy

The people of this village are simple, yet very hard working and lead a fairly independent life, as in, they don’t depend much on goods and services from the outside world. Each family have their own cows, goats, pigs and hens so there is no paucity of milk, butter, yogurt, eggs and meat. Each family have their small tea garden that is located right behind their home so no need to go to the market to buy tea and they sell the excess produce to the market to make some money. They have their own fish ponds, vegetable gardens, paddy field and banana plantations, so pretty much they always have a steady supply of home grown organic food all through the year.

Rice beer and Chang ghar dining - Mishing tribal village, Assam

Their dwellings, called chang houses are simple elevated structures that are designed to handle the heavy rains, flooding during the monsoons and the extremely humid weather. Bamboo, mud and dried palm leaves make up the bulk of the structure, but these days, the villagers are leveraging the use of bricks and cement too. The village has electricity, but power cuts are quite common during the summer and monsoon months and hence most traditional homes are built with proper ventilation and consistent cross air flow.

Nursery for paddy crop, Mishing Tribal village, Panbari, Assam, India

Both the men and women of this village do hard work. While the men wear their gamcha (cotton sarong) and zaapi (bamboo hat) and work in the farms and fields, the women wearing their traditional Mekhla Chador do all the household chores, take care of cattle, pick tea leaves and weave clothes using traditional looms. Apart from farming, the men of this village do odd construction jobs, cut trees in the forest, work as forest guides in the Kaziranga National Park when the park is open and weave bamboo baskets when they either get old or when they do not have any outside work contracts.

Master weaver artisan of Panbari mishing tribal village wearing her mekhla and chador creation

Most of the women of this village have been taught to weave by their mothers, grandmothers and/or sisters. Typically, each home has a traditional loom in front of the house that the women in the house make use of during their free time. But, these days, under the umbrella of Impulse Social Enterprises, an NGO, that promotes the well being of the women of North East India and a Government of India initiative that is working towards preservation of rural weaving and handicrafts, more women are learning the craft and are spending more of their time weaving.

Traditional loom being prepared by hand by Mishing Tribe woman, Assam

In fact, I went to this village mainly to experience their traditional weaving up close and bring that learning to all of you.

Mishing tribal woman learning the art of weaving at Panbari, Assam, India

This traditional weaving initiative has ensured a slightly better livelihood for these people. More income certainly adds a touch of modernization, but these villagers love their roots, so they still try to follow their ancient methods and practices. The only good thing that modernization brought to their life is good education for their children, especially all their girl children, which like we all know is the right way to go.

Portrait of Mishing tribal woman weaving on her traditional loom, Panbari village, Assam

A new revenue stream for these villagers is rural tourism, where they offer a room in their home and share their food for a small fee. It is not organized tourism, but it is definitely catching the fancy of the villagers. And that is how I landed in this Assamese village that is made up of 80 to 100 Mishing tribal people.

Elderly Mishing tribal man weaving a basket, Assam

One of the highlights of this rural holiday in Assam has to be its people. These warm hearted, helpful and ever smiling people teach us a thing or two about humanity, which we urban citizens seem to have forgotten or lost somewhere. Right from the time they picked me up from the bus stop on the highway to treating me like one of their own, I was blown away by their hospitality.

Tea drying the traditional way at a Mishing Tribal Home, Assam

And don’t even get me started on their delicious food and fresh rice beer. The Jhulokia chilli, freshly ground mustard seeds, farm fresh vegetables and young bamboo shoots (I absolutely relish them), juicy (yes, very juicy) rice grown in their farm, the secret ingredients of the women of the house and the fact that they cook their food in mustard oil makes the humble village meal a gastronomic journey into traditional Assamese cuisine.

Tea Gardens of Mishing tribe located by the Kaziranga forest, Assam

This rural holiday in Assam offered me to perfect recipe to enjoy our land’s traditions, food and nature while rejuvenating my body, mind and soul. My typical day involved taking walks in the village, striking conversations with the friendly people over some tea and fresh betel nut, teaching the kids some photography and playing football with them, watching the women weave their magic with their hands and traditional looms, trying my hand at cattle herding and farming and I even touched a baby rhinoceros at a nearby animal rescue center.

Traditional Gamcha being made in the traditional loom, Assam

The foodie in me loved the traditional cuisine, the birdwatcher in me loved the chirps, whistles and songs, the cultural lover in me loved experiencing the day to day life of these villagers, the simpleton in me loved the basic living where you wake up to the sun and sleep to the gentle night breeze and last but not the least, the Indian in me loved yet another of India’s gorgeous villages.

Tea Gardens of Panbari Mishing Tribal village surrounded by the forests of Kaziranga National Park

The Mishing village of Panbari was everything that I had wanted in a rural holiday. In fact, I felt richer, happier and more content than before. I definitely learnt a thing or two from its super hard working and affectionate people. This is one place I wouldn’t mind returning to in a jiffy! Definitely a off beat holiday gem!


Local women working in the tea gardens of Assam, India

If you wish to spend your rural holiday in this village, try contacting Ranjith Doley at +91 96137 86941. He was my host and his wife is a master weaver. I don’t know if there is any other way to make bookings here.

Other Nearby Attractions apart from this Mishing Village:

Traditional Loom in the front entrance of all Mishing tribe homes, Assam

1) Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation – Just a short walk from Panbari is this animal rescue and care center where you can get up close with the animals that have been rescued from floods, poachers and/or traps. This is a great way to explore more of the village and get close to some of the wild denizens of Kaziranga National Park. You can also opt to volunteer here if that is your area of interest.

Colorful weaves of the Mishing Tribe of Assam

2) Kaziranga National Park – If this park is open, this is one of India’s best wildlife safaris as it allows you to sight elephants, tigers, the one-horned rhinoceros, wild water buffalo and many more exotic species. The main entrance of Kaziranga is only a 40 minute drive from Panbari village.

3) Hoolongopar Gibbon Sanctuary – If you wish to see India’s only ape, head to Hoolongopar Gibbon Sanctuary, which is only a couple of hours away from Panbari. Do make sure to carry your binoculars and/or big zoom lenses as these apes are totally arboreal (they are always up in the trees).

Mishing tribal women and their traditional looms, Assam

4) Ancient Kingdom of Sibsagar – A couple of hours from Panbari is the ancient Ahom Kingdom of Assam in today’s Sibsagar. This trip is ideal for those history and temple lovers.

5) Majuli – If India’s largest riverine island is on your agenda, Majuli is the perfect choice. In 3 hours, you can reach this island from Panbari. You could either stay back on the island or return to the village at night.

Mishing Tribal woman with fresh fish on her head, Panbari village, Kaziranga, Assam

6) Dibrugarh – Even though tea estates are to be found all over the region, I am kind of partial towards the lush tea estates and forests between Dibrugarh and Tinsukia. This is a great way to holiday in the lap of nature.

How to get here:

Tribal Kids, Mishing village, Panbari, Assam, India

Guwahati would be the nearest airport with the best connectivity, but Dibrugarh might be the closest airport in terms of distance. The national highway runs just 4 kms from the village so buses are available in plenty. Golaghat would be the nearest railway station. Hiring a cab, taxi or a self-drive car might be the most prudent choice given the remoteness of the village and the lack of access to other tourist attractions.

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