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North East Chapter 6 - Experience at Kohima

by Payel Kundu on March 28, 2018
Tribal Art

I reached Kohima late at night, at least late as per Kohima winter standard. First view of the city for me was from across the valley while seating in the back seat of a car driving towards the city itself. The hills were illuminated by the lights from the streets and houses. Even through darkness of night I could make out the outlines of the hills as it waved over the community of lights making a sort of roofing on top of them. Looking at the vastness of it one could tell that this was not a hill station, but a city built on a hill. And that fit perfectly with the agenda I had in my mind.

To read the detailed story on how I reached Kohima, check out my previous blog

 

“The Heritage”

Kohima is not a popular tourist destination and except for a short period during Hornbill festival it’s scarcely visited during the year. So naturally there are not many hotels there either. I came across three nice hotels online which were all within my budget. But the photos of The Heritage appealed greatly to me. I found a few bad reviews, but their impact was overpowered by my interest towards the place. So I booked it.

The Heritage
Hotel view in daylight

On the first day the taxi dropped me at the hotel at 8:10 pm. I was greeted with silence and quietness of a much later time of night. In front of me a little higher from the road, there stood the building as I had seen in the pictures - a colonial building with its wooden fixtures, tin roof and glass windows. Lights were streaming out through the white curtains from one side of the building, indicating someone was still out there. But in its perfect symmetry of walls, I couldn’t understand the entrance to the hotel. The road I was standing on was as wide as the road we took till the hotel, so I mistook it for a public road at that time (it was road inside hotel). There was a roofed podium behind me on the other side of the road and a few local guys clad in thick winter clothes were standing and chatting there. I approached them to ask for the entrance. I asked in Hindi and was replied to in perfect fluent English. One of the guys proactively came with me and helped me till the reception. I came to know that they had a wedding in the hotel next day and so they were doing some last minute preparations.

At the reception, I met with a young Naga guy who helped me with the check-in process and showed me to my room. During my whole stay he would be the only hotel staff I would have to communicate with. At my first interaction he looked a bit awkward and confused. But gradually I realized that’s the way he was and I found that very comforting and kind of cute.

Heritage
Design on outside wall

I was still getting used to North-east timings and it was getting more and more different with every new destination. At 8:30 pm I was told that I was too late for dinner as kitchen had closed at 6 pm. It was the worst day of travel for me and I hadn’t had anything since lunch at 12 pm. So I had to eat. I was literally ready to beg for food. After a little brain storming, we agreed upon a double egg omelette and I was happy with it for then. But in all the discussion I forgot that my water was also over. So that night I quickly gobbled up my omelette and before I could feel thirsty I slipped inside the comfortable bed and went off to sleep.

It was 0 degree minimum at that time and an unexperienced me didn’t think of switching on the heater or fetching extra blankets from inside the cupboard. So the night went in me curling up in same position (as stretching my leg would mean contact with extremely cold and damp part of the bed) and desperately covering my ears by pulling the blanket high. Morning was quite beautiful though. I woke up feeling the sun outside my window. My room was of an odd triangular shape with the whole longer side of the wall and a part of the back wall covered with glass windows. I woke up and opened the curtains and soon the sunlight was falling inside room through the eastern side. Even though it was already getting warmer, I switched on the heater and promised to never ignore it for my remaining stay at Kohima.

Hotel
Sunlight reflecting on glass window

When I went outside the door, I saw the building for the first time in daylight. It looked just like the pictures, or maybe even better. All sides of the building was covered in glass windows in white wooden panels and they reflected the morning light beautifully. Green vines covered parts of the wall and some small plants peaked out from the xx. Here and there I noticed some designs on the wall reflecting the Naga heritage. I walked around the building and reached the dining area, which was flaunted its colonial charm in the morning light falling through the window. I took as many pictures as I could and hope they would give a better portrait of the place than my descriptions.

Hotel
Glass windows and green vines
Hotel dining
Interior decoration in dining hall

After my whole stay in Kohima and seeing other neighbourhoods, I was sure I chose the right hotel. The prettiest hotel in the quietest corner of Kohima.

 

Getting to know Kohima

What does a tourist do in a not so touristy place? If you search on net you will find a list of things to do in Kohima, which is mostly consistent across all sites. I could do that. But I was more interested in walking down the streets and observing lifestyle in this city. I picked one or two places in the map to go towards so that I don’t look completely clueless on the road.

Road at Kohima
A car packed road at Officer's Hill

I walked out of the hotel feeling pleasant morning sun on my face. I wore a tshirt and jeans, put a jacket on top of it and kept it unbuttoned. It was good enough for the cold. Later in the day I felt hot under the sun wearing the same and felt slightly chilly when it breezed. I came down from the Officer’s Hill, where my hotel had been and came to the busier part of the town. The road was noisy and dusty out here, there were too many cars plying all the time. I started walking towards the War Cemetery consulting map time to time. In distance the mountain stretched on and it was visible every time shops and houses cleared. The roads had only a slight slope for a hill and walking wasn’t difficult at all. People were walking or driving on street like any regular town. I couldn’t spot any tourists apart from me.

Soon I reached the spot claimed to be the cemetery in map and looked around for some sign. There were none. On my left there was a tall boundary barricading a place and I figured this could be it. But I still needed to find the entrance. After a walking around a bit I decided to ask someone. By then I was in a small lane going upwards and I saw three people coming down from the other direction – an old lady accompanied by a little girl and a young girl close to my age. I asked the question towards their direction addressing no one in particular. The young girl responded and that’s how began my first introduction to Kohima.

Cemetary
Tombs at War Cemetery

She was a local who had always lived in Kohima. Her parents’ home was 15-20 minutes away and now she was married and lived in Officer’s Hill. She told me she was Nepali and married a Naga man who worked in the army. She had a frankness about her that I found admirable. She casually mentioned that she didn’t like the city and told how nobody followed any traffic rules there. She told that she had never been to the cemetery herself, which made sense since the things that attract outsiders about your city are often dull and irrelevant for you. Instead of telling me the direction she actually accompanied me till there and then we spent time there talking about our own different lives. The cemetery itself was quite big with headstones lying in rows and columns. I read only a few of them and realized they were remains from a very old war.

War Cemetery
Monument inside War Cemetary

After spending some time we said goodbyes and I moved on towards my next destination. I had thought of visiting Naga Bazar where various live creatures were sold which were eaten in Nagaland. But when I mentioned this to my new friend, her expression has been confused with a question “why?” I thought to myself that was a valid question. I didn’t like visiting chicken shops, then what would be fun about seeing other live things being sold. So even as I was taking the left turn from the main road towards Naga Bazar, I stopped and decided it was not worth it. So I headed back towards the market area.

Traffic
Traffic Police at a Junction

I walked around in the market near Naga Bazar, which seemed to be a posh market in Kohima based on the people visiting the place. The road was still narrow and dusty and too many vehicles crammed the place. The shops were on both side of the road along with a stalls on the footpath. The footpath were packed with people coming in and out of shops or walking around. I found something distinct about this place, but it took me while to figure out what. There were more females than men on the road, which was quite different from any other cities in India. Also the girls, especially the younger ones were dressed so well it would give anybody complex about their own attire. I felt a bit alien with my clumsy clothing and frizzy hair in a street full of beautiful people.

After exploring the street up and down, I decided to stop for lunch at a restaurant called Tashi Delek before heading back to the hotel.

 

Church on Aradurah Hill

Church
A door of the church

In the afternoon I started out of hotel again and headed towards Aradurah Hills where I could visit the Cathedral Church. It was around 3 km walk and I had given myself a deadline of 4:30 to return back to hotel. I walked down from the Officer’s hill and went towards the opposite direction this time. The road was same as before. There were little less vehicle possibly because of the time of the day. As I walked ahead the scenario changed a bit. There were lesser females on road and more grocery or hardware shops compared to fancy shops as before. As I got closer to my destination I started noticing more mechanics shop and eventually those were the only ones there. By the time I started climbing towards on Aradurah Hill there were only a few people visible on road, mostly shop keepers and workers of some construction site.

Church View
View of the city from Church

I reached the church at around 2:45 pm, after 40 minutes of walk. Main gate to church was open, but the church was closed. From outside, it seemed like an ordinary church. Not sure how I would have felt if I could enter. The view from the place was nice. I stood for some time and took some photos and then headed back the same way towards hotel.

 

Khonoma

I wanted to visit Khonoma and I soon figured out that public transport was not an option. There were only one or two buses to Khonoma from Kohima in the whole day and it didn’t suit the timing for a visitor. I could take a taxi to drop me there, but the chances of getting a taxi back was also low. So I went ahead and reserved a car. They quoted 1,500 for Khonoma and 2,000 for Khonoma & Kisama combined. Given the two places are on opposite side of Kohima it made sense to go for the latter. So I started my day from hotel at 10:15 am heading towards Khonoma.

Stairway
Stairway leading inside the village

Kohima to Khonoma is only 20 km and the road passes through another village called Jotsoma. As soon as you leave the city boundary, the scene changes. There is more greenery, roads are less polluted, and houses look smaller & cosier. You can observe the beautiful landscape of the mountains stretching across with blanket of greenery over them. Khonoma is a green village with residents of the village maintaining an eco-friendly lifestyle. They don’t hunt or cut trees in Khonoma. And this could be observed from the serenity of the place even as you approach. All cities & villages in Nagaland are marked with a gateway having the Naga sign of crossed spears on top. So does Khonoma. Once you enter the gate you can see the village ahead on top of a hill surrounded by green mountains on all sides. From that distance I could make out a small church standing upright and the houses spread on different levels of the hills on both side of the church. It supposed to hold more than 400 household, but as I observed from across the valley it looked completely still and strangely quiet.

The car pulled inside a parking space, which was supposed to be the bus stop and taxi stand for the village. On my right I saw a road going inside village and another stairway going upwards in the same direction. I went towards the first road and at the beginning of that road I found an old man standing outside a small wooden cottage. He was the record keeper for the tourist. He gestured me inside where I paid 30 bucks for ticket and entered my name in registry. I saw the last tourist was two days ago and the previous one another day back. It seemed the place was visited by very few tourists.

Khonoma Village
View of the parking from inside village

The old man, who seemed very polite and pleasant to talk to, offered me to guide me around the village. But thinking I would enjoy it better alone, I declined the offer. He told me to take the stairway to enter the village and come back in the route where I was heading. I took his advice and started to walk in that direction.

Khonoma Church
A Church amidst the greenery
Khonoma Road
A typical road at Khonoma

The stairway seemed to me a sort of back alley since all houses faced other side. After a little climb the road becomes flat, from there I turned back to observe the almost 360 degree view of the mountain all around me. I observed a church outside the village standing at the edge of the hill creating a contrast in colour amidst all greeneries. After absorbing the view for a while I turned back and went ahead on the road. The village was eerily silent. There were occasional sound of some movement and a few hen’s call. Apart from that it felt like a deserted village. At the end of road I came across a small cemetary, which seemed to be a holy place for the villagers. The road took a U-turn here and went downwards. Now the road went through houses, even though the quietness persisted. There were a few small branches of road going further downward on hill. I tried to take one, got a bit lost and asked an old lady for direction. She spoke Nagamese, so all I did was stand and listen while understanding nothing. But then a young girl walked up to us and asked the old lady for what was going on (my guess). She was a very pretty girl in her late teens or early 20s. She was in home cloth with a yellow ribbon on her hair and a bowl of food (possibly rice) on her hand. She told me the direction in broken English and after a polite exchange I headed that way.

Khonoma Village
On my way back to the bus stand
Khonoma House
A pretty house at Khonoma

I reached back the bus stop soon and stopped there at a small restaurant for tea. The old man from the office was there and we started to talk. His demeanour was so calm and peaceful that it made me feel like I am talking to some monk. He showed me his nametag for name which bore a picture of him in his youth. It was taken at least 30 years ago, made me realize how long he must be carrying out this job. After my tea I headed back to the parking and with a sigh left this little beautiful village behind wondering how long they could conserve this place the same way.

 

Kisama

Nagaland is the land for Naga tribes. That is quite obvious. But what I learnt being there is Naga is not just one tribe, but constitute of many tribes who had been living in that area. There are 20-30 tribes who continue to live in Nagaland in a lifestyle not so different from us. They might still be carrying on some rituals and customs that keeps their heritage alive, but to an outsider’s eye their lifestyle seem pretty much same as any city or any village of India.

Kisama
A statue at Kisama

 

But if you want to know more about their tradition, culture and art, then you better visit Nagaland during Hornbill Festival. That’s when people from all Naga tribes gather and perform various arts representing their tradition and culture. This gathering happens in a place called Kisama, which is 10km from Kohima. The ten days during the festival this place swarms with people and the days are filled with activities. However the rest of the year it is left alone almost in an abandoned manner giving a feeling of closed market.

Chakesang Kharu
Traditional Hut of Chakesang tribe

I didn’t visit Kohima during Hornbill Festival. But while I was there I wanted to visit Kisama even though I wasn’t sure what to expect. At around 1 pm, the car pulled in to Kisama and I was dropped at a deserted road. There was a gateway welcoming to Kisama and inside there was a stadium, most likely used for performance during the festival. Behind the ground the hill loomed over with huts built on the slope of it. Looking up I found the words “the heritage village” scribbled on top of the hill in “Hollywood” style. There were pathways in and around the huts to walk and climb the hill and visit the huts as well. I took one of the path and started going up. Each hut represented one tribe and they were built in their traditional style. They must be used during the festival, but for now they were locked and deserted. I could still take pictures and read a little about the tribes from the placards outside. Apart from me I spotted two other tourists and a local couple came to spend some alone time out there. But mostly the place was empty and gave a feeling of a village whose residents have fled due to some grave reason.  After going through each hut systematically and trying to soak in all the information, I walked back towards the car and left this abandoned village behind.

Lotha Chumpho
Traditional Hut of Lotha tribe

 

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