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Himalaya

Ep 6: Tea planters and Head Hunters


At the Kaziranga game reserve Michael boards an elephant to visit the last great sanctuary of the Indian rhino, famed and endangered alas - for its aphrodisiac qualities.

Here, where the first foothills rise up from the Indian plains, tigers still abound.

Travelling by mahout and large mammal we eventually find the steamer that goes up the Brahmaputra to the tea plantations of Assam.

This is the wettest place on earth 20 metres a year and at the old raj town of Shillong Michael takes part in the strangest of gambling contests: Shillong archery.

Staying in tea planters houses en route towards Dibrugarh, Michael learns of the history of this remotest province of India - Arunachal Pradesh, cut off by distance and insurrection from the main body of the country.

The obligatory travel permits and chaotic transport systems make this the least known area of the Himalaya.

Michael passes through the highland rainforest with its numerous tribal groups who are closer ethnically to those of neighbouring Burma.

At the forest lodge on the Burmese border Michael meets up with John Edwards, an Englishman married to a Naga princess. He introduces Michael to his head-hunting relatives and there ensues a succession of boozy nights and ripping yarns as he rests in the communal long houses that straddle this sensitive opium-rich border.

Leaving the tribesmen and the rain forests Michael now heads down the Bramaputra to the alluvial plains of floodprone Bangladesh a country known to all, yet seen by few.

Here the great river that started life in countless Himalayan torrents ramifies into lazy waterways that debouch into the Bay of Bengal. The monsoon is coming.

As the rickshaw drivers of Dacca sweat through the crowded streets and stranded redundant supertankers are taken apart by low-paid armies of demolition workers on the beaches of Chittagong, Michael waits for the drenching that must surely come.


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