The State of Nagaland in India, is considered to be the place of uncontested and unchallenged Wilderness; a place of astonishing beauty, dazzling hills, valleys at the edge of India and Myanmar. It’s very recent history has seen some 16-odd headhunting Naga tribes valiantly fighting off any intruders.
The State of Nagaland was formally inaugurated on December 1st, 1963, as the 16th State of the Indian Union. It is bounded by Assam in the West, Myanmar (Burma) on the east, Arunachal Pradesh and part of Assam on the North and Manipur in the South. Nagaland consists of seven Administrative Districts, inhabited by 16 major tribes along with other sub-tribes. Each tribe of Nagaland is distinct in character from the other in terms of customs, language and dress.
Nagaland is a land of folklore passed down the generations through word of mouth. Here, music is an integral part of life; folk songs eulogizing ancestors, the brave deeds of warriors and traditional heroes; poetic love songs immortalizing ancient tragic love stories; Gospel songs that touch your soul (should you have a religious bend of mind) or the modern tunes rendered exquisitely to set your feet a-tapping. The most interesting fact is they don’t have a written script.
Each of the 16 odd tribes and sub-tribes that dwell in this exotic hills of Nagaland can easily be distinguished by the colorful and intricately designed costumes, jewelry and beads that they adorn. The present generation of Nagas have ventured into fashion designing in a big way, reproducing fabrics that represent the ancestral motifs blended with modern appeal. Indeed, it is a beautiful mix of the past with the present, a paradise for those who are into fashion designing. This is an affluent fashion station of the East.
The traditional ceremonial attire of each tribe of Nagaland is in itself, an awe inspiring sight to behold; the multi-colored spears ‘daos’ decorated with dyed goats’ hair, the headgear made of finely woven bamboo interlaced with orchid stems, adorned with boar’s teeth and hornbill’s feathers, elephant tusk armlets. In days of yore every warrior had to earn each of these items through acts of valor, to wear them.
Nature could not have been kinder to Nagaland, sometimes referred to as the Switzerland of the East; the exquisitely picturesque landscapes, the vibrantly colorful sunrise and sunset, lush and verdant flora; Nagaland is a land that represents unimaginable beauty, molded perfectly for a breathtaking experience. The people of Nagaland belong to the Indo-Mongoloid stock, whose ancestors lived off nature’s abundant gifts, blessed with sturdy formidable dispositions. Above all, the people here are warm hearted and extremely hospitable. Nagaland is blessed with salubrious climate throughout the year and one can visit it anytime. If one is looking for a quiet getaway, from the hustle and bustle of city life, Nagaland provides the right ambiance; as life here is laid-back and slow – providing a tension free life.
For the adventurous and the intrepid, Nagaland is an ideal place for trekking, rock climbing, jungle camping and offers limitless exploration possibilities in its lush and verdant sub-tropical rain forests which are also a treasure trove of a plethora of medicinal plants.
The Nagas of Nagaland, by nature, are lovers of fun and frolic and here life is one long festival. The Nagas with their joie de vivre dance and songs are a part and parcel of all their festivities. Most of their dances are performed with a robust rhythm.
Spirits that roam the jungle and villages, the fertility of mother earth; social bonding among communities, purification and rejuvenation are the main elements that form the souls of the festivals of the Naga people. Each tribe that inhabit the land has got its own custom and this translates into a festival. Before travelling, every traveler should arrange his/ her calendar, for the first festival in Nagaland takes place in January and the last (or is the last recorded?) December – no matter what the season is, some festival is always round the corner.
Places to Visit when in Nagaland:
- War Cemetery – Kohima – Nagaland
This immaculate cemetery at the capital city of Kohima in Nagaland contains the graves of 1400 British, Commonwealth and Indian soldiers laid out across stepped and manicured lawns. It stands at the strategic junction of the Dimapur and Imphal roads, a site that saw intense fighting against the Japanese during one 64-day Battle of Kohima in World War II.
- Kisama Heritage Village – Kohima – Nagaland
Kisama Heritage Village has a representative selection of traditional Naga houses and morungs (bachelor dormitories) with full-size log drums. Nagaland’s biggest annual festival, the Hornbill Festival is celebrated here. Within the premises is the WWII Museum, which has a collection of war memorabilia. Kisama is 12 km from central Kohima along the Imphal road in Nagaland.
- State Museum – Kohima – Nagaland
This superbly presented museum, 3 km north of Kohima’ s center, includes tribal artifacts, jewelry, tableaux with mannequins-in-action and a display of ‘hunted’ human skulls of the legend of the Head Hunting cult of Nagaland.
- Central Market – Kohima – Nagaland
At this fascinating, tiny market, tribal people buy and sell local delicacies such as ‘borol ‘ (wriggling hornet grubs), tadpoles and bullfrogs, exotic condiments such as fermented bamboo shoots and fermented soybeans, and a mind-boggling range of meats and vegetables of Nagaland.
- World War II Museum – Kohima – Nagaland
Within Kisama Heritage Village is the WWII Museum, which has a collection of war memorabilia.
- Hornbill Festival – Kohima – Nagaland
Nagaland’s biggest annual jamboree, the Hornbill Festival is celebrated at Kisama Heritage Village in December every year, with various Naga tribes of Nagaland converging for a 10-day cultural, dance and sporting bash, much of it in full warrior costume. Of all the festivals in the Northeast this is the most spectacular and photogenic. Capering in step with former head-hunters are head banger who play out acid riffs at the rock and metal festival, held simultaneously in Kohima.
- Northern Nagaland:
The most unspoiled part of the state, Northern Nagaland is a rugged and divinely beautiful country where antiquity still thrives in tribal villages composed of thatched longhouses, many of whose inhabitants continue to live a fairly traditional hunting and farming lifestyle. The most accessible villages are the Konyak settlements around Mon (where traditional houses abound). Some villages still have ‘morungs’ (bachelor dormitories) and religious relics from pre-Christian times. Village elders may wear traditional costumes and Konyaks of all ages carry the fearsome-looking ‘Dao’ – a crude machete (originally used for headhunting) as a standard accessory.
Visiting a Naga village without a local guide is hopelessly unproductive. One also can do well by having one’s own sturdy vehicle, as there’s virtually very few public transport and roads are atrocious.
- Mon & Around the locality – Mon district – Nagaland
Of the numerous tribal villages in the area, the most popular is Longwa, about 35 km from Mon, where the headman’s longhouse spectacularly straddles the India–Myanmar border and contains a fascinating range of weapons, dinosaur-like totems and a World War II metal aircraft seat salvaged from debris scattered in nearby jungles. You can spend some time at a local house here and several tattooed former head-hunters can be photographed for a fairly standard fee. Tribal jewelry, carved masks and other collectibles can also be bought from many households. In the high season, the village charges a per person entry fee.
Other villages that can be visited from Mon include Old Mon (5 km), with countless animal skulls adorning the walls of the headman’s house; Singha Chingnyu (20 km), which has a huge longhouse decorated with animal skulls, and three stuffed tigers; and Shangnyu (25 km), with a friendly headman and a wooden shrine full of fertility references.
- Kigwema Village – Kohima – Nagaland
A 10-minute drive past Kisama along Imphal road brings you to Kigwema, an Angami village of historic importance where Japanese forces arrived and set up camp before the final showdown with Allied Forces in 1944. Several households here welcome tourists and you can get a peek into the daily lives of resident tribes people. Kigwema village is located in Jakhama Tehsil of Kohima district in Nagaland, India. It is situated 5km away from sub-district headquarter Jakhama and 13km away from district headquarter Kohima.
Kigwema in Nagaland has a total population of 3,872 people. There are about 769 houses in Kigwema village. Kohima is nearest town to Kigwema which is approximately 13km away.
- Dimapur – Nagaland
Dimapur is the largest city in Nagaland, India. It was leased out for its strategic location— it is the only plains tract of hilly Nagaland and had a railway station and airport space for connectivity and economic activity in the new state. In the middle Ages, it was the capital of the Dimasa Kachari rulers. In the heart of the town there is an old relic of the Dimasa Kachari Kingdom which speaks about the once prosperous era. It is bounded by Kohima district on the south and east, Karbi Anglong district of Assam on the west, the Karbi- Anglong and stretch of Golaghat District of Assam, in the west and the north. Dimapur, from a Kachari word ‘Dimasa’ after the river which flows through it, is the gateway to Nagaland and its only rail-head. The city also has the only functional airport in the state.
‘Dimapur’ was derived from Dimasa Kachari words Di-meaning water, Ma-meaning big and Pur-meaning city or township in the Dimasa dialect; while others contend that Dimapur is a corruption of Hidimbapur, meaning the city of Hidimbi (of Mahabharata fame) – the rakshasi-turned-woman whose marriage to the Pandava prince Bhima led to the birth of Ghatotkacha – believed to be the progenitor of the Kacharis. According to the second theory, the name Hidimbapur is conjectured to have been abbreviated to Dimbapur and subsequently to have lost a consonant to become Dimapur. In some accounts preserved in Dimasa Kachari folklore Dimapur is called Dimabang Halali, possibly an earlier name of the city, later Sanskritised by the Brahmins. In the Ahom Chronicles, Dimapur Is referred to sometimes as ‘Che-din-chi-pen’ (town-earth-burn-make) meaning ‘brick town’ and at others as ‘Che-Dima’ meaning town of the Dimasa.
- Mokokchung – Nagaland
Mokokchung is an ancient village in Mokokchung district in the former Naga Hills, Nagaland, India. According to the folklores, the Ao Nagas emerged from ‘six stones’. These stones symbolise their forefathers and that location is named as ‘Longterok’ which means six stones. These stones are still intact at Chungliyimti in Tuensang district. From this village, the Ao tribe moved towards northern region crossing a river named Tzüla and settled at Soyim, also known as Ungma today. This was the first Ao Village ever known. After a few centuries, a group of people moved further to the north-east of Soyim and settled at a place named as Mokokchung, or today’s Mokokchung village. Many other Ao Naga villages came into being when people migrated out from this village including Ungma in the later part.
Mokokchung is the construction of Mokok and Chung, where Mokok means unwillingly and Chung means a group of people. Thus, the name Mokokchung would refer to a group of people who unwillingly departed from their settlement. The founders of Mokokchung village were from Soyim. The Soyim people were requesting these founders not to go away from Soyim and had insisted them to stay together, but they did not listen and went away.
The Aos are religious and believe in life here-after. They had principles of worship pattern but not in systematic order, nor in written script. These rites were conducted by two priestly clans, Pongener for the Chungli khel and Atsongchanger for the Mongsen khel. In 1872, these highlanders and former head-hunters were influenced by the Christian missionaries under the American Foreign Baptist Mission. Reverend Edward Winter Clark of Boston, USA was the first white man to arrive into Naga soil, and Christianity was received. The first Christian convert from Mokokchung Village was in 1910, and a Church was established. Modern school came along with the Church in 1926 after the British colonizers had chosen this town as their administrative unit in 1890.
The main annual festivals that were popular in the past are the Moatsü and the Tsungremong. The Moatsü festival is celebrated on 2 May in honour of Lijaba, – the creator of the whole earth – to appeal for his blessings in the cultivation that immediately follows after the sowing season. The Tsungremong festival – a celebration for harvesting – is held during the 1st week of August. In the modern times Christmas has become the most important festival along with all the Ao regions.
- Dzukou Valley – Nagaland
Nagaland aka the ‘Switzerland of the East’ as we know is a State of breathtaking beauty and unadulterated landscapes. The tribes of Nagaland have taken all possible measures to keep the landscape in the form gifted to them by Mother Nature. Lush green landscapes and majestic mountains kissing the clouds are a common sight in Nagaland. An opportunity to experience these bounties of Mother Nature at the Dzokou Valley and the Japfü Peak Trek in Nagaland is a must. This Valley of Flowers Dzukou in the Switzerland of the east ‘Nagaland’ is like a paradise in full bloom. To reach this valley one has to go through a trek better known as the Dzukou Valley Trek. The Dzukou Valley Trek trail is still untouched by trekkers and explorers which will present you with the sense of accomplishment viewing the carpeted hillocks.
For one has to trek the top of a sheer vertical climb to reach the Dzukou Valley. Trekking across the Dzukou Valley seems like walking through the doors of heaven. Untouched by civilization, the Dzukou valley otherwise is called the “Valley of Celestial Charm”, has a tempting appeal for all who gaze upon it. One can get involved in star gazing in the winter clear nights, mesmerized by the celestial glamour. Situated at the border of Nagaland and Manipur at an altitude of 2438m above sea level – behind the Japfü peak – this magical valley looks like a mown lawn from a distance watered by two meandering streams, the Dzukou and the Japfü rivers.
- Khonoma – Kohima – Nagaland
Khonoma village was the last place where the Naga warriors had the last stand against the British Army way back in the year 1879. There is a simple white pillar in the village that commemorates the death of British troops fighting in Khonoma. The Khonoma Village Gate is a story teller where it clearly shows the advent of the British Infiltration years back. The village is considered 700 years old and was initially referred to as ‘Khwunoria’ by the residents of the village. The village is surrounded by some gigantic hills as high as 9000 fts. The hills which surround the Khonoma Village run along a ridge which is one of the characteristics of an Angami Village.
A very unique feature of the Khonoma Village is the presence of the ‘Khuda’ or fort, which literally means a place of defense. The Khuda as it is called for the fort has been as a guardian for the Naga warriors to keep a vigil when at siege and attack from the British. There are three ‘Khels’ (localities) in total and each Khel has its own fort. The might of each Khel is measured by the number of young warriors it has and the condition of the Khuda being maintained. Alder trees are grown here in jhum cultivation process, these trees are known to prevent soil erosion with the help of nitrogen fixation.
The Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragapon Sanctuary was set up in the year 1998, with area coverage of 70 sq. miles. , it is the private property of the people of Khonoma. The sanctuary has thus become a favourite place for research, eco-tourism, and jungle treks.
The Khonoma village has become an ideal village because of its inhabitants who are of a mission to make their village the greenest village with an emphasis on maintaining proper sanitation, garbage management system. Visiting this place is an experience worth remembering and it counts.