Season: November to April.
One of the smallest states of the Indian Union, Nagaland is almost unexplored, as far as tourist destinations are concerned. Sharing borderlines with Myanmar in the east, Assam in its western and northern periphery, and the Tirap district in Arunachal Pradesh in the north east and Manipur in the south, Nagaland’s blue-hued mountains and emerald expanses comprise an intriguing world of ancient rituals and a proud people. The Naga inhabitants are of Indo-Mongoloid stock. The tribal inhabitants have colourful traditional dresses, customs and dialects. Though they were animist by tradition, almost 98% of the population embraced Christianity under the influence of English missionaries.
Nagas have evolved into a generic term for many tribal communities in the North East. 16 major and numerous sub-tribes spread over Nagaland’s seven districts; primary amongst them are the Angamis, the Sema, Konyak, Aos and the Rengmas, each with their own distinct culture and lifestyle.
Kohima, the capital is a typical laid back Asian mountain town, with no monuments, monasteries or temples to offer by way of stock tourist attraction. However the unhurried pace of life, calm and serene environs and fresh, unpolluted air makes a welcome change for a jaded city dweller and an opportunity to soak in the rich Naga traditions. Kohima’s unique attraction however is its war cemetery, still respectfully maintained by the British. A few lines about it:
“In March 1944, the Japanese 31st Division marched northwestward into Burma, swept through the Naga Hills, invading India, and lay siege on Imphal and Kohima. The confident Japanese planned to press on toward the India Plains. and only Kohima lay between them".
A crucial battle ensued at Kohima where some 2,500 British Empire troops came under siege of a formidable Japanese force numbering 15,000 soldiers supported by 10,000 ammunition laden oxen. For weeks the belligerents sparred in bloody artillery duels interrupted only by hand to hand skirmishes and bayonet attacks. Finally, after 64 days, amid terrible losses on both sides, the Japanese were beaten. They withdrew from Kohima, and their dominance in northern Burma had begun to crumble. Understandably, the determination and gallantry shown by allied troops in the Kohima was quick to become the subject of folklore, poem, song, and legend. Today in the Kohima cemetery, wherein lay these brave men, among the 1,378 grave markers, are the famous Kohima Memorial and its historic inscription:
When you go home Tell them of us, And say,
For their tomorrow, we gave our today”
Kohima village called Barra Basti (Big village), is where Kohima began, according to Naga legend. Said to be the second biggest village in Asia, it has one of the finest ceremonial gates, common to all Naga villages.
Khonoma village (20 kms from Kohima) offers delightful views of Nagaland’s natural beauty and ecological diversity. En-route look out for the memorial stones erected to commemorates Feasts of Merit, and the intricate system of bamboo pipes, which carry water for long distances. The unique variety of soil conditions and elevations of its fields have resulted in about 20 different types of rice being grown here. The Feasts of Merit are important features of Naga society. The performance of a series of these feasts (genna), one more costly than the last, distinguishes the host’s position in society. Every feast given entitled the host to progressively improve his standing and position in the village.
Naga society is a well-knit and cohesive unit living by ancient tenets that play an important role in contemporary life. One of the most interesting features is the tradition of the Morung, a dormitory exclusively for men, which is the focal point of the village. This all-male dormitory, where a young lad of 6 enters and leaves when he weds, is where the village’s sacred hunting trophies, daos, spears and shields of the village are kept for safe keeping. It is in the Morung where the boys learn the ancestral folksongs and folktales, where decisions of war and peace are taken. Yet the Morung is not common to all tribes. You will not find amongst the Angamis, but it is central to all villages of the Ao, Lotha, Konyak and Phom.
Of central importance in village ceremonies too are the log drums made from hollowed tree trunks with a carved mithun head, positioned close to the Morung.