Welcome to Jessami, a remote village in Manipur

In December 2018, we visited Manipur for a little over a week. This was the first time we visited this beautiful North eastern state of India. Though our primary focus was to explore Manipur’s wildlife and forests, an equally exciting venture was getting to know more about Manipur’s people.

Culturally, Manipur is extremely diverse. According to our guide, the locals have two main identities: Manipuri people from the plains and the Hill people. Unfortunately the two groups are not in the best terms with each other. Hill people are mostly of Naga descent, Christians and living in remote areas of Manipur, while the ones who live in the plains are mostly Hindus and Muslims and they call themselves “Manipuris”. Judging by their physical features, both plain and hill people seem to have common ethnic origins (though I have read that this is being contested). Linguistic diversity in Manipur is mind-blowing. For example, each village in the hills speak a different dialect and it is completely possible to not understand the language of your own neighbouring village.

There was considerable army presence in the state. The locals did warn us that some remote routes may be vulnerable to insurgency attacks and gave us tips on which routes and locations to avoid. However, all of the places we visited were more or less peaceful.

On 17 December, we made our way to Jessami, a remote village in Manipur. Located in Ukhrul district, Jessami is a border village in the extreme north of Manipur State and is a stone’s throw away from Nagaland State. The route to Jessami was a long one and it took us 6-7 hours to reach there from Shirui. The road to Jessami meandered through many small villages and forest patches where we stopped to bird.

Raphei was a junction where the roads split in three ways. This was roughly the half way point for Jessami. After a lunch stop over there, we proceeded. From here onwards, the route was more desolate. Since the area was (apparently) sensitive to attacks by insurgency groups, the entire route had multiple army check-points, some were at the townships while the others were in the middle of the forest route.

An army check-point in a small township.

And at almost all check-points, the army personnel were surprised and more so amused, that we were “tourists” who travelled to such remote areas to see birds. Some were also thrilled to see us as we hailed from the same city or state as them. We reached Jessami at around 6pm. It was quaint little hilly village with a small population.

The lovely village of Jessami

Houses were mostly made of wood, sometimes with tin or asbestos sheets on top. Each house typically had a small flower garden outside which was bursting with blooming flowers. It was raining and since there was no network there, there was no way to “confirm” our accommodation in prior. A quick recce indicated there were 3 possible accommodations available, two of which did not have toilets. The third one (which we chose) had a toilet below the house.

A young family hosted us; they had 4 rooms in the top half of their house. Since our group comprised mostly of vegetarians, the hosts, like the other locals we met found it difficult to decide what to make for us. But they prepared the scrumptious meal of squash and leaves, daal, rice, potato sabji, egg burjij, beans and squash mix, spicy chutney (made from local leaves, shoots and roots).

Guess what is what! The menu is written just above the photo.

After an early dinner, we made our way to the rooms.

A precarious (almost vertical) stairs that led to the rooms.

Each of the rooms had two beds with mattresses, blankets, one switch for light and one-charging point. Electricity would be there for 2-3 hours after which we rely on torches.

Our comfortable rooms, that kept us warm from the cold and rain.

It had rained all night and was raining even in the morning. The toilet was down below next to the animal pen, and here was the interesting route to reach it.

The video ends with reaching the toilet (the interesting route to reach the toilet)

Unfortunately, our plan of birding in and around the area was out of question since the rain did not stop. Bird activity was almost nil. But nevertheless, we enjoyed walking around. We were close to the forests and there was only one main road, that led to the village and that left the village. The “remoteness” of the location was felt by us. Curious onlookers smiled at us. Some families were packing their bags and making their way to bigger towns to spend Christmas.

Post breakfast, we said our goodbyes to this beautiful village and headed back to Shirui. As the rains became less, we had some occasional bird sightings which included Asian Barred Owlet, Streaked Spider hunter, Large Hawk Cuckoo. We halted at Raphei market place for lunch and discussed our new fond memories of Jessami.

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My name is Adithi Muralidhar. I am a nature enthusiast based in Mumbai, India.

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