Sneha Kar’s Travel Photographs Of Northeast India, Artistically Highlights Its Untapped Beauty

As they say, “Good things in life happen to you when you are busy making other plans,” right? Well, something similar happened to Bangalore-based photographer Sneha Kar. You might know her through her vibrant wedding and lifestyle pictures that have appeared in publications like Travel + Leisure and more, but there is more to her than just wedding photographs. And her recent visit to Shillong and Nagaland displays just that—interesting images that show us a part of India that most of us haven’t experienced yet.

Cracking the egg

How did this trip to Northeast India come about? “The past year has been interesting and tumultuous, to say the least. Many a lesson learnt and countless new adventures began. Somewhere amidst all the chaos, the mountains were calling. Around the time I heard of NH7’s schedule (the concert took place recently in Meghalaya last month). Without much thought, I went ahead and booked the tickets. Further, visiting a music festival solo is not something I had done before. I had time in hand, post the festival and decided to meet an old classmate from college in Nagaland. What started as a catch-up plan went on to become a road trip with friends,” Kar adds.

To add some perspective, Kar travelled to Meghalaya and attended the NH7 Weekender, and then she visited about five districts in Nagaland and ended the trip with a wedding she shot in Nagaland.

The festival took place at Jaintia hills, and a family let her camp in their front yard (for security purposes) since she was alone. They were extremely warm people, and she ended up crashing on their sofa on the first night she was there. They fed her, let her use their bathroom, served endless cups of tea and their daughters even accompanied her on walks. “I met a whole bunch of interesting people at the festival too. Come to think of it, I probably would not have interacted with most of these people if I had travelled in a group,” she clarifies.

From there, Kar travelled to Dimapur to meet her friends (her classmates back in college). Soon after that, she rushed for a couple portfolio shoot. The couple Lito and Yepeto adorned their traditional attires and she made the most of whatever light she could use while avoiding the rain. “I was excited that the couple obliged to wear their traditional outfits for the shoot. Ever since Christianity became a way of life in Nagaland, the norm is that of a white wedding and these traditional outfits are mostly a thing of the past,” she explains.

Sneha Kar

They did the shoot in her friend’s backyard and the session ended in conversations and tea. Interesting, her friend also had an Airbnb ‘kind of a space’ called Soniki Homestay. “The place was such a fresh breath of air in the otherwise dusty and chaotic Dimapur,” she says while taking a deep breath. Later that week, she shot their wedding in Dimapur.

Kar and her partners in crime had sketched a few plans to travel together for about ten days. Owing to the weather conditions, road conditions or the lack of it and impending elections their ideas got shuffled. But they made the most of it and covered the districts of Dimapur, Mokokchung, Wokha, Kohima and Phek. “It’s getting to one place from another that takes up most of the time,” she complains. They stayed at the homes of her friend’s generous uncles and aunts in most of these places, where she had endless conversations over a variety of overwhelming food and lots of pheka (black tea). “It was like one big happy family affair,” she tells us. Kar was even given a Naga name. They called her Khrievinuo, meaning, easy to love or lovable. “Though we missed seeing the Amur falcons in Wokha this time, we indulged in the local night market. There were food and game stalls. It was like being back at the school fete. In Khonoma, we were guests to the home of Nuthonoh and her son Vikho’s traditional house from the Angami tribe. Every object in the house had stories of yore. We soaked ourselves by the fire with stories and home-brewed rice beer. The lady of the house gifted me a vintage traditional sash as a token,” she recollects with a smile.

The takeaway  

“The more I interacted with people from other parts of India, who attended NH7, the more I realised how poorly informed we are of the Northeastern states,” she points out. Adding, “They are constantly bracketed within forced narratives, narrow agendas and preconceived notions. They are not the extreme, dog meat eating clan they are made to be. They are so much more than that. Simple, warm hill people who are ever so grateful when not judged with a one track mind. These places are so steeped in history, culture, folklore and breath-taking landscape. To travel around here in its entirety would easily take a few years. The pages of my journal are filled with stories, memories, dried flowers and ferns and a whole lot of warmth. I cannot wait to head back there with more time and explore.”

A different view

Apart from the pictures and the culture soaking she was impressed with the way waste management was handled at NH7! “The local ladies were like ninjas scooping up all the mess left behind during the festival. This is one thing about people in the hills, they know how to keep their surroundings clean! There is this discipline to their everyday life that I would like to imbibe. I also read on the NH7 page that they in collaboration with Skrap managed to recycle and repurpose 79 per cent of the total generated waste of 7830 kilograms,” she clarifies.

“Another interesting experience was that of unmanned shops on our way to Kohima from Phek. There are these step-like structures on the side of the road that had different products like fruits, vegetables and more on it with a small paper indicating the price of the product. If you would like to buy the product, simply put the money in the box next to the product and take it home. I wish we progress towards times when these things are a norm. Our claustrophobic city lives could really use some old world charm,” ends Kar.

Here are some of the captures from the trip.

The venue for this year’s NH7 Meghalaya was gorgeous. Also, ninja-like ladies such as the one in the photograph ensured the place remained clean. When are we going to be responsible for the waste we create?
Jaintia Hills as a venue for a music festival was all things right.
Steve Vai at NH7 Meghalaya. The energy was so infectious.
Doyang Dam. It’s a pity what havoc these plastic bottles create. Time to ban them already.
Mesmerising Doyang dam in Wokha. It truly was a sight to behold.
Catch of the day being smoked in woodfire while we wait for our hot cup of tea.
We headed to Wokha hoping to see the Amur falcons. Thanks to the untimely rain this year their schedule was a bit haywire. We did catch a glimpse of one flying high up in the sky but that was about it.
The markets of Kohima could be an overwhelming experience for the faint-hearted. Creepy crawlies in every shape and size is available. But they are into their greens, herbs and vegetables with the same gusto as well.
Kohima town dotted with a zillion buildings.
The full moon rising and painting Kohima town with some glitter.
This is Phek district in Nagaland. It felt like Christmas morning. The slow drizzle was so magical.
Evenings in sleepy hill towns be like this.
Unmanned shops on our way to Kohima from Phek. We were told that they leave enough produce for a week to be sold and collect their money a week later.
Winter is coming. The pumpkin sun-bathing under the warm winter light in Khonoma.
Football is a way of life here. Most houses we visited had photographs of football players from magazines stuck on their walls.
This is Nuthonoh. She welcomed us into her home and shared many stories. Her carefree laughter still rings in my ears. When I grow old, I hope I am a little like her.
Khonoma is dotted with village circles for the village folks to interact in the evenings.
Nuthonoh’s son Vikho ensured our glasses were refilled with rice beer he made.
They store their harvest of rice in these gargantuan storage baskets they weave. The horns in the background are those of Mithun (from the Indian bison/Gaur family/semi-domesticated)
Nuthonoh’s quaint little kitchen corner in her one-room hut.
This is how they protect themselves from the rain when they go out hunting or farming.
Vikho shows us a photograph of his father who used to be a mentor of sorts to young boys in the village in his time.
A corner in Nuthonoh and Vikho’s house. Do not miss their collection of cassettes. Also, Nagaland is a so-called dry state. You know what they say of dry states in this country. Generally, these states report the highest consumption of alcohol.
Lito, the bride explains that the attire belongs to the Sumi tribe from Nagaland. Their ancestors were headhunters. The headgear and earing are known as Akutsukukha and Tsukkoli. These were generally adorned with winning the battle and by the women from the household of the village chief and warriors.
Under the cloudy Nagamese sky.
Lito and Yepeto in their traditional attire. These days its is a fashion accessory reserved for special occasions.

 

View all the pictures from her trip on her Instagram page here.

Follow Coffee Stains here.

Follow her personal website here.

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