Often described as the land of festivals, Nagaland is home to 16 officially recognised tribes and sub-tribes, each with distinctive costumes, headgear and jewellery. Each tribe also has their own agrarian calendar of festivals. It is said that no matter which month you visit, there will always be a reason to celebrate.
But the mother of all festivals is the 10-day Hornbill Festival held in December. Here, members of all the Naga tribes congregate to put up cultural performances, indigenous games, a crafts bazaar, musical events and more.
For history buffs, there is also a World War II Museum that houses relics from the 1944 Battle of Kohima, which put Nagaland on the global map for the first time. An inner line permit is required to visit this state and an accompanying guide is recommended.
The craft culture of Nagaland is one of the best known in the northeastern region. The region harbours a fine weaving tradition. It is an inherited art form with traditional meanings attached to both the practice and the intricate motifs, patterns and colours – their combinations depict the status of the person wearing it as well as the identity of a tribe.
The International Loinloom Festival takes place in December in the craft village of Diezephe in Dimapur district. It is a two-day global event that was started to platform indigenous weaving tradition and protecting them with intellectual property rights laws. The other craft forms proliferating in the state are cane and bamboo, pottery, wood-carving and metal works.
Music is another important aspect of Naga culture and identity. Traditional folks songs revolve around the themes of romance, courage, bravery and wars. The Hereileu song is a war song that narrates the achievements from the battlefields. The people play instruments like the ‘theku’, ‘petu’, trumpets and many other string instruments. Naga youngsters are music enthusiasts and are quite active in the contemporary independent music scene. The Tetsuo Sisters, for instance, is a well-known brand comprising of four sisters who are bridging the gap between folk and contemporary music.
Naga cuisine is gaining popularity in the country and we can arrange meals in private homes along with visits to the local markets which can be quite an eye opener. Not for the fainthearted!
It is the gateway to Nagaland, if you drive from Assam or fly into the state’s only airport located here. Around the 10th century, Dimapur was the capital of the Dimasa Kachari kingdom. Even today, one can see old relics – large dome-shaped pillars carved in stone. Legend has it that a king who was fond of a game similar to chess had built these to play.
Gracious hosts, talented designers, weavers and musicians make the visit special. The Wednesday market provides a lot of exotic “food” for thought.
In a society where people have grown up hunting, the boast – “We don’t hunt, we don’t cut trees here,” is admirable. Nagaland’s green village is a Rs 3 crore project sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism, both at the state and central level. Since its inauguration on 25th October 2005, it has become a model village. However, this historical village first shot to fame after the local Angami tribe resisted the invading British army during the 1800s. Well-preserved morungs (youth dormitories) and monoliths make this village a must-see.
The land of the Angami tribe – Kohima – played a vital role during World War II. The Battle of Kohima (1944), fought at the same time as the Battle of Imphal, was a turning point for the Allied forces compelling the Japanese to retreat. The epitaph on the memorial of the 2nd British Division in the cemetery there is now known as the Kohima poem. “When you go home, tell them of us and say – For your tomorrow we gave our today.”
The week-long Hornbill Festival is held at Kisama Heritage Village which is about 12kms from Kohima. All the tribes of Nagaland take part in this festival with the aim to revive and protect its rich culture and display its traditions.
The Dzukou Valley with its breathtaking scenery and lush carpets of flowers is an ideal destination for trekking. The flowers begin to bloom in the monsoons and are at their peak in the first two weeks of July. Accessible from Manipur or Khonoma village in Nagaland.
The village of Mon, bordered by Assam in the north and Myanmar on the east, is the land of the powerful Konyak Nagas who are ‘famed’ for headhunting. It is difficult to miss the ethereal quality of this place with its undulating hills and valleys and sparkling streams, creating a breathtaking landscape altogether.
The Konyak Nagas, with their signature tattooed faces and blackened teeth, are known for their hunting prowess. The villages are scattered; one interesting case is that of Longwa, the trans-boundary village, that falls on the Indo-Myanmar border. Its residents possess dual citizenship for both the countries. The village chief, referred to as Angh, continues to be the most powerful man of the village.