Understanding Konyaks & Headhunting
Well, to begin with, just don’t get alarmed by the term “headhunter”. The Nagas were fierce warriors that mostly remained independent with minimal connection with the rest of the world till the arrival of the British. and they did collect the severed heads of their enemies in the past. It is not that different from the rest of us, everyone had to fight for survival in the olden days. It is just that they preserved those skulls as trophies, and the British made the term “headhunter” famous. Even now, Konyaks have a very strong and athletic build and the ones from older generations can be distinguished by their distinctive tattoos and piercings.
As a matter of fact, all Naga communities had these practices but others converted to Christianity and adopted modern lifestyle ages ago while Konyaks were somewhat resistant to change and they were the last ones in the region to adopt modern practices. This is why, still a lot of elderly Konyaks remaining, who used were involved in those practices till as late as 1960s. It is only a matter of time though and the newer generations have moved on to a more mainstream lifestyle.
So, the Mon district of Nagaland is the primary habitat of the Konyaks and it is centered around the town of Mon. However, the name actually derives from the village of Mon, which is located near the town. It is a major village and the people of this village initially donated land to build the town. There are several other Konyak villages out here and some of them like Longwa and Hongphoi are regularly frequented by tourists for a more authentic Konyak experience as Mon has become more modern.
You can check the map above for a clear idea but let me simply say that Mon is reachable easily from towns of upper Assam like Sivasagar and Dibrugarh instead of Kohima or Dimapur. The interior roads of Nagaland are not in good shape and highways of Assam are much easier. The remaining villages you can visit later from Mon Town.
Mon & Longwa Road Conditions
As per my experience, the road from Sivasagar to Mon town was pretty decent while Mon to the villages of Hongphoi and Longwa were challenging. As usual, the roads inside Nagaland are not that good. However, it was still not that bad considering the the horror stories I had heard. It may be because it was the dry winter season and I am sure it will be much worse if it rains.
How to Reach Mon & Longwa?
There are some overnight buses from Dimapur to Mon. Reaching Mon is easier from the Sivasagar district of Assam than from Kohima. However, direct transports are unlikely from Sivasagar City although there may be one or two options from the Sonari town nearer to the border. If you are travelling from Assam on local transport, you can cross Sonari and reach Namtola-Tizit (Namtola is on the Assam side while crossing the Nagaland border you reach Tizit). From Tizit you can find local shared cars to Mon town. From Mon, you will find morning shared cars to villages like Longwa and Hongphoi. I am sure they will be packed like hell and it will be easier if you have a vehicle at your disposal.
Main Places to visit in Mon
Mon Town & Village
To be hones, there isn’t much in Mon Town. It is a dusty little town that is the gateway to more important villages and you may have to spend the first night here. The original Mon village is nearby.
Longwa: The trans-boundary village
Longwa is the famous “trans-boundary” village in Mon. One half of it is in India while the other half is in Myanmar. In fact, the house of the Angh (The Village Head) itself is located on the line. You can explore the land of the Konyaks and their lifestyle from a close range here. There are many interesting places within the village such as the workshop of the local gunsmith as well as the blacksmith, and of course, the house of the Angh, that is visited regularly by tourists. There is a homestay or two here so you can stay here too. However, the original Aangh of Longwa has passed away a few years ago and the current Aang is a pretty young person.
Hongphoi is your best chance to spot the traditional “tattooed headhunters”. There are several elderly Konyaks, in their 80s or more, tend to gather at the place of the Aangh here at the center of the village. This is exactly where you get those classic portraits of Konyaks.
Shangnyu is another prominent village in Mon. The ancient wood carvings originally placed at the house of the Angh’s house has mythical stories related to them. They have now been moved to a nearby museum. Some stone monoliths dating back to ancient times can also be seen here.
It is the highest peak in the district, around 70 km away from Mon town. On a clear day, you can see both Brahmaputra (Assam) and Chindwin (Myanmar) rivers. There is also a waterfall near the peak. The British soldiers set up their first camp here and started opium cultivation.
Mon Distance Chart
Sivasagar to Mon 110 KMs
Sonari to Mon 65 KMs
Tizit to Mon 47 KMs
Dibrugarh to Mon 142 KMs
Dimapur to Mon 271 KMs
Kohima to Mon (via Assam) 351 KMs
Mon to Longwa 44 KMs
Mon to Hongphoi 10-12 KMs
Where to Stay in Mon?
Mon town has a few basic guesthouses. We stayed in one called Paramount Guesthouse. Basic amenities and food should be available. The town of Mon also has a few restaurants. Mon is expensive though. Even the basic double room can cost anything between 1500-3000 depending on demand and season.
Where to Stay in Longwa?
Longwa has at least 3 homestays. We stayed in a place called The Traveller’s Inn, located just opposite the house of Aangh! It was a great setting and surprisingly, we also got very good food, a combination of local items and mainstream Indian food.
Can I stay in Hongphui?
As of now, I am not aware of any stay options in Hongphoi. It is not far from Mon and is generally done as a day trip.
Do we need ILP for Mon?
Of course, Indians need ILP for Nagaland. The foreigners on the other hand, need to register with local police once they arrive. Read this post to know how to get Nagaland ILP online.
Can we cross over to Myanmar?
Longwa is located on both sides of the border. The original Konyak Homeland is spread across India as well as Myanmar. So, the local Konyaks are allowed to go to the Konyak villages in Myanmar too. However, this is only for the locals. Outsiders cannot go beyond Longwa.
What to Buy on Mon & Longwa?
Tourists normally buy handicrafts like wood and metalwork and jewellery made by local people. In Longwa, you will find a lot of local women selling such stuff.
Phone and Data Connectivity in Mon & Longwa?
Phone and data connectivity is surprisingly good in Mon. My airtel 4G was working perfectly fine out there. It even worked in Hongphoi and worked intermittently in Longwa but that is because of regular powercuts. At Longwa you may accidentally get signal from Myanmar.
Is Mon Safe for Travel?
Yes, but do keep a few things in mind. Do not expect it to be like the Hornbill Festival. It is a land that is literally remote and not everyone is used to tourism. Also, there will be several checkposts by local cops as well as army but till you have valid documents, you should be fine. The NSCN has a significant presence here but they are going through negotiations with the government for the peace process. Also, hunting is a way of life here and you will see a lot of local boys carrying handmade guns. So, don’t get alarmed and just visit the gunsmith in Longwa instead ;).
So, prepare carefully and do not say more than you need to. Be respectful to local customs and know what to ask and when to stop. Ideally, it is a good idea to have a local contact, like a local tour operator or homestay owner to call if you get stuck somewhere.
Can you suggest someone to plan a trip for Mon?
Visiting Mon on your own is possible but can be difficult. If you need help, you can always contact someone like HolidayScout who can arrange everything for you.