Hills are alive

Travel tales

Hills are alive

Modern definitions of ‘civilisation’ and ‘development’ took a different turn during my two-day-trip to Nagaland with my friend, Sumit Bose. I finished my mountaineering course in Darjeeling and went to Guwahati to meet him.

Little did I know that I would be exploring the ‘Switzerland of the East’, as they call it in textbooks. But as wayfarers by heart and wanderers by soul, we decided to jump into the heart of the land of Nagas in mid-November. So we quickly sorted out our permits at Naga House in Guwahati and stepped into ‘The land of Blue Mountains.’

Nagaland is one state where someone doesn’t feel the need for the time-turner. It’s out of a fairy-tale, woven cosily in the North East. Rivers like Doyang and Diphu gurgle through the state which is surrounded by mountains, making it a rich treasure trove of natural vegetation. Rough jungles with endless possibilities for adventure (and danger) bustle with 20 tribes who preserve their animist past (despite their main religion being Christianity), making Nagaland a trekker’s sanctuary, a historian’s haven and a cultural hub.

We reached Dimapur, Nagaland’s biggest town from Guwahati and hired a shared taxi to Kohima, the hilly state capital. My tryst with the tribes and the taste of Nagaland began, at Kisama Heritage Village in Kohima. Derived from Kigwema and Phesama and ‘ma’, meaning village, the Kisama Heritage Village bustled with busy, indigenous people who were decorating the village. It then hit me! We had come ten days prior to the iconic hornbill festival, the time when all the tribes let tourists peek into their diverse traditions and customs.

I began talking to the traditionally-attired, minimal-clothed people who donned skeleton-jewellery. I found out that the festival is also a tribute to the hornbill, a bird most admired by them which is linked closely with their cultural lives. I also understood that each tribe had a different way of communication and used percussions to ‘talk’. There was a different tune to communicate a piece of good news and another one for something bad. They also used music to fill silences! My heart ached as I saw the preparations and I wished I could have stayed on longer.

As Sumit and I walked around, we sniffed something cooking. We followed the scent and saw that it led to a traditional house. They warmly invited us and we feasted on pork, their main cuisine and the inhabitants treated us like they have known us for a while now. I was so touched by the huge hearts that nestled in this small state. I also understood more about the place and its history. The family spoke of water scarcity that the state grapples with and the various internal issues within the seven States. Nagaland’s early sunrise and sunsets made me constantly think the kind of adventures it gives its people.

 Next day, we went to a War Cemetery in Kohima. It is a memorial dedicated to soldiers of the Second British Division of the Allied Forces, who died in the Second World War at Kohima. It was peaceful with manicured grasslands and provides one a panoramic view of Kohima. There were stone markers with bronze plaques carrying names of Commonwealth soldiers who died in the battlefield. But we didn’t stay there for long as we were ravenous.

We tried out different restaurants and ate our fill – from worms, snails to frogs. It was the last bite of my trip and I had my tummy’s fill. Now, Nagaland seems like one long carnivalesque experience. As the world moves at a different pace, Nagas’ hearts beat at a rate of their own. I was on my way to Imphal, the next day, thinking how beautiful the other ‘Sisters’ could be, if this itself proved so fascinating!

How to get there

Take the Shatabdi Express from Guwahati to Dimapur. Hire a shared taxi from Dimapur to Kohima for Rs 100. Permits in Guwahati cost Rs 50.

Places to stay

 Hotel Capital in Dimapur. It costs Rs 500 for two people, per night.
 
Salwat Hamrah

The author can be contacted at salwat@getbeyondlimits.com

As told to Anushka Sivakumar

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