Nagaland: The Edge of India

Encircled by Assam to the north, Burma and Arunachal Pradesh to the east and Manipur down south, this unspoilt land of green valleys and shrouding mists offers the visitor warm, colourful people and ecologically well-preserved habitats

Nagaland and its beauty

A fascinating kaleidoscope of legends and lore, tribal wealth and pristine beauty, Nagaland’s multi-hued cultural tapestry offers the visitor warm, colourful people, a riot of exotic flora and greenery, and ecologically well-preserved habitats — perfect for a rich holiday experience. Recently, the Central government allotted the state administration Rs.400 crore to boost this tiny (pop. 2.28 million) north-eastern state’s tourism potential.

Encircled by Assam to the north, Burma and Arunachal Pradesh to the east and Manipur down south, this unspoilt land of green valleys and shrouding mists sprawled over 16,488 sq. km is mainly populated by the Naga community, that has strong ethnic, cultural and linguistic ties with the ‘seven sister’ states of north-east India. Carved out of territories earlier known as the Naga Hills-Tuesnsang Area (NHTA), the state was formally established through the enactment of the State of Nagaland Act, 1962. It is the only state of the Indian Union where English is the official language.

Nagaland is almost surrounded by three scenic mountain ranges — Patkal, Barail and Naga — which form a jagged chain from north to south. The state’s highest peak is Saramati in the Tuesnsang district (3,840 m) while the Japfu Peak (3,014 m) is just a notch below. From these mountains several rivers including the Dikhu and Doyang, the state’s primary sources of water, originate.

Apart from mountainous terrain, Nagaland is also endowed with scenic valleys, fresh water streams, deep gorges and unique flora and fauna. The state is a wildlife enthusiast’s delight with the spectacular Fakim and Itanki wildlife sanctuaries a must-see to get a flavour of the local wilderness. Adventure seekers in particular will appreciate the invigorating treks that the Dzukou Valley, Mokokchung, Pungro, Mount Tiyi and Satoi ranges offer. There’s also plenty of rock climbing, jungle camping and nature walks for experiencing the exotic vegetation. Nagaland’s sub-tropical rainforests harbour tigers, leopards, elephants, deer, wild buffalos and other rare species. Its vast swathes of paddy fields — fed by an extensive irrigation system — are a visual treat.

dzukou valley

Dzukou valley, Nagaland

A perennially salubrious climate allows year-round tourism though the wet monsoon season (June-September) is not the best time. Although the state currently lacks the creature comforts of starred hotels, smart eateries and glitzy malls, basic comforts are plentiful. Its capital Kohima is a pretty and welcoming town, with a dramatic setting of mist-swathed mountains and emerald rivers and lakes.

An overwhelmingly rural community, the descriptive ‘Naga’ has become an omnibus word for tribal communities of north-east India. However, of the 32 tribes populating the north-eastern states, 16 major sub-tribes are concentrated in seven districts of Nagaland. Primary among these are the Angamis, the Sema, Konyak, Aos and the Rengmas, each with its distinctive culture, language and lifestyle. The Naga people are also known for their uncompromising sartorial culture, especially their multi-coloured spears, elaborate bracelets, chest plates and colourful bamboo headdresses.

Though animist by tradition, during the past century Nagas embraced Christianity under the influence of British missionaries. Today, 90 percent of the state’s populace is Christian. The Nagas were exposed to western culture during pre-independence years when the English recruited them as labour corps in the Second World War, during which Naga troops were highly prized for their intrepidity in the battlefield.

However, despite their warrior traditions, contemporary Nagas are warm and culturally confident people who revere their traditions. Their culture, turbulent history, song and dance, indigenous crafts, costumes and jewellery comfortably co-exist with progressive concerns about political autonomy and acceptance by mainstream Indian society. In particular Naga youth are becoming increasingly well-known for textile and garment fashion and design.
Somewhat paradoxically, the Nagas are also rooted in indigenous traditions and beliefs, riddled with superstition and mysticism. Most Naga tribes revere ghosts and spirits of trees, rivers and hills. They also perform rites to stimulate ‘spirits’ which can assist them in agriculture. Among some Naga tribes (Chang, Sangtam, Khiamngan) for instance, there is a belief that after death, the soul goes down a narrow path to a land of the dead guarded by a spirit with whom it must struggle. But despite such irrational cross currents, Nagas are by and large fun-loving, happy people who regard life as a big carnival. Their infectious joie de vivre, rhythms and songs and delectable cuisine are an integral part of their multi-hued cultural legacy.

Climate. The winter months are extremely cold with night temperatures plummeting to -5°C in January/ February. During the monsoon (May to September) rain lashes down with June/ July being the wettest months. Average annual rainfall hovers around 300 cm.
Handicrafts. The vibrant hues and fine detail of Naga handicrafts make enduring gifts and their beautifully handcrafted shawls, mekhlas (sarongs) and exquisite handbags are irresistible. Gen-next Nagas have also forayed successfully into fashion design on a commercial scale, producing ready-to-wear garments which innovatively fuse the traditional with contemporary.
Flora and fauna. The wide variations in altitude, latitude, climate and soil of this north-eastern state have engendered a diversity of forests from tropical to temperate evergreen to coniferous. Bamboo forests and groves are ubiquitous and include exotic species such as Naga Bhe, Mesuaferrea, Careyaarbotrea and Fiscus Electica. The hill slopes are carpeted with oak, chestnut, birch, magnolia, cherry, maple, laurel and fig trees. Pine forests cover the higher altitudes — 3,000 to 4,000 ft and the terrain is rich in vegetables, roots, fruit and tubers.
In common with the sub-Himalayan region, fauna including elephants, tigers, barking deer and sambar inhabit the state. Ditto monkeys, jackals, wild buffaloes, wild pigs, bear and wild dogs. Among the ritually most valued species here is mithun, a unique bovine.
Getting there. Domestic tourists visiting Nagaland require Inner Line Permits issued by deputy resident commissioners at Nagaland House, Delhi and Calcutta; assistant resident commissioner, Shillong; additional deputy commissioner, Dimapur; deputy commissioner, Kohima.
Detailed information can be obtained from the Directorate of Tourism, Nagaland, Kohima. Tel: (0370) 2243124; e-mail [email protected]
Air. Dimapur is the only airport in Nagaland and is well-connected to New Delhi and Calcutta.
Rail. Dimapur is also an important railhead on the main line of the North Eastern Frontier Railway.
Road. Nagaland State Transport buses ply regularly from Dimapur to Guwahati and Shillong. Kohima can be reached from Dimapur on NH 39. One can also drive to Kohima from Imphal (145 km), Guwahati (390 km), or Kolkata (1,516 km).

Mithun

Mithun

KOHIMA

Driving through rolling countryside and verdant fields towards the state’s capital of Kohima is an exhilarating experience. Rising high at a vertiginous 1,500 metres, (4,900 ft above sea level), the town impacted itself upon historians and the national consciousness during World War II, when British Indian soldiers forced the Japanese and the Indian National Army led by Subhash Chandra Bose to retreat from here. The beautiful Barail range — extending from the southwest via North Cachar — runs up to Kohima, with its highest peak (Japfu) rising 10,000 ft into the clouds.

Kohima’s impressive historical landmarks include the Catholic Cathedral with its red-tiled roof on Aradurah Hill — the largest cathedral of the north-east, the World War II Memorial which honours Naga soldiers and the War Cemetery designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the architect of imperial Delhi.

The Nagaland State Museum showcases objects and artefacts associated with traditional Naga life. Its exhibits include gateposts, statues, pillars, jewellery and ceremonial drums. The museum’s basement houses birds and animals from all the north-east hill states. The nearby Zoological Park abounds in rich flora and fauna. Of special interest is the world famous Blythe Tragopan, a rare bird on the verge of extinction.

The centrally located supermarket is a popular venue for local Naga women to hawk farm produce and handicrafts including vegetables, shawls, and chunky imitation jewellery. For a spot of action, one can head for the Local Garden where traditional wrestling competitions are organised daily.

The city’s fauna too, is amazing. The Fakim Sanctuary, close to the Myanmar border is inhabited by tigers and hoolock gibbons. The Pulie Badze Sanctuary is a ringed-in 9 sq. km area with rare avian species. Located 37 km from Kohima, the Intanki Wildlife Sanctuary houses striking bird species as does the Ghosu Bird Sanctuary, maintained solely by the local village community. Migratory birds congregate in the bird sanctuaries during the monsoon months (June-September).

The highway from Imphal to Dimapur crosses a saddle at the foot of the World War II Cemetery. The immaculate gardens here are a memorial to the Allied soldiers who died during the three-month Battle of Kohima in April 1944. Each grave is supported by a bronze plaque with an epitaph.

Excursions ex Kohima. The picturesque village of Ruza­phema on the Dimapur-Kohima Road is a world apart with its colourful bazaars offering a smorgasbord of tribal handi­crafts and local cuisine. Its terraced fields, which produce over 20 types of paddy at different elevations, present a stunning landscape.

From Kohima, it is worthwhile to make a dash to Khonoma village (20 km) and enjoy its breathtaking scenery. The hamlet is perhaps the only place on earth where bamboo pipelines transport water over long distances for irrigation purposes. The neighbouring Japfu Peak offers good trekking as does the Dzukou Valley which runs through the Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan sanctuaries. The meandering streams in the valley freeze completely during winters, while in spring it’s a riot of lilies and white and pink rhododendrons.

Further afield, Mokokchung (160 km) and Zunheboto (150 km) are two charming towns situated at great heights. Mokokchung is a cultural centre of the Ao Nagas. Here, the colourful festivals of the Aos-Moatsu and Tsungremmong are celebrated during the first weeks of May and August respectively.

Accommodation. Kohima offers limited choice of ac­commodation though a few small high quality private hotels and lodges do exist. Among them are Niraamaya Retreats Aradura (Rs.6,345 per person per night), Heritage Hotel (Rs.3,271), Hotel Japfu (Rs.3196).

DIMAPUR

Dimapur (the city of the river people) is the second most popular destination in Nagaland. Situated 75 km northwest of Kohima, it is the state’s commercial capital. Its main attractions include the ruins of ancient Kachari monuments and the Intanki Wildlife Sanctuary, a habitat of wild elephants, mithuns, the hoolock gibbons, the sambar deer, sloth bears, tigers and wild dogs.

Once the capital of the ancient Kachari tribe, it still displays their gargantuan stone sculptures. The Kachari tribe ruled in this region circa 13th century A.D.

Sited at an altitude of 195 metres (637 ft above mean sea level), Dimapur hosts the only airport in Nagaland and is well-connected with the neighbouring seven-sister states of Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram by National Highway 39. It is also the state’s main railhead and home to the North-East Zone Cultural Centre (NEZCC), located close to the airport. A small, well-maintained state museum showcases the cultural heritage of the entire north-east region. The NEZCC regularly stages cultural programmes across the state and beyond. The British built huge storage depots in and around Dimapur and the ruins of some of these stone/ mortar structures still exist.

Ghosu Bird Sanctuary

Ghosu Bird Sanctuary

The capital of the Kachari kings, Dimapur is one of the most important sites of megalithic culture. The ruins of the Kachari civilisation, established before the Ahom invasion in the 13th century, display a distinctly Hindu influence. The hill station at Mokokchung with its pronounced colonial ambience, is the native place of the AoNagas.

Accommodation. High-end: NiathuResport (Rs.4,733 per night), Noune Resort (Rs.3,537), The Four Season (Rs.2,671). Mid-range and budget: Hotel Lake Shilloi (Rs.1,786), Hotel Teja Fort (Rs.1,880), Trinity East (Rs.1,169).

Excursions ex Dimapur

Molung. The site of the American Baptist Mission established in 1872, displays the mission building preserved in the village. An ancient litchi tree, planted by Dr. Arthur Clark, a famous American missionary, still fruits every winter.

Phek. The habitat of the world-famous Blythe’s Tragopan, a pheasant native to Nagaland, and rare orchid blooms. The ruins near Chesezumi village on the Chazouba Road bear testimony to the ancient traditions of head-hunting tribes.

Ungma (100 km ex Kohima) is the oldest and largest Ao village in the state. Also known as barabasti (big village), Ungma is one of the most densely inhabited tribal villages in Asia. Sited on a high hill, Ungma’s entry point is a large, ceremonial wooden gate ornamented with a scimitar of hornbills and buffalo. The village is an exemplary showcase of Naga culture.

Langpangkong. Naga history mentions an Ahom king who fled his kingdom due to palace intrigues, treachery and rivalries. He took refuge in Langpangkong (90 km from Dimapur). The cave which provided shelter to the royal, is well-preserved and is a popular tourist destination.

Intanki Wildlife Sanctuary

Intanki Wildlife Sanctuary

Also Read:Seven days in Himalayan Foothills

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