Millennium Post

Nagaland: India’s wild east

Nagaland: India’s wild east
Since I knew the language as well as the geography of Nagaland, I was entrusted with the overall responsibility of the tour.

After the team’s arrival at Calcutta and one full day of sightseeing in the City of Joy, we departed for Nagaland. The uncontested ‘wild east’ of India, Nagaland is probably one of the reasons you visit the Northeast in the first place. A place of unparalleled primeval beauty, Nagaland’s dazzling hills and valleys – right on the edge of the India–Myanmar border – are otherworldly places where until very recently some 16-odd headhunting Naga tribes valiantly fought off any intruders. Of course, the place is a shadow of its once savage self today, and much of the south of the state is fairly developed. In the north, however, you still stand a good chance of meeting tribesmen in exotic attire who continue to live a lifestyle that is normally only seen on National Geographic channel.

We landed in Dimapur on an Indian Airlines flight from Calcutta. At Dimapur airport we were received by representatives of the Touphema Tourist Village, which was to be our base for our week-long sojourn in Nagaland. From Dimapur, the Touphema Tourist Village is 100 kms away. The drive there through the hills and valleys was beautiful. Situated on a gentle hillock with panoramic views of the surrounding valleys, Touphema offers an exquisite glimpse into traditional Naga tribal life and hospitality in the lap of nature. At the village we were given a traditional Nagamese welcome.

In the villages of Nagaland, huts are not merely meant to provide shelter. They signify social status, relevant adjustments to local climatic conditions, judicious use of locally available materials, and the age-old cultural traditions, all of which are interwoven into a fine blend.

The entire Tourist complex is well laid out in one of the highest elevations in the neighborhood, which in Nagaland’s tribal folklore is traditionally reserved for highly-placed people in their society. There was an exclusive reception center with a well-stocked pub and the traditional Nagamese architecture was offset by the ethnic decor.

The clustered Naga huts are well spread out and the community lobby, kitchen as well as the dining room signify the importance of space and are strategically located on the higher levels of the village. The community kitchen, we were told, is the central meeting place for guests in the village. It had comfortable seating arrangements and was spacious enough to store all the foodstuff.  We were absolutely awestruck with the intricately designed wine goblets and mugs, which were organically made, yet very fashionable. We were offered the locally brewed liquor in these designer goblets.

As part of the Naga hospitality, guests are also offered local dishes with homemade rice beer in a glass-paned cafeteria. As dusk descended upon the village, the ethereal sight of the red molten sun dipping behind the distant mountainous horizon and the high octane cultural performance by the locals in their traditional attire, complete with bows and arrows, made for a truly out-of-the-world experience. My discerning German guests had never seen such a raw and animist tribal culture before.

As darkness enveloped the village, the sight of the well spread out clustered huts was breathtaking. We were urged to go up close and explore the huts from a closer angle.  We found out to our utter amazement that each of the huts was theme based and the bedrooms that we were provided were luxurious, with attached toilet and geyser! Solar battery powered lighting in this remote corner of India was beyond our imagination!

A recently refurbished museum inside the village houses an extensive ethnographic collection including wood carvings, musical instruments, textiles, handicrafts traditional artefacts, jewellery and archaeological finds.

As a part of warm Naga hospitality, guests are also invited for guided walks to nearby peaks or rice fields, hunting trips, cultural expeditions and visits to local homes. The innovative manner in which the Angami Naga culture has been portrayed in this dream Naga village is simply awesome.

Kohima, the state capital, is located 74 Kms away from Dimapur. The name ‘Kohima’ is derived from the Angami word ‘Kewhira’ on whose land the township was established. Kohima, we were told, was designated as the headquarters of the Naga Hills by the then Chief Commissioner of undivided Assam, Colonel Keating, largely due to its strategic importance. This nondescript Naga town was the center of global attention during World War II, in the year 1944, when the mighty Japanese Army captured this Naga town for 64 days. Today, there is a War Memorial dedicated to those brave soldiers who laid down their lives in the infamous Battle of Kohima. A visit to the War Memorial is a must.

 The climate of Kohima is salubrious and it is ideally located at an altitude of 1444.12 meters above sea level. It is a year round destination and offers a nice getaway from the humdrum of city life. A few of my German guests were avid trekkers and couldn’t resist the temptation of embarking on a trek into the mountainous neighbourhoods of Kohima, while the rest of us went for something more sublime – visiting the colorful bazaars that were buzzing with activity. The shops were choc-a-bloc with hi-tech imported goods, ranging from cameras to the latest laptop. I got pretty interested in an intricately designed Naga Shawl and seeing my enthusiasm, the rest of the group followed suit in buying up bagfulls.

We were very impressed by Kohima’s cosmopolitan air. A typical Kohima marketplace is full of various Naga tribesmen, some of whom come from outside the state to trade in the bustling bazaars of Kohima. We found Kohima to be a showcase for diverse Naga tribes like Ao, Angami, and Rengma, etc. living in complete harmony with the modern world. The way they have adapted to the new age lifestyle is truly commendable. From high speed internet connectivity to mobile phones, Kohima is on the verge of rapid economic growth, particularly at a time when there are rumors doing the rounds in governmental circles about developing a corridor for trade and commerce here with Southeast Asia.

One of Kohima’s most enduring landmarks is the magnificent Catholic Cathedral, ideally located on the impressive looking Aradurah Hill. The façade of the church is conspicuous by its geometrical design and it is easily the largest cathedral in North East India, and also a key place of Christian congregations.

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