Naga Tales – Myth Busters
Every traveler dreams of exploring new places, trying new cuisines and experiencing a cultural renaissance. Nagaland makes your dream come true as it has this diverse heritage to offer, both for mainland Indians and foreign tourists alike. Nagaland is located on the north eastern part of India. It shares its borders with the Indian states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh , Manipur and you have Mayanmar on the other side. You can take a train or flight to Dimapur. But you need ILP(Inner Line Permit) to enter any district except Dimapur(as of now, you may soon need there as well).For Indians to obtain ILP is easy ,you can apply online on https://ilp.nagaland.gov.in/ (it usually takes 2-3 days) or you can visit any Nagaland House in Kolkata and Delhi. For foreigners unfortunately visiting Nagaland house is the only option.
We entered Nagaland through Mariani as we wanted to reach Mokokchung, which is a comparatively off beat town of Nagaland. Mariani is the nearest railway station to Mokokchung and is located around 85 km away. We had taken a flight from Kolkata to Guwahati and then we took an overnight train to reach Mariani . Genrally you get shared cabs from Mariani to Mokukchung at a cost of around 400 INR per head but the cabs leave pretty early (between 6-7AM). Booking an entire taxi costs around 4000rs from the taxi stand situated within a km from the train station. Since we had reached at around 8 AM, we had missed the shared cabs. We were also not willing to pay so much on a full taxi, so we asked around for other options. To our surprise, the taxi drivers did not heckle us at all and instead hailed a tuktuk for us and directed the driver to take us to a nearby breakfast place where more shared cabs ply.
The breakfast place was on Dimapur-Mokukchung road. Once we reached there and had our breakfast, we found out that a shared cab reaches the junction from Dimapur en-route Mokukchung around 11 AM (but you need to be lucky to get a seat, as it will mostly be full). We also started asking for lift from strangers who were driving on the road .To our surprise we met a guy who instantly agreed to help us out. Luckily for us, they were on the way to Mokukchong to attend a meeting. His name was Mar Zamar(I hope I spelled the name correctly) did not even allowed us to share the expense with him. It was one of the best travel experiences we had. He was from AO tribe and he explained their culture and provided lot of insights into Nagaland. And from that point on we were awed by the hospitality and honesty of the Naga people. The distance, though 80 odd km, took nearly 4 hours to cover due the extremely bad road condition. During the ride we got to know that all conveyance options and even stores remain closed on Sundays in Nagaland as they celebrate Sabbath. This was little worrying for us as we had plans to travel to Kohima on the next day which was a Sunday. We reached Mokukchung and Mar told us that in case his work is done, he might travel to Kohima to visit his family and would be willing to provide us lift again.
Mokukchung is the third biggest city in Nagaland ranked after Dimapur and Kohima. It’s a beautiful city on the hill. Roads were neat and clean and we felt a vibe of peace in spite of being in a city. Mokukchung is the home of people from the AO tribe. To know about the tribes of Nagaland please check the link https://www.tripoto.com/trip/16-tribes-of-nagaland. Our Airbnb stay exceeded our expectations and we highly recommend this place . Lima (our host) and her husband were an exemplary host, their house was beautiful with a view of the mountains and they have three very friendly dogs. In the evening explored the place on foot. We had an amazing view of the sunset from the Watch Tower situated at a small hike from the city center. We asked around for any commute options but we failed to get even private taxis for our next day’s journey to Kohima. We spoke to Mar at night and he assured us that in case he plans to leave tomorrow, he would contact us back. We had dinner with Lima and her family and they had prepared Anishi, an AO pork curry steamed in yam leaves. It was delicious and probably one of the best pork dishes to have at Nagaland.
We woke up next day and decided to try our luck. However, not a single shop was open. Just as we were about to give up our hope of reaching Kohima, we received a text from Mar and he confiermed that he will take us to Kohima that day post lunch. Our faith in humanity and good will of the Nagas solidified further. On reaching the city centre, we found only one local taxi available at the stand. The driver agreed to take us to two nearby villages, Ungma and Longkhum, for sight-seeing at a cost of INR 2000 for the round trip back. Ungma is a quaint pristine village with lovely view of the hills. As we had gone just before Christmas, the village was decorated festively and each house had Christmas trees outside. It looked like a village out of Enid Blyton’s fairy tales. Longkhum, on the other side, is bigger and busier. According to folklore, Lonkhum is supposed to be the resting place for AO spirits. If you like hiking, you can explore ‘Longlangba’ which is a pathway of ridged rocks through a forest and leads to a beautiful waterfall. Its preferable to take a local guide if going towards the waterfall(Tsumeya Tsuin). Pressed for time, we had to cut our hike short and had to quench our thirst with beautiful view of of the whole village with the backdrop of the mountains from Jubillee Towers, the highest point in Longkhum. We also had a good view of the water reservoir of Wokha district from one of the viewpoints near ‘Longlangba’ . The villagers from AO tribe were extremely friendly and allowed us to photograph their houses and even posed for us.
We returned back to Mokukchung early to catch our rendezvous with Mar, however we would recommend you to spend a whole day exploring these off-beat locations. Our journey to Kohima took around 6 hours as most of the roads are under construction. Mokukchung to Kohima road passes through Wokha which is another beautiful town. Our journey with Mar ended at Kohima and we thanked him heartily for his good will and friendliness.
Hornbill festival happens usually during the first 10 days of December. The main festival is hosted at Kisama heritage village, which is around 12 kms away from Kohima. Kohima also hosts a night market and carnival near the main bus stand. After reaching Kohima, we were overjoyed to find that our hotel was amidst the carnival area. We gorged on different kinds of street foods from different tribes of Nagaland and enjoyed the tribal dance shows. Some of the food we tried blew our minds – Maize tea, Gooseberry tea, millets, Pork with Axone or Akhuni(fermented soyabeans), kholar or kidney beans with pork among others are typically noteworthy. You can also try dog meat curry which is typically prepared by the Sumi Tribe. The chief guest for the carnival night was Mr. Bhaichung Bhutia, the crusader of Indian football in International domain.
Next day, we managed to rent a Royal Enfield from https://www.facebook.com/nagalandbikerental at a reasonable rate. We drove off to Kisama heritage village to enjoy the Hornbill Festival. Kisama village is atop a hill. You need to pay INR 30 as entry fee and extra amount of 20-100 INR for your camera. Inside, there is a main amphitheatre where we enjoyed tribal dances from each tribe who displayed their cultural heritage. Some tribes demonstrated their hunting rituals while some entertained us with their harvesting skills. Though there were no real hornbills to be seen, there were dummy hornbills adorned on a tree near the arena. You will also find each tribe housed at small sections where they serve their cuisine and also sell their ornaments, dresses and other artefacts. We tried Angh’s rice beer, pickled chicken with rice and nutgall tea. We also shopped around at the stalls and ended up buying gift items and machete. At night, we came back to Kohima and enjoyed the night parade while enjoying more local dishes.
Do visit the World War II Memorial Cemetery which stands right at the heart of Kohima. You will get a great view of the entire city from the top. You can also visit the Catholic Cathedra Church, which is atop a hill around 4 km from Central Kohima. The church is magnificent and the view is breathtaking. Word of caution, the roads are steep while going uphill and are full of twists and turns. Also, there are many restaurants and cafes in and around Kohima and most of them serve Naga cuisine. Its a must try !
We woke up early next morning and headed off to Khonoma, Asia’s first green and sustainable village. The road is currently under construction and after the initial stretch of 5 km on the highway, it’s off-road. You can take shared trekkers or hire a cab to cover the distance of 20 kms from Kohima to Khonoma. Once you reach Khonoma, you can either hire local guide who will demonstrate the various arrangements that have been done in the village to make it sustainable, or you can roam around on your own. We had a nice walk around the whole village via the circular ring road that is spread along the periphery of the village. The villages grow their own crops and they have used step cultivation along the slopes of the mountain to do farming. All houses have waste recycling systems and there is a common water storage area at the centre of the village. School kids are entrusted with the work of picking up all the trash around the village and keeping the streets clean. We came across a shop where there is no shopkeeper and you can take whatever you want and leave the money in a jar. Overall, it’s a very serene and peaceful tiny village and a must visit for all.
We came back to Kohima and then struggled a little to find a shared taxi for Dimapur. The hornbill festival was ending and there a huge dearth of cabs. Finally, we managed to hire a cab and shared it with a family who were also travelling to Kohima, On the way, we tasted their local brew also(Nagaland is a dry state but local shops sell booze illegally). While entering Dimapur, we faced a lot of traffic due to on-going construction work and were delayed a lot. Next morning we walked to see the Kachari ruins. The GPS location of the ruins is not very accurate, so if you are planning to visit set your GPS to the Circuit House. Most of the locals we asked around including auto drivers did not know the place (maybe it has a different local name) so we had to roam aroind a bit to locate it. It’s a park with ancient remains from the 10th century. The main arch gate is still pretty intact and inside the park there are mushroom shaped domes. These date back to the Kachari Kingdom and hence the name. Their purpose is unknown and they might have been used for playing some sort of game like chess. The pillars are mostly in bad shape and don’t seem to be well-maintained.
We flew back to Kolkata from Dimpaur on the same day. We had heard of a lot of stories about Nagaland before our trip… tales of head-hunters who kill and eat people, of dog meat being the main dish, of inhospitable living conditions and unfriendly people. Head-hunters do not really hunt for headsDog meat is eaten by only few tribes. The cities and towns of Nagaland are very well maintained and provide excellent living facilities. And the Naga people are the most selflessly helpful people I have ever met in my life. They will go out of their way to help you and we experienced that first-hand with Mar who gave us lift twice without even worrying about anything. And not to forget the Naga food… when paired with Ghost Chilly (Bhoot Jalokia), its one of the hottest cuisine of the world. You will have a tale to tell for the rest of your life.