Wowza (I’m told this is what them young’uns are saying nowadays) – it has been an age since my last post. I’m not sure where to start, so I think I’ll skip the excuses and apologies, and start from the present (ish):
I recently finished a tour of India’s northeast. The so-called ‘Seven Sisters’: seven states, which include Assam; Meghalaya; Sikkim; Mizoram; Nagaland; Tripura; and Manipur, are each beguiling in their own way.
Having visited Sikkim last year, my first stop this year was Nagaland. Nagaland, an often forgotten destination in terms of tourism, was the 16th state to join Independent India. The land of the Naga peoples (ergo, the name ‘Nagaland’, duh) is a collection of seventeen tribes, all within one state.
If it were a sister, Nagaland would be the youngest one. Pretty, with lots of potential, but no suitors. (Harsh, but true.)
But first, a little history
In as late as the 1960s, tribal culture (in its truest sense) was blooming, and the land was safe from the spoils of the modern world. The people were of the land, for the land, and respected the land and its bounds. Inter-tribal rivalry was prevalent, and the practice of headhunting— collecting trophies of enemy heads— was last recorded as late as 1969. In part, the evolution of tribes peoples to the amalgamated ‘Naga’ people is due to the spread of Christianity in the region: close to 95% of people in the state identify themselves as Christians today. Also with thanks to the Welsh (who brought Christianity to the region) is the unusual combination of Latin scripts with Naga languages.
Although tribes are still present and visible in their own right, tribal lifestyle is restricted solely to the countryside. Headhunting is no longer practiced, and it is rare to see people in full tribal garb in Kohima, the state capital other than on special occasions or during the Hornbill Festival. Animosity amongst tribes is diminishing, and their languages and dialects— the most in any single Indian state— a total of 89.
Economically, Nagaland has a lot of potential. Agriculture— specifically crop cultivation— is its biggest industry, but there is heaps of room for ecotourism and dairy farming. Like, a lot. Unfortunately, development is slow, and the only tourism the state sees is during the Hornbill Festival.
DEL ➤ DMU
It started, as most journeys do, with a̶ ̶s̶i̶n̶g̶l̶e̶ ̶s̶t̶e̶p̶ extensive research. Because, you know (8-|). Several travel guides and TripAdvisor reviews (and a few days) later, I was on my way.
I arrived in Dimapur, a town in the plains of Nagaland, after a five-hour flight from Delhi. Kohima, the state capital, was still another 3 hours away. So, after a gruelling few hours of well-fashioned Indian roads (read: the lack thereof. Or, in some instances, the prayer for the lack thereof— because sometimes, no road is better than pothole-cratered road) I reached Kohima. Sore all over, but especially on my erm— sit upon, shall we say?— I was at ease when a stunning view graced my eyes (I refer you to the photos, at this point).
Oh, actually, I lie. I had a rest-stop about midway through. The tin can on wheels, a Bolero, my choice of transportation halted briefly at a charming, Hemingway-esque tea stall named Chapru. Where, as one would imagine, I had tea. The stall was fairly large (and in truth, more of a rest-stop-cum-souvenir-shop). One end of the so-called stall jutted into the Nagaland countryside… on stilts! Nothing but bamboo below my feet hither (see photos!)
Once in Kohima, I spent the remainder of the day exploring the city, avec Olloclip— a lens attachment for the iPhone, which I am in love with (shh, don’t tell my Canon). We, Ollo and I (we’re on a first name basis now), stumbled across a few fresh markets. So fresh, in fact, that the meat was still living. Fresh produce was pretty epic, too. They grow a lot of pineapple (delish), alongside passion fruit, ginger and star fruit (high in Vitamin C, did you know? You did? Well, aren’t we a knowitall.)
Dotted around the fresh markets, were Blender’s Prides bottles, filled to the brim with a goldeny liquid: honey. Honey, unbeknownst to me (despite all the research) is a specialty of the region. The Nagas have been bee keeping since the days of yore, and their selections of honey really do reflect how well they’ve honed the craft. Now, I love honey as much as the next person (which is to say, I like it… but in moderation), but didn’t buy any to take back (I’m headed to Bhutan and I’m visiting from Australia, where Manuka is the IT thing— not to mention taking foodstuffs through customs is a no-no). On a side note, if you plan on buying honey in Nagaland, buy it from an established seller; street side vendors have been known to adulterate on occasion.
Early to bed, early to rise?
Markets in Kohima close fairly early (5 PM or so), there’s little to do afterwards beyond taking in fresh air (a luxury after my recent halt in Delhi), and settling down with a cup of something Irish.
I feel like it’s important to state at some point (and I think this is that point), that Nagaland is a dry state. No. Alcohol. Anywhere. Not legal stuff, anyway. So detox while you visit, or carry some hooch with you in a hip flask or five (I may have done this).
Anyhow, it goes to say that the coolish (15C) weather and night cap(s) had me in bed by 10.00 or so that first night.
Cloudy, with a chance of pakoras
Despite my early start to the next day, c. o500 hrs (I was— and am— trying, desperately, to become a morning person), I missed the morning hues of the rising sun. Why, you ask? Clouds. Everywhere.
Kohima War Cemetery
Grey day aside, I ticked the first must-see site off my list that morning: the Kohima War Cemetery. The cemetery serves as a memorial that replaces the original one on Garrison Hill for the 1st Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment, and all the other troops lost in the Battle of Kohima.
Little known fact: between 4 April – 22 June 1944, soldiers from Australia, Canada, Great Britain, and the Raj joined forces against the Japanese as they advanced forward from Burma (now Myanmar). The Allied troops won, but casualties on both sides were colossal (over 4,000 for the Allies and close to 6,000 for the Japanese).
Another little known fact: India lost 23,000 soldiers in the war (which is higher than Australia and New Zealand individually). Unfortunately, post-Indian independence from the British, veterans didn’t get the recognition they earned.
Now, if there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I have a slight moderate love of cemeteries. Not because I’m a weirdo whose morbidly fascinated with death. Au contraire, mon ami: I like them because I love life. I think a reminder of death is a great way to remember you’re alive, and you should be living.
Long story short, I have this habit of walking through cemeteries. Reading gravestones, in particular, is something I find therapeutic. Taking in messages from loved ones, some with the odd inside joke; taking note of people’s ages at the time of their death (nothing saddens me more than someone my age or younger who died before their time); and, of course, fresh flowers on a gravesite are all cathartic in my eyes. With regards to the last one, I have this romantic notion that husbands, wives, children, or grandchildren come to sit and talk to their lost ones. To say thanks, to say sorry, and perhaps to mumble sweet nothings before they leave a bouquet and go.
There were, I noted, no fresh flowers the day I visited.
Needless to say, the visit to the cemetery touched me deeply. In part because of my grandfather—a retired Air Marshal who served in the IAF. In part because the freedom we have today is something we take for granted (and are fortunate to do so). And, in part, because the perfectly manicured grounds are home to hundreds of identical granite graves. Some nameless. Some as young as 17. All from different walks of life, and different religious backgrounds. Fighting so deeply for a cause they believed in.
Depressing, I know.
I remember leaving the cemetery stewing in thought, and starving. I happen upon a restaurant in the city, not far from the cemetery: “Hungry Joe’s”. I’d describe it, but I feel as though photos would be more fitting (I refer you to the accompanying photos).
I got a plate of vegetable pakoras (fritters) and local ice cream (Nagaland dairies are where the future’s at, I tell ya).
Nagaland State Museum, Kohima
I’d expected a lot from the museum since the TripAdvisor reviews were stellar, and the overall 4/5 star rating had me convinced.
I was, however, somewhat disappointed. I won’t stray too much here, but feel free to read my review. I’d still recommend a visit, though, since there are few other museums to choose from ( especially during the off-season). Despite all its flaws, the museum does well against Don Bosco Centre for Indigenous Cultures, too.
Trekking, trekking, trekking
Nagaland, in my mind, with its scenic beauty is best explored on foot, with a camera. The Dzukou Valley is stunning, as is Japfu Peak— and treks to both are a must-do, according to most travel guides. Unfortunately, visiting in July (when the weather is wet, and foggy), provides both poor hiking conditions, and disappointing views.
Heritage Village, a tourist attraction during the Hornbill Festival is mostly deserted during this time of year (read: so much nicer to visit). It was abandoned when I visited, and the WWII Museum was locked, but walking around the tribal huts and taking in views of Kohima from there was quite enjoyable. That said, there’s really nothing to do or see there if you visit during off-season (read: so maybe just visit in December, when it’s abuzz with drumming and tribal dances, harrumph).
I want to leave this post on a high note, so here’s a touch-me-not plant I touched (duh) en route to Dimapur from Kohima.
Actually, if you know me, then you probably know that I’m all about the food. So a real high note would entail a picture of the local fare at a so-called ‘Manipur Rice Hotel’ (a truck stop cum restaurant, of which there are hundreds, each with the same name).
A note as to why there are so many external links: KFTW does not allow embedded photographs in the text, or captions.