Part II. In hindsight, Nongriat was an unusual choice for a trip undertaken to do away with jaded ideas of travel. Owing to many a popular article in various travel publications, it had already acquired a legendary status. The place was certainly no stranger to hordes of tourists. I wondered if I could possibly find or learn something new or even just look past the sensationalism that has become its identity.
My apprehensions started fading from my first night in the village. The locals, mostly shy and quiet, appeared to navigate the surrounding lush jungles with a childish ease. I would follow them as they made their way through the unforgiving terrain, away from established trails meant for lesser mortals, and watch in amazement their ability to read the surroundings and communicate with nature in a dialect that is clearly passed down from one generation to next, wrapped neatly in strands of DNA.
I noticed that almost no one in the village served local cuisine, instead, the food was tailored to meet tourists’ expectations – maggi, rice and dal, eggs, usual. I have always felt that food is an exceptional storyteller. In the aromas that linger in a kitchen you will find subtle nuances that shape the identity of a community; is there a heavy-handed use of spices or is it the opposite? What is a peculiar ingredient that seems to be popular? What lengths do they go to, to procure this ingredient? What is the unique spin they put on a popular dish?
I was hoping to eat something that locals love. Then, on the second day, as I sat scribbling in a journal in my room, I heard a child’s giggle, the sorts that bear no obligation to end. I could hear too a tremendous rustle like a giant trampling on a ground full of autumn leaves. The excitement in the air was so real that I could grab a handful of it. I ran outside to a brown blur. It took me a moment to realize that they were rain bugs, tens of thousands of them. Then I spotted the culprits who had unleashed this commotion squatting on the ground in the dirt, grabbing fistfuls of the insect and shoving them into a bottle, two children no more than ten years of age, hysterical with laughter.