Nagaland is one of the few states in India where the biggest city is not the capital by default. Kohima is the capital city of Nagaland, it is located in the south-south central region of the state. Kohima also serves as the seat of the Legislative and Executive arms of the state government of Nagaland. The state doesn’t have a High court – but has a Kohima Bench in the Gauhati High Court.
The largest city of Nagaland is Dimapur, located about 75 Km from Kohima in the south west corner of the state bordering the neighboring state of Assam. Dimapur is the last accessible place by Air and Train in Nagaland. It is not unnatural as Nagaland is mostly covered in hills – about 90% of the landscape is covered in hills and hilly terrain.
There are numerous trains on the route and 10 of them are daily trains. So we pushed our departure and decided to take a late night train that would a. Give us time to meet the players of Bengaluru FC in the day, and b. save us the hotel cost for the night. We’d booked a non-AC – sleeper coach – which cost us a little more than 200 rupees. The train was on time at Guwahati – but was filthy. Since mine was an upper berth and it was a late-night train I didn’t bother if the floor was clean or not – I hopped in and slept. I was told that the train was duly cleaned before it left the station.
The train pulled into Dimapur a little after 6 AM. I was exhausted and visibly dehydrated. Luckily the train station has enough food joints and to our pleasant surprise, there was a south Indian stand that served Dosas – which we had with much gratitude.
We had run into the tourist police – female – with whom we spoke about the ILP. The ILP – Inner Line Permit is what tourists and other non-native expats need to visit Nagaland. It is made essential because of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act that is in force in the area. The Act itself might be enforced in different regions up to different extents, but the ILP is required in only a few regions of India – and we didn’t have it. Our friend and host – who worked at a Kohima based TV station had said don’t worry about it, you’re only in Nagaland for 2 days. So we didn’t worry about it and fat mouthed the cops who detained us at the railway station for our troubles. Eventually we were let off on our own cognizance and on assurance that we would obtain the ILP from the commissioner’s office in Dimapur town. I would suggest – you get the ILP before hand and not try to pull stunts like these – its available online or in bigger cities like New Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati and Shillong.
Upon our “release” from the Railway station, we were hounded by cabbies – normal of any city in India. We found a cab that had 1 passenger ready to leave and with the 3 of us joining, we were ready to go – except – now we had to find a driver. The cabs may not always be privately owned – hence there are 3 moving parts – the passengers, the vehicle, and the driver. It was only on the road to Kohima did we find out that every part in the car is a moving part and it’s a miracle the chassis still holds, and engine still runs. The road is terrible, most of it is attributed to the new highway project, but the construction has been going on for years and likely to go on for years more. The distance of 75 Km took us nearly 6 hours. Bikers and landslides were a common site. Armored vehicles too. I couldn’t enjoy the mountainous scenery much – but the mountains and valleys can make an enjoyable sight.
The terrain gradient of the city of Kohima was constantly varying. The city itself wasn’t any cleaner than majority of India, but there was a lot of construction going on, houses, shopping complexes, bigger housing buildings – which suggested a sort of progress. There were also numerous schools and coaching centers – coaching centers that taught computers, and other professional certifications. Good signs! Since it was Christmas season, the whole city had Christmas decorations – not a lot of lights – as electricity is a commodity, but decorations, sky lights, and a lot of red and green everywhere. The homogeneity of the decorations made me as our friendly -stranger co passenger if it was handed by the government – which was the case. We took another cab from downtown Kohima towards our homestay in Kigwema.
We were welcomed warmly by the owner/keeper of the house. As a welcome drink, we were offered rice tea. Rice is a big part in Naga society, rice with meat, rice tea, and rice beer are every Naga’s daily routine. The homestay was a minimalist stay with minimal furniture – just beds and bedding, a small table with a bible and a calendar. There were candles and matches reminding us we were in rural India – albeit a tourist destination. The facility had community bath and toilet – toilet being the squat toilet. We freshened ourselves up and waited for our friend to pick us up to go to the Hornbill festival.
Kisama is an artificial village created just for the sake of the festival. It gets the name from the two nearby places of Ki-gwema and phe-Sama. The village is basically a big carnival area with parking, outdoor stage area, restaurants, a chapel, ATMs, medics, outdoor flea markets and everything else you find in a carnival. The main attraction however are the Morungs. A Morung literally means a habitat – a place of residence for a family or a group of families of a Naga Tribe.
Nagaland is home to 17 indigenous tribes, some are as big as 200 thousand people while some endangered ones at less than 20 thousand inhabitants. All these tribes are incredibly interesting with their own unique culture, language, scripts and art forms. The Hornbill Festival is an event that showcases and celebrates all the different cultures of these tribes. Each of the 17 tribes are depicted in their Morung, which they get to design and decorate themselves, cook food, set up stalls, brew beer and hold all of these for sales. Photos are encouraged and everyone is friendly.
The festival not only runs in Kisama but after nightfall, concerts from famous and upcoming native bands are held in the city concert ground in Kohima – which is just 15 Km from Kisama,
The people we met, our friends who we had seen in a different light and the new friends we made opened our minds to a whole new world. The conversations with the Nagas will be last of the 6 part travelogue of the incredible North East of India.
Also Read : Part 4 – Dawki and Jaintia