Jatinga, a scenic village nestled among the Borail Hills range in the Dima Hasao District of Assam, is known for a strange eerie phenomenon. During misty and foggy days in the months of September to November, each year, thousands of birds come to this valley and crash to their death. As the sun sets, a huge number of birds descend on the village and fly full speed, smashing against buildings and trees, to drop dead.
People from all over the world come to see this mysterious annual phenomenon of suicide by disoriented birds, which lies unexplained so far. The renowned ornithologist Dr Salim Ali had noted,
“The most puzzling thing about the phenomenon is that so many species of diurnal resident birds are on the move when, by definition, they should be first asleep.”
This weird mass suicide phenomenon of birds has earned Jatinga the name of Death Valley for Birds.
Besides being known for the Jatinga Bird mystery, Dima Hasao, in the heart of Assam, is beset with breath-taking natural beauty. With Nagaland and Manipur to its east, Meghalaya to its west, Cachar District (Assam) to its south, and Karbi Anglong and Naogaon Districts (Assam) to its north, this magical land, full of hills and valleys intersected by rivers, and abundant in flora and fauna instantly casts a captivating spell on the visitors.
My first visit to this hill district of Assam was way back in 1953, The train journey on a hill section from Lumding to Badarpur and back through the cliffs and curves on metre gauge rails with consecutive long tunnels, had mesmerized me so much that I harboured a dream to revisit this paradise on earth again.
In 2010, I got a chance to see this dreamland again, after this District was designated as Dima Hasao Autonomous District. I boarded the Barak Valley Express for Lumding from Silchar. Haflong the hilly District Headquarter town of Dima Hasao, encircled by the lofty and imposing Borail Hills Range, served as the base for my stay.
During my stay in Dima Hasao, I found many diverse ethnic groups living together harmoniously in the small geographical area. They communicated among themselves with ease and warmth in a dialect commonly known as ‘Haflong Hindi‘.
Maibang was the first place on my itinerary. Maibang, located on the bank of Mahur River, presents its picturesque landscape with its green carpet of paddy fields. It is a historical place that served as the 16th century capital of the Kingdom of Dimasa Kacharis, an Indo Mongoloid group that had settled in the northern half of Dima Hasao. Maibang still retained the position as the granary of the District.
The Zeme Nagas migrated to Dima Hasao from Nagaland, settled in the south of Maibang on the breezy hilltops and developed their own customs and culture. The Kukis and Hmars of the Tibeto –Burmese stock migrated from Burma to Dima Hasao and settled in the high Borail Hills Range. They retained many of their traditional ways of life in their new homes of Dima Hasao. The Hmar women turned out to be dexterous weavers in their indigenous loin looms.
The Khasi-Pnars, a matrilineal Jaintia tribe, settled in the lush Jatinga River Valley to the south of Haflong. Unlike some other tribes of Dima Hasao they practise permanent cultivation and grew luscious fruits like oranges, lemons, plums, litchis and pineapples.
My next travel plan was to go up to Garampani (Hot spring), the water of which is believed to have medicinal value. The Dimasas, Karbies and Biates generally lived in this part, which is the westernmost place on the border with the Jaintia Hills, District of Meghalaya.
The Karbies, a Tibeto-Burmese race, are unique because of their migratory character. They practised ‘jhumming’ (shifting cultivation) in which the whole village is involved and harvesting ís done in a cooperative manner. The Karbies would often leave behind a whole village with schools, roads and wells, never to be used again, for new pastures.
I found from my visit to Dima Hasao that each group of people whether tribal or non-tribal who migrated to this serene land and made it their permanent abode had a great love for Nature, a desire to live and work in harmony with the fellow human beings, an independent spirit and a keenness for innovation.
I concluded my sojourn of Dima Hasao by a visit to the picturesque Jatinga village on a clear summer day. The village overlooking the Jatinga Valley, hardly a few kilometres to the east of Haflong, is on a spur of the Haflong ridge, which itself is an offshoot of the main ridge of the Borail Hills Range. The lush Jatinga Valley made so green by the heavy rainfall lay in all its splendour before my eyes.
A board of the Forest Department at the quaint Jatinga village read:
Welcome to the Coming Birds
Let Them Live and Add Attraction
To The Jatinga Valley.
Incredible N C Hills: Through Lens, Zahid Ahmed Tapadar, Department of Information and Public Relations
This article is contributed by Bhudeb Chakrabarti, Dy IG (Retd) CRPF. He has commanded several Operational and Administrative functions in the force and has imparted training to gazetted officers of CRPF and other central & state police forces.
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