Kohima, Nagaland – Culture and Places To Visit

The far-eastern region of India specifically Nagaland is where incredulous tales of culture can be weaved. And some of them would be true. The capital of Kohima is still untouched either by rail or air and though India has a single time zone, the country’s administrative managers did not really take into account the northeastern region’s horological requirements. So when the clock reads 4 am, and when people in New Delhi would be still sleeping in the darkness of the night, Nagaland would already have been woken up by dawn.

Kohima as seen from the Officers Mess, Assam Rifles. The town is spread over multiple hills and has a cool climate through the year. Unlike Shillong there are less crowds on the streets and very few traffic jams.

The culture and identity of Nagaland is unique and quite strong. Nagas have around 16 major tribes and another 14 minor tribes with each tribe having their own lingua franca. English is the official language of the state but the common dialect is Nagamese, a jumble of many Indian languages through which the tribes can converse. Each tribe is different from the other in terms of physical characteristics. While the Angamis can be tall, fair and powerfully built the Mundaris can be short. A dissertation I came across in Kohima even had a mention of each tribe’s charecteristics in terms of characteristics which include courage, trust and even selfishness and cunningness.

Women of a particular tribe at the Hornbill festival. Nagaland is a matriarchal society but it is a paradox because very few women are seen in administrative positions.

The Konyak tribesmen till a few decades back were headhunters. This and other traits are supposed to be proof that the Nagas trace their ancestry to Borneo and nearby islands. Theories abound, some linking the Nagas to Phillipines while the most tradition ones include China descent. What is undisputable though is that the Nagas have Indo-Mongoloid features and though the history of Nagaland is sketchy at best, the tribes have been existing from a long period even before the Ahoms crossed into India from Northern Myanmar.

Nagaland Culture
Hornbill festival – A tribesmen ponders

The British East India Company during the 1850’s had colonised Assam and had set up quite a few tea plantations. The Naga tribes were impudent with their raids into Assam and proved to be quite a nuisance to the entrenched British. So during a series of military raids, the British subjugated the Naga tribes and that was the beginning of the colonisation of the tribes and the accretion of the British Empire in the North East.

An evening in Pulie Badze – Kohima as seen from the Pulie Badze peak which overlooks the town. It can get cold early in the evening. Myanmar lies on the horizon.

After the retreat of the British, this region became part of India through inheritance and the first rebellion of a few Naga groups began almost immediately and continues to this period. The primary objective of the Naga groups is autonomy and creation of Greater Nagaland comprising of all the Naga tribes including areas in present Myanmar.

The top of Pulie Badze peak
Pulie Badze peak – Pulie Badze has its own place in Naga culture.

So even though there is relative peace in Kohima and the other areas under the strict supervision of the police and intelligence forces, the political aspirations of Nagaland have still not been solved. It was in this light, we made the trip to Kohima facilitated by the interlocutor of the peace process between the Naga groups and the Indian government. Hosted by a gracious and erudite Joint Director, IB we were accompanied by an intelligence official throughout our trip which can be quite embarrassing. But Alo(name changed) proved to be of good company and provided an insight which was very much required.

Nagaland Culture
Sentsi Road at night

Inspite of the very feudal history of Nagaland, present day Kohima abounds with happy people. It is a hilly town where tourism does not yet dominate the skyline. The primary source of income which is as much as 60% is from working in various government offices. It is the younger generation that seems to be more entrepreneurial.

Kohima, Nagaland
A night in Kohima. The streets clear up early in the night. Winters can be cold while summers are pleasant.

Christianity soon followed the British into Nagaland (especially the Baptist Christians) and the Nagas are now predominantly Christians. New churches are being built and the development and contentment of the present Naga society can be attributed to Christianity and the money being brought in by the missionaries. Culturally the younger Nagas identify themselves more with South Korea and dubbed Korean soap operas are much more popular than any Bollywood imports. Naga men and women are likely to model themselves after Korean pop stars who again incidentally model themselves after American icons. It is all a circle of life considering that the Mumbai film industry is hugely influenced by American pop culture.

The Hornbill festival
Singing Women – Women sing in front of their morung during The Hornbill festival

Nagaland is famous as the state where dog meat is considered a delicacy. But after understanding the topography and history, it is quite evident that the Naga tribes found it very difficult to become an agrarian society amidst the very thick jungles and hills and ultimately whatever moved became a source of food. But the people have now moved on in their food preferences and most of the Naga food can be tasted during The Hornbill festival.

Pulie badze
The last road head at Pulie Badze sanctuary. The trek starts from here. There is also tented accommodation available here. The Kachin Dao or the Naga knife is a key piece of decoration as seen in the arch

Things to do and places to visit when in Nagaland/Kohima

Street Food
The night streets of Kohima during the Hornbill festival was a gastronomic delight and can easily transport you to the streets of Bangkok. The most delicious meats are on display either in a barbequed, skewered or roasted form.

Kohima, Nagaland
If faces are an indicator of human emotions, then happiness abounds in Kohima. People were engrossed with each other in the night bazars and conversation continued late into the night.

Dzuoku Valley
Dzuoko valley is a 2 day trek from Kohima. It takes you to lush and verdant valleys which are very unique to look at. Mt Japfu, Nagaland’s second highest peak is located here.

Kohima, Nagaland
Pulie Badze Sanctuary – On the way to the Pulie Badze peak

Pulie Badze
A half an hour trek from the last road head near Jotsoma village lies the wildlife sanctuary of Pulie Badze. Pulie Badze has is part of local folklore and the story is explained at the top of the peak which is part of the sanctuary. The short trek from the end of the motorable road to the peak takes you to a height of 2400 metres and if you are brave enough to withstand the winter cold and the darkness of the forest after discounting any safety issues, it can offer brilliant views of Kohima town. A minor chill went up my spine as I saw the town transform into a fog-enveloped ghost town and this could have been straight out of any adventure movie. Leeches abound if the trek is undertaken in the rains.

Kohima, Nagaland
Fog envelops Kohima as seen from Pulie Badze. It can be quite cold in winter.

Hornbill Festival and the Kisama War Museum
Happens from the 1st to 10th of December. All the tribes come together to show their culture as in the olden days in the village of Kisama and to me it remained a great photographic opportunity but the soul was non-existent.


Rock Festivals
Rock is making Kohima an alternative destination to Shillong, the supposed Rock capital of India. Experience the rock festivals in Nehru stadium.

Places to visit in Nagaland
A head bangers festival at the Nehru stadium, Kohima

Kohima War Cemetery
The greatest battle of World War II arguably and along with the World War 2 Musuem in Kisama presents the heroism of Japanese, British and Indian soldiers during World War II.

Places to visit in Nagaland
War Cemetery, Kohima

Catholic Cathedral, Kohima

Places to visit in Nagaland
The very impressive structure of the Catholic Cathedral in Kohima. It is one of the biggest in the North East and its architecture and style deserves appreciation.

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