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Hi everybody 🙂

Continuing with the third part of my ”Travelling through the North East of India” series, I’m back to share with you my experiences in the state of Nagaland.

Those of you who have missed the earlier parts of this series, here are the links:  

Travelling through the North East of India: Manipur

Travelling through the North East of India: Arunachal Pradesh

The Hornbill Festival of Nagaland, India

My journey through Nagaland provided me with a deep insight into the colourful life and culture of the Naga people, the native inhabitants of this state. I had visited this beautiful tribal state in Nov-Dec 2010. Here’s my story…

Nagaland, India

A bit about Nagaland…

Nagaland borders the state of Assam to the west, Arunachal Pradesh and part of Assam to the north, Myanmar to the east and Manipur to the south. The state capital is Kohima, and the largest city is Dimapur. The state is mostly mountainous except those areas bordering Assam valley.

This enchanting state with natural beauty and ethnic diversity is populated by the Naga people of Mongoloid stock.  There are 16 major Naga tribes in this state, each having its own language and unique customs and traditions. The Nagas have always been brave warriors. Although most of them have now become Christians (90% of the state population is Christian), they still preserve the remnants of their early animist culture and ancient traditions.

Baptists constitute more than 75% of the Christian population. Nagaland is known as “the only predominantly Baptist state in the world.”

Festivals are an essential and integral part of the social-cultural life of the Nagas and a majority of these festivals are themed on agriculture. The colourful festivals also showcase their artistry and skills, particularly in music and dance. (Read : The Hornbill Festival of Nagaland )

Certain charming villages, most of them belonging to the Angami tribe, have been identified and developed by the state government to promote tourism by offering tourists a taste of Naga culture.

Dzukou Valley is one of the most frequented trekking spots in the whole of North East providing a panoramic view of the mountains, wild flowers, mountain streams and the surrounding landscapes.

The tallest rhododendron tree featured in the Guinness Book of World Records is found in the Japfü ranges. Japfü Peak is the second highest peak in Nagaland. Both, Japfü and Dzükou, offer a great off the beaten track experience for trekkers and adventurous tourists.

About my journey…

I started on my journey to Kohima from the military lodgings in the neighbouring state of Manipur. Along the border of the two states, lies the valley of flowers well known for its natural beauty – the beautiful Dzukou Valley. It is home to a variety of flowers of varied hues and species.

I clicked this photo on the way…

Nagaland, India

My trip to the North-East hadn’t been a planned one, rather a spur of the moment one. So I had been unaware of the fact that in the months of November and December, states like Manipur and Nagaland hosted annual cultural festivals attracting plenty of visitors. Many officers from the Army and Assam Rifles were going to attend the Hornbill Festival with their families so the military lodgings had been booked in advance.

On reaching Kohima, I discovered to my horror that all the city hotels and homestays listed in the travel brochure had been booked in advance for visitors attending the state’s major event, the Hornbill Festival. Luckily, I got a good hotel thanks to a local taxi driver who suggested and drove me to a newly opened hotel owned by a local politician’s son. Winters are quite cold throughout the North-East but Nagaland experiences bitter cold with temperatures dropping below 4 degrees Celsius. So I was glad that my lovely room had heating.

Although Kohima is the political capital, it is very laidback and serene with an air of a small town. On the other hand, Dimapur, which is the economic hub of the state, is the only city in Nagaland which is connected by rail and air.

To know more about the unique culture and identity of the ethnic tribes, I visited the State Museum of Kohima.

Nagaland, India

It houses some rare artefacts belonging to different tribes of the state. The exhibits include colourful traditional dresses, expensive traditional jewellery, Morungs (Naga hut models) of each tribe, clan motifs, musical instruments (made of bamboo and buffalo horns) and paintings by different local artists. All this gives an idea about the legacy of the Nagas.

At the Kohima War Cemetery, overlooking the town…

Nagaland, India

Kohima has been witness to the bloody World War II battles between the Allies and Japan. The Battle of Kohima lasted for nearly three months and the brave soldiers fighting for the Allied forces did an admirable task of blocking the Japanese invasion at the border of India. For the first time in south-east Asia the Japanese lost the initiative to the Allies which they then retained until the end of the war. Historians have called Battle of Kohima “one of the bitterly fought battles of the Second World War” involving “fierce hand-to-hand combat”. Only 20,000 of the 85,000 Japanese who had come to invade India were left standing. Allies suffered casualties to 17,857 British and Indian troops. Before leaving Kohima the British built this memorial in memory of their fallen comrades. The cemetery is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The town’s colourful Keeda (Insect) Market, a tribal food market, left me spellbound! Check out these photos…

To the right, the explosive Bhut Jolokia or Naga King chilli (also called Naga Jolokia), previously recognized by Guinness World Records as the hottest pepper in the world…

Nagaland, India

Fresh vegetables, food grains, chicken…

Nagaland, India

Snails…

Nagaland, India

Freshwater eels swirling in tubs…

Nagaland, India

hey, wait a minute…what’s this? My eyes widened as I passed by the exotic food on sale.

Fat & luscious silkworms and woodworms…

Nagaland, India

Nagaland, India

Honeycombs…

Nagaland, India

Dried frogs…

Nagaland, India

Spiders…

Nagaland, India

…and dog meat!!!

Nagaland, India

Watch these videos of mine…

Someone told me that this exotic and expensively priced food cures different kinds of illnesses.  Very well, but dog meat??? I was taken aback at the sight of the neatly placed pieces of man’s best friend on the table.

Back at my hotel, I was hesitant to have lunch. I simply didn’t know what to eat. Perhaps the restaurant kitchen served dog meat or cooked meals in fat of dogs. For a moment, I thought of having just fruits and vegetable sandwiches but it wasn’t going to do me any good, especially in the chilly weather. I had to eat something hot. The staff was warm and friendly, very young about 20-something or so and mostly girls. I couldn’t see dog meat in the restaurant menu card, but still to be on the safer side, I asked the friendly young attendant if they served dog meat or used fat of dogs as a cooking medium. Much to my relief, they didn’t!  She invited me to visit the restaurant kitchen so that I could take a look around the place and check the ingredients and stuff used by them. Satisfied, I had chicken soup, medium spiced. I was aware of the hot chillies of the region. I guess I should have just told her to go easy on the spices, because no sooner had I taken in a spoonful of the soup than hot tears started rolling down my cheeks. My mouth was on fire! While I doused my mouth with water, the chef made the soup milder by adding vegetables, bamboo or whatever to it.

The next day was the first day of the Hornbill Festival and I didn’t have any clue as to the venue and the events during the day. I happened to mention this to one of the girls. Ten minutes later, I opened the room door to find her with a day old newspaper in hand. It had the entire schedule of the Hornbill festival. So sweet!

Since the hotel staff was young, literate and English-speaking, I wondered whether they liked eating dog meat. I chatted with a few of the girls and found out that though it was cooked at home during feasts, they didn’t eat it because the taste didn’t appeal to them!

Khonoma…

During winter, dawn breaks at 4:30am in the Northeast so I had planned an early start for Khonoma, an Angami village 20 KM west of Kohima. My guide was a young English-speaking Naga girl.

On the way to the village, I asked her whether she ate dog meat and she said, yes! I loved her honesty. I mean, eating dog meat was part of her culture so why should she feel ashamed to admit it. Still, the thought of her having eaten a dog did make me feel uncomfortable so I asked her how when was the last time she had eaten it. More than a week ago, she said. Thank God! My curiosity made me ask her all sorts of questions – how does the dog meat taste? How do you prepare the dish? Ugh…

She said there were many Naga people living in Korea. Hmmm, Koreans love dog meat too…

I told her about my visit to the Keeda market and the exotic food sold there. “So what other wild food do people eat?” I asked.

Everything that walks crawls or flies, she said. That included rats, birds, worms, snakes, and what have you. Wow, just like the Chinese people…

I was curious to know how they prepared rat meat dish. She wasn’t one for skipping even the smallest detail…starting right from how the rat is trapped, skinned and finally cooked!

I liked the enthusiasm with which she talked about the Naga culture, traditions and folklore, the villages, etc.  The Nagas have a very healthy appetite, she said. They have three large meals, mostly comprising of sticky rice with spicy pork or beef, or fish. Food is also a reason for getting together, for impromptu feasts to tide over the intervals before the next official festival. No child is born or wed without the entire clan turning up, each bearing a special dish for the occasion – be it venison, pork or beef to last for the weeks a wedding spreads over in Nagaland. 

This pig is awaiting his fate at an upcoming feast…

Nagaland, India

The road was quite rough in places, take a look…

Nagaland, India

Early morning walk through Khonoma village on the “myths and legends” trails…

Nagaland, India

Poinsettia flowers in full bloom…

Nagaland, India

Skulls of buffaloes and mithuns adorn the porticos of Naga houses signifying the glorious status of the great ancestors who had performed grand feasts of merit.

Nagaland, India

Stones of varying sizes and shapes implanted within the compound of Naga houses…

Nagaland, India

An owl-faced stone…

Nagaland, India

Here’s my guide against the backdrop of a monolith commemorating the centenary celebrations of the Baptist Church of Khonoma…

Nagaland, India One of the modern houses, built from wood…

Nagaland, India

A traditional Naga family…

Nagaland, India

Pumpkins find their way into many Naga dishes…

Nagaland, India

Entrance gates in all Naga villages are adorned with traditional Naga art and buffalo horns…

Nagaland, India

It was at Khonoma that the Naga warriors made their last stand against the British in 1879. The village is estimated to be around 700 years old and is surrounded by hills that are as high as 9000 ft. It runs along a ridge which is a characteristic of Angami villages and its domain extends from the terrace rice fields in the valley immediately beneath the ridge into the uplands of the Barail range all the way southwards till the border with Manipur. Naga villages were mostly located on hilltops. Perhaps it was to keep a watch on the valley below for approaching friends or foes.

Nagaland, India

Terrace rice fields producing 20 varieties of rice…

Nagaland, IndiaNagaland, India A monolith announcing the number of feasts offered by a villager…

Nagaland, India

Khonoma has become the model village for eco-tourism with its “Green Khonoma” mission. The Village Council has made it mandatory for every household to have dustbins.

Nagaland, India

Once in a month, sanitation drive is carried out and the community’s garbage is burnt. The ashes and the residue are then used as manure.

Women on duty, collecting trash…

Nagaland, India

The Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan sanctuary (KNCTS) home to many endangered and rare species of plants and animals is privately owned and managed by the village community.

Tuophema Tourist Village

Nagaland, India

Tuophema is an Angami village located 41 KM away north from Kohima. It’s a very old village established way back in 1431 AD.

In 2001, the people of the village suggested the creation of a tourist village to develop a sustainable destination. This tourist village has 12 Morungs (traditional Naga huts) with modern facilities and is managed and staffed by a team of young local people, overseen by the elected Village Council.

Nagaland, India

Nagaland, India

A traditional Naga kitchen…

Nagaland, India

Rice and corn are the main crops in Nagaland. Corn comes in different colours- white, yellow, red and black.

The Multipurpose hall…

Nagaland, India

There’s a museum too exhibiting traditional artefacts, jewelleries and clothing.

Besides food and accommodation, the services offered to the tourists here include  guided walks to nearby peaks or rice fields, cultural expeditions and visits to village homes (sampling of typical Angami hospitality, local dishes and home brewed rice beer), and an insight into the ancient myths & legends and folklores recounted by local guides and villagers.

Flowers are everywhere, whether wild or cultivated. I particularly liked this one…

Nagaland, India

Lemon trees are in abundance too. Check out the lemons on the tree beyond…

Nagaland, India

The Nagas were called head-hunters as they hunted for skulls which they hung in their homes or on trees. The larger the number of skulls one owned, the higher would be his status in society. Later, the custom was limited to animal skulls. In earlier days, human skulls used to hang from this tree…

Nagaland, India

The villagers have their own rice granaries…

Nagaland, India

Nagaland, India

A villager working with bamboos…

Nagaland, India

5 pm, dusk over the Naga hills…

Nagaland, India

I hope you had a great time visiting me. My next post is on the culturally rich state of Assam. Do keep visiting!

See you soon…till then, take care 🙂

Coming up next: Travelling through the North East of India: Assam

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