- Saptadeepa Bandopadhyay
The Hanging Village of Manipur - Yangkhullen and Willong Khullen
Updated: 6 days ago
The four of us in a 4X4 set on a mysterious journey to find the hanging village of Senapati district which was roughly around 133 km from Manipur's capital city of Imphal. I remember asking Ammo over a conversation, about the beauty of Senapati district. My research about Manipur's must visit places led me to pictures of a paradise-like hill with enormous colorful stretch of cosmos flowers. To this, our host friend from Imphal, Ammo, exclaimed that social media had hyped these locations and cosmos flowers were everywhere around the hills of Manipur. However, this had sowed the seed of exploring Senapati even in his heart.
So on the last day of our trip in Manipur, we took the most unpredictable journey towards Senapati and instead of going to Purul, the famed village for cosmos flower fields, Ammo took the opposite route towards the Mao-Maram subdivision to the much lesser known Zeme Naga Tribal Villages of Willong Khullen and Yangkhullen (Khullen translates to village).
Embarking on an unknown journey
Having started early from our homestay at Imphal, the state capital of Manipur, we had crossed the district hub of Senapati on NH2 and took the left towards the Don Bosco college at Maram town. The road led to NH129A, the national Highway that connected the state of Manipur to Nagaland. After a few miles, we could see that the National Highway was completely broken down and currently under construction.
The fate of the onward journey was bumpy, time consuming and unpredictable! Well, in these terrains of less frequented parts of northeast India we could not even complain about the journey time. There could be many factors for a delay!
There were hardly any vehicles on the route to check if we were heading in the right direction. Every few kilometers, we spotted the labourers working on the road widening project. They were busy blasting rocks with their JCBs standing at almost 80 degrees inclination and felling the cut rocks. This caused a road block of about thirty minutes to an hour. We took a few halts on the route just to stretch our backs. After almost a journey of 2 hours, beyond Maram, we spotted a water stream to wash our selves there after the dusty journey.
A few more kilometers further, the landscapes of the endless blue mountains, and the green paddy fields soothed our souls and brought some relief that we were on the correct route. By noon, we spotted the villages at the mountain cliff which Ammo informed were indeed our destinations for the day. Me and Ayan, my husband were confused yet curious about what is that intrigued Ammo and Inao, our hosts, to take up such a treacherous road trip in a single day!
Entering Willong and Exploring the Megaliths
Soon, we were in Willong, which meant we were very close to Yangkhullen as well. Willong looked nothing special when we jumped out of the car except for the countless giant megalith stones at the entrance of the village. Word has reached at least up-to the state capital about these huge megalith stones, each of which were 6-7 meters tall and 1-2 meters wide. This was what had made our hosts curious about this place.
With no recorded history, this place had made more people curious to explore these tall erect stones which has close resemblance to the Stonehenge of United Kingdom in Europe. Unlike the famous touristy structures of Europe, this place in India did not find too many visitors on a daily basis.
Monoliths are quiet common in any Naga village, around individual properties, at the entrance of some villages which are erected in honor of their ancestors for their goodwill or otherwise, in memory of a family member. Such monoliths usually have inscriptions detailing the motive of the memory stone.
On the contrary, these huge megaliths have nothing written on them to derive any information. Village elders do have their beliefs as these could be the protectors of their village. However, no one seems to know how and when these stones landed here and how are they standing tall over so many years. As these stones surround the village at the edge it also becomes difficult to count them. Some sources claim as to 135 such stones exist but because of similar looking structure, the same stone could be recounted or missed.
Willong Khullen and its typical Naga Homes
We further drove to the Willong village. It was a typical Naga village ,in the sense that, they were making visible efforts to preserve their traditional architecture. The village entrance was marked by a memorial stone in remembrance of the founders and some verses of the bible. Wooden homes with exteriors carved and painted symbolic of hunted animal-heads and horns. It is common to hang a few skulls of buffaloes also known as Mithun at the entrance of the home. Interestingly, these vernacular homes have no windows for ventilation. The thatched roofs are however being replaced by tin shades probably for their durability.
The first section after the entrance is a common area with the fireplace taking the majority of the space with sitting arrangements made surrounding it. Meat is hung over the fireplace which helps preserve it. However we did not find any meat hung instead old animal skulls or jaw bones were displaced all around. Most of the cooking is done over the fireplace where members of a family gather for food, conversations and the warmth of the fire. At one side of the room was a large wooden plank at a height which was earlier used for sleeping. Wooden poles tied typically to the horizontal beams provided support to the entire structure.
Many homes were empty during the day. The adults must have been to their fields for work and kids ran around the village merrily. We could not really strike a conversation with the people. The kids giggled from a distance. They only came closer when offered sweets.
Some doors were left unlatched while some were latched but had no locks, giving a sense of no threats and insecurities exist in the community. Naga tribes believe in community living and work collectively for their surrounding. Younger kids were being cared by older siblings or neighbors. Girls who seemed just about 10 years of age were washing their laundry in the community wash area. Community water storage are a common sight in a Naga village.
We walked up to the highest point of the village where the Catholic Church stood at the extreme edge. As the church was closed we could only admire the village view from its premises. Colorful cosmos flowers surrounding the church premises swayed in the cool breeze.
Onwards to Yangkhullen
After leaving the village, a couple of Kilometers ahead on the national highway, we took a break to have our lunch. Thankfully lunch had been packed from our home-stay in Imphal. Though it had lost its warmth, eating wholesome home-cooked meal in the middle of nowhere was indeed a blessing!
The time was ticking against our wish. We had very little day light left for the further journey. Ammo drove fiercely ahead even though the conditions of the roads worsened. We could see the Yangkhullen village hanging at a height but due to all the construction activities, we missed the correct turn to drive upwards. Fear of being lost slowly crept into my mind, when I mumbled, we should start for the return journey, Inao echoing the same thought.
Thankfully, a shepherd on the way however guided us to the correct turn after we had already come a few miles ahead.
Yangkhullen - The Hanging Village
In no time, the steep serpentine road led to the entrance of the prettiest hanging village called Yangkhullen.
The village had a registration counter for entry of outsiders, which was closed and a board which read 'Photography Prohibited'. With many apprehensions in our minds we carried our mobile phones and camera with the intention to ask someone in the village before clicking any pictures. A short hike through the stone-steps hanging on the mountain slope, we reached the entrance of the village.
This entrance is a picturesque gateway to the fortress like village. The arch of the entrance is formed of stones stacked together and a heavy wooden gate with traditional Naga carvings. A board at the entrance read 'Women are prohibited from standing on the fortress wall'. I was confused if I could climb to the entrance or not. But one oath to respect the local cultures. The men passed through the entrance while I walked at a level lower around the mountain slope to enter the village.
Our misconceptions were soon address when asked a local who said 'Ladies were not allowed to climb the wall' while I thought, 'why would someone want to climb the stone stack, irrespective of the gender, strange signboard'
In the village, little girls were playing around their homes as though imitating household chores performed by adults. They were grinding leaves and flowers and pretend cooking! I tried to interact, but they ignored me, clearly indicating that they would not talk to strangers. This little gesture deported me to my growing up days when we would not let in anyway if my mother wasn't home.
Mamas make same rules, no matter its a remote village or a larger town.
Life around Yangkhullen
Similar Naga style houses like those of Willong were also seen here, however, these were hanging on the slope of the mountain. This village is inhibited by the Zeme Naga tribe who are thriving to preserve their traditions and heritage. Every individual in this village participates collectively for any improvement or construction in the village. All houses are constructed in steps over the slope of the mountain without compromising on their architecture. The Zeme tribe of this village is preserving the old traditions and customs of the Zeme community. The people of this village are also known as the protectors of the surrounding flora and fauna.
Walking around the village we could notice little kitchen gardens where people grew organic vegetables and fruits. Moving higher up in the village we got a beautiful panaromic view of the complete surrounding. The rocky steps were dotted with bushy stretches of the cosmos flowers.
Since the village is being promoted by the state tourism government lately, we found few young men working hard at constructing some traditionally designed home-stays at the far top end of the mountain slope.
This village offered the most dramatic sky views of the shadow season between the monsoons and the Autumn when we visited there. Clouds, rain and sun embraced the sky all together to produce a stunning rainbow as a backdrop of this village.
Our Return Journey to Imphal
The downward descend got a little tricky after the sudden spell of rains but we managed to reach our car.
Time was rushing against our desire to stay longer. The sun was already nearing the horizon. We had to keep in mind about the bad roads and no electric lights on the way. We did stop for a brief thirty minutes to clear a road block caused by felling of stones by the road widening workers. But then continued straight until we hit the Maram town. Our stock of snacks inventory was almost empty by the time we reached Maram and halted for some Cup Maggie and lemon tea. This also helped break the monotony of a tough road journey. We reached Imphal very late that night, but were grateful to Ammo and his new Bolero car for having brought us back in time as we had our return flight booked from Imphal on the next day.
Things to remember before you plan a trip to Yangkhullen
Who should visit - Yangkhullen can be considered as an offbeat destination in Manipur. It is definitely for the people who want to explore beyond tourist trails. If you have covered Imphal, Ukhrul and tourist trails of Purul/Maram in Senapati on your travel, then this is a good option to explore authentic Naga communities.
Who should not visit - If you are a tourist on a relaxed vacation or travelling with older people or little kids, please do not venture this far as the roads are physically challenging even in a good 4X4 vehicle.
Distance and Transportation - Yangkhullen is at a distance of 133 kms from the capital city of Imphal but it can take upto 5 hours for a single way journey. Roads from Maram to Yangkhullen which is roughly about 75 kilometers are completely broken for repair and widening. Thus the journey becomes time consuming at this stretch. Please plan to hire a local cab from Imphal or Senapati District which will cost you around INR 7500 on a return journey. Solo hitchhiking is not a good idea on this route due to scarce mode of transportation and locals do warn of notorious underground elements active in these mountains.
Options for Accommodation - There is not accommodation available currently in Willong Khullen or Yangkhullen for an overnight stay. So plan your return journey before sunset. One can however plan to stay at Senapati town if you wish to break the tiring long journey from Imphal.
Availability of Food - No provisions are made for tourist movement on the NH129A route. However, you can plan to pick some food or snacks from Senapati town or Maram which should be sufficient for a day trip. Do not forget to carry water.
Entry Tickets - No entry restrictions in Willong Khullen but Yangkhullen seems to be developing some Registration counters. When we reached, the counter was closed. However, some young people in the village did insist to get the registration done before entering the village.
**Note - This tour was possible because of the enthusiastic duo from Living Manipur who cater to people looking for curated tours around the state of Manipur and experience life in the authentic sense. (Not a sponsored post)
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