Jani Jermans – Travel Diaries

December 17, 2022

Nagaland – The Land of Festivals

Filed under: India — jani @ 4:19 pm

It was a last minute booking to Nagaland as Santosh from Exotic Expeditions had cancelled the Bali trip which we had planned earlier. We blindly trust Santosh, for his experiential trips so we went ahead and booked it. Along with Sur and myself, we had Punita from our residential community and my friend Shankar who had joined this trip as well.

About Nagaland: It is a landlocked state in the north-eastern region of India. It is bordered by the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh to the north, Assam to the west, Manipur to the south and the Sagaing Region of Myanmar to the east. Its capital city is Kohima and its largest city is Dimapur. It is home to a rich variety of natural, cultural and environmental resources. Nagaland is a mountainous state. The high-profile Dzüko Valley is located at Viswema, in the southern region of the state. The state has significant resources of natural minerals, petroleum, and hydropower with agriculture as the state’s most important economic activity, accounting for over 70% of its economy. Other significant activities include forestry, tourism, insurance, real estate, horticulture and miscellaneous cottage industries. The state has experienced insurgency and inter-ethnic conflict since the 1950s, limiting its economic development.

Inner Line Permit (ILP): Before travelling to Nagaland, it’s mandatory that you apply for ILP and get the approval. It takes 3-4 days for approval, hence please plan your travel accordingly. This applies to Indian Citizens too who are traveling from other states.

Step 1: Fill up the application form in the following link (https://ilp.nagaland.gov.in/), upload the relevant documents and submit. You will receive an SMS with the reference number.

Step 2: Once your application is approved, you will get a SMS saying that your application is approved and you need to make payment in order to download the approved ILP

Step 3: Make the payment of Rs. 50 and then the ILP is ready for download.

Even though no one has checked for this document when we travelled, its advised to get the ILP before your travel to Nagaland in order to adhere to the local entry regulations.

Day 1: We had a morning flight to catch, so Sur, Punita and myself started on time to go to the airport. Since we slept hardly the previous night, we were sleepy. We reached the airport, finished the formalities, had a little break at the lounge and then started our flight to Delhi. We met Veena and Uma as we waited to board for our connecting flight. Even though Jaclyn was there, we couldn’t meet her so finally after a short haul we boarded the flight to Dibrugarh, Assam. We reached in the afternoon and met Santosh and all of us went to Bhaskar Homestay where we were staying for the night before we proceeded to Nagaland. Finally I met Shankar, it was a happy reunion to meet him after a long time. Then we met other group members Indu, Divya and Sapna. Venkat was still on his way and we finally met him in the evening after he reached. As soon as we reached, the ladies in the group except me went for a walk. I was too sleepy to step out and while they had gone for a walk, Sur and myself sat with Santosh and Shankar and were catching up on the old times. Then we went to a bakery next door Tasty Treat and went for tea and snacks. The Samosas were good, however paneer puff was too dry and the coffee was not great either. However, the samosas made the day and then we walked around close by and packed some duck meat, along with chicken and it was good. We also got few of our favourite Bhutanese Peach Wine (Zumzin) as Nagaland is a dry state, so we don’t get alcohol there and this is our go to wine when we come to North East as we get this wine only here. We came back to the homestay and it was time to surprise the birthday boy. I had already asked Shankar to get a birthday cake to surprise Sur as it was his birthday. He had arranged a nice mango flavoured cake from Tasty Treat bakery. Sur had cut the cake and we all enjoyed it. Then we got our dinner of thali (set meal) of veg and non-veg which had rice, dal and vegetables and Non-veg folks had chicken in addition. We enjoyed and crashed for the night.

Day 2: We woke up after a good breakfast and started towards Longwa in Mon District, Nagaland. Since it was Sunday, almost everything was shut in Nagaland, so we stopped to get some samosas packed before we entered Nagaland for the lunch. Even though it was a small bakery and looked shady, the samosas were one of the best that we ever tasted. It was almost 8-9 hours of drive with loads of dust and bad roads. We stopped for a quick break for tea in Sonari and we also had to literally use the open face for the bio break as there were no public toilets around. Since it was Sunday, hardly anyone was there outside and it looked more of a deserted road. Finally we reached Longsha Home Stay in Longwa (Lungwa) which mostly has Konyak tribes who are the last head-hunters of the warrior clan. These tribes were known for headhunting and now they are doing farming. Head hunting was their pride, bringing heads of enemies and doing a victory dance in front of the chopped head was something special for them. The warrior wears a chain with brass skulls, depending on how many heads he had chopped, that many brass skulls gets added to his neck piece. Also post victory, they get face tattooed, which is another identification for the warrier who had hunted heads successfully earlier. The ladies in the house do farming and also make colourful accessories for the neck, ear etc with the beads now bought from Myanmar. Usually The homestays are adorned with human skulls but now it’s all of various animals, mostly Mithun (semi domesticated gaur) as all the human skulls were taken away by the government.

Pohi was our hostess and she had her entire family to support us during our stay there. She also became our translator to communicate with other people from her tribes. The stay was very basic but rich with the warmth of the family. The people were so simple and good and we ended up spending more time warming ourselves in their house kitchen.

The food was not as per our palette, they had rice which is their staple diet and boiled dal, hardly they used any masalas. Then they had squash (chow chow) and greens (radish leaves) which was always served just boiled. So it was pretty bland food and more of a healthier option. They do have Naga chilli which is extremely spicy so we had to be little careful on that to eat it raw with the food. Nagas delicacy used to be Dog meat but we didn’t see anywhere during the trip, later I heard from Santosh, that they do have but they don’t publicize due to tourists. We were mostly served smoked pork and chicken, the meat served was under cooked and it didn’t have any masalas to enhance the flavour.  It was just sautéed in the oil for some time, then added water and boiled for sometime. So it was a big no no for me and also hardly had any flavours, to which we are used to. I didn’t see any single gas connection in this area, they were still using the old stoves and were doing all the cooking by burning wood. They have a stand tied above the stove, so the meat and others are left there to get it smoked. It’s still the same old method they are following even till today, nothing has affected them. They also had pumpkin which they made well, then there was Chicken pickle, which was overpowered by Ginger and then sometimes the consolation was the naga chilli chutney which was the best.

I also heard they never used to have hospitals there, as they never fell sick. As the sun was setting by 5 PM it was little difficult to track the timing and also it was very very cold. So we had our dinner early, bought some colourful accessories which the local ladies were making by hand which was for sale and then we crashed for the night.

Be prepared to carry your own toiletries and towels as here they don’t provide and also be prepared to enjoy the cold water bath here. Also the drinking water tastes like smoky water.

Day 3: Woke up after much needed rest and followed by cold bath and then headed for the breakfast. We had bread omelette and Poori, then we headed for our exploration. We did a mini trek to go to the view point where you could see Myanmar. The border of Myanmar also has Konyak tribes and they speak the same language. There is a forest which runs between the borders where Mithuns are usually found. The view point of Myanmar was stunning and we could see few huts, each one separated by large pieces of land. But it was barren as I heard, hardly anything grows in this land. The Myanmar border goes right in the middle of the view point and we took some pictures near that border stone. When we came down we saw men were replacing the roof of the hut with the new ones, they use dried areca nut leaves and it was made without a single nail. Commendable..

Then we headed to the house of Chief of Ang tribe, Shri Tonyei Phawang and he was sitting near the stove warming himself. The Myanmar boarder literally runs in the middle of his house, half of it is in Myanmar and other half it is in India. Literally, The king sleeps in India and eats in Myanmar. Their house was adorned with lot more animal heads, wooden king bed and lot more things beautifully decorating the house. There was also a wooden statue of two head-hunters where one is about to cut the other’s head. We went and took the pictures with him and then we left the place. They’re the only Indian tribe to have legal dual citizenship of both India and Myanmar and a lot of them even vote in both elections.

Then we headed to the Gun making place. Even though in India Gun license is restricted, they are allowed to have and there was a man who was making it completely by hand. We sat with him for some time and Sur also tried a bit shooting.

Then we proceeded to meet one of the head hunters who had chopped off five heads, he also did the victory dance which is usually done post chopping off enemy heads. We had goosebumps hearing such stories and imagining it. Then we gave him some tips and left, he was very pleased.

Then we headed back to the homestay and while I was too tired and went to sleep, Sur and others walked around and enjoyed the scenary. There was a helipad closeby and beautiful flowers all around and then there was radish field where they plucked one for tasting and then the group went to play carroms. Then I joined them late for dinner. While others went to crash for the night, Shankar wanted to entertain the host and family with his dance as a gratitude. Santosh joined with him and I was the spectator cheering all of them. Shankar made sure to take everyone to join him in dance and it was so good to see them laugh after their tiring day post taking care of a big group of twelve of us. Then we crashed for the night.

Day 4: We woke up to a beautiful day and it was time to bid good bye to such an amazing family. We had a quick breakfast, took photos with the family and set off to the next destination of Mokokchung. We heard from another group that the roads are bad and it will take longer than usual, we hurried to make sure we reach Mokokchung before it gets dark. The roads were one of the worst and network was completely off. The roads were isolated and there were loads of dust and few feets of mud slush. Thank God it was not raining otherwise you couldn’t go in a car as it will get stuck. There is a little seepage of water from the hills, so even though it was not raining, there was mud slush but manageable since it was not raining. Still we got a flat tyre as the potholes were really deep and bad. Since we were in two cars, both the drivers helped each other to change it and then we moved on. The funny thing was in these roads suddenly you see a patch of thar road and before we start being hopeful, the road suddenly disappears as though someone carried away the entire road. It was little stressful to travel on this road until you reach safe. North East is extremely safe for people. It was more of car reaching safely and before it gets dark because its very difficult to get any help in these routes as its deserted and isolated. Luckily we were relieved once we reached Changtongyeah. It was a small town, girls and boys were playing football in the ground, so we took a short break to buy some snacks before we proceeded to our destination.

Finally we reached Marvel Guest House in Mokokchung. This town is the cultural nerve centre of the Ao tribes and is economically and politically the most important urban centre in northern Nagaland and that was our stop for the night. After reaching the hotel, seeing the clean sheets and proper toilets and geyser we felt a little relieved and girls were only discussing about washing the hairs first as we were not sure about the similar facilities in the next places. So all of us freshened up and then ordered dinners individually. We also enjoyed their lemon tea which was good. As next day we were planning to leave early, Santosh, Shankar and myself joined to help him to pick up the breakfast items to pack as Sur was lazy to join us. The shops were closing in early, it was already dark even though it was only 6 PM, so we went a little further, picked up bread, butter and jam, fruits etc. We also found some street vendors selling pork skewers with fat and meat separately, they also had chicken and pork sausage. Except the port sausage which got over fried so it became rubbery, the pork and chicken was really good and edible to eat. So we came back to the Guest House, enjoyed our dinner and then all of us crashed early as we had an early start.

Day 5: We woke up early and started off to Longkhun Village. This village is a vanguard village of the Ao tribes in the days of headhunting, it is strategically situated and commands a view of the surrounding hills and valleys. There was amazing view point and we sat there for our breakfast which we carried with us and then we walked around the village. The village has beautiful flowers all around, big varieties of roses, Dark red poinsettias and chrysanthemums. Then we headed to the orchid park in the village, however it was not a season for the bloom So we returned back. On our way back, we asked one of the ladies to use the rest room in their house, since you hardly find public toilets here. She obliged and we all went for our bio breaks. It was an old style toilet where there was no commode it was a cemented floor with a hole for the water to go and then we handed over some cash as a gratitude for the lady for her help. She gave us a big smile in response and we thanked her and left for Kigwema.

On the way we stopped at Wokha, had lunch at Hotel Lotha Dish, grabbed some snacks and reached Hills Homestay in Kigwema. Kigwema is one of the oldest villages amongst the Angami Naga villages. Several Angami, Chakhesang and Sümi Naga villages lay claim to the fact that their villages were established by men from Kigwema. During World War II, Japanese troops arrived in Kigwema on 4 April 1944, at 4:00 PM. The Japanese commander, General Kōtoku Satō, was stationed in Kigwema during the Battle of Kohima. This is also closer to the hornbill festival venue. So we got into the homestay but we did have a challenge on rooms as they only had 3 rooms due to festival. Earlier Santosh and Venkat were planning to sleep out on tent. It was so cold to allow them to sleep out. So after Divya and Sapna agreed, Sur joined the three of us in our room, remaining five girls in another, so the third room Santosh, Venkat and Shankar could be accommodated.

The family were so hospitable and the whole family, any time of the day, were ready to serve with a big smile. Most of the time they had to make teas multiple times as it was too cold, as constantly we wanted something hot to beat this cold. We had our dinner including the chicken which was well done and we finally enjoyed a good hot meal and it tasted good too. Then we sat out for sometime for a drink and then the group lead by Shankar were dancing. Uma was adjusted as the best dancer of the group and as usual I was the spectator to cheer them on. Then we all crashed for the night.

Day 6: We had a quick breakfast of Maggi and bread omelette and then walked to the Kisama Heritage Village, It serves as the main venue for the Hornbill Festival of Nagaland. This Heritage Complex consists of a cluster of sixteen houses of each tribe created in the indigenous typical architectural designs. It also houses a World War II Museum, Bamboo Heritage Hall, Bamboo Pavilion and stadium for live shows. It was half an hour walking distance, we got our entry bands and then reached the venue to enjoy the cultural show. The Hornbill Festival is an annual festival celebrated from 1 to 10 of December. The festival represents all ethnic groups of Nagaland for which it is also called the Festival of Festivals

The show started with a pestle dance (bamboo dance) performed by Kuki cultural troupe. It had a tale of an orphan who fell in love with the chief’s daughter, however father wanted to break his ankles as he didn’t want his daughter to be married to an orphan. He planned this bamboo game with his staff, where he instructed his staff to break his ankles when he plays this game as any wrong jump/move can break his legs. When his friends found about this evil plan of the chief, they all came to help their friend by shouting jump at the right time and helped him escape unhurt.

Then we had the Rücechele (demonstration) of ploughing the field by both men and women folks by Chakhesang Cultural troupe, then it was followed by frog jump and they asked volunteers to try as well. It was quite spectacular, colorful and fun. Then there was Bai Jaba (War dance) by Kachari cultural troupe. It was followed by Tsethomari (folk dance) it was a thanksgiving dance for all the blessings that they received throughout the year. Then there was Junglangkak games by Ao cultural troupe which depicted the varios games that men play to keep themselves ready for the war.

Then it was break for the lunch. The vegetarians went to the veg food trail, they had Chinese food options. Santosh, Shankar, Jaclyn and myself went to the different tribe huts and went to try different foods. We tasted silk worm in Garo Stall, along with the rice beer which was distilled. The silk worm was tasty but it was cold, am sure it would have tasted better if it was hot. It was dried first and then would have sauteed, that’s how it tasted and looked.

Then we moved to Satakhami for smoked pork, which was ok, then we headed to another hut for smoked fish and chicken and rice beer which was non-distilled. Rice beer was ok, but most of us didn’t enjoy any other items in this.  we had a nice herbal tea and lemon tea. That made our day as it was good. Then it was time to head back to the afternoon show.

It started with Awura Kwhi (folk song) by Pochury Cultural troupe which is a victory dance only the warrior who hunted heads are eligible to do this dance, then there was another folk song by Angami cultural troupe from Sakabama village which was all about men and women preparing the land for farming. Then there was Ho-E-Eh Zou (Folk song by Khiamniungan cultural troupe, that was another thanksgiving dance. Then there was a traditional game of Ading Oka by Garo cultural troupe which 2 boys hold the bamboo baton, sit opposite to each other and tried to see who is able to take the baton from the other. It was to test the strength. Then we had lover’s dance Zinger Tsungsang by Ao tribe from Dimapur. It was a dance to get to know each one’s partner and learn to communicate. Then there was Aki Kiti which is a semi-contact combat sport involving kicking and blocking with soles. It is a traditional sport originating from the Sümi naga tribe. Then there was Akhakhi Kemvu Khwie (cotton spinning) by Rengma women from Kohima. The women folk used to make different shawls to give to her loved one, while men gave moral support by encouraging them while enjoying their rice beer. The beautiful cultural show came to end for that day and we explored the stalls near by specially wanted to pick up the Naga shawls. Then we headed to the café and enjoyed the soup, noodles and then went back to the venue for the music festival in the evening.

Music festival started by Swarathma, which is a Bangalore-based Indian Folk/fusion band. And The band’s sound draws from Indian Folk and Classical Music, blending it with Western sounds like Blues Rock and Reggaefirst. Jishnu Dasgupta from the band gave an introduction and then the show started, the theme was on Indian tribal songs. First, they had a song from Ho tribe of Jharkhand. They sang the song of Sisir Dah (Dew Drop), then it was followed by Rabha tribe from Asaam, who sang the Chingi Hasong (on preserving rabha way of life), Then it was time for Kandha Piju from Orissa singing on Titli Piju (the cyclone that ravaged them). It was heartbreaking even to listen. Then there was a festive song of Bwisagu by Bodo tribe from Assam. Then there was a song from Jamatiya tribe from Tripura on Bisi Kwtal which is a new year celebration song, one which was peppy and warmed us for the cold night. Then all the artists came together to sing featuring Rhythms of earth. First of all hats off to these folks, who is trying to keep these tribal songs alive. Vasu Dixit from Swarathma, sang few amazing numbers. Then there was another team came which was boring, So that sent us packing as the weather was not helping either. We rushed back to the homestay, had our dinner and crashed for the night.

Day 7: We woke up, had our breakfast and headed to Khonoma, which is an Angami Naga village closer to the state capital, Kohima. It is the first green village in India. We went to the small fort there and as we went inside the village, we saw women weaving the local naga shawls and we bought few, then enjoyed the juicy cut pine apples from the small shops. As we roamed in the village, on the sides of the road, there was money bag and fruits with the cost and there was no person sitting there. All that you have to do is that, if you are taking the fruits put the right change in the money bag. A big love and respect to this village, I can’t imagine if this will succeed in our towns/cities. Huge and huge respect. Then we used one of the rest rooms of a local and then we headed back to the hornbill festival venue.

While Indu, Sur and myself explored the war museum, horticultural stalls, florals arrangements, paintings, others were enjoying the hornbill show. Once we were done, all of us then gathered and headed back to the homestay. On the way we saw the stalls of wild cat and wild birds meat. Since we couldn’t stand out more on cold, we didn’t try it but headed back to the homestay. We  had our dinner and I had logged in to do my office work. Since the network was too slow I had to wait longer. While I was waiting for the emails to be sent, Shankar gave me company and we were chatting. The host were insisting me to have some tea but I was feeling bad to ask anything at the late hours so I declined and asked them to go to sleep as it was too late. It was way past midnight and they saw that I was still working, they came with some hot beverage (looked like Barley Congee water), we couldn’t refuse as they had already made. So Shankar and myself enjoyed the drink, thanked them, by then my emails were sent and it was time to crash for the night.

Day 8: Woke up to the beautiful and cold day, had a teary farewell from the host family members. This was one of the best stays and then we headed to Kohima. First we headed to the war memorial. This is a memorial dedicated to soldiers of the 2nd British Division of the Allied Forces who died in the Second World War at Kohima, in April 1944. The soldiers died on the battleground of Garrison Hill in the tennis court area of the Deputy Commissioner’s residence. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which maintains this cemetery among many others in the world, there are 1,420 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War at this cemetery, and a memorial to an additional 917 Hindu and Sikh soldiers who were cremated in accordance with their faith.

Then we headed to the Cathedral Church of Kohima, the church is noted for its architecture which incorporates many elements of traditional Naga houses, including its facade which resembles that of a Naga house. Unfortunately it was under major renovation. We had an amazing view of the city though and we headed to Kohima State Museum, this was one of the best things that I cherished. It had all the information about various tribes of Naga, their traditional games, the way each tribe constructs the huts, their clothing, accessories, etc. Each tribe had its own uniqueness. It was their past history which needed to be remembered, cherished and not forgotten. This was an eyeopener, I wish if every state had the similar one, depicting their past history and pride of their ancestors. I am sure each of our states in India has a beautiful past to cherish.

Then we headed to Dimapur, On the way we stopped at Manipuri Rice hotel. It was the worst experience for us. They had Axone (fermented beans) dishes which we couldn’t even touch for the strong smell which we are not used to. Some of the chicken curries came with the actual chicken legs with the skin, looking at that my appetite went down. I just had little rice and little dal and I couldn’t touch any of the other items for their weird taste and smell. Some of them got the cold poori which was given in newspaper as they ran out of plate. Shankar had chicken curry along with the poori, since he didn’t have plate, somehow managed to try to eat the chicken in the newspaper and he gave up as the meat was hard. Some fell sick after having this food and we were rushing to reach our last destination, Dimapur. Finally we reached Hotel Acacia, Dimapur for the last night of the journey. We bid good bye to both the drivers for all their support. By now with the roads being bad, I had hurt my neck and shoulder, few of us had cough and cold. So we just checkedin and I took a painkiller, had a nice soup and crashed. While others went to explore the night bazaar, even though some of them felt uncomfortable, Santosh enjoyed the grasshopppers etc, which I missed.

Day 9: Woke up a little early so that we could settle the accounts, then catch up with everyone before we see each others off. So went for an early breakfast and caught up with the group for some time. We settled our accounts and we all left for the airport.

We had one of the best experiences in Dimapur airport and Indigo staffs were extremely helpful. Even other staffs like security were supportive and helpful. Finally we boarded our flight back to Delhi and landed at T3. Since we had to reach T2 for the flight to Bangalore we walked towards T2 and then we boarded. Then we landed in Bangalore, got our bags and reached home after having a really one of the best experiential tours.

One beautiful, memorable, experiential trip came to end but it was one of the best and amazing trips and once again thanks to Santosh for organizing and the entire group for making the trip more memorable.

Until the next trip, signing off………………

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page

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