The high point of my early childhood days in India’s northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh were those amazing mountain treks to hidden Himalayan villages in the company of innocent, yet, very fascinating tribal Monpas. Now, decades of living in metropolitan India has meant that most of the details are blurry, but two outstanding memories are forever etched in my memory – the ravishingly beautiful young Monpa lady coming to greet my mom “Good Morning Memsahib”, weathering the snowy terrain with a bunch of hugely shaped Tawang Rose and observing those hardy hands of Monpa farmers engaged in “Jhum Cultivation”.
Today, looking at the present-day jet-set lifestyle of the contemporary human race, starved of emotional cultural experiences, I feel so fortunate to have been blessed with such exceptional memories.
Many people worldwide might as well be harboring dreams of experiencing such a high-altitude ranch experience at least once in their lifetime. Well, how about a truly indigenous Indian dude ranch experience in the backyard of India’s Northeast? Sounds too good to be true. Ain’t it? Yet, let me tell you, it is perfectly possible. You don’t have to go searching for a luxury cowboy ranch in the US.
A typical American dude ranch holiday is all about safeguarding the romance of the Wild West and conjuring up dreams of mucky roads, rugged accommodations and roughing it up in the wilderness. All these and much more at India’s very own cowboy-style ranch – Abor Country Travels & Expeditions.
Out here in this part of India’s remote Northeastern state where Abor Country is located, the linens are plush, adventures are guided, Himalayan tours are immersive and the cuisine is farm-to-table, all these in an incredible natural setting.
My good friend Oken Tayeng, founder of Abor Country; and many in India’s tourism industry regard him as the Blue-Eyed Boy of India tourism, has by setting up this one-of-a-kind eco-ranch, offered perhaps one of India’s truly outstanding indigenous “Indian Cowboy Vacation” product that stands out distinctively from the crowded hospitality landscape.
The entire Northeast is so different from other parts of India and it wouldn’t be wrong to say that culturally the region is more Westernized than anywhere else. Christian missionaries in the 19th and early 20th centuries were very active and today 86% of the population of Mizoram, 67% in Nagaland and 47% of the population of Meghalaya are Christians. Youths of North East grow up listening to Guns & Roses, Metallica, Pink Floyd, and what have you, and most of them go through this phase – “I wanna be a cowboy someday when I am grown-up”.
My good friend Oken Tayeng has so beautifully conceptualized the idea of setting up a quintessential indigenous Northeast Indian luxury cowboy ranch-like eco-camp that the world of tourism couldn’t stop marveling to the spirit and vision of this rather fun-loving outdoors guy from Pasighat. At his indigenous ranch Abor Country, he has merged the very best of the region’s native tribal vernacular architectural features with that of the Wild West.
Oken’s standalone idea of coming up with Abor Country deep inside India’s remote Northeast and selling the romance of the cowboy life has caught the attention of people who truly love the outdoors and wilderness. You have all the options to indulge in physically demanding tasks out here – river rafting, Himalayan treks, homestay options with unknown but fascinating tribals and what is more, if you want to go that extra mile, Oken will take you on guided tours to American World War II plane crash sites.
Please be informed that India’s Northeast was the epicentre of WWII and the battle of Kohima and Imphal, were the bloodiest. It is in the Northeast that Allied Army lost most of its fighter aircraft. War veterans are of the opinion that over 500 planes were lost. Most of the pilots were of American origin!
Overcoming the dense jungles of India’s Northeast isn’t a cakewalk – the lurking fear of wild animals, shallowly marshes, surviving on minimal foodstuff, and sometimes trekking for days on end!
How is that for a genuine “Wild West Cowboy” vacation right here in India?
Oken knows the geography of the Northeast by the tip of his fingers and has been assisting Clayton Kuhles, a US citizen who is on a mission to unearth and recover the leftovers of WWII fighter aircraft and identify those US airmen who perished in WWII. In my long two-decades-long occupation as a travel journalist, I am yet to come across an Indian adventurer who truly epitomizes the “Cowboy Spirit” and what a stupendous service he is providing to US Defense in its efforts to bring to closure all the existing “Missing in Action” airmen.
UK’s National Army Museum has officially declared that the Battles of Imphal and Kohima were the most grueling and has been acknowledged as “Britain’s Greatest Battle”.
The Cowboy in you, if you muster up the courage and are determined to leave civilization behind to unravel the hidden debris of WWII allied aircraft, Oken will take you on an unparalleled adventure beyond compare. The trip is inclusive of visits to WWII airfield, war cemeteries, Nunshigum battlefield. Of great significance is the visit to the quaint town Ningthoukhong, which has been conferred with two Victoria Cross awards way back in 1944.
Cowboy is symbolic of a spirit of independence and just as the American cowboy lives life to the fullest, India’s very own indigenous Cowboy – Oken Tayeng too has given shape to the Indian Cowboy version by blending the centuries-old tribal culture of India’s Northeast with that of the Wild West.
For all those men of substance, strength and courage in search of adrenalin pumping, life-transforming adventure holidays, Oken Tayeng, Abor Country Resort’s founder is a certified contractor and a proud recipient of the “Certificate of Excellence” issued by the US Dept. of Defence’ POW/MIA division for offering his invaluable services and expertise in unearthing missing World War II allied fighter aircraft.
War and battles aside, Abor Country River Camp is a serene eco-lodge, located on the banks of the gurgling Siang River that meanders through the town Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh. The rooms are rugged, predominantly bamboo and wood furnishings. Food is organic and even the water you drink comes from the natural spring. No wonder, some of the world’s most renowned lifestyle & travel publications like Nat Geo Traveller, Lonely Planet and Conde Nast Traveller have all carried exclusive coverage of this extraordinary indigenous Northeastern ranch.
If you are activity-oriented, Abor Country is just the right place for you – come face to face with head hunters, yeah I am talking of those fearless Ao Nagas! Dive deep into tribal traditions – how the clans practice patriarchal and exogamous lifestyle., the concept of the village chieftain, exotic handloom, and handicrafts of India’s Northeast – how indigenous Northeast fashion designers are carving a niche for themselves in the global fashion landscape.
The tribal people of the Northeast are of a rare breed. By laying anchor at Abor Country, you can embark on a truly epic tribal voyage crisscrossing the seven sister states and the maverick Oken Tayeng will take care of all the logistical support you need to embark upon such a life-changing, transformational adventure. How very exciting it is for today’s contemporary jaded traveler to clinically observe the manner in which these fascinating tribes react to natural phenomena like thunder, drought, earthquake, floods, life and death.
The cowboy is an of American culture alright, but the Indian version prevalent in the Northeast is more colorful, more vibrant and fascinating. For all those Cowboy experience seekers who have done Kansas, Utah, Montana, Dakota, etc. which is where most cowboy ranches are located in the US, a visit to India’s Abor Country could open up a pandora’s box in
terms of diversity.
There is no denying the fact that the centuries-old cowboy lifestyle has evolved into a more corporate model in the US, while in this part of India’s remote Northeast, the spirit of wanderlust hasn’t yet been overly commercialized and has remained more or less pristine.
Cowboy lifestyle in India’s Northeast is kind of folk culture and the tribals have been practicing and passing on their unique traditions and rituals from generation to generation. Oken Tayeng’s remarkable accomplishment as an adventurer at such a young age is that he has successfully positioned India’s indigenous brand of ranching in India’s tourism map.
It is about time the government both at the center as well as the respective states takes a leaf out of Oken’s stellar efforts to brand the Cowboy lifestyle in a truly Indian way. I am optimistic that if 20 such indigenous Indian ranches were to be set up in the Northeast and promoted aggressively in the global media, it could be a game-changer for Northeast Tourism.
It is about time big names of India’s hospitality landscape like The Taj, The Oberois, Pugdundee Safaris, etc. who have magnificent jungle properties spread across wildlife sanctuaries like Ranthambore, Bandhavgarh, Corbett, Kanha, etc. to invest big time in developing and curating indigenous Indian-style luxury ranch properties in India’s Marlboro Land – The Northeast.
Before I conclude, let me bow down in reverence to that ancient Cowboy ancestor who said:
Ranching breeds adventures and adventures breed stories!
Subhasish Chakraborty is a travel writer and has been working as a Travel Journalist for the past two decades and has also been editorially involved with numerous international In-Flight magazines of renowned airlines like Cathy Pacific, Dragon Air, Bhutan Airlines, Air Asia, Airport Authority of India etc. He was also involved with the UNWTO (World Tourism Organization) as a consultant.