Mitra Sathish has covered 15 Indian states by road. If not for the recent surge of Covid cases, she would have continued her trip. Two days ago she was at Zojila pass and is currently on her way back to Kerala. We document her big Indian road trip.
What makes this road trip different and perhaps a little daring is that this 40-year-old doctor from Tripunithura Government Ayurveda college was accompanied by her 11-year-old son Narayanan!
Kanyakumari, Tirunelveli, Thanjavur, Chennai, Andhra, Bengal, Assam - she covered most of the major cities and places. For Mitra, who religiously plans a trip every year, the pandemic poured water on her plans. That’s when she hit upon this idea to make a road trip - not only will it whet her wanderlust, but it would also give an encouraging signal to those who were afraid to travel. By the time she reached the finishing line, Mitra is sure this will be a great endorsement for the tourism industry.
Mithra has been driving for the last 11 years. Why even her first solo travel was a road trip to Bhutan! Travelling for her is about exploring new tastes and flavours, meeting new people, and acquainting herself to a new culture and place. Besides the infinite freedom, it gives you cannot be described.
According to Mithra her idea of travelling is to pack light, scout for budget places to stay, drive during the day and get your fill of as many places as possible. She had already vaccinated before embarking on this trip.
Why travel alone? That’s a question she is tired of answering. “One can travel according to one’s free will. I can start as early as 5 am. I am not too fond of cities or popular tourist destinations. I love to explore the villages, sample local food, and get to know their life. For that travelling solo is the best option. I don’t think it will suit a family. My son is enjoying this travel, understanding the villages of India and this is a new life for him.”
She started the travel on March 17th in her Maruti S-Cross car.
At Jagdalpur, they went on a heritage walk with 'Unexplored Bastar'. That’s where they learnt about the 75-day long Dussehra festival and rituals associated with it and also witnessed the Chhattisgarh version of Vamana. It’s only when she left Baster that she heard about the attack against Jawans. She also mingled a lot with the tribals at Baster and Assam. Otherwise, it has been a largely smooth journey, and no one till date has asked her for an RTPCR Certificate.
The visited artisans of Kondagaon made exquisite wrought iron, terracotta, and hand-carved woodwork. From there went to see a Ghotul or youth hostel of tribals, and had a lengthy discussion with the women of the village. They also held a dance and music show for them and even dragged them for a jig.
Quaint village at Nagaland
One of her most memorable stays was at this village at Nagaland-Khonoma. It’s an Angami Naga village located about 20 km west of the state capital, Kohima. It’s a tidy village adorned with beautiful blooming plants and is the first green village in Nagaland. It is said that the villagers gave up hunting to focus on agriculture and nature conservation. Khonoma is a stunning example of their struggle for freedom, survival, and territorial unity. You can’t miss the remnants of three forts which are still seen in the village.
At Morungs which are also community centres where village members used to gather during evenings, they had exhibited Angami Naga handicrafts, old utensils, traditional arms, musical instruments, etc. They also came across a sphere called Thang which is decorated with human hair. Only if you have killed an enemy (translated hunted head) will you be permitted to use it. Similarly, a rich man will be permitted to build Kwehu or stone sitting circle only if he gives a feast to the entire village! There are public tanks everywhere which store water from natural springs. Graves are built in the house compound itself.
At Manipur they spend an evening at a hut, sampling rice beer with an elderly lady. She fondly remembers the time spent at Manas National Park, where they went for a safari at 6 am and found herds of elephants and rhinos. They visited Madunagiri to view the Manas river that separates India and Bhutan.
They briefly spend some time at Bodo tribal village, officially the Bodoland Territorial Region, which is an autonomous region in Assam. It is made up of four districts on the north bank of the Brahmaputra river below the foothills of Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. The region covers an area of over nine thousand square kilometers and is predominantly inhabited by the Bodo people and other indigenous communities of Assam. They were invited for a traditional Bodo breakfast and other delicacies along with showing them how to make rice beer.
They were gifted traditional shawls and hats and stayed at a hut and also enjoyed the famous bakurumba dance of Bodo tribals.
Hospitality in Orissa
Everywhere they went they met warm hospitable people who opened their homes for them. In Orissa, it was no different. They stayed with a lovely Orissa family and explored the city. The food turned out to be a delicious surprise there—they tried some of the quintessential dishes like Dalma (dal and veg), Aloo Baingan (brinjal in curd gravy) and Baboo mutton. They also managed to catch the making of Chenna Poda (baked cheese) and had hot Roshogolla (after all the debate is still on between Bengal and Orissa as to who discovered Roshogollas) and Chenna goja ( fried paneer).
They visited the Konark temple, Dhauli Shanti Stupa (Buddhist shrine), tribal museum and also saw a live demonstration of paddy craft.
They were treated to some fine Odiya lunch by a friend and the menu had Kakarfulla bhaja (pumpkin flower snack), mushroom Besar rai (mushroom in mustard gravy), ghanta (mashed veg curry), chilika crab, macha besar Baja ( fish fry), and spicy lassi.
At Onakadelli village they saw the famous Thursday market, where Bonda tribes used to sell their products. They also sampled three types of homemade liquor - Salpa (from palm trees), Lambda from Ragi and Mahol from Mahua.
At another tribal village called Gadana, Kangrapod they walked freely talking to the people and watching the village life at close quarters. They were trees that were over 100 years old. Houses were made of mud and bricks. The compound wall was made of stone. Each house had two rooms - one was a bedroom and the other worked as a storage area. Kitchens were built outside the huts.
The village headman spoke at length about their unique culture and tradition and took them on a tour of their farming equipment. Mitra found herself wearing their traditional attire, a two-piece cloth called Kerang, wore aluminium rings around the neck called khagla and wore anklets. And then they finished the day with a splendid traditional lunch of Mandey Pej (ragi gruel), Amoor jhol (veg curry), and chaaru ( tomato curry).
In 37 days she has covered 10000 kms. From Kochi- Kanyakumari - Tharanganpaduy - Pondicherry - Chennai - Hyderabad - Amaravati - Rajahmundry -Vizag - Borra caves - Jeypore - Onakadelli - Duduma - Kangarapod - Jagdalpur - Narayanpal - Jamavada - Nangnur - Anjer - Chilkuti - Kondagaon- Raipur - Bhubaneswar - Bhubaneswar - Kolkata- Bishnupur- Panchmura- Asansol- Siliguri- Manas - N.Lakhimpur - Itanagar - Majuli- Kohima - Khonoma - Yangkhullen - Imphal to Silchar - it’s been a memorable journey!