- Sunday, 15 June 2014

Nagaland: Hits & Misses

Exhausted, hungry and dust laden. That's how we reached Kohima, capital city of state of Nagaland, at about 5:30 pm after a treacherous 2 hour ride from Dimapur and additional 8 hours from Shillong, in a rickety shared taxi. 

Sun had already set and it was quite dark. There were no electric bulbs or lampposts to be seen either. Apparently, there was a power cut and whole town wore a dark blanket. To our relief, the taxi dropped us right outside our hotel where we had a reservation. But the relief wasn't to last long when we discovered the pathetic state of room and the bathroom. It was extremely disappointing for the price we were paying and hence we decided to look for another place. Without a taxi at our disposal and no other means of transport in Kohima at that hour, we set out on foot into the dark and deserted streets in a cold windy weather to look for a cyber cafe where we could get numbers for other hotels but we landed no where after getting misdirected a few times.  

After somehow managing a local taxi at exorbitant price we saw some really terrible hotels, where each out did the other in terms of mess, poor hygiene and inversely proportional tariffs. Eventually we landed ourselves in a very popular and perhaps most famous hotel in Kohima: Japfu. To me it was simply over priced and over hyped for lack of better choices. We decided to take refuge in it for the night.

That was my first day in Nagaland. Very disappointing and yet very memorable. 

Next morning, after having regained some faint internet signal on my phone, I tracked down another place called The Heritage, about which I had read earlier but did not have the contact number. Soon we shifted there. It was one gem of a place, set in a heritage government bungalow, now privately run, at a VIP and extremely beautiful location. It was then, we knew we had to stay on. Nagaland was not just what we experienced the previous night. We loved the place so much that eventually we ended up extending our stay there by a couple of days to just laze around. 

Now, looking back I realise, situations like these during travel, which inadvertently happen when traveling for long, not only are some of the most memorable ones but also makes one understand the nuances of travelling which is not just leisure. 

Nagaland, still stands untouched by tourists and those who do travel, do so during Hornbill Festival to catch up with all the tribes of Nagaland at one venue. But I wanted to see Nagaland beyond a government funded spectacle. I can not say I travelled intensely through Nagaland but the one week I spent in Kohima and Mokokchung & its villages were quite meaningful and instead of writing a separate blog on any particular destination, I am writing the hits and misses of my trip to this state. 

First the Hits.

1. Cities shut down at 6 p.m. Most of the shops are closed down & streets wear a deserted look. Some might contest that its a big no-no, but I think I was really happy to see this. People in general in remote areas of Arunachal, Nagaland start their day early with the sunrise and end it with the sunset. After which they have time to catch up with family, friends and enjoy themselves at home or amidst nature with walks etc. Life gets into a beautiful rhythm of waking up with the sun and sleeping with it. And without us even knowing it, it caught onto us also. 

2. Villages are maintained by local councils and are extremely tidy. Just before Nagaland, I was travelling in Meghalaya and was amazed to see the cleanliness of villages there, specially likes of Mawlynnong etc., only to be surprised while exploring villages of Mokokchung. They were not only clean but also very well maintained in terms of quality of roads, amenities & facilities. 

3. Sundays are holidays. All of us are very much familiar with this concept. But in Nagaland it means, closed shops, no taxis on roads, no intercity public transport, no restaurants- specially during first half of day. :) Now, would you imagine your Sunday morning like that, when many of us head out shopping or brunching at favourite restaurant ? Sundays in Nagaland are reserved for Sunday Mass in Churches. People from all walks of life, take off and go for Sunday Mass. 

4. Potted plants everywhere in sight. Everywhere I turned I could see potted plants and various types of flowers - be it rooftops of tiny houses, galleries in front or entrances of houses, shops, other commercial establishments. I was so inspired by this sight that I did a small photostory on this subject. 

5. Untouched natural beauty & very friendly people. These are two things which are perhaps enough to turn a place into a busy tourist spot, but Nagaland is a different story. The state has had its share of severe insurgency problems which has not only kept the tourists away, but also halted overall development in the past. Now, its a good time to visit the state when its hills and villages are still raw and not saturated by curious & sometimes irresponsible tourists.

Now the Misses.

1. Poor public transport system. The inter-state public transport has very limited routes and limited frequency. Even privately owned shared sumo services are few and need to be booked in advance. The local taxi services do not have any meter system and charge exorbitantly. 

2. Kohima, being a state capital, needs a major uplift. Perhaps a couple of decent cafés and restaurants where people/travellers could get together and spend time. There is one café called Dream Café near War Cemetery Circle which is nicely done with lovely valley views, but something more is required. It is perhaps the only state in country, after Arunachal, where I felt the interior towns of state out did the state capital in terms of general living and travel friendliness. 

3. Most of the hotels listed on government website or Hornbill Festival website are just plain bad. They are not only misleading to the travellers but also put a bad picture of Kohima when some gorgeous properties like The Heritage and Razhu Pru or modern one Hotel Ura are present. These hotels are situated a bit away from main city centre, but at a walkable distance. The ones recommended on tourism websites are mainly concentrated near taxi/bus stands and are not just bad, but a total rip off.

4. More promotion of tourism is required beyond customary Hornbill Festival. Nagaland is not just about watching local tribes in colourful clothes performing their rituals and dances. To me, a tribal life is not exotic. I don't travel to tribal areas to simply capture them in my camera so I could brag later. To me and to perhaps many other independent travelers, its about knowing them and if possible learn a lesson or two. And this is not possible in a organised festival which to me is more of a spectacle, a put up show where everything is hunky-dory. 

Note: All Indian citizens require an Inner Line Permit (ILP) in order to enter Nagaland which can be obtained at a cost of Rs. 6/-. All Foreigners can enter on the basis of their Passport. More official information here. Dimapur is the main entry point for Nagaland and does not require an ILP.

Here are a few photographs to give a sense of what I have written above.

The Heritage 

A tribal sample home built in Naga Heritage Village, Kisama- Venue for Hornbill Festival

Dream Café

Potted Flowers outside a home in Mokokchung Village

Mopungchuket: another example of a very clean and well maintained village in Mokokchung

A small shop in one of the villages

Well-kept cemetery on the side of road, village Ungma

Note: All Indian citizens require an Inner Line Permit (ILP) is required in order to enter Nagaland. All Foreigners can enter on the basis of their Passport. More official information here.

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