philosophical road signs

signs of Nagaland

The road signs all over India l find quite amusing, but Nagaland takes it to a new level — not content to advocate save driving practices, they want to tell you how to live a good life too.  I only have photos of ones l liked, which means the really paternalistic or sappy messages are missing — there is no way l could capture all of them anyway: on the road from Kohima (the capital) headed west, there is a new sign every 500m or so. And one fo the villages along the way added their own signs with famous quotations — everyone from Ayn Rand to Karl Marx and everything you could think of inbetween.  If youre going to have billboards its a good way to go l guess…

in the hills again

a brief sojourn in Nagaland

My some-time traveling companion Matt loves the ocean, lives for it in a way. And can’t bear to be away from it’s presence for too long.  But its’s the mountains which call to me. Too long in the flat lands and l start to get restless, grumpy — especially when bike touring. So grinding through hot, flat Assam l was continually teased by the hazy contours of the highlands to the north. The eastern extension of the Himalaya/Tibetan plateau in Anarchal Pradesh. A state which, due to its proximity to the contested border with China, was for all intents and purposes closed to me. It is possible to get a permit to travel there — but you’re expected to have a guide, and an itinerary, and a group. Some one more adept at hoop-jumping and subterfuge, could no doubt have arranged the paperwork — but l, who, find even the day to day bureaucracy of presenting my passport while checking in at hotels trying, didn’t even make an attempt.
Locked out of the Himalaya ( actually think its a different mountain range — but obviously the work of the same massive tectonic uplift) by meaningless power struggles over imaginary lines — l did the next best thing, and pushed east toward the hill country of Nagaland. It’s hard to describe how happy l was to find my self climbing again (and steeply!) after a month or so in the flatlands. The Hills began literally at the state line, and with them a new ecosystem, and culture. So l spent the next couple of days winding my way upwards, through a strange sort of mixed forest, palm and bamboo, and pine and rhododendron, with a few cactus thrown in. Arriving in a world where all towns and roads perched on misty ridge tops — taking advantage of the only semblance of flat ground.

 

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unknown celebrity

flat lands and boundless hospitality in Assam

Littered across the landscape of northern India are literally thousands of photos of me.  With or without my ‘cycle’ as they call it here ( the pronunciation sounding something more like “sickle”), and often in poses of great familiarity with complete strangers.  The images are mostly blurry and pixilated camera-phone ‘snaps’ —  indifferently composed and poorly lit.  None the less, the photographers seem universally thrilled with their work — insisting on showing me the pics (expecting  interest/admiration).  Sometimes, when a crowd gathers and everyone gets excited, — people start taking pictures of people they don’t know posed with me. And other times, particularly in rural areas, large groups of people — presumably without cellphones — will line up to be photographed (one at a time) by a friend or acquaintance so equipped — though it is unclear how or when they will ever see the photos.

If properly curated, a collection of the work of this informal paparazzi would be a fascinating socio-cultural document.  I’ve traveled in other places where cell-phones were relatively new and high status. Places where my long hair, skin color, style of dress, or mode of transport stood out as much as they do here.  But never before has the mere fact of my being, been enough to elevate me to celebrity status.  For the record l have only been asked for my auto graph once, but the crowds that gather to watch with keen interest the banal trivialities of my day to day life surely put me in at least the same universe as brad and angelena and company (right?).  A relatively quiet and shy person,  l find the attention overwhelming at times ( especially when l am calorie deficient and accordingly ‘hangry’), but l have long since resigned myself to it, and do my best to receive it in the spirit with which it is given.

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