Our flight touches down in Dimapur and the stewardess makes an announcement that the airline has lived up to its promise of landing on-time yet again. The three of us – Smiling Buddha, Deepak and I – are on our annual travel break; this time to Nagaland. (If you would like to read about our past exploits, please follow these links: Bodhgaya, Varanasi, McLeodganj).
We disembark, collect our bags from the conveyor and head to the exit, hoping to see our college mate and long-time friend Akavi Chophy (now an Executive Engineer in Nagaland) waiting for us outside. He didn’t disappoint – we catch sight of a chubbier Akavi (than from the college days) waving to us. We probably may not have recognized him had we not seen his recent pictures – It’s been 25 long years since we parted ways after our Engineering college days.
We are soon on our way to his house in his vehicle. I look around to catch glimpses of life in Nagaland. Bumpiness of our ride brings my focus to the roads, which, to my surprise is unpaved. I spot greenery all around broken in intervals by meat shops, markets and arched entrances to various communities. I spot red Christmas stars hung on most structures and trees. Our plan is to spend the night at Akavi’s before heading out to Kohima for the Hornbill festival.
Akavi and his sweet family turn out to be perfect hosts; as soon as we step in to his nicely kept home, we are welcomed with a traditional Naga shawl . They’ve laid out an elaborate feast too; one which we polish off with great gusto while recalling fun instances from our college days. Later that evening, we sit around in one of his many balconies. The night is chilly and silent, except for the occasional howls from dogs nearby. We sit around and chat late into the night before retiring under thick warm blankets.
Treacherous roads make the drive to Kohima difficult, and we shake, twist and move to the rhythm of the bouncy Bolero on a bumpy road. We see people selling a bunch of live rats along the way, and numerous roadside stalls selling fruits – especially pineapples. As we reach Kohima town, the traffic worsens, and our vehicle inches along. We finally reach Kisama village, where the Hornbill festival is held.
The Hornbill festival is celebrated every year in the first week of December, to showcase the cultural heritage of Nagaland. All the 16 tribes have their own festivals, and since they all come together for this festival, it is also known as the ‘Festival of festivals’.
It is post-noon, and the village is bustling with activity. A cultural show on the main stage has just come to a close. Each tribe has set up a Morung – a decorated hut where trophies of war and other items are kept. The tribesmen (and women, of course) are in a jovial mood, and are seen interacting with camera-wielding tourists. They pose like experienced models for the tourists – giving each of the photographers their attention. They invite the tourists to be part of their dance. I click some pictures and move from one Morung to another. There are also food stalls set up. We get into one of them and try the local rice beer. There is also a war memorial near the village. We read about the battle of Kohima and the Japanese retreat there.
After a few days in Nagaland, we drive to Shillong. The trip takes us through parts of Kaziranga into Meghalaya. The well-maintained roads in Meghalaya are a welcome change from the ones we experienced in Nagaland. Shillong is a lovely little hill town; which we explore on foot. Maruti Altos ply as shared taxis and charge Rs 10 per passenger for a ride. The cab driver waits till he gets 2 passengers to seat in front, and 4 in the back. If one wants to ride alone, she/he will have to pay for the rest of the empty seats as well. The hotel we are booked in – Kaizun Bread & Breakfast – turns out to be a clean and very well maintained place with responsive staff. It is centrally located – near Police Bazaar, which is the main town centre. We hire a taxi for our day trips to the various waterfalls in Cherrapunji from ‘Shillong Tours & Travels’. The driver, Donick, turns out to be a young fellow who speaks impeccable English. (If you ever need a cab in Shillong, do call Donald at 977.432.7132 or email him at syiemiongdonald [at] gmail [dot] com). Also check out Dylan’s Café and ML 05 Café if you get a chance – they are awesome.
We also make day trips to the various waterfalls, a living root bridge, a cave and River Dawki in the next few days.
Hope you enjoyed reading this post. For more pictures and stories about this trip, please check my Instagram feed: https://www.instagram.com/sampathmk/