Culture & TraditionIndia

Exploring Kohima, the Capital of Nagaland

Through the large bay windows ahead of me, I see emerald peaks peer over a blanket of fog. It’s almost 9 AM in this town and the only noise I can hear is the static-y hum of the radio playing inside my room. The peaks are an extension of the Purvanchal Range, a sub-range of the Himalaya, and the town is Kohima, the capital of Nagaland.

Nagaland is one of those destinations in India that is still, largely, left off the pages of guidebooks. Not that I’m complaining–it’s hard to come by places that aren’t rife with tourists and selfie sticks nowadays. While I’d ordinarily complain that good, solid information on the area was hard to come by (being someone who is big on doing their homework), it was refreshing discovering somewhere for myself without the filter of a Lonely Planet.

Exploring Kohima, the Capital of Nagaland

Learn about Naga culture at the museum. Photo: Akanksha Singh

Nagaland, the land of the Naga people, is home to sixteen tribes. Kohima is home to the Angami tribe. Tribal lifestyles are restricted to the countryside, and the only time you’ll see people in full tribal garb here is during the annual Hornbill Festival. I’m visiting in late July though, so the festival is over, and the most I’ve seen of tribal culture is the fresh meat market. So fresh, in fact, that much of the meat still moves: hopping frogs and swimming eels included.

One of my first stops was the Kohima War Cemetery. Between 4 April and 22 June 1944, soldiers from Australia, Canada, Great Britain, and the erstwhile British Raj joined forces against the Japanese as they advanced forward from Burma (now Myanmar). The Allied forces won at a cost of 4,000 men. The cemetery is home to those that didn’t make it home: hundreds of identical granite graves.

Not far from the cemetery in a pink and green nook is a restaurant that does some of the best pakoras, which are quite unlike ‘typical’ Indian ones. In the rainy weather that comes with visiting in July there is really no better snack. It’s rare that I ever sit and eat in a place that I haven’t looked up reviews for in a guidebook.

Kohima is a place best explored on foot, with comfortable shoes and a camera for company. There are several scenic treks to choose from, including the renowned Dzukou Valley or Japfu Peak, where one peers down over rolling hills, free of the godawful eyesore that is modern-day construction. Unless, like me, you visit in July, when you will just get peeks at the hills through holes in the foggy blanket.

Exploring Kohima, the Capital of Nagaland

Naga food. Photo: Akanksha Singh

To learn about Naga history, the Nagaland State Museum in Kohima is (despite being sparse and somewhat old-fashioned) worth a visit. Not because its miniature and full-size dioramas are exceptional, but rather because there is no other museum in Nagaland that offers the same depth to make Naga history accessible to the public.

Still, if you’re looking to see the miniature dioramas of traditional Naga houses with thatched roofs, most locals will tell you to visit the Heritage Village, the grounds on which the Hornbill Festival are hosted. Even if you visit only in the off-season, you’re guaranteed to get a feel of the much misunderstood, unknown tribal culture.

Plus, locals will tell you, this spot is Kohima’s equivalent of the Hollywood Hills. Except instead of Hollywood, your lookout point will let you read, in white and green, “Naga Heritage Village.”

On the whole, Kohima is a excellent toe-dip into Nagaland and Naga culture, being the most accessible of the larger Naga cities. People are friendly, with charmingly dark senses of humor, and, coupled with an idyllic countryside, there are a few things one will actually miss when visiting (okay, maybe cellphone reception).

Article and photos by Akanksha Singh.

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