Nagaland: The Far East Journey

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY list out nine more things to do in Nagaland besides the Hornbill Festival

The Hornbill Festival (1-7 Dec) at the recreated Heritage Village of Kisama, 12 km from Kohima, is a celebration of Naga culture, cuisine, art, crafts, song & dance and indigenous games like archery and Naga wrestling. Besides Naga chili eating competitions and climbing up greased poles, here are some things to do while you are in Nagaland…

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See Dimapur’s phallic totems
Located by the banks of the Dhansiri river, Dimapur was a flourishing capital of the Kachari kingdom in 10th century before the Ahoms invaded it in 13th century. Not much of Rajbari remains, barring the brick gateway and a fortified complex with strange phallic totems known as the Chessman Figures. One of the important Megalithic sites in India, the intriguing structures are thought to be fertility symbols or graves that represent ancestor worship. Capped by a mushroom-like hemispherical capital, the towering figures have ornamental bands on the neck with carvings of swords and daggers besides floral and geometrical patterns. Strewn across the compound you also find Y-shaped and buffalo horn megaliths with animal carvings.

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Go grocery shopping at Keeda Bazaar
Explore Kohima’s legendary Supermarket or Keeda Bazaar (Insect Market), though the live creepy-crawly action is surely not for the faint-hearted. Eels swirl around in tubs, frogs jump about in plastic bags, little wasps hatch in hives, pink woodworms pinched and held at end of a split twig wriggle like garlands while Naga ladies chewing betel leaf nonchalantly flip escaping silkworm larvae and fat grubs back on their leaf plates. Unfortunately, there are no eateries around selling readymade insect fare as locals buy them fresh and prepare it at home.

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Read the Kohima Epitaph
“When you go home, tell them of us and say; for your tomorrow, we gave our today”, these immortal words on the memorial of the 2nd British Division are known as the Kohima Epitaph. Located in the Kohima War Cemetery, where 1420 Allied war heroes are laid to rest, the headstones in the terraced cemetery bear poignant messages of grief and glory. Set on the erstwhile tennis court of the old DC’s Bungalow on Garrison Hill, it witnessed one of the fiercest battles of World War II. The hand-to-hand fight in the 1944 Battle of Kohima was pivotal in halting Japan’s Burma campaign and foray into India.

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Explore the Angami village of Khonoma
A heritage walk run by Michael Megurisa is the best way to discover the 700-year-old village of Khonoma. Walk past a kharu (ornamental wooden gate) to hunters’ houses lined with mithun horns and animal skulls, gigantic vats of rice beer, outsized guns and giant troughs and ladles that seem right out of Gulliver’s Travels. The village is divided into khels (residential territories) of various clans with a kuda (fort) or place of defense, surrounded by morungs (residential institutions). In olden days, elders shared stories while lads shared a massive dorm bed carved from a single log. Don’t miss the khwe hou (stone tablets) constructed in honour of forefathers who offered genna (meritorious feasts) and legends of the Anglo-Naga wars at Semoma Fort, described by the British as the strongest in the North East.

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Go on a headhunting trail at Tuophema
A 2 hr bus ride from Kohima to Botsa and a 4 km uphill drive is all it takes to reach Tuophema. A traditional welcome gate leads to the village dominated by a large tree called Terhütsiibo (War head tree) where enemy heads were once hung as war trophies. Local guide KV explains the significance of Ke Shii Di Tsie (Demon Stone), Tsi Khre Tsie (Thunderstorm Stone) and Kipu Tsie (Husband-Wife Stone). Earlier, young lads tall enough to grasp the top of Ke Me Hie Tsie (Clutching Stone) were deemed fit to marry! Stay in ethnic community-run wood cottages bearing Naga symbols like mithun (vigour), cup (prosperity) and an encircled dot depicting a full moon and good harvest. Neat orchid-lined pathways lead to viewpoints, a cosy restaurant and a massive log drum. The Sekrenyi festival (25-27 Feb) at Tuophema is a nice alternative to the much-hyped Hornbill Festival.

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Try Naga cuisine
Unlike the overspiced food of the Indian mainland, Naga cuisine is mostly boiled with the Naga chilli or raja mirchi providing the bite. A typical Naga kitchen has strips of meat smoking above the wood fire. Try smoked pork pickle, Naga style pork curry, lai (leafy greens), steamed quash, chicken and rice as you huddle around a fireplace sipping zutho or thutse (rice beer) from makeshift goblets of green bamboo. And if you can handle the heat, take part in a Naga chilli-eating contest.

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Trek to Japfu Peak & Dzükou Valley
After Mount Saramati (3,840) on the Nagaland Burma border, Japfu Peak at 3048 m (10,363 ft), is the second highest mountain in Nagaland. Located about 15 km south of Kohima, it’s ideally climbed at night to reach the summit in time for sunrise. A 5 hr trek around Japfu leads to the world’s tallest rhododendron tree – the Guinness Record holder stands 130 ft tall and 11 ft wide. Nearby is Dzükou Valley, dubbed as Nagaland’s Valley of Flowers (8,290 ft), carpeted by blooms between June to September. Accessible from Viswema Village (25 km from Kohima) or Zakhma (20 km from Kohima), it is also good for a visit during November and April.

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Spot the endangered Blyth’s Tragopan
Nagaland is a land of warrior tribes who lived off the forest for centuries, hunting game and embellishing their costumes with feather, tusk, claw and bone. During festivals, long bamboo pennants were festooned with colourful dead birds. Nagas can mimic birdcalls (even of the opposite sex) to lure gullible prey. With the annual massacre of thousands of migrating Amur Falcons, conservation might seem an alien concept. But the village of Khonoma has resolved to protect the Blyth’s Tragopan, long hunted for food with its habitat destroyed by deforestation and slash-and-burn cultivation. After Khonoma switched to alder cultivation as a model Green Village for eco-tourism, the Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan Sanctuary (KNCTS) was set up in 1998 and hunting was banned in 2001. In the annual census in 2005, 600 tragopans were recorded, besides endemics like the Naga Wren Babbler. The 25 sq km sanctuary maintained by the village community is a great place for birdwatching.

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Buy Naga shawls & handicrafts
Nagas are exceptional craftsmen who fashion wood, metal, fabric, beads, shells and bone into exquisite works of art. Buy colourful Konyak bead chains and necklaces, Wancho wood-carvings, Phom black pottery or vibrant warrior shawls of the Ao, Angami, Zeliang, Yimchunger and other tribes. Available in a mix of striking red, black, yellow, blue and white hues, Naga shawls have specific names and usages with each tribe having its own unique patterns and motifs.

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FACT FILE

Getting there
By Air: Nagaland’s sole airport at Dimapur is connected to Guwahati and Kolkata by direct Jet Airways flights
By Rail: Dimapur railway station is on the main line of the Northeast Frontier Railway and is well connected to Guwahati.
By Road: NH 39 enters Nagaland from Assam, connecting Dimapur to Kohima, 74 km away (3 hrs, shared cab Rs.150/person). Khonoma is 20 km south west of Kohima but road is patchy. Tuophema is 41 km north of Kohima NH 61 via Botsa (Bus Rs.35/person).

Local tours
Khonoma – Michael 9856559394
Tuophema – KV 9436005002

Permits
Indian Tourists visiting Nagaland require an Inner Line Permit (ILP) issued by Deputy Resident Commissioner, Nagaland House, New Delhi (Tel: 011-23012296) and Deputy Resident Commissioner, Nagaland House, Kolkata (Tel: 033-22823247). These can also be obtained from Deputy Commissioner of Dimapur, Kohima and Mokokchung. Foreign tourists require a Restricted Area Permit/Protected Area Permit from all Indian Missions abroad; FRRO – New Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai; Resident Commissioner, Nagaland House, New Delhi or Commissioner & Secretary, Tourism, Govt. of Nagaland.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article was the Cover Story for the December 2013 issue of JetWings International magazine. 

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