The Singphos are an important tribe inhabiting the North East residing in the Tinsukia district of Assam and Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh. The Singphos are divided into four major groups namely Numpuk Hkawng, Diyun Hkawng, Tieng Hkawng and Turung Hkawng. ‘Hkawng’ means an area and each of these groups is named after a local river. The word ‘Singpho’ literally means ‘man’ and is derived from the Tibetan term ‘sin-po’ which means man of shrewd.
The Singpho’s are mostly an agrarian community and their economy is focussed on cultivation of Paddy, tea and kitchen gardens. They are a culturally rich community with Shapawng Yawng Manau Poi being the major festival celebrated by the Singphos. During this festival the Singpho youths in their traditional wardrobe display colourful dances and the community displays a wide variety of traditional cuisines and liqour.
With eagerness of spreading knowledge of their culture around the world a group of Singho youths formed the Singpho Community based Ecotourism society (SCES) in 2006. With an aim to showcase the culture of their community while preserving it too they built the Singpho Eco Lodge at Inthong village 7 kilometers from Margherita under Dehing Patkai belt of Tinsukia district in Assam. A long driveway through tea bushes lead to the thatched building built along the lines of a traditional Singpho house on the slits. This lodge has eleven spacious double bedrooms, one separate kitchen, on large dining hall which follows a low seating pattern where guests are served an elaborate, yet organic and eco-friendly Singpho dinner that consists of delicacies such as rice steamed in bamboo sticks, spicy tomato chutney, fresh eggplant, greens and potato preparations and yam soup.
The Singpho Eco Lodge is located at the Inthong village near Margherita. It takes around 30 minutes to reach the Singpho Eco Lodge from the route that takes a diversion from the Axom Junior College near Powai or else visitors have to take the diversion route from Segunbari Tinali at Margherita towards the Shyam Talkies in which case the time taken is around 45 minutes from Margherita main town. The first route is preferred as the road condition is better than the later. We had visited the Singpho Eco Lodge in November 2017 with our guest from England who had stayed here for 3 nights and explored the nearby places at Digboi and Margherita (details mentioned in one of our blogs). We had continued from our journey at the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park at Tinsukia to the Singpho Eco Lodge. The village itself where the Singpho Eco Lodge is located is a beautiful countryside surrounded by green paddy fields and lush green tea gardens. We arrived at the Singpho Eco Lodge at around 4 PM to be greeted by the owner of the Singpho Eco Lodge Mr. Majela Singpho, his wife and their son Agam Singpho who prefers to be called as Jawlat.
The entire area around the Singpho Eco Lodge is surrounded by a lush cover of tea gardens and there is a huge signage that welcomes you to the Singpho Eco Lodge. From the main entrance gate the Lodge is located at another 200 meters. The Singpho Eco Lodge is a beautifully constructed place that is made with bamboo and has a thatched roof. It is made in a Chang Ghar style meaning constructed at an elevated platform from the ground raised to a height with bamboo poles. The owner stays at an adjacent home next to the Singpho Eco Lodge that is connected across a small hallway that has a toilet and bath area as the rooms at the Singpho Eco Lodge do not have attached toilet and bath.
The entire area of the Singpho Eco Lodge is made in a traditional Singpho tribe style pattern. Upon arrival, visitors are taken to a small reception cum lobby area that has beautifully handcrafted bamboo furniture along with other traditional decor. Next are the rooms of the lodge. There are a total of 11 rooms for guests at the Singpho Eco Lodge. Each of these rooms are very spacious and has a huge window that allows sufficient ventilation and the fresh air from the area flows into the room. There are no beds inside the rooms but deluxe mattresses are present in each room. There are provisions for mosquito nets too so that you don’t have to breathe in any of the harmful smoke of the mosquito repellants. There are four such rooms along the first line that in the end leads to an open area which has a low seating area where guests can comfortably relax and unwind sipping a cup of the heritage Singpho tea – ‘Phalap’. The Dining hall is adjacent to this area and is a spacious area that can accommodate around 10 guests at a time. Again a low seating area, the entire place has been aesthetically designed keeping in mind the rich heritage and culture of the Singpho people. There are many traditional cuisine offerings on the menu at the kitchen of the Singpho Eco Lodge. Some delicacies are pork cooked with Lai Xaak (a local leafy herb), pork cooked with sesame seeds, chicken cooked with traditional rice powder, chicken cooked with banana flower, boiled herbs, various boiled herbs and fish recipes, roasted pork sticks, etc. A true Singpho heritage menu which is very flavorful is on an offering at the Singpho Eco Lodge.
Out of the kitchen one has to climb down the staircase to reach the bath and toilet areas. Each bathroom is neat and clean with modern fittings. A western toilet and hot water geyser with shower accompanies the bathroom. Under the Chang area of the Singpho Eco Lodge there are traditional looms of the Singpho people and often visitors can see the lady of the house weaving exquisite Singpho handlooms on these looms. There is a souvenir shop inside the premises of the Singpho Eco Lodge where visitors can purchase various handlooms weaved by the local Singpho people of the nearby villages. Your stay at the Singpho Eco Lodge would not be complete without tasting the Singpho heritage tea called as the Phalap. The Phalap is a unique tea prepared by the Singpho people wherein in processing the phalap tea, at first the the young tea leaves are roasted or pan fried on a traditional wood fire. Later these leaves are stuffed into bamboo hollows. The tea leaves inside the bamboo hollows are then allowed to dry in a bamboo platform (called ‘Dhoa-Chang’ in Assamese, meaning smoke platform ) constructed above the traditional wood fired kitchen ovens. The hot smoke emanating from the oven makes the tea leaves dry over a period of around three months. And after completion of the of the smoke drying, phalap tea is ready. This way of preparing tea brings in a unique smokey flavor to the tea and the nutrients of tea are released once boiled in water. This tastes very nice and is often had with a small chunk of jaggery instead of sugar. Phalap can also be brought here at the Singho Eco Lodge as the owner of the Lodge also owns a factory that produces this unique tea and exports it to various south east asian countries.
Very close to this place is the Buddhist monastery in the village established in the year 1891. This place of worship has retained its rustic touch. Any visitor to this spot will instantly feel the solace that is so typical of the village. A walk along the village road that will unfold the way of living of the Singpho community is enough to lift the depressed soul.