Having been fascinated all my life with the North Eastern states of India with their famed breathtaking landscapes, scenic beauty, diverse and exciting culture and customs and of course the exotic cuisine, it had always been high on my wish list to visit and personally experience those intriguing places.
The last 2 years of extensive solo travelling and travel writing finally gave me the impetus to make a decision, greatly hastened by the chance to attend the upcoming Hornbill festival that takes place only once a year in Nagaland.
Well the North Eastern states cover a vast expanse of land and would take months to explore in detail but making inroads into a couple of them, seemed like a good start and once that decision was made, the wheels in my head rolled all over the internet, seeking information and creating itineraries in virgin territories !!!
It look weeks to gather relevant information and make decisions, connections and bookings and it took the kindness of several people and many miracles to make my dream a reality (find the thank you speech at the end of this post 😀 )
So to pay the kindness forward, I have undertaken the job of compressing all that data, busting a few myths, corroborating a few truths and generally making life easy for all potential visitors to Nagaland, by showcasing my experience in what some would call an – ‘All you need to know about the Hornbill festival’ format … which I think would be very presumptuous and hence I have chosen to go with the more realistic – ‘All I know about the Hornbill festival’ 😀
So read on and enjoy as I weave my tale of the colorful and culture rich festival with the threads of words and images.
About Nagaland –
Nagaland is one of the North Eastern states of India and is bordered by the Indian states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and shares an international boundary with Myanmar.
Being mostly mountainous, its landscape is scenic and offers possibilities for sight seeing and adventure tourism.
Its charm lies in its several indigenous tribes who are of Indo Mongloid descent and have maintained their ethnicity through their distinct customs, dialects and dress. The tribal languages are said to be so different that they are unintelligible across tribes and hence they have resorted to common tongues like English and Nagamese to communicate.
Angami, Ao, Chakhesang, Chang, Kachari, Khiamniungan, Konyak, Kuki, Lotha, Phom, Pochury, Rengma, Sangtam, Sumi, Yimchunger, and Zeme-Liangmai are the 16 major tribes.
About the Hornbill Festival –
Since Nagaland is a melange of various tribal customs, activities and myriad festivals, it would take a marathon effort for a visitor to cover all aspects of the land.
Hence the Hornbill festival was conceived in the year 2000, where the aim was to bring together performers from all the tribes and showcase their cultural elements at one location … a one stop shop so to speak, displaying what Nagaland is all about. It also ensures that their rich customs and culture are safeguarded and kept alive.
This is also called the festival of festivals, being the big daddy (or mommy) of all festivals and is named after the Indian Hornbill. This bird is sacred to the Nagas and is a big part of their folklore. The event attracts several domestic and International visitors every year and keeps Nagaland on the tourist map.
The 10 day festival kick starts on Dec 1st, which is the ‘birthday’ of Nagaland which was granted statehood on Dec 1st, 1963 following its separation from Assam.
The festival has just completed its 19th edition during December 1st – 10th, 2018 and this narrative is all about my experiences there.
The Venue –
The festival is held at the Kisama Heritage Village, which is a permanent space that has been allocated to preserve the culture and traditions of the Nagas. The village is a miniature of Nagaland and is designed on the model of the traditional villages of various tribes, depicting their customs and lifestyles.
A large gateway within the premises, declares this to be a Window to Nagaland, which it verily is, for through it, one can get a glimpse of the entire state, presented to the visitor as a heady cocktail of culture, customs, sport, entertainment and cuisine.
Kisama village has been carved out of 2 neighboring villages of Kigwema and Phesama. Ma translates to village and the name Ki-sa-ma is a mix of its parent villages.
Kigwema having offered the larger portion, the Ki came first and Kisama got priority over the equally possible option – Phegwema (this was gleaned from the personal research that I usually conduct on things that do not really matter :-D)
Please note that while the main part of the festival takes place at the heritage village, there are also a few ‘satellite’ locations where some activities take place and one might want to visit them too.
For example there is the night market in Kigwema village grounds which is on from 4 pm – 8 pm.
There are pony rides at the pony farm a couple of km from the heritage village which is on from 10.30 am – 4 pm.
And there is the Kohima Night Carnival from 6pm – 9 pm at Kohima city center, which is 10 km away where local vendors, entrepreneurs, self help groups etc set up stalls that sell various kinds of food, handicrafts, jewelry, traditional wear etc.
Dimapur the largest city in Nagaland which is around 80 km away from Kisama, also organizes the Dimapur Night Market from 5 pm-9 pm at Naga shopping Arcade, where there are several stalls and even live music bands. This makes it convenient for the locals of Dimapur to have their share of the action because it takes 3.5 hours to get Kisama over the really rough roads.
Timings and venues may change over the years so it is advised to check the current year’s schedule before setting out.
Inner Line Permit –
Before proceeding further, one should be aware that Indian Nationals need what is called an Inner Line Permit to visit and stay in all parts of Nagaland other than Dimapur. Foreigners do not need any thing other than their passport.
The ILP is an official travel document issued by the Govt of India which allows inward travel of an Indian citizen into a protected area for a limited period. This is also a requirement to visit the states of Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram.
The ILP for Nagaland is not available online, contrary to some of the information circulated on the net. One can apply offline through any of the various Nagaland Houses in India that are located at New Delhi, Guwahati, Kolkata and Shillong. Dimapur is also an option.
One way of achieving this is to go through a local tour operator or travel agent to get it done. The fee they charge is around Rs 400-500 per ILP.
The other way is to go in person or get some known resident of those cities to physically visit the Nagaland house and personally apply. The cost is around Rs 50/- (from what I have been told)
If you are unable to do it in person, you will have to download the form or ask someone to scan and mail it to you.
I downloaded the ILP form from this site
You have to then fill it, print it, scan it and mail it along with a scanned copy of TWO proofs of ID (only the following documents are accepted – Passport, Voter id, Driving licence, Aadhar card) and scanned passport size photograph with a white background.
The form has a section to be filled by a guarantor, which however is not required for tourists.
On submission of the form, the ILP is issued within a few hours or the next day but there is no fixed duration and may take longer too.
You need to carry the actual physical document when you enter the state.
Tourist are issued the permit for a maximum of 30 days.
I got my ILP done through a known person in New Delhi.
Transport in Nagaland –
Local transport is mostly via cabs which are mostly shared. Exclusive vehicles can also be hired but they would cost far more. For those on a low budget holiday, share options work out quite low cost.
Cabs can be found at certain designated stands but in the villages, it is possible to hail passing cabs that will stop and accommodate passengers if they have the space.
Where to stay –
The Hornbill festival is at Kisama around 10 km from the capital city of Kohima and one can opt to stay in the neighboring villages where there are plenty of homestay options. Despite the information that is published saying that all hotels etc get full weeks before the event, it is still possible to find small homes where guests are put up. Of course prior booking is always safer.
It is difficult to get all the information online though due to a lack of proper listing of all stays. When one actually gets to Nagaland, one can ask the locals or even spot signs in front of homes, offering stays for visitors. Rates per night for budget stays can vary from Rs 1000-3000 per head depending on various factors.
I stayed quite close to the festival venue, at the Native Stories Homestay and you can find the details here. (coming soon)
There are also campsites in the hills around the festival venue which provide accommodation and have provision for tents, clean washroom facilities and food. December temperatures are in the region of 5 deg c and be aware that tents are far colder than staying in proper homes. So if you are anything like me (I freeze at 15 deg c), you should probably skip the campsite. However, one is advised to request for sub zero sleeping bags in the event that tents are the only choice.
One can also stay in the city of Kohima 10 km away but there is a commute that can take from 30 minutes or more depending on the traffic. However, there are hotels which are quite comfortable.
Dimapur is also another choice but not very practical considering the current scenario of terrible connectivity to Kohima and a one way ride of 3 hours will not leave much time or energy for the festival or other activities.
Components of the Hornbill festival at the Kisama Heritage Village –
The Kisama Heritage village is a large area of land, perched on a hill. During the Hornbill festival the premises is divided into areas of distinct activities. Given below, are the various components of the village.
The ticket booth at the entrance –
Tickets to the festival are priced at a mere Rs 20 per head. Camera and video equipment is charged at Rs 30 and 50 respectively.
A printed booklet with the festival schedule is available along with a book on the tribes of Nagaland. These are given free of charge and on request. Make sure to collect a copy because this is very handy information to plan your day.
There is a parking lot behind the booth.
Horticultural exhibition – Nagaland is known for its exotic and organic produce. The horticultural department displays many of these fruits, vegetables, saplings and food products in an exhibition hall that is located to the left of the driveway just near the entrance. This is a true heaven for lovers of fresh produce, where the items are also put up for sale. I had the sweetest ever pineapple slice sold on a stick. I also bought some puffed sticky rice that tasted like nothing I have ever had. Creamy and buttery and addictive and unfortunately tasted by me only after I got back to Bangalore, or else I would have bought a whole lot more.
World War II exhibition –
Right after the horticultural exhibition lies the World War II museum where a ticket of Rs 10 allows you to enter and view the memorabilia. Unfortunately I missed seeing this.
Children’s park – After the museum, there is a path on the left that leads to a children’s park.
Naga Terriers – Further ahead on the left and at the extreme end, is the display by the Naga Terrier Battalion, which is special to the Nagas because it was formed to give employment to Naga youth and is made up almost entirely of people from across the tribes. The soldiers of the regiment also help out locally by participating in matters of social relevance.
Chapel – Diagonally opposite the Naga Terriers, is a pretty little chapel. Nagas are primarily Christian by religion. The chapel is lit up when darkness falls (which is around 3 pm in Nagaland :-D)
Office of the Department of tourism – This is situated next to the chapel and is occupied by the tourism department officials during the festival.
Main Arena – A frame bearing the words Window to Nagaland, serves as the entrance to the actual village. In the distant background, the hillside displays a Hollywood’esque sign that declares – Naga Heritage Village.
Soon after entering the gateway, one finds the main arena to the right. This is where the major performances are held in amphitheater style. The semi circular arena is surrounded by a combination of step seating, chairs, a VIP seating area and podium and a stage that is situated opposite the VIP area, across the arena.
A large dry tree stands to the left of the VIP seating and bears several wooden hornbills that sit on their perches and gaze approvingly on the proceedings that take place in their name.
To the left of the driveway is an another amphitheater where a few programs also take place.
Morungs – Higher up on the hill are the Morungs of the various tribes. A morung is defined as a sort of a community dormitory of a village, where the youth of the tribe were housed in order to inculcate in them their tribal culture, art, folklore etc
Each tribe has its morung designed in their signature style with thatched roofs, tribal wood carvings and decor which also includes relics in the form of animal and human skulls (trophies from the days of yore when the Nagas used to be head hunters).
The morung also used to function as a guardhouse to store spears and other weaponry and was a place to congregate when important decisions had to be taken.
The morungs at the heritage village have labels indicating the relevant tribe and also a brief summary of their region, festivals, social set up etc.
This is where the artistes and performers of each tribe, put on their costumes and make up and rehearse for the day’s presentations. Some of them even stay in the morungs for the duration of the festival.
They also have their stalls selling their artefacts, jewelry, food etc.
The Hillside in the background –
Higher up on the hillside behind the various Morungs, is a view point that should not be missed because it offers an expansive aerial view of the entire heritage village as well as panoramic views of the surrounding villages and mountain ranges.
From here, there also is a track that leads to many of the camp sites on the mountain and also provides an alternate route (albeit rather steep) to get to the pony camp and eventually the highway again.
Before the pony camp however, one should not miss this other vantage point called Shurho which again offers stunning aerial views of not only the festival ground, roads, distant villages and mountains but also of the terraced fields that seem like a work of art even during the barren winters.
There is also monument at this spot, commemorating the work done by the Angami Youth Organization.
The Department of Industries and Commerce has set up the Bamboo Pavilion, which is a circular exhibition center where hundreds of items like artefacts, handicrafts, metal shields, Mithun (buffalo) horns, handlooms, shawls, jackets, bags, jewelry, food products, millets, herbs and condiments, local ingredients, dry flowers etc are displayed and are available for purchase.
Food courts and cuisine –
There are several Food courts scattered over the premises and also in the Morungs and one has to do quite a bit of research to discover the range of foods being served. There is a rather limited availability of veg food as compared to non veg at the festival which is strange, considering that Nagaland had a wide variety of vegetables and veg dishes. Most of the food is served in the form of combo platters and the prices are rather high, ranging from Rs 200-300 per plate consisting of 2-3 items including local sticky rice, meat, vegetables and gravy.
Local beer called Zutho or Thutshe which is brewed from rice and millets and locally made exotic fruit wines like wild apple, black cherry, Burmese grape etc, are sold by the glass or bottle and seem to be quite a popular drink.
The Naga chef was one such food court that I ate at, where I sampled some of their unusual foods like Crispy fried grasshoppers … yes I am brave like that. They also had a millet based dessert and if you know my relationship with millets, you will understand why I was pleased 😀
There are pay and use washrooms and Rs 10 will permit a one time usage. However, they are Indian style and not in the best of condition. A renovation into a more modern avatar would be most welcome.
Schedule of events –
The Day wise schedule is released on the official website before the festival and it is very important to have knowledge of this before attending the festival, since it will aid in prioritizing and planning one’s time optimally so as to attend performances of interest, especially since there are a myriad programs that happen, sometimes simultaneously.
The standard timings of the festival performances are 10 am – 12 pm and 1 pm – 2.30 pm. Each day the tribes take turns to showcase different bits of their customs via dances, singing and acts. Details of each act are on the schedule.
VVIPs grace the festival everyday both at the morning and noon sessions, right from Chief Ministers to Governors to Union Ministers to Ambassadors etc and information about them is also published.
Every session begins with speeches from the presiding VIPs and then there is a delightful ‘roll call’ of sorts where each tribal troupe is called out by name and they respond with their characteristic cries.
These cultural sessions end everyday at 3.30 pm, since daylight fades at this early hour itself.
It gets quite cold and dark and people usually carry on to other locations of the festival or perform some other activity like village tours etc., or stay back for the some musical shows and competitions that take place after 5 pm at the main arena.
The 2018 schedule as released by the department of tourism, is available on their website. Going through it will give an idea of the structure of the festival, which is quite similar every year.
Given below are the schedules of a few of the days. The rest can be found in the link at the end of this blog post.
How to effectively experience the Hornbill festival –
Best days to visit –
The festival is on for the first 10 days of December. The first day begins after 3.30 pm with the inauguration ceremony of all the features. On the last day, one can view the closing ceremony after the days’s programs.
The remaining days follow almost similar schedules daily, as indicated above. There are performances mainly in the arena with some scattered performances at other locations.
If one has the luxury of time, then visiting on the first and last days as well as a couple of days in between, would be the way to go, with the rest of the time used for sightseeing in the other parts of Nagaland.
I attended the festival right in the middle (days 5, 6 and 7) and I was able to experience a range of activities, though I missed viewing the opening and closing ceremonies which obviously would have been a unique sight.
Best time of the day to be there –
As indicated on the schedule, the performances begin at 10 am and prior to that is is when the performers are at their respective Morungs, dressing up in their tribal gear or practicing for the shows of the day. This is a good time for those who want to get their photographs and portrait shots because the troupes are all available at a single location and they are also quite relaxed at that time and hence very patient and obliging.
This is also the time pose with the Nagas and get others to shoot … while you pretend to actually Shoot or beat drums or wear their shawls 😀
One can arrive there as early as 8 am which will provide at least 2 hours for photography without too many tourists to jostle with for space, though there are always some of them who have outwitted you and arrived earlier 😀 After 3.30 pm the fading light makes photography difficult, so early morning is the best bet.
The colorful tribal costumes and the photogenic features of the Nagas, make for addictive photography and one can go quite insane trying to capture every possible visage and expression and action, since everything is so novel and fascinating.
I found 3 days to be quite insufficient to capture all that I desired to and yet found my camera bulging with 4000 pictures … that consequently had my eyes bulging in an attempt to edit and reduce to a far smaller number 😀
To their credit, every artiste there is supremely patient and bears the onslaught of tourist cameras with great equanimity and cooperation. Even though at times they have so many cameras pointing at them, that they are not really looking at yours 😀
If photography is not your thing, then anytime before 10 am is good to get there and occupy a seat to view the action. The mid morning sun does get a bit uncomfortable, hence locate seats that are in the shade.
Plan your time after 3.30 pm so that you can visit any of the other festival locations or go sightseeing or even take some rest after all that walking.
The performances –
After chasing portraits from 8am – 10 am, head to the main arena where the proceedings begin with speeches from the presiding VIPs, followed by the various dances, songs, acts and other performances.
Of course there are great photo ops here too, right from the tribes seated among the spectators to the actual action on the ground.
But for those who are not burdened with cameras, this is the best time to sit back and enjoy the entertaining and educative shows that throb with the pulse of Nagaland and allow yourself to soak in the exhilarating culture of this vibrant state.
Dances and songs depict their agrarian lifestyle like hoeing, tilling, sowing, reaping, hunting, fishing, fire making and cooking.
Social celebrations like courtship, marriage and even death are portrayed through drama.
Games like high jump, leg fight, top spinning, stone lifting and other indigenous sports are played.
There are Folk dances like hornbill dance, fish dance, serpent dance, falcon dance, bamboo dance, butterfly dance, war dance, skull dance, victory dance etc
Even little boys showcase their prowess at traditional shows of strength.
Adult contests of resilience also take place, like Strongest man, the fiery and scary Chilli eating competition, Tug of war etc.
My experience –
I was there to experience the novelty of the festival and to capture as much as I could, despite my amateur photography skills. And 3 days were just not enough for me 😀 I could only manage to attend the festival and visit the village of Kigwema. And 15 minutes of Kohima happened since it was my transit city.
I was there from Dec 5th-7th, which were Days 5,6,7 of the festival.
The day I arrived at the heritage village only after lunch and that afternoon was spent in getting a feel of the place. And a taste of the beer and wine and food 😀
The next day I set out early to visit the morungs and watch the performers preparing for the day’s programs. I also managed to catch a few of the performances.
The tribes that await their turn are also seated along with the rest of the spectators and they made for interesting captures too, especially their headgear that bobbed tantalizingly and seduced my camera uncontrollably 😀
Day 3 also had an early start and was of great interest to me because the Chilli eating contest was to be held. The world famous Naga chilli also called King chilli or Bhooth Jholokia (ghost chilli) is one of the hottest in the world with a rating of over 1 million Scoville Heat Units and even touching the pretty and innocuous looking thing, can result in dire consequences 😀
This contest has participants who are either very brave or very masochistic 😀 They have to undergo clearance from the medical team before they are accepted.
The rules are that they eat as many chillies as possible within the given time, swallowing them completely, as verified by the organizers who peep into every mouth with sharp eyes 😀
There were around 7 participants who were all Naga men with the exception of one Assamese lady and 1 Austrian man. The Austrian was travelling around the world with his group, researching the hottest chillies of the world. Yes and you thought your job was tough 😀
The contest equally painful and fascinating to watch and it kept everyone on edge like a suspense movie.
Teja who was conducting the contest, took us through the show, peppering it (no pun intended) with his wit and entertaining running commentary 😀
Most of the contestants performed quite commendably. The lady did not proceed very far and the Austrian survived. Someone won … I do not know who. I was just too tense to find out. But I did record a snippet of it for your viewing pleasure … or maybe pain? 😀
Being my last day here, I left after the contest to the village tour of Kigwema, accompanied by my guide from Native Stories tours and travels, which also was my host homestay. More about that in my post on Native Stories.
I spent the next 3 days in Assam, hence could not explore more of Nagaland. But leaving something unfinished is reason to return again … and return I must !!!
Things to do in Kohima and surrounding villages –
Apart from viewing the performances at the Hornbill festival, one can also visit a few more places of interest in the nearby surroundings of Kiswema.
Kohima city –
One can opt to visit Kohima city during the day or after the close of events at 3.30 pm.
Kohima is 10 km away and there are share cabs that one can find at the entrance of the Kisama Heritage Village.
A popular place of interest in Kohima city is the War Cemetery, which is dedicated to the soldiers who lost their lives during the Japanese invasion of World War II and is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
The market at Naga bazaar also offers the visitor a very novel experience with fresh produce of the exotic variety, both vegetarian and non vegetarian. Wild mushrooms, strange berries, herbs and greens are sold alongside various edible insects, silk worms, snails, frogs, etc. Not a place for the squeamish to visit but a treasure trove for adventurous palates 😀
Khonoma Village – 20 km from Kohima, is the village of the Angami tribe that has been labelled the Green village due to the commendable nature conservation efforts by the villagers and is a popular tourist site.
Dzukou valley – is around 24 km from Kohima and lies near the Manipur border and is famed for its lush rolling meadows and carpets of colorful flowers. This is a popular trekking trail.
Japfu peak – 25 km from Kohima, is the second highest peak in Nagaland (after the Mount Saramati) and it is a trekkers delight with its panoramic views and lush greenery.
Due to a lack of time I visited only the nearby village of Kigwema. More details on my village visit are available here.
Weather and what to wear –
As I mentioned before, December is Cold !!! But daytime (10-2) allows some respite and is comfortably warm.
One has to set out to the festival, equipped for the temperature variations and hence Layering is the way to go.
An inner layer of thermals, followed by regular clothes, topped by a light fleece jacket and then the main jacket.
Woolen socks over regular socks, sturdy walking shoes.
Woolen cap or similar protective headgear, a muffler or shawl and the most important nose mask (against the cold and dust)
Yes one needs to temporarily make Darth Vader their model 😀
Layering facilitates peeling off 😀 … and as temperatures rise, one can shed clothing part by part. Discarded items need a place to go, hence a nice little backpack that can also carry a water bottle, will make it convenient for a hands free experience.
Of course there might be that camera like a stone around the neck but hey that is an occupational hurdle and a small price to pay for documenting those gorgeous memories.
My thank you speech –
Ever since I made the initial plan to visit Nagaland, there came forward so many of my Naga friends from Bangalore who immediately swung into action, putting in great effort to help me find whatever information I sought and connecting me to other local contacts.
Everyone seemed to have just one goal – that I have a great time and enjoy Nagaland with no hurdles or mishaps and the support and love that I received was just overwhelming.
Lanu from India Trails who helped me with several itineraries, Jaideep from ICCOA who connected me to Rohit of ICCOA who helped me obtain my ILP, Dr Akali of ICCOA who met me at Dimapur and took me out to lunch, Neisato from Native Stories who hosted my home stay and local transport, Peleto his brother who took great care of me at the home stay, all their family members who treated me as one of the family, my local Bangalore Naga warriors 😀 – Elika, Kevi, Arenla and Elizabeth, who told me to call them at anytime for any help and who followed my online making sure I was ok at all times.
All this love and support greatly spurred me on to making up my hesitant and at times apprehensive mind and I could not have done this trip without it.
Getting to Kisama –
Basically the route would be – Dimapur–70km –> Kohima –10km –> Kiswema.
Kisama Heritage Village is around 10 km from Kohima.
To get to Kohima, one has to first reach Dimapur, which is the largest city of Nagaland and the gateway to the state via rail and air.
The other major route to Kohima is by road, via Imphal in Manipur but that is an even more difficult one and would make sense only if one is already in that region.
Getting to Dimapur –
The nearest airport and railway station are at Dimapur which is around 70 km from Kohima.
Dimapur is connected mostly by Air India and IndiGo and operates direct and indirect flights to and from many cities in India. Kolkata and Guwahati are the 2 major cities that one can transit through while flying from Bangalore.
There are also several trains that run in a day to Dimapur from Guwahati and other cities.
Buses also ply between Guwahati and Dimapur/Kohima but are not very frequent and it was not very easy to gather sufficient information about them.
Dimapur to Kohima –
Due to Kohima being hilly terrain, the only means transport from Dimapur is via road (and sometimes helicopter for VIPs and non VIPs who can afford the ride :-D).
There is no structured information about buses between the 2 cities and in any case they are not too frequent. The most practical way to get from Dimapur to Kohima is by cab, either exclusively booked or shared.
There are several cabs right outside the Dimapur railway station offering both exclusive as well as share services. Maruthi Altos and other small cars take 4 passengers + driver and at times even squeeze in the 5th person. Larger vehicles like Tata Sumos stuff in 8-10 passengers.
An average rate would be Rs 300 per head for a shared seat in an Alto or Rs 250 in a Sumo. One can offer to ‘buy’ more than one seat for greater comfort or even use the entire cab for a price of Rs 1200/- to Rs 1500/- depending on the driver’s mood. Make sure you ask the driver to drop you at the Share taxi stand at Kohima, from where you will need to get to Kiswema.
One should be aware that the current state of the road is rather horrendous and a 4 lane highway leading all the way to Manipur, is presently under construction. Sadly, there is no way to tell when that will be completed. The 70 km take 3 hours on a good day (longer in case of traffic jams) and the amount of dust that permanently hovers over the entire stretch has to be inhaled to be believed !!!
I cannot say ‘Seen to be believed’ because that would be ironical … visibility being near zero at times.
However, the bumps and dust are the only major hurdles that one has to overcome to get to nirvana on the other side (not literally, fear not :-D)
Also note that en route washroom facilities are available wherever there are clusters of shops and eating places but they are extremely basic.
What takes one’s mind off the miseries of the journey are the rows and rows of fresh and exotic vegetables that are sold from roadside stalls.
The village of Medziphema which is 25 km from Dimapur, also has the sweetest of pineapples grown in organic farms in that region and if one can brave the clouds of dust, then one should definitely buy several of these fruit to carry back home. I managed to photograph them through the haze !!!
Kohima to Kiswema/Kigwema –
On reaching Kohima, the next step is to get to get to the Naga Heritage Village at Kiswema, 10 km away. There is a Share taxi stand in Kohima (where hopefully your cab from Dimapur will deposit you). Share cabs to the village can cost around Rs 50/- per seat. Again there is the option of paying for more than 1 seat or all the seats and paying the proportionate fare. The drive takes a minimum of 30 min (longer in case of traffic) but the good news here is that the road is far better and the worst is over at Kohima itself.
Soon after setting out from Kohima, the landscape suddenly turns quaint and charming with several villages visible on the hillsides in the distance.
My journey –
From Bangalore one can fly to Dimapur via Kolkata or Guwahati. However, I found that a more economical option would be to fly into Guwahati (around Rs 5000 one way) and then take a train to Dimapur. There are several trains and the duration of the journey is around 5-6 hours and is quite comfortable.
I flew into Guwahati from Bangalore by the 3.20pm flight and landed at 6.20 pm, which made it convenient for me to take the night train to Dimapur without halting at Guwahati.
There are app based taxis at the airport and it takes 40-60 min to get to the railway station which is in the heart of the city.
I boarded the 11.30 pm Nagaland express that begins at Guwahati and terminates at Dimapur by 5 am the next morning.
5 am in Dimapur being as bright as 7 am in Bangalore, it is not difficult to locate a cab and proceed right away to Kohima. I was told that cab operators would charge undue amounts of money due to the ongoing Hornbill festival but that did not happen in my case.
Cabs seemed to be plentiful and I located this really smart and nice cabbie called Babu who was entertaining and well educated and he chatted with me all the way, giving me a lot of information that a tourist would need. He charged only Rs 300 per head for the shared seat.
He is a great option to go with and those who want to connect with him may please leave a comment below. He can be prebooked and his rates will depend on the requirement.
We stopped for breakfast en route at a place that Babu was quite excited about 😀 as he told me about the ‘hot hot’ puris and made me quite hungry. Obviously some inside information based on his daily journeys, since it did not seem to be listed on the menu.
The journey was done in 3 hours and at Kohima he helped me get another cab to Native Stories where I was going to stay, which I reached in another 30 minutes.
My return journey –
I retraced my steps similarly on the return, first getting to Kohima and then taking an exclusive cab for Rs 1500/- to Dimapur.
At Dimapur I boarded the 4.56 pm Jan Shatabdi train, to reach Guwahati by 9.20pm. App based taxis and autos are plentiful in Guwahati and hence it is not difficult to find transport at any hour.
For more of my Assam stories check here.
Contact and information –
The department has released a booklet with helpful information on the Tourist police whose role is to provide assistance to tourists in various ways.
Please leave a comment if you want the details.
Please Note – The narrative is based on the inputs that I received from various sources as well as my own experiences.
Dec 5th-8th, 2018