We travel for various reasons to be entertained; to set foot on strange new places; to learn; to laugh again; to cry for our loss; to think; to feel; so I questioned myself, how about traveling to a strange mystic corner of Northeast India? A place I heard of having headhunters and valleys that were once volcanoes; a mystic place called Nagaland.
The peaceful hills of Nagaland
I wanted to feel the morning sun of a different place, which I was lucky enough to experience.
It was a long journey to reach Dimapur, the gateway to Nagaland.
After getting our inner line permit, I and my crew met Thutok, our driver at the entrance of Dimapur. He was kind enough to inform us about what lied ahead. A very very dusty road to Kohima.
Sometimes rougher than craters on the moon; my will to observe everything on the way was overcome by my sleep-deprived condition, and after being on the road for more than 36 hours, I slept all the way to Kohima.
My hotel was situated just above the Catholic Cathedral of Kohima; lying on a hilltop as if guarding the city.
Instantly, at the street carnival of Kohima, I try parking myself among a wide range of faces from all around the world. Perhaps we were at the streets of Kohima trying to fit in, not as tourists but to walk and talk like the Nagas. I found myself enjoying strange dishes, which were, I have to say, very good.
As we drove to the Hornbill Festival, all the billboards advertised this event as Nagaland’s festival of festivals.
Dancers performing at the Hornbill Festival
Following the itinerary, I straight away headed to the wrestling arena. After a song praising the wrestlers was sung, they fought as friends and not as enemies; a good lesson for every war-makers in today's world.
On my way to watch the cultural show, I couldn't help but enquire other fellow tourists about their experience.
As soon as I reach the venue of the cultural show, I saw big details in small things. Little things, like the dancer's intricate hand gestures, followed by the synchronized footsteps. And sometimes jumping midair or their wild melodic songs; all making sense to me even if I couldn't understand their language. There was an order in what seemed like complete chaos to an outsider, like me. Being mesmerized, I lost myself with them. I let go of myself and permitted their songs and dances to intrude into my subconsciousness.
The oral tradition of Nagas is kept alive through their folk songs and dances that are both romantic and historical. Dances narrating stories of famous ancestors and events. There are also seasonal dances that describe various activities done in a particular agricultural season. The themes of these folk dances are many- songs boasting their ancestors; the brave deeds of warriors; and traditional heroes.
A festival attendee at the Hornbill Festival
For making shawls, the popular loin loom is used by the weavers; a technique in which the naga tribes excel. I got to see how they intricately make things out of canes, clay, and metals to make local guns.
“Konyak Tattoo tradition was practised for generations, it was the way of life. Officially it was banned in 1960 by the Students Union because they thought it was a torturous affair and every Konyak person was not seen without tattoos because our belief was that, a Konyak person without the tattoo marks would not enter the afterlife of our ancestors. We have to have a mark. Christianity became a strong force, even the chief supported converting to Christianity. Those decisions were stronger. That was one of the reasons why headhunting stopped. What you see in my hand is a Konyak Tattoo, done by a real Konyak tattoo artist. She was 86 years old, last year in 2015 when we did the tattoo.” - Phejin Konyak, Author, Last of the tattooed headhunters.
Curiously, I headed to the Heritage Village with every tribe's morum to check on more tribes. At the phom tribes morum, I saw the traditional dress which was indicating the social status of the wearer. A man who had taken a head or offered feast had the privilege to wear a Cowrie on a mated Shawl.
The Battle of Kohima was the turning point of the Japanese offensive into India in 1944 during the Second World War. At the Kohima war museum, I saw documented and leftover ammunitions of the battle often referred to as the “Stallion guard of the east”. In 2013, the British National Army Museum voted the Battle of Imphal and Kohima to be Britain's greatest battle.
Like an island between the sea of buildings and cars dodging each other, a garden of serenity, Kohima War cemetery. The gravestones echo the words of the past by the voices of almost 1500 soldiers who died during the three-month battle of Kohima. The quotations at the entrance bear testimony for their sacrifice. “When you go home tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow we gave our today.”
My guide told me that we had to get up very early the next day. I asked, “how early?” He stared hard at me and stressed, “very early”. In Nagaland, very is almost followed by another very. It was decided that we were to get up at 4:00 in the morning, to go to the famous Dzukou Valley. At the end of the motorable road, there is a steep hike of about 3 to 4 kilometers. A long fleet of beautifully carved stones on the right leads one to the top of Dzukou valley. Entering the Dzukou Valley seems like entering the doors of heaven. In summer, wild herbs and shrubs sprout along the stream banks. Lilies in white and pink blankets the valley in spring. I bid goodbye to this amazing Valley and made my way down through the Zakhma route again.
But like they say, ”All’s well that ends well”. And what better way than to end it with the Hornbill rock contest where 18 national bands, three international bands, and four from Nagaland competed for this contest.
I had my share of Nagaland land where mysticism enchanted me with its people, land, and sky.
Get lost like me, to rediscover yourself in another land.
Watch the entire video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmr6dnelQ8g