When in the north-eastern state of Nagaland, go beyond Kohima. Glamp at the foothills of Japfu, sample Naga delicacies and explore the unusung villages that will only foster your connection with nature
A trip with my girlfriends is long overdue and I am thinking of a destination that offers it all – colour, culture and spectacular natural beauty. I, almost spontaneously, book three seats on a flight from Mumbai to Dimapur.
After around seven hours of travel, we arrive at Dimapur airport, all set for our bumpy drive to Kohima, the hilly capital city. NH 29 that connects the two cities is under renovation and we are asked to be prepared for some jerks and bounces. During the drive, our friendly guide Dorje Namgyal narrates interesting tales of the Nagas, once fearsome warriors and head hunters, who are fiercely protective of their identity and heritage.
Pointing towards pineapple plantations on way, Namgyal declares that we are about to sample the sweetest pineapples in the world. Numerous pineapple vendors have set up stalls along the highway and we halt at one to enjoy the juicy, tropical fruit that’s served on a stick, sprinkled with King chilli powder. The perfectly-balanced, sweet-pungent taste leaves us craving for more!
The Art of Glamping
As we are approaching Kohima, it’s already dark outside. We roll down our windows for some fresh air and the panoramic night view. Illuminated by thousands of lights, the town seems to be coiling around the mountain ranges like a serpentine; very typical of most Naga settlements.
After driving a little further, we arrive at Kohima Camp which is set amidst verdant, untouched forests of Kigwema, a little village in the interiors of the city.
We are looking forward to five days of glamping (glamourous camping) at the foothills of the gigantic Japfu Mountain and soaking in the serenity of the surrounding woodlands.
After a traditional welcome by Nagas, we check in and relax in our uber chic and comfortable tent that boasts of safari-style colonial furniture, designer linen and a private sit-out area. The plush four poster bed is inviting but we decide to spend our first evening raising a toast by the campfire and preparing ourselves to uncover the past of India’s wild east.
The Naga Way of Life
While Kohima doesn’t seem quite impressive or inspiring at first, spending more time here enables us to know that it’s a relatively peaceful and prosperous place with ever-smiling, affable people. Almost everyone in the city speaks English but Nagamese (a creole arising out of Assamese, Hindi, English and various Naga languages) is the language that rules the roost across the state. We begin our day at the tranquil and beautiful lawns of World War II Memorial.
Located in the heart of the city, it is a testimony to the sacrifices made by the valiant British and Indian soldiers against Japanese invaders in one of the most bitterly fought battles. We come across the evocative epitaph enshrined here: “When you go home, tell them of us, and say: ‘For your tomorrow, we gave our today.”
To tap into the Naga way of life, we visit the Central Market which is a compendium of exotic Naga tribal foods. The market is buzzing with energy, vibrancy and a jumble of unique sounds and smells.
Nagas believe in eating everything they derive from the forests. Hence, we see stalls selling dogs, rats, silk worms, frogs, snails, bee larvae, dried fish as well as freshest greens and fruits. Dried bamboo shoots and Naga chili or ‘bhut jolokia’ (one of the hottest chillies in the world) are readily available everywhere and added to most Naga delicacies.
Back to Basics
We are driving towards Khonoma, a 700-year-old village inhabited by the Angami tribe. We are enchanted by its rugged beauty and cleanliness which is definitely the result of a ban on plastic and installation of trash cans at every few steps.
A close bond with nature is the basis of life in Khonoma, Asia’s first green village that discourages hunting and logging in its forests.
We stop by for a quick lunch at a thehu (a sit-out area where villagers get-together for meetings and evening bonfires) overlooking gorgeous terraced paddy fields. Lunch comprises local delicacies like boiled spinach, red rice and Naga dal served with spicy chilli chutney and wild apple wine.
The pleasure of relishing a simple meal is enhanced by the splendid views and freshness in the crisp mountain air.
We wander the cobbled alleys of the village, waving at curious, rosy-cheeked kids and admiring the traditional architecture of carved gateways and stone walls.
Houses in the spick-and-span hamlet have small gardens growing colourful flowers as well as vegetables like potatoes and carrots.
There are local homesteads called morungs or bachelor dormitories that are a centre for social, religious and political activities. This is where Nagas get to learn folk music and dance, folk tales and traditions and art work like carvings of figures on stones and wood. What we truly enjoy among all our experiences at the village is watching the young kids play indigenous games like Naga wrestling, stone jumping (jumping to a great height against a stone wall), Cheli/Fula (cane sliding), Kemu Pfuta (a kind of crawling race) and Kara Tsung (stilt bamboo walk race). We return to our camp feeling inspired by the essence and ethos of Khonoma.
The following day, we are set to traverse the villages of Jakhama and Kigwema. Our tour in Jakhama begins at a kharu, or a large ceremonial gate which is the entrance to the village. It greets you with the sign “Welcome to Jakhama”. An endless stretch of paddy fields instantly soothes the mind and soul.
As we weave through the village, we notice the walls of houses riddled with bullet marks from World War II and revel in the beauty of the ochre yellow landscape. Paddy fields wear this earthy colour during the harvesting season.
At the riverbanks, we observe the Angamis fish and farm in their traditional ways. On our way back to the camp, the quaint village of Kigwema makes for a quick stop. In 1944, the Japanese forces came to Kigwema on their way to attack Kohima, and were provided shelter by the villagers. We enter some of the oldest, traditional houses decorated with impressive wooden pillars, folk art and skulls and horns of animals.
Around a corner, there is a group of wrinkled men gathered at a thehu, indulging in a hearty laugh with a glass of khie or rice beer in hand. The simple pleasures of life, aren’t they! The sight makes us wonder whether city dwellers could ever prioritise delightful idleness over busyness of the rate race!
HOW TO GET THERE
Direct flights connect Dimapur airport to Guwahati and Kolkata and connections can be made from all other airports in India including Mumbai and Delhi.