The colorful state of Nagaland in North East India, had always been high on my list of places to visit, having been fascinated with what I had heard of their vibrant culture and traditions.
My decision to finally visit the place and attend the annual Hornbill festival that takes place from Dec 1st-10th every year, was greatly aided by a series of kindnesses by the several people whom I reached out to for help and information.
One such deciding factor was a person called Neisato Neihu. Neisato came into my life miraculously while I was on the verge of giving up my plans due to a great struggle to obtain the necessary information that I needed to put together this trip.
A miracle that resulted in my staying at the cozy and welcoming Native Stories home stay run by him and his family and feeling totally like a part of their family within the short duration of 3 days.
About Native Stories Tours and Travels –
Native Stories is a family run homestay as well as a tours and travels agency based in the village of Kigwema, 12 km from Kohima which is the capital of Nagaland.
This brand that has newly taken birth in late 2017, aims to offer travellers rich experiences of this exotic land and its culture and natural resources. In a place where comprehensive information is not readily available to the aspiring visitor, their mode of connecting directly with the locals and curating authentic and meaningful experiences will greatly benefit those who would like to absorb as much as possible in an optimal time frame.
Nagaland is a state with a glorious tribal heritage and the several tribes and their distinct customs and traditions can overwhelm potential visitors. Native stories aims to encapsulate these experiences into easy to comprehend packages with flexible itineraries and a range of budgets and to give the visitor meaningful glimpses into the history, customs, traditions, folklore, and villages of their tribes and spectacular land.
Please be aware that Indian citizens need a document called Inner Line Permit (ILP) to go beyond Dimapur. Native stories also facilitates the ILP. Information on how to do it yourself is in my post on the Hornbill festival.
Native stories was also one of the homestays that was interviewed by the crew of Broadcast Media and Graphics, who were gathering feedback via video interviews, from tourists and homestays on behalf of the government of Nagaland during the Hornbill festival of Dec 2018.
The Story behind the Story –
Native Stories is run by the Neihu family who belong to the Angami tribe. They are one of the oldest and most respected families in the village of Kigwema. The family currently consists of 4 generations beginning with Mono their sprightly 90 year old grandmother, Neizo and Apeno her son and daughter in law, her 4 grandsons including Peleto and Neisato and her great grand children including Petevino and her siblings.
Peleto heads the operations at the homestay and Neisato maintains the website and markets the place online. All the others play various roles in jointly running the place.
Petevino’s mother Asono, who is Neisato’s and Peleto’s sister in law, takes care of the home and kitchen.
In addition there are several other relatives like Teseno, Kevichule and Seyiekheto who help run the place and act as local guides. Mhasivito coordinates the transport facilities.
Have I confused you sufficiently ? Well in short (or in long :-D) this is one big family where relationships are valued very highly, elders are greatly respected and everyone plays a part in making the home stay a comfortable and hospitable place for their guests who come from India and abroad.
They aim to give the visitor not just a run of the mill touristy experience but also an immersive and inclusive involvement in their lives, customs, traditions, cuisine and history.
One of the first stories you will hear when you get here, is of course their own illustrious family story. Neisato and Peleto’s ancestors were pioneers in the formation of the village and they had the honor of living at the ceremonial site of the village called ‘Kemevo Tsia’, an area where tribal rituals were performed.
Their great grandparents as well as their grandparents hosted feasts of honor for the villagers. Among the tribes, these feasts are feats achieved only by a very few families and are an indicator that the family is worthy of the highest form of social honor.
At these feasts, very highly accomplished and revered families invite and host the entire village as well as a few other villages in an extravaganza that lasts for several days. Families that achieve this distinction also earn the right to decorate their homes with tribal motifs. The Neihu family had the distinction of arranging many such feasts.
Neisato’s great grandfather also adopted the first teacher of the village and Tepfiizelhe became a member of the Neihu family.
An interesting tale from those times, is one from several decades ago. During the second world war in 1944, the Japanese army which invaded through Burma and the defending Indian army headed by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, both landed up at Kohima and Kigwema.
The Nagas were naturally concerned about any possible disruption to the safety of their people, especially women and children.
The story goes that the Naga elders approached the two armies and stated clearly that they were a proud and dignified race and they would not tolerate any plunder of their belongings or disrespect to their women.
General Sato of the Japanese army fortunately showed great respect in return and assured them that their sentiments would be honored and true to his word, none of the natives were treated badly and whatever the soldiers needed was not snatched but requested politely. Naga customs dictate that no guest is to be refused any appeal.
In fact the understanding was so profound that General Sato was actually hosted in the home of Tepfiizelhe Neihu and he stayed there like a member of their family until the troops pulled out.
The village of Kigwema still has 4-5 elders over the age of 80, who will testify to these stories and also add to them.
If this story gave you goosebumps like it did to me, then you will have to visit Native stories for more of these snippets. It is not for me to tell their tales (no pun intended) 😀
But for now, tear yourself away from 1944 and step into Dec 2018 with me …
The Homestay –
The homestay is a picture perfect, pretty building in brick and beige with large windows and pots in the balcony with brightly hued flowers adding splashes of color. This is a new construction which is around a year old and is hosting its first season of visitors to the Hornbill festival.
The garden too has its share of flowers, along with fruits like guava, figs and tree tomato that hang tantalizingly from the trees and provide for interesting outdoor decor.
A little circle of tree stumps surround the bonfire area in the garden, where every night in winter, the logs are set aflame and guests sit on the stump seats and defrost themselves 😀
One can gaze at the distant villages on the hills through the Evergreen trees that border the compound wall. At night the villages transform into thousands of lights dotting the dark hillside and make for a brilliant view.
The home is built on 2 levels, the ground floor and the first floor. It is currently Work in Progress and has several more features that are due to be completed within the next few months.
The rooms and facilities –
At present the infrastructure on the ground floor consists of a large hall and a room that is divided into a few cubicles each containing 4 bunk beds. There is a common washroom but future plans are going to accommodate a few private bedrooms with attached bathrooms and the present basic cemented floor will be vinyl covered. The final product will appear very different from the picture below.
The first floor has a long corridor that leads to the cubicles, the dining room and the kitchen. This is a great place to sun oneself in the early winter mornings, while inhaling the crisp cold air.
The 4 cubicles have 4 bunk beds each. There is also one common bathroom for all the cubicles.
There is one private room with attached bathroom.
Clean and comfortable bedding and bed linen is provided along with as many blankets as one needs to stay warm in the 5 deg c winter (I used 5 blankets, one for each degree 😀 ) and the beds have a screen that can be drawn for privacy.
The washrooms have running water and western commodes, which is not usually the case in most public toilets across Nagaland. They also provide bath towels, toilet tissue and soap. Presently, water for bathing is heated in large vessels using firewood and provided on request in buckets.
There are no doors (only curtains) or storage facilities in the cubicles but they are a part of the expansion plan that includes the vinyl flooring, geysers to provide running hot water, a few more private rooms and washrooms … and of course, electric heaters which I sorely missed during the December freeze.
A common dining room and kitchen make up the rest of the floor.
My stay –
I was with them for the 3 days that I spent in Nagaland and my bed is what you see below, which was in the nicest and brightest cubicle, being right next to the window and I liked it despite being the coldest one too 😀
The rooms are cleaned everyday and the bed linen etc is neatly folded by the housekeeping, which is very nice of them since I would not have been able to fold 5 blankets every morning 😀
I visited the Hornbill festival during all the 3 days of my stay and I was also taken on a village visit by Native stories on my last day.
When I eventually left, I felt like I was a part of the family, with the warmth and affection showed by everyone there. My only regret is that I did not manage to click pictures with all of them.
The homely food is prepared by Asono Neihu, the lady of the house herself, along with some help from a few of the staff. A mix of generic North Indian food and Naga fare is served to suit all tastes and there is a good percentage of vegetarian food. On request they do cook up some interesting unusual Naga fare for adventurous palates like mine 😀
Contrary to common apprehensions, Naga food has plenty of vegetarian options and extremely exotic and interesting ones at that. There are several varieties of greens and herbs, many of the usual vegetables like cabbage, pumpkin, different types of squash, rosella flowers, bitter tomatoes, king chillies, bamboo shoots etc and many other exciting looking ingredients that I just not have time to analyse.
Of course there are the unusual non vegetarian dishes too which one can try if open minded enough.
Breakfast at the homestay is usually bread, eggs, local buns, chapathis or puris with accompanying side dishes. Tea, coffee and juice is available.
Lunch is on request since most of the guests are not around at that time. Since I arrived at lunch time on the first day, I sampled some of their local pork and rice.
Dinner is a cozy family style affair where everyone gathers around the table and sits together, enjoying the large spread that they dish up.
On the 3 days that I stayed there, I enjoyed several dishes like the ever present boiled chayote squash that grows in several variants, pumpkin and greens soup, vegetable dishes, dal, salads, chicken, pork, river fish, rice, chapathis, papads etc.
The bonhomie and camaraderie of connecting with strangers sitting around warm chulhas (rustic earthen stoves) filled with burning coal, partaking of meals cooked on firewood, listening to the stories of the land and creating stories and memories of our own … this is what one experiences in a home stay like this.
The shots were taken at night hence the poor quality of pictures.
The highlight of my dining experience however, was the dish of snails. At my request, Peleto specially and most kindly went out of his way and brought me snails from Kohima. These little fellas were then Slow cooked (they were Snails after all :-D) on a chulha for two whole hours and enhanced with mashed potatoes, tomatoes, chillies and salt, to result in a delicious and interesting flavor.
Of course I was not very adept at sucking out the insides despite being given live demonstrations by Peleto, so I resorted to spending another two hours at dinner, using both hands and barbarically cracking them open, in a meal that I enjoyed thoroughly 😀
Things to do –
Native stories curates guided tours across Nagaland and their various packages are available on their website. They also offer group discounts and tailor made itineraries on request. Given below are various options to keep the tourist occupied.
Hornbill festival –
The Hornbill festival of course, is the highlight of Nagaland. This takes place from Dec 1st – 10th every year and is a one stop shop where Nagaland showcases all its tribes and associated culture. This is a great time to visit and Native Stories has package tours that cover all the highlights. The venue of the festival is the Kisama Heritage Village which is a bare 2 km from the Native Stories Home Stay. Read more about My experience at the Hornbill festival
Nagaland is a a trekkers paradise and known for some stunningly scenic hiking and trekking trails. Winters are cold and trekkers will need to secure themselves with appropriate warm wear. During the rest of the year, the weather is far more pleasant and also the trails and mountains and valleys are carpeted with bright flowers and lush green shrubs. Dzuko valley, Mokokchung, Pungro, etc are some of the popular trails. Native Stories arranges treks to suit all durations and budgets.
Seasonal activities –
Native stories arranges for visitors to participate in local and seasonal events like rice transplantation in the terraced fields, harvesting of fruits and vegetables, reaping of the rice plants that are heavy with ripened paddy etc., in the appropriate months.
The event schedule for the year would be indicated on their website.
Village tours –
Nagaland is a land of tribes who live in the several charmingly quaint villages that dot the hillsides and color the landscape.
Ma translates to ‘village’ and hence every village here is suffixed by ‘ma’.
A peek into the lives and homes of the village folk who have maintained their ethnicity and traditions, is a must do activity.
My experiences –
Due to my short stay, I could only manage to visit the Hornbill festival and go on one village tour with my guide Tese Angami who works with Native stories.
Due to lack of time, I could not visit Khonoma, the village of the Angami tribe that has been labelled the Green village due to the commendable nature conservation efforts by the villagers. Neither could I visit the several other villages which were recommended for their unique features.
Hence Tese took me instead, to the adjoining village of Kigwema which is also the village that the people of Native stories have their family home.
The village homes are constructed with very basic material like wood, mud, cow dung and are quite picturesque in their rusticity. The facilities like running water, electricity, modern washrooms etc are also mostly quite lacking and the residents resort to drawing water from common wells.
However there are a few new homes interspersed among the ancient, built by those who can afford the luxuries of a brick and mortar residence.
Despite appearing to be very basic, the villages are hygienically maintained and there is a conscious movement towards protecting the environment by reducing the usage of plastic, using organic produce etc.
The tiny little alleyways networking the homes, are also quite spotlessly clean albeit a bit ancient in appearance and make you feel like you are back in bygone times.
Water however seems to be plentiful, sourced from several perennial mountain streams that have been redirected into community tanks.
Community living is the way of life here and village elders are revered and village councils and village chiefs take decisions through dialogues and meetings in areas designated for the same, somewhat like a panchayat.
Common fireplaces, meeting platforms and such areas, make for neighborhood socializing.
Most of the residents grow their own vegetables and fruits and golden yellow orbs of pomellos hang enticingly in almost every compound. It is fascinating to see cabbages and other plants grow out of the stone walls in the village.
The residents also rear their own pigs and most houses have pig stys alongside.
Flowers in different hues dress up every balcony and add color to the grey wooden residences. The residents seem to take great pride in owning beautiful gardens.
Brightly colored roosters also add to the general decor 😀 as they strut around with their entourage of hens and chicks.
The tribal decor of the village reminded me in parts, of similar scenes in the tribal villages of Sarawak, Malaysia and in some other parts there was a strange resemblance to the Westerns of yore, complete with cowboys etc. 😀
Most of the residents are Christian and many large churches can be found everywhere.
Kigwema played a role in World War II, being one of the villages where the Japanese landed in Nagaland in 1944. The wall of the Kahmima Zake morung bears testimony to this.
The people of the village are very friendly and simple hearted and hospitable to the extent of offering food to whoever visits them.
I met 2 bright little boys who posed with me for a picture and told me to come back again soon to Nagaland 😀 I was deeply touched and impressed.
The village folk are also hardworking and age seems to be no bar to perform one’s own labor. We met Lono who is around 70 years old and still continues to work in the fields and carries her own firewood. And look at that thick black hair !!!
We also had a delicious meal at Tese’s sister house which she most kindly cooked for us since it was near lunch time. A tangy chutney made from tomatoes and dried spring onion, a dal with local greens and a pork curry accompanied our steamed rice.
The houses usually have large baskets filled with grain which is their supply of rice for the year. Firewood is the primary fuel though some of them do also cook on gas. Kitchens are old fashioned and some of the utensils look like they are pitchers from Biblical times 😀
Many of the vegetables and greens are sun dried and stored for use through the year.
We spent some time at her house and Tese gave me gifts of dried herbs and vegetables and tree tomatoes as we left.
The village also offers grand views of the surrounding hills of the Japfu range and I was taken to a vantage point from where I could see the terraced landscape which is very green and different when the crops are sown. However, the barren winter land also made for great pictures.
Summer time brings a plethora of fruits and is also a great time to visit. Which of course I plan to do 😀
A point to note is that internet connectivity is quite good even in the villages and it is easy to stay in touch with the rest of the world.
Visitor profile –
The homestay is suitable for all visitors right from solo travellers to families. The atmosphere is extremely safe and homely and one tends to feel like a part of the family very quickly. The informal atmosphere is ideal for those who want to have a relaxing time.
For those who want to learn about the customs and history of the place … well there are the stories from Native stories. Just get hold of the ever busy Peleto or Tese and get them talking 😀
Adventure enthusiasts also have the advantage of availing of the tours and treks that are curated by Native Stories.
Best time to visit –
Nagaland enjoys salubrious weather all year round, especially in the hilly regions. Summers can get rather warm in the plains though. Winters are cold no doubt but they have their own charm and if one is well equipped with the right warm wear, then one can survive quite well. You know I did right ?
Spring, summer and monsoon, turn the countryside lush and green and bring forth a profusion of flowers, turning the landscape into one pretty picture.
A month by month commentary on the year round possibilities, will give a better understanding to the potential visitor. The compilation below has been made with inputs from Neisato.
We will start with December because this month of course is highlighted by the very happening Hornbill festival followed by other events and festivals right through January.
After the activity of these months, February and March see lighter traffic from visitors. They are good times to visit though because these months of pre spring and spring do have very pleasant weather and also have the blossoming of flowers on the fruit trees like plums, peaches etc. The state flower of Nagaland, the Rhododendron also puts on a display during spring.
May brings the first showers and towards the latter part of the month, the Dzuoku valley starts rolling out its flowery carpet. June onwards the monsoons get into full swing and rice seedlings are transplanted in the terraced fields. This is a very exciting activity and tourists get involved in the transplanting tours that are conducted.
The latter half of July and also August would be the most exciting season for fruit lovers (like me), for this is when the peaches, plums, figs etc are harvested in abundance. This however is also a time of heavy rainfall and the visitor should be prepared for this. Dzuoku valley and other trekking trails also become unsafe for amateurs and trekking during this time is undertaken only by advanced trekkers. The terraced fields are at the peak of their green glory and this is when one can trap the lush, verdant, stepped landscape in their cameras and obtain pictures to treasure.
September is a season of harvest which brings forth fresh and delightful produce like pumpkins, cucumbers, corn and many other vegetables. The harvest tour is also available for the tourist where they gather the produce along side with the villagers and enjoy traditions like eating corn roasted on coals right in the middle of the fields, the pleasure of which has to be personally experienced to be understood !!!
October and November also has the rice harvesting where tourists get into the act of reaping the grain along with the locals. End of October brings forth the cherry blossoms that line the mountain ridges and turn the landscape into a cotton candy-esque flurry of pink. These blossoms hold on till end November. During this period the weather is too is not as cold as it will get in December.
Based on the above data, one can plan their visit accordingly.
What to carry –
Winters temperatures go as low as 5 deg c, hence appropriate warm wear is advised. Also carry dust masks (which are also available in plenty in roadside shops). Almost everybody is seen using these masks to minimize inhaling of the ever present dust especially in the bigger cities. Carry sturdy walking shoes and if planning to trek, be equipped with appropriate clothing and footwear.
Getting there –
Native stories is located along the national highway that connects Kohima to Imphal and is just around 2 km away from the Kisama Heritage Village and 12 km from Kohima. In fact it is right at the 12th km ‘milestone’ that one sees on the Highway.
One has to first get to Kohima and for that one has to 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 Kisama.
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 Kisama/Kigwema –
On reaching Kohima, the next step is to get to get to Native Stories which is 12 km away in the village of Kisama. There is a Share taxi stand in Kohima (where hopefully your cab from Dimapur will deposit you). Share cabs to the homestay 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 12 km takes a minimum of 30 min (longer in case of traffic) to reach the homestay 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.
The homestay is right alongside the main highway and a good mobile network ensures that Google maps will stay active and lead you easily.
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 11.30pm 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 the homestay, 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.
Contact and Booking –
Native Stories can be found at –
Address – Kiphuzo-u, Kisama Heritage Village, Kigwema Town, Kohima, Nagaland 797005
Phone +91 8329095884
For more pictures see
Please Note – This is a collaboration, based on the invitation of Native Stories home stay and I thank them for hosting me with their warm hospitality.
The narrative is based on the inputs that I received from various sources as well as my own experiences.
Dec 5th-8th, 2018