Memories of my past travels: The Indian and South East Asian connection
by Joel B. Belinan
Even before my first travel to India in 1990, I have read several books about the North East Indian territories bordering Burma (now Myanmar). At one time in New Delhi I accidentally passed through a compound with “Nagaland House” written on its gate. Curious, I went inside without any problem. Perhaps because my appearance was very similar to the Nagaland people. The Nagaland House, as it turned out, was a coordination center for the Nagaland government in the capital. When I was in Kolkata later, I happened to meet a Nagaland fellow in our Ananda Marga compound, with whom I tried to engage in a conversation in Kankana-ey as I mistook him for an Igorot due to his physical features. He reacted by saying, “I am sorry, but I can’t understand you.”
Thus, I was teased by my Filipino colleagues: “When we saw you approaching that guy, we knew you mistook him for an Igorot.” The next morning I chanced upon the same guy on the same spot and I invited him for a snack in a canteen nearby where we could talk properly. He introduced himself as Oken Jet and he was the chief instructor of the Japan Karate Association in Kojima City, the capital city of Nagaland. According to him Nagaland was a state of India which might have been the least populated. By his narration, Nagaland was very similar to the Cordillera as to topography and climate, and the Nagaland people were also composed of several tribes like Cordillerans. Surprisingly, they were Christians, particularly of the Baptist denomination due to the work of Baptist missionaries from the United States.
Being an avid Martial Arts practitioner myself (I also started with karate) we immediately became friends. He invited me to visit Kojima, which I did in 1993 and I met him there again. All the things he said about the place and its people were correct. The people looked like us, even their woven clothes or fabrics were similar to what we have here. Being there, I felt as if I was in Baguio, except for the architectural designs around.
Nagaland state has a common border with Myanmar, the entry point of the Japanese backed Indian National Army (INA) during the Second World War. Unfortunately, the INA was eventually defeated by the British Forces in Kojima and their Leader Subhash Chandra Bose died when the plane ferrying him to an unknown destination crashed somewhere on the outskirts of the Himalayas.
My two-day stint in Kojima was very short for a curious traveler like me but I never got another chance to revisit the place. Maybe in the future if the universal force will allow it as it has been in the corner of my mind for almost 30 years already.
I also extensively traveled around the South East Asian countries but only a few things are fresh in my memory. One was my visit to Bandung, Indonesia in 1991. From our office in Singapore we went there with a colleague from Baguio as martial arts Instructors in a camping activity for Ananda Marga volunteers in that country. But let me describe Bandung City first. It’s the equivalent of Baguio. It was their summer capital located on a high mountainous area. From Jakarta (the capital), it took us almost 4 hours by train to get there. We were greeted by a cool breeze from the city’s pine forests. Having been traveling around India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan which were basically hot that time, it was really refreshing and re-invigorating to stay for a few days in Bandung City. After the few hours we spent teaching martial arts to the campers, I had enough time roaming around the nearby hills and forests. Unfortunately, the negatives of the photo documentation I did were destroyed save for a few. The 1990s were still film days.
Another place I visited that was very similar to Baguio was the Cameron Highland in Malaysia. Named after William Cameron, a geologist commissioned by the British Colonial Government in the 1930s to map the area, Cameron Highland eventually was developed by the British as their Hill Station or resort for their tropically weathered and fatigued troops. It was their answer to the Bandung Hill Station of the Dutch Colonial Government in Indonesia and Baguio City, the summer Capital and recreation city for the Americans in the Philippines. Like Baguio, Cameron Highland was a very small town, the smallest in Pahang State, Malaysia. Its climate is very similar to Baguio City’s, being also on a mountainous area. The first fruits that caught my attention were fresh strawberries being sold in a shop. Like the Malaysian population which was very small compared to ours, the Cameron Highland population was also very small compared to Baguio’s.
One of the things I tried to observe while traveling were the capital cities. Among the South East Asian cities with similarities are the cities of Jakarta in Indonesia and Bangkok in Thailand. They had similar problems like those in Metro Manila. During those years (early 90s), Bangkok was considered the traffic capital of the world and Jakarta was not far behind. Thailand back then was almost catching up with the population explosion of the Philippines but due to the aggressive population control program that started in the mid-90s, it got its population growth under control. That was not the case in Indonesia which is now ranked as the fourth most populous country in the world, the worst in South East Asia and in Muslim countries around this planet.
During my first travel to Bangkok, I spent three hours in a bus from the airport to our Ananda Marga Yoga House in Ramkangheng. But I was informed that at other times, it could take 10 hours due to traffic. But aggressive government programs that started in 1995 made miracles and the traffic capital title has become inappropriate. During my last travel there, called the City of Smile, moving from one area to another became very convenient with the slum dwellings along highways having disappeared, skyways were built, and the Bangkok River was cleaned to become another avenue of transport.
On those almost six years of traveling though, my best memories were on Ananda Nagar (City of Joy), the Global and spiritual center of Ananda Marga yoga Society. But we’ll talk about that later. **