Saturday 23 September 2017 News Updated at 03:09 AM IST
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What's not to love here? - Deccan Herald
What's not to love here?
Vathsala V P,
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Nagaland has always fascinated me. The many stories of its indigenous tribal communities, the rich cultural heritage the state is home to, the colourful attire of the locals, the distinctive flavour of the Naga dishes, and of course, the scenic beauty of the place.

As I step out of the airport in Dimapur, the one thing that strikes me immediately is the cool and crisp air around, a luxury for someone like me from a polluted city. But, this is just the beginning, as I realise later. For, as I begin my drive from Dimapur to Kohima, the capital city of Nagaland, I’m in for more reasons to rejoice. The air gets better and better. So do the views. They resemble picture postcards from exotic lands, as also the many pictures I had seen of Nagaland in tourist brochures while planning this trip.

About 14 km away, a massive gate welcomes me to Nagaland; I’m at Chumoukedima, the district headquarters of Dimapur district. Since I’m proceeding towards Kohima, I need to produce the mandatory Inner Line Permit that’s needed to enter Nagaland. I have my papers in place and the smiling jawans wish me a pleasant stay in Kohima.

Enter a dream

The next one-and-a-half-hour journey to Kohima is dreamlike, almost. What with my vehicle making its way through the meandering hills and the lush green carpet on the right, from the top to the valley below. And of course, the sight of villages with their beautiful people now and then. I make a few stops on the way to enjoy hot cups of locally brewed chai, and to enjoy the spectacular sights around. The ever-smiling, willing-to-talk locals bowl me over. I realise I’m already in love with the place.

Checking into my hotel in Kohima, I’m told this is the second largest city of the state of Nagaland, and was christened the capital of Nagaland when the state was carved out in 1963. Originally known as Kewhira, meaning the land where the wild flower Kewhi grows, it was named Kohima by the British as they found Kewhira to be a tongue-twister. I can easily relate to it, as many of our cities were named by the British the way they found it easier to pronounce. So much for convenience.

Moving around the city, I learn the history of the place. Especially the one associated with the War Cemetery at the entrance of the city. A popular tourist haunt, this cemetery relates tales of valour, of lives lost and pride regained. It goes back in time to 1944, during World War II, when the Japanese plan to invade India, code-named U-Go, was turned upside down.

Famously known as the Battle of Kohima, it’s also called the 'Stalingrad of the East’. This battle, along with the Battle of Imphal, thwarted the Japanese dreams of gaining a foothold in the hilly state, and gradually in the rest of India. The famous lines attributed to English poet and dramatist John Maxwell Edmonds, "When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow, we gave our today,” inscribed at the entrance to the cemetery, leave me with a lump in the throat.

As I make my way back to my hotel, I make my plans to head to Khonoma village early next morning. Believed to be the first green village of Asia, it lives up to its name.

Deconstructing homes

The drive itself is mind-blowing, with its wealth of lush greenery and endless terraces of paddy fields. Agriculture being the main occupation of Nagas, around 40 different varieties of paddy are grown here, I’m told by my taxi driver.

Though Nagaland is home to 16 tribes, Khonoma is populated by the Angami tribals. The village houses here are interesting with their mud flooring, bamboo walls and stone fences. I’m also told that the locals bury their dead relatives right outside their homes, as is their tradition. Sounds a bit eerie, but it is their belief that the dead ones should always be closer to their dwelling places.

This village also serves as a good lesson in community living. Down the village is a place called Dahu, where small stones are arranged in a circle, with a bigger slab in the centre. This serves as the village meeting place, adjacent to which is the community kitchen where food for the entire village is cooked during community festivals and events. Am amazed by the cleanliness of the place, as also the sizes of the vessels therein. I’m immediately reminded of a show on a popular television channel where the host of the show tries his hand at Naga cooking, and also learns to brew the local rice beer in a community kitchen such as this.

Right next to the community kitchen, I spot a few craftsmen working on stone carvings. This village is known for its skill in stone carvings. As I watch them carve intricate designs on stone, my attention is drawn to an unusual stone structure - that of an owl ­- known as something that translates to 'statue erected by the spirits’.

Back at Kohima, my next stop is at Kisama Heritage Village, on the outskirts of the city. A must-visit for a tourist like me, Kisama is Nagaland in its miniature form. Since the 16 tribal communities of Nagaland live in different regions of the state, this heritage village serves as a window to their world, in one complex, with 16 houses designed according to the indigenous architectural concepts of the 16 tribes. The Hornbill Festival, held during the first week of December every year, is the season to be in Kisama, to savour the taste of Nagaland in all its glory.

I make a mental note of it to plan my next visit to this exotic land of colour and culture. I leave the place, half-heartedly, but not before picking up a Naga shawl.