Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland

29th Mar 2023

Set in a faraway land in the North East of this diverse and culturally rich country, Nagaland has so much to offer when it comes to offbeat travel and history. With seventeen major tribes and many more sub-tribes, this state has stories that are simply waiting to be heard by us and future generations. While each tribe has its distinct identity, customs, food, dialects, and attire, I can confidently vouch that it will take decades to capture the essence and true beauty of Nagaland’s heritage.

Innocence, Simplicity, & Contentment - my takeaways from the land of the North-East

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

My travel organizer, ChaloHoppo, signed us (me & my wife, Shruti) up on a quest that may have marked (& sparked) the beginning of many more journeys in the Land of the North East. While their website covered the details of what we’d possibly expect once we arrived in Nagaland, little did we know that the aura of our destinations over the next few days will captivate our senses and rekindle our souls.

A sneak peek into what’s to follow - Shruti and I in our natural habitat at Dzükou Valley

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

The next few chapters unveil a fascinating experience of one of the major tribes situated in the Naga hills of the Eastern Himalayan Range - the Angamis

Wake up and smell the freshness!

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Introducing the Angamis

While history can be boring and mentally draining for some, I believe it would be unfair to just highlight the funny banter and might I add, life-altering conversations that the “Mighty Eight” had over the course of 6 days. So, like it or not! Here it goes…

Historically known to originate and belong to a community of warriors, the Angamis were (and still are) experts in land usage and settlement, with a strong focus on different forms of agriculture. This is majorly seen through their established terraced-farming practice across the entire belt. This agricultural practice, locally popularized as “Jhum” cultivation, is widely prevalent across the entire belt. I had a first-hand experience in our first pit stop at Khonoma, but hold your horses’ guys, as the beans (and not the stink beans that were growing in bunches everywhere) will be spilled slowly in the pages to come.

So refreshing to see flora in full bloom everywhere

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

The Angamis primarily inhabit the Dimapur, Kohima, and Chumoukedima districts of the state, which further spreads across the Western, Southern, and Northern regions via smaller settlements. They share a part of their territory with the neighboring state of Manipur, which explains why the two sister states are well-connected by road and rail. The now separated Chakhesangs were previously known as Eastern Angamis.

No surprise that the Angamis are primarily folks from hilly regions and their livelihood depends on cultivation and livestock-rearing. They are popular for terraced wet-rice cultivation, which explains the importance of owning acres and acres of land over generations. Angamis are the only other group of Nagas out of the 17 tribes that practice this form of cultivation in the hilly terrains of this region. They cultivate the same plot year after year and are not heavily dependent on the slash-and-burn technique.

A glimpse at terraced farming aka “Jhum” cultivation - Khonoma Village

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

With regards to food, rice is the staple food throughout the state and is mostly served with meat (chicken, pork, beef) and boiled vegetables fresh from their fields. More than 95% of Angamis follow Christianity and they are regarded as one of the last Naga ethnic groups having an animist population.

Although our objective was to traverse the regions pertaining to this major tribe in the state, I was amazed at the area we managed to successfully cover in a span of a few days. Our journey spanned through the Western belt comprising Khonoma, Jotsoma, and Dzüleke, followed by a sleek crossover to the Southern belt via Kohima under rainy circumstances on April Fool’s Day. We made our way through the customary traffic of Kohima and winding roads past the villages of Khuzama, Kigwema, Jakhama, and finally Viswema (which was also our starting point for the Dzükou Valley trek), but more on this later!!! Imagine the thought and diversity that folks who planned this itinerary here to give travelers a unique and holistic experience.

Since our excitement levels knew no bounds and thanks (sense the tone here, guys!) to the airline industry for having the earliest possible airline at 2:30 AM (yes! You read it right) commuting from Mumbai to Dimapur, we decided to reach a day prior to the actual group departure on March 30. My background research and intent for March 29 was clear to begin with. I’ll cover my straightforward thinking briefly:

Thought 1: All flights should depart and arrive on time

Thought 2: Assuming #1 holds true, we should arrive at our homestay in Dimapur by noon

Thought 3: We will not have lunch at the homestay. The idea is to quickly freshen up and leave to explore Kachari Ruins and the Super Market.

Thought 4: If all goes according to plan, we should try some Naga cuisine at a local hotel and indulge my caffeine-stricken palette at a coffee shop.

Thought 5: Remind myself not to get overambitious and tire Shruti out before the actual adventure unfolds (important!)

Chapter 1: Dimapur Diaries - A Gateway to Nagaland!

March 29, 2023: New beginnings…

A warm welcome to the far North East

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

A pleased version of myself exited the flight at Dimapur airport when thought #1 got ticked off the list. I knew it’s a “thing” with smaller airports that one can alight the flight and stroll towards the arrival gate to collect one’s baggage. I’ve had similar instances in some of my earlier trips, but it’s always thrilling to live this minute yet “offbeat” experience during my travels. Anyways, thought #2 turned out to be true before-time as our baggage didn’t take long to arrive on the baggage belt. We took a quick selfie with the State Animal of Nagaland statue (courtesy: ICAR in Medziphema), the one and only Mithun, and conveniently made our way outside.

As with any city (large or small), we were hounded by rickshaw-wallahs and cab drivers at the exit gate. One of them happened to know our homestay, which according to my research as well as ChaloHoppo’s information, was 4 kms from the airport. We were soon on our way to our first pit stop, Longchen Homestay.

Along the way, we realized that this part of the country doesn’t believe in the concept of traffic signals. While it wasn’t entirely surprising, it was something different for city mongers like us who try our best to follow all signals at all time points (as opposed to a handful of “extraordinary” individuals who brave against all odds to break them - we won’t go there now, would we?). What intrigued me was the fact that people respected and followed the directions of the traffic policeman/woman at every signal. My view may be biased since I was only there for a day, but certainly something that stood out for me in this brief time frame.

It didn’t take us long to reach Longchen. As the towering and ornamental gate with Naga spears, a Mithun head, and an inscription “Ee Ki Longchen” (meaning: Our Home Longchen) opened, the simplicity and subtlety of the surroundings lured us instantly. We were greeted by a smiling Annie, who then walked us to our room entitled Hornbill. Before we made our way to one side of the property, I spotted a German Shepherd relaxing by a shed.

Our abode in Dimapur - Longchen Homestay

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Longchen is your window into Nagaland. Run by Retd. Colonel David Toshi Jamir (who we unfortunately couldn’t meet) and his wife, Annie, this neatly tucked-in homestay is spread over 5 acres of a family-owned land comprising their own paddy fields in the backyard. The soothing view of these fields from the accompanying patio of our room calmed our minds and made us forget the long journey that began from the West Coast of the country. The main house was constructed in 2005 and it was only in 2015 that the family opened the doors for guests to experience a Nagamese getaway.

The spacious balcony overlooking the family’s paddy fields at Longchen Homestay

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Our room, Hornbill, was spacious and comfortable. The decor was subtle and rustic and gave us a peek into the Bamboo world of Nagaland. The associated cane chairs, massive tree stumps, and a Konyak angh’s (chief’s) bed from Longwa (as center table) complemented the decor. The open balcony/patio served as the perfect spot to potentially view flights taking off and landing in Dimapur (that’s how strategically this homestay is situated). This is where Shruti and I spent a large part of our evening before supper. The architectural design wasn’t restricted to the interiors but extended onto the furnished rustic kitchenette and dining space.

Shruti and I outside our cottage (Hornbill) at Longchen Homestay

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Now onto my next observation around the friendly German Shepherd, Sheba. Well! In a nutshell, Sheba’s grown quite old in dog years (12) and recently lost her companion, Max. She’s a recluse and wrapped up in her own sweet world now with little physical movement and minimal activity. However, Shruti and I didn’t miss our chance to get acquainted with this friendly hostess. She carefully measured our gradual strides towards her den and allowed us to sit next to her and stroke her head and dense furry coat.

After our rendezvous with Sheba was over, my attention drifted to the flora across the property. The campus is verdant with several trees, including mangoes, jackfruit, papaya, and yongchak (stink beans). The private garden right outside our room had a fair share of Hibiscus and other flowers in season alongside ivy creepers.

Once we were done capturing some scenic shots, we walked towards the main road and got ourselves a rickshaw to take us to the Super Market, more specifically the Nagaland Coffee Shop, as we were hungry by now. As with most of our travels, adventure doesn’t leave our side and there is the occasional setback (you might add) at unexpected time points that adds a cliched touch. So, here goes! Although the rickshaw-wallah charged us more than what Annie had mentioned, we were willing to compromise on that front as my partner-in-crime (nope! Not Shruti), but Google Maps stated we’d reach our destination in 30 minutes. What I didn’t take into consideration was the rickshaw-wallah’s plans, which was a swift U-turn from one of the traffic signals and past the Google Maps recommended route, only to realize that he needed to refuel to cover our distance of 5 kms. We gave in thinking the travel time wouldn’t significantly differ, but this is where I was mistaken.

His chosen route led us to a traffic halt, and I was irate that he didn’t make any attempts at overtaking or cutting corners to get ahead of the never-ending fleet of vehicles. To be fair to him, I know I was being unreasonable, but then my hunger pangs had reached Level 5. For the unknown, this is where the lack of oxygen in my brain and the constant turmoil of digestive juices in my stomach tend to take a toll on my state-of-mind, which is not pleasant by any standards. However, I kept my emotions in check and sensed Shruti doing the same. We finally managed to enter the main lane of the Super Market and received another surprise remark from our young rickshaw-wallah. While both Shruti and I had no recollection of him saying that he’d drop us at the auto-rickshaw stand in the Super Market, that happened to be the case. This meant we had to walk another km or so to reach the coffee shop. Since much time was already wasted, we didn’t want to argue with him anymore. We deducted 50 bucks from the previously quoted amount and started walking towards the market.

The market scenes were busy with locals and a handful of tourists scampering from shop to shop - purchasing, window shopping, bargaining, and the like. Our goal was focused on reaching the Nagaland Coffee Shop within the next 10-15 minutes. After crossing a flyover and walking past the Dimapur Railway Station, we entered another by lane and finally spotted our coffee shop. Now, all we hoped for and craved was some good coffee and food.

Indulging in handcrafted specialty coffee at the Nagaland Coffee Shop

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Moments later, we were seated in the Nagaland Coffee Shop and soaking in the aroma of freshly brewed coffee that made its way through the small space. True to its name, this coffee shop specializes in serving is customers the best Arabica varieties of coffee. This is a joint venture with rural villagers to promote a sustainable economy in those villages. They grow and blend their own coffee in the natural shades of their forests in the lower Himalayan ranges and source the best from six different estates within the state. Well! These are some fun facts for caffeine addicts.

A coffee lover myself, I decided to break from the monotony of ordering a hot cuppa (primarily because of the external weather conditions) and ordered their specialty Brownicinno and an artsy Pork Burger. Shruti settled for the same beverage without cream and Chicken Fried Rice. The coffee was strong and unsweetened - just the way I like it! I was impressed and the events leading up to this didn’t matter any longer. The Pork Burger was appetizing and left me craving for more. Overall, this place deserves a thumbs-up and is highly recommended for coffee enthusiasts.

Post lunch, we decided to explore the Kachari ruins, which encompasses a series of mushroom domed pillars created by the Dimasa Kachari kingdoms that ruled these lands in the 13th century. Myths and mysteries encircle this space, and perhaps we’d have got to know more had we arrived at the right destination after following the direction of our supportive Google Maps. Alas! The gate was shut, and we didn’t have the energy to figure out what more could be done to get through. So, a decision was made to head back to our homestay and rest for the remainder of the evening. After all, our biological clock was shaken in the past day, and we needed to rest. We did manage to purchase a local pickle and some tea and table mats from one of the shops before heading back. Of special mention here are the grasshopper and silkworm pickles that piqued my interest. I was about to purchase a packet each, but Shruti’s scrunched-up nose and the infamous “Tushar, please!” expression that I’m well-versed with was enough to make me rethink my approach. Yeah! You guessed it right. I settled only for shredded chicken pickle, which I’m excited to try soon.

Dusk had set in by the time we were back at our homestay. The evening was spent chit-chatting with Nochet - the young and amicable caretaker at the property. We spoke on various things, including travel, customs, and the general sense of things in Nagaland. We had already placed a request for dining at the homestay and were treated to some simple and delicious home-cooked food comprising rice, mixed-veg, paneer, semi-dry chicken (cooked with local spices), and radish pickle. Delightful and healthy! We resigned for the night and slept like logs, which wasn’t surprising to say the least.

Chapter 2: Khonoma - Get Camouflaged in the Greenery!

March 30, 2023: The next leg of our journey begins…

The lavish introduction to Naga cuisine at Hotel Midway - Enroute Khonoma

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Our first agenda for today was to meet the rest of the group at Dimapur airport. While 4 of us were already in the city, the remaining 4 were flying down from Bangalore. Either way, the itinerary had clearly stated that the starting point is Dimapur airport. So, after a sumptuous breakfast at the homestay, we bid adieu to Annie and her staff and headed for the airport. The folks from Bangalore and our trip guide Vikho were already awaiting our arrival. The remaining folks who were staying closer to the Dimapur market arrived some moments later.

Happy and smiling faces, with an edge of uncertainty ensued, as we all introduced ourselves to each other and were awaiting direction from Vikho.

Presenting The Mighty Eight:

Tushar, Shruti, Arunava, Isha, Ikan, Pragnya, Richa, and Divyansh

One for the keeps - all smiles: Vikho and his Mighty Eight

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

It was then that a massive surprise unfolded. Simply and bluntly put, Ikan is a girl! Actually, it was more like - Ikan is not a guy??? No offense to her or the name, as it wasn’t just Vikho who innocently blurted this out, but Ikan almost instantly testified saying, “I’m sure the others had the same inkling in their minds but didn’t say it out loud.” I would like to believe this was the first icebreaker of our journey. Genuine laughs ensued and the moderately warmer air around us became comforting.

Thereafter began our road trip towards Khonoma, Asia’s first green village, situated 70 kms from Dimapur. The roads were in decent shape and despite the winding routes, it didn’t take a toll on any of us. Perhaps, motion sickness was something that didn’t bother us remotely. An hour or so later, we stopped at Hotel Midway for lunch, where my curiosity on the menu heightened, since I noticed a clear demarcation between the seating space for vegetarians vs non-vegetarians. There was literally a passageway that separated both parties, which led me to believe there was scope for trying out some local delicacies.

And then, it happened! On entering the non-vegetarian sector, the single-page menu had 5 Naga options listed - (1) Smoked Pork (with Axone) - Sumi style pork with fermented soyabean, (2) Fresh Pork Curry - with Naga ginger and dried bamboo shoot, (3) Pork Trotters Curry - in Naga ginger, (4) Pig Head Curry - cooked in Naga style, and (5) Duck Curry - with bamboo shoot. I believe the smile on my face at that point in time said enough. The Bong Trio of Arunava, Isha, and me dived right into #2 and #4 from the above list, while Shruti played it safe by settling down for a Mutton Thali.

Moments later, we found ourselves licking our fingers and complimenting the culinary brilliance of the chef. Each curry had distinct flavors and the quality of meat was good. Our stomachs were happy after this meal, and we were ready to continue towards Khonoma. Oh! Before I proceed, the vegetarians had some soul food too. While I don’t recall exactly what they feasted on, a later conversation with Divyansh yielded Puri and Aloo Bhaji on the cards. Tempting, indeed!

Room with a view - courtesy Aze’s homestay in Khonoma

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Tastefully done exteriors complimenting the subtle interiors - Khonoma Diaries

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

As we entered Khonoma, the tag it bears to being Asia’s first green village, was slowly sinking in as we adjusted to the greenery all around. Aze’s homestay was our abode for the night. The coziness of her home resonated with me instantly as I walked around the sitting area and had a look around the rooms. It was the same for the rest of the group. Vikho took charge of allocating the rooms, but Shruti had a mind of her own and didn’t waste time in selecting our room. She didn’t leave any room for negotiation or discussion. Case closed! Haha!

After freshening up and having some tea, we decided to explore the village. The rain clouds were doing their rounds above and were waiting to unleash themselves on us. Their idea of a “warm welcome” was different and not exactly satisfactory. We left the homestay with our rain gear and umbrellas, but within a few hundred meters, the rain challenged us. We gave up and found shelter in an under-construction house nearby. The owners were around as well and were kind enough to let us stand there and wait for the rains to subside. When it did, the rest of the crew didn’t want to risk going further and getting drenched. However, Arunava and I had a different plan. We went ahead thinking luck may favor the brave and we wouldn’t encounter another downpour. And I’m glad we did!

Open challenge! Count the acres of paddy fields and you’d be treated to different varieties of rice

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Our exploration led us through the narrow trails of this historic village as we chanced upon a land full of equidistant tree barks. This, as we’d come to know later, was our first glimpse into terraced farming, which as I mentioned previously is an agricultural practice widely prevalent among the Angamis. It was a spectacle to behold, and the gloomy and misty clouds added an eerie feeling to it. After a few clicks, we decided to not go back the same route, but complete the circuit, because logically, we thought all roads would eventually lead up to the village itself.

And then, we walked, and we walked, and we walked. The circuit was longer than we expected, and at one point, we were wondering if we were going down the right path. We managed to reach a turn that looked familiar and closer to Aze’s homestay, but that wasn’t the case. We ended up walking more than we intended to, but hey! No complaints. Moments later, we reached the homestay to find the rest of the group immersed in a conversation with Vikho. He was talking about the general customs of the state, the people, language, and some rituals. I happened to check my tracker and realized that we had walked for around 7 kms. In short, I was ready for dinner.

Where C(ozy) met C(omfort) and flowers were in full bloom - Aze’s homestay in Khonoma

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

As I was about to enter my room and change into my night clothes, I suddenly saw Vikho emerge with a cake in front of everyone. I knew I was born on this day several years ago but didn’t realize Shruti had secretively passed this information onto Vikho with the hope that something could be managed to celebrate this event. Yay! Folks who hadn’t wished me yet were indirectly pressured to do so. No filters, no warnings! Haha! But, thanks to Shruti and Vikho for this heartwarming gesture that changed the mood, and I had folks singing Happy Birthday, while I cut a piece of cake. Not that it hurt my sentiments, but this was one of those occasions where an adult’s age was on display on a cake. My first time, to be honest! Well! There was no need for me to keep people guessing on how “young” I am. Haha! In my defense, age is just a number, okay…

Oh boy! Now I need to lie about the age and pretend to be younger. Haha! A delicious surprise on being born

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Post the birthday celebrations, Aze’s kitchen was open for a homely feast comprising rice, daal, mixed-veg, a cabbage dish, chicken curry, Naga chilli pickle, green chilli pickle, and green salad. Being closest to the table where dinner was set, my eyes immediately sifted to the casserole with mixed-veg and the words excitedly rolled out, “Kooopiiii…” Flustered reactions, giggles and intrigued folks turned their attention in my direction to fathom the reason for my sudden adrenaline rush. For the unaware, Kopi is the Bengali word for cauliflower, and as Shruti’s observation goes, I (and when I say I, I cover the entire Bengali clan) cannot survive without Kopi. It’s a must-have in the household and a Bengali’s vegetable of honor. Now that Kopi was out of the hat, the others revered in my excitement momentarily as I realized that the dish was devoid of any kopi. It had potatoes, peas, and carrots. Nonetheless, it was delicious and all of us enjoyed the meal. The cabbage preparation (another of my favorites) was equally delectable. The chicken curry with dried bamboo shoot was refreshingly flavorsome so I couldn’t stop myself from overeating slightly.

For the record, I didn’t just randomly call us the “Mighty Eight” above. Some of us effortlessly indulged in tasting the spiciest Chilli in the neighborhood - the Naga King Chilli and were alive and kicking for the rest of the trip. Not just that, they were hungry for more. After a scrumptious meal and some hot green tea, we chatted for a bit on random topics in the kitchen before heading out on the balcony. The night wasn’t starry as the dark clouds were passing by the moon. The temperature had plummeted by now and we decided to call it a night.

Before this story unfolds any further, it was only until our fireside huddle in Dzükou (if I’m not mistaken) that another short, but intriguing incident occurred on the first day of the trip. I’d reveal it now to avoid suspense.

So, I was gently reminded by some members of the group that when Arnamitra (from the ChaloHoppo team) had created a WhatsApp group and folks were introducing themselves, Divyansh was the only one who had mentioned his age. While I had not paid attention to this minor detail, it became the center of attention when we got to know that he had lied about his age. Not just that, he had cleverly used his innocent-looking kiddish face and antics to inquire about others during the road trip. The bottom line of his strategy served as a confirmatory test of his youth and the fact that he was almost 10 years younger than most of us. A true businessman or should I say business boy, indeed!

Highlights of the day:

(1) Ikan is not a guy! Surprise, surprise

(2) Midway Hotel - kudos to the owner for its clear demarcation of Pure Veg vs Pure Non-Veg; the rift could be felt for each palette

(3) My happy stomach after feasting on fresh pork curry and pig head curry - a minor hiccup when fresh green chillies were mistaken for brinjal, but the situation was averted quickly

(4) Aze’s homestay and the serenity that followed once we entered the premises

(5) My birthday celebrations - Shruti’s secretive planning with Vikho to get me a cake with my age on public display (Tsk! Tsk!)

(6) Arunava’s and my exploration trail through the village and losing our way back to the homestay - again, no disastrous consequences here!

(7) A first-hand practical insight into smoked meat hanging from the kitchen ceiling - the craving still lingers in my head!

(8) My signature Koopiii (cauliflower) moment on seeing a casserole of mixed-veg

(9) Sipping on local tea before resigning for the night

Chapter 3: Dzüleke - A Nature Lover’s Paradise!

March 31, 2023: Our village hopping continued…

When the mighty eight sat around the Khwehu to absorb a fraction of Angami culture

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Cock-a-doodle-coo, Cock-a-doodle-coo, Cock-a-doodle-coo. A particular rooster initiated the sequence right outside our room at 430 AM. However, I stood corrected by Shruti, who had proof that the singing sensation began the Indian Idol around 2 AM. I was in Lalaland at 2 AM and missed the show. Shruti’s happiness of picking a room of her choice soon turned into a “let me sleep” anthem. The trending morning song was accompanied by swift movements on the wooden racks right outside our room. We were so immersed with Nature’s call (and not the call one associates with this lingo) that sleep pervaded us henceforth. I was up and ready to go. Shruti hoped to catch up on lost sleep for a bit.

Now I know what to expect when I come across an Angami home

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

The warrior clan unleashed - of note is the weapon in the center comprising human hair

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Divyansh came down from this room and started ranting about how he was woken up by the Indian Idols at 4 AM. Apparently, there was around 12 of them in chorus outside his room. Well! He definitely paid the price of staying solo. Within the next hour or so, everyone was geared to begin the day’s proceedings. Our village walk for the morning was about to commence. We were ready by 715 AM and left for the village tour around 730 AM with our guide and local, Ate.

Ate hails from Khonoma, speaks and understands English fluently, and has traveled extensively across the country barring a few states. Over the next few hours, Ate ensured we understood the local customs and got a fair exposure to the Angami tribe and rituals. As we climbed the steps at the village entrance to explore the rest of it, my eyes fell upon the gate with inscriptions that resonate with the Angami ancestry. Ate mentioned there were seven such gates that existed around Khonoma. The flora surrounding the village and houses was so aesthetically appealing and soothing. We saw the children head off to school as we continued walking. The vast expanse of the valley left us gaping at the beauty of the place.

This is as traditional as it gets!

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

An observation around the absence of stray dogs unlike other remote villages of the country came up during our conversations. Most of us were under the impression that since dog meat is one of the specialty dishes served here, it may not exactly be a safe haven for our four-legged companions. The occasional spotting was seen outside some homes, but they were not at liberty to roam free. Ate cleared our doubt almost instantly saying that being remote had its so-called drawbacks as well. While the absence of strays had nothing to do with the concept of devouring dog meat, it was a rule across the state that if a dog in any village bites a random villager, the dog owner would have to pay a hefty compensation of 50,000/- to the victim. Moreover, the subsequent consequences and relationships in such small neighborhoods would get disturbed.

Our next conversation revealed the original name of Khonoma as Khwüno-ra (an Angami term for a local plant). Since the British found it hard to pronounce this word, they renamed the village as Khonoma. The village comprises around 600 households and has the highest literacy rate in the state.

Of battles and warriors - the birth of Khwüno-ra (Khonoma)

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Khonoma was the last place where the Naga warriors fought their last battle against the British Army in 1879. A simple white pillar in the village commemorates the death of British troops fighting in Khonoma. The peace treaty between both parties was signed in 1880, and this historic “Battle of Khonoma” thus became the last known organized resistance against the might British rule. A decade later, the British introduced Christianity in this region, which is followed even today.

We were also informed that social stratification was not observed in the Angami tribe. Traditionally, land or property was divided equally among the children from previous generations. The youngest male in the family inherits the parental home, known locally as Kithoki, which is also indicative of the fact that he’s responsible for taking care of his family until they pass away.

Scenes from the crime, once upon a time! - A head hunter’s pride

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Then, our walk led us to a Hunter’s den, where we observed over 100 heads hanging from the wooden ceiling. The more the number, the prouder the hunter! It wasn’t possible to guess all the animals this family of Head Hunters killed back in the day, but it isn’t a pleasant treat to watch in modern times. Other historic (and unpleasant) customs around keeping tab of how many women men slept with and how many bosoms they touched to openly (and might I add shamelessly) display their pride throughout the village are chapters that are deeply tucked away for good.

How can I forget to mention the circular rainbow around the sun? A Halo of sorts and something that neither of us had seen before. Of course, we’re all acquainted with the concept of rainbows, but to see one form a circle around the sun was a fresh concept.

Today’s headlines: A circular rainbow was spotted around the sun in Khonoma

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

As we took a shortcut to the other side of the village via a rocky path, we inched closer to the dense paddy and potato fields. The wind was warmer by now and extremely invigorating. The rest of our walk through the paddy fields and small streams built our appetite for an early lunch. Mind it! This was just the first half of our day. Our next adventure was yet to commence.

Don’t feel the pressure, feel the flow - stills from our village walk in Khonoma

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

A couple of hours later, we hit the road to proceed towards an even smaller village, Dzüleke. Vikho mentioned it’ll take us an hour to reach there, which meant that the journey wouldn’t become strenuous. We bid farewells to Aze and family and loaded the vehicles with our bags. All, but one! This was a mystery that was yet to be discovered.

Thank you Aze for hosting us at your beautiful and cozy home in Khonoma

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

So, it goes like! At the time of loading the bags in the cars, Arunava asked Isha about hers. A confident and instantaneous response about one of the drivers carrying it from the homestay and placing it in his vehicle followed. No further questions asked! The scene shifts to a halt along the way, where a small run-of-the-mill shop run by a female has a signpost with a message and a basic 2G network supporting cellular phone strategically placed inside an empty 500 mL pet bottle to one side. This cellular device, my friends, was the savior of the day, and hands down won our respect.

The minute our vehicles stopped; the lady informed us that one of the bags was left behind at Aze’s homestay in Khonoma. The suspense was rising. I thought I knew which bag was being referred to, but after a brief search, I corrected myself and recalled the exact spot where Isha’s backpack was placed and how it went unnoticed. The mystery was solved. Isha, by now, was still reeling from the shock. It was hard to fathom if she was disappointed or wanted to display some form of emotion. Arunava’s direct question “Do you need anything from the bag instantly? If not, Vikho and I can go back in one vehicle after dropping everyone off at Dzüleke.” Isha remained speechless and confused. Meanwhile, Shruti and Ikan chimed in to comfort Isha by offering to lend some clothes for the evening.

What’s the use of a fancy phone if it cannot save the day? Respect for 2G and this idea!

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Isha gave in momentarily, but then something inside of her may have said “Na, na. It’s my bag and I should have been more careful about it.” And then, she spoke. “I need my bag.” Nothing dramatic ensued. Divyansh, on the other hand, was busy observing the nearby poultry, and conveniently cracked a joke at my initial confidence about knowing which bag was left behind. He’s lucky to have an innocent face or else such childishness amidst adversity isn’t almost always welcoming.

Mithun’s home: He was too busy with his folks. We only got to meet his cousins

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

We had a hearty laugh thereafter and continued our journey after finishing our tea and buying a bottle of freshly brewed wild-apple juice and dry wild-apple candy. Forty-five minutes later, we entered the quaint village of Dzüleke. Given it was already past 3PM and was time for the sun to relax, this village could have been shortlisted as one of those outdoor countryside destinations to shoot a few scenes in the horror/thriller genre. Not that it gave away any such vibes, but the silence coupled with the misty and slightly overcast hills and dense forests in the distance made for the perfect setting.

We were hoping a group picture might lure the “Mithun” out of his home

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Harboring only 35 households, Dzüleke was idyllic and dreamy. It is also the last Angami village on the Western belt. Supported by the TATA Trust, who in collaboration with NEIDA (North East Initiative Development Agency), promotes eco-tourism here, thereby helping low-income households to earn a livelihood. There are 5 homestays here, who get an opportunity to host guests turn-by-turn - it doesn’t get any fairer than this, does it? We noticed construction work happening in our allocated homestay as the kitchen was being expanded. Basic amenities, cozy rooms, and friendly people - what else would one need, huh?

When members of the Plant Kingdom work wonders to boost immunity - Khazie (to control diabetes and obesity)

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

I also learnt that the third generation of people from Khonoma reside in this village. As with any community, a story (or myth possibly) passed on from generations about a warrior who rolled down a hill in the distance during the headhunting days was briefly narrated to us by Pele. His joke about sharing only the name with the most famous footballer of all time and nothing else still brings a smile to my face.

When the best of phone cameras doesn’t do justice to what the eyes behold

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Pele invited us to his home, which was further down the winding road. It was there where we met his wife and their playful pup, Brownie. We left to explore the rest of the village shortly. Despite its quaintness, Dzüleke has all the offerings for sustainable living, including a small wellness center, cabins in the woods, trout breeding center, morungs for learning bamboo weaving, paddy fields, camping grounds, picnic spots, hiking trails, dense forest cover, sturdy man-made bridges to cross streams, and plants of medicinal value (Khatha, Ghapa, Sopa, Khazie, to name a few). We spent the next couple of hours casually strolling through the fields and camping grounds before returning to Pele’s house for supper.

I will wait for you to return and camp with me one day - Nature

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Dear traveler, I invite you to walk over me and experience bliss on the other side. Yours truly, Bridge

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

An evening to remember!

Where do I begin? Let me just summarize the plots instead of peeling the layers of what transpired that evening. There were parallel stories unfolding; some of them under the strong influence of freshly home-brewed traditional beverages, which then transformed the atmosphere into a new level of craziness.

Here it goes!

The star of the show - fire, fire, fire!

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Plot 1: Most of the folks are in the kitchen. Some of them are seated around the fire with a kettle boiling. Random conversations kick-start. Pele’s wife brews what we’d later come to know was Plum Wine and Rice Beer (Khie). What we definitely wouldn’t come to know just yet is the impact of these home-grown beverages.

Random conversation 1: Yeh. What is this yeh? Woh jo hai na? Yeh woh hai, woh yeh hai? This does not warrant any explanation. Why? Because we cannot yeh it.

Random conversation 2: What is the definition of a pipe? Scientific and non-scientific heads collide in this nerve-racking discussion

Random conversation 3: The smoked meat from the ceiling grabs my attention. Meanwhile, my head for some reason is already pounding (in a good way)

Random conversation 4: Richa, now warm enough possibly, is in deep conversation with Vikho. She wouldn’t budge even if a lizard dropped on her from the ceiling

Random conversation 5: There was no conversation. People started laughing over something that I cannot remember

Plot 2: This was happening outside on the patio where the Carrom Chronicles had commenced. The contenders included Vikho, Yuraj, Shebu, Arunava, and Tushar. Isha and Richa played cameos, while Shruti was solely responsible for cheerleading. Her cheerleading abilities rose after a strong glass of rum. While it was evident that the competition was primarily between Vikho and Shebu, we (as support staff) reveled in the voodoo talk and actions that prevailed throughout as Vikho and Shebu would make frequent attempts at swiftly rolling their fingers on the carrom board to distract each other. Note, the plum wine mixed with rum was slowly kicking in as well, and our incessant laughter over such voodoo tricks and banter was rising.

Halfway through the Carrom Chronicles, we heard a Barking Deer in the vicinity. It seemed like it was making its way through the forest. I went back inside to summon the rest of the group in case anyone was interested. They took the pain of lifting themselves from the fireside and stepped out to hear the deer’s call. Their interest didn’t last long! The Carrom Chronicles continued.

The beverage of all seasons (Khie aka Rice Beer) - you don’t always need Red Bull to give you wings!

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Plot 3: Add Rice Beer to the already existing mix, which not only added to the appetite, but led people to learn dance steps post dinner. I’m not sure where and how Salsa and other dance forms made their entry here, but amidst everything that was unraveling, I knew that it was bedtime for me.

Moments later, I’m lying down. And then, that laughter ringing through the confines of my mind and the surroundings entered the scene. It was a chain, one so solid that it felt it couldn’t be broken. Pragnya was heading this unit and single-handedly demolished any myths or obstacles that one may have potentially uncovered. Here I was trying to understand if I’m dreaming, but as Divyansh put it later (on an unrelated topic), my mind was refusing to let my body wake up from the bed and wonder what’s with the high-pitched laughter in the adjacent room.

With all powers combined, this was no way Captain Planet’s dominion. We all became heroes of our own versions and resigned for the night. Very importantly, what happens in Dzüleke stays in Dzüleke!

When happiness is genuine, human expressions need no justification - stills from Pele’s homestay in Dzüleke

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Highlights of the day:

(1) Ate’s tour of the village - a combination of history, culture, views, and a steep descent (at one point)

(2) A circular rainbow (more like a halo) around the sun - something that doesn’t happen often and was Ate’s first such sighting too

(3) A Head Hunter’s den - striking yet disturbing!

(4) A stroll through the dense paddy fields and small streams - served as a perfect build-up for lunch

(5) Isha’s soaring confidence about her luggage being loaded in the vehicle at the time of leaving the homestay - she was yet to be shocked!

(6) The scenic countryside drive from Khonoma to Dzüleke

(7) Sunshine all along

(8) The stop by the lush green meadows, where Vikho’s attempts to summon the Mithun were in vain - a cow, however, responded to his Jemji (horn) call and left us in splits

(9) My attempt at blowing the Jemji - a total failure! More laughs followed…

(10) The strategically placed mobile in a plastic bottle tied to a pole that read “Join Us in Keeping Khonoma Single-Use Plastic Free by Refraining from Using Them.” Epic and by far one of the most innovative ways to ensure network connectivity - it was a savior, after all!

(11) Brownie points for the playful Brownie (dog) at the homestay

(12) The peaceful and calming village walk

(13) View of what a cabin in the woods looks like

(14) The accompanying Ayush Health & Wellness Center - No! My dear readers. It ain’t a Spa. It’s the village hospital offering OPD, ANC, Delivery, PNC, Emergency, Immunization, and VHND services

(15) The still lake by the fields potentially housing several local fishes

(16) The vast and dense surrounding forests coupled with camping sites for picnics, nature walks, and trails

(17) The attempts made to capture a group photograph with Richa’s selfie stand and Divyansh’s iPhone and Watch - we all know how that turned out!

(18) Crossing of streams via random bridges

(19) Coming across a meaningful signpost, which I’m hoping people follow globally when visiting Nature’s Abode - Leave Nothing but Footprints, Take Nothing but Pictures, Kill Nothing but Time

(20) The Carrom Chronicles - a stark display of Voodoo and camaraderie on all grounds

(21) Fireside conversations - what is the definition of a pipe? Yeh woh hai, woh yeh hai, Yeh yeh hai, etc. We get the drift

(22) Home-brewed plum wine and rice beer - traditional beverages that went a long way into unleashing different personality streaks and words of wisdom

(23) Hysteria and a multiverse of craziness that need no justification or explanation - what happens in Dzüleke, stays in Dzüleke!

Chapter 4: Jakhama via Kohima - Where Urbanity Met Rurality!

April 01, 2023: The day we didn’t mind being fooled…

Somewhere between heaven and reality - we were gone with the wind!

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

After the previous night’s theatrics, it was time to look forward to today’s proceedings. But, not before some fun on Fool’s Day that spontaneously became a part of the itinerary courtesy some good acting.

Nature spreading its arms far and wide to give us a feel of the natur(al) setting

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

As some of us were getting ready and away from the scene, Vikho suddenly instructed Divyansh to head towards the homestay where Richa, Pragnya and Ikan were residing. Divyansh wasn’t sure why he was summoned by them but agreed to go ahead and check it out. As soon as he left the kitchen, Vikho nudged me saying it’s an April Fools prank. I didn’t realize Divyansh was turned around and heading back towards the kitchen and couldn’t control my laughter. He heard us and soon understood what was being planned. Our first attempt didn’t quite work out, but we didn’t hold ourselves back. I told Vikho our next target should be Shruti (sneaky laughter).

The plot was simple. I’d sit down with a morose expression and act as though I’ve sprained my foot. Vikho would go to our room and summon Shruti. We’d act out our parts for a bit before revealing the truth.

And action…

I take my position. Vikho heads out and I can hear them talking. Minutes later, Shruti and Vikho emerged in front of me. Shruti asks me what happened, and I tell her that I accidentally sprained my foot while attempting to pet Brownie. Isha and Arunava, both unaware of what’s happening, arrive soon after. All three of them gape at my foot. I’m waiting for at least one of them to see carefully and exclaim that nothing happened (because there was no swelling as such), but attention-to-detail wasn’t their forte in those early hours of the day. Isha ran back to get a spray and crepe bandage. Shruti touched my foot gently and I yelled in pain. Vikho was next level when he bent down, held my foot, and went like “Dzükou cancel!” I was trying hard to control my laughter. A few seconds passed, and I asked Vikho and Shruti to help me get up. This was the second (and clear) hint I gave away when I casually straightened my twisted foot and got up. Even that went unnoticed! Uff!

When the candidness in everyone's body language got elevated right before lunch at Jakhama

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

We turned around gently and then Vikho, and I burst into laughter. Shruti got the drift finally and covered her face (in shock or embarrassment, I’m yet to know) and immediately sat down. I could see Arunava and Isha laughing as well. Shruti’s breathing normalized after which she commended Isha on her acting skills. Isha, on the other hand, was equally stumped, as she wasn’t aware this was a prank. More laughter ensued.

There was one final prank to be played on Ikan, Richa and Pragnya. Now that the crepe bandage was out, Vikho decided to wrap that around his left foot. The dialogues were left to me, while the junior artists (Divyansh, Isha, Arunava, and Shruti) were simply asked to play along. We were waiting for the ladies to arrive shortly and Vikho was in character (even over a game of Carrom).

Moments later, he returned to the kitchen and sat next to me. The junior artists took their positions too. We could hear Ikan speaking to Shebu, who had already spilled the beans when they were entering the house that Vikho is unwell. We even heard Ikan denying that couldn’t be true, but the moment she entered the scene and saw Vikho’s foot and disappointed face, her tone changed. I explained that he fell down while returning from one of the homestays and twisted his ankle. As one of them briefly touched the bandaged foot, Vikho’s yelling alarmed everyone, but Divyansh, who started smiling. Meanwhile, Richa’s gaze was focused on all of us - one at a time, and she finally understood it was a prank as Divyansh couldn’t hold onto his laughter any longer. Ikan, by now, was ready with a pillow in her hand, and was about to display her pharmacist(ic) knowledge and skills. Tada! The prank was successful.

Warning: May not appear as S(ilkworm)-S(nail)-eductive to every eye as it seems!

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Fresh off the bark of Oak trees - presenting the oak tree worms

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

When the rains stopped, and the cat (fish) was out of the bags - main market scenes at Kohima

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

After a wholesome entertainment on Fool’s Day, we bid farewell to Pele and his family and departed for Jakhama via Kohima. Our first stop was at the souvenir shop at Nagaland center, wherein some of us purchased pickles, coffee, and traditional wear. Next, we stopped at Ete Coffee for some freshly brewed coffee, cheesecake, and cinnamon buns. Then, we made our way through the narrow by lanes of the main market and spotted stuff that one wouldn’t necessarily find under normal circumstances. The market had stocks laden with silkworm, snails, live frogs, eels, oak tree worms, dried eels, dried fish, quails, chicken, ducks, and dried frogs. The live frogs were so jumpy that I felt that a bunch of them would fall right into my hands. We headed towards Cafe Aurora for lunch followed by purchasing a few eateries from the nearby store for our next day trip to Dzükou.

A little rain, a little sunshine, a little history - The Kohima city skyline captured from the War Cemetery

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

We headed towards the Kohima War Cemetery and spent around 25-30 minutes there. The cemetery provided a beautiful view of the Kohima city against the now clear skyline. We continued our journey towards Jakhama.

Bring us back to our roots, remain grounded, and become one with Nature!

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

What’s the point of a backpacking trip if you don’t experience camping? Jakhama Diaries

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Jakhama (or Zakhama) is situated in the Southern Angami belt of Nagaland, around 18 kms from Kohima. A huge ceremonial Kharu (gate) welcomes people to this enchanting village. If local oral history is to be believed, Jakhama was established by a brave warrior named Viken-e, who used his intelligence to drive away the raiders and protected the people of this village. This is why Jakhama village was originally known as Mezhaka (the place or people who blocked the Zeliang raiders). Over the course of the years, the name of the village transformed into Jakhama.

Campsite Yedhika at Jakhama - sign up instantly for such views!

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Like other regions in the Angami belt, one gets to view terraced farming across acres of land and enjoy the lush greenery. Jakhama is blessed with a natural setting as it is surrounded by the beautiful hills of the Dzükou valley.

We reached campsite Yedhika within the hour and settled down. We were camping that evening, but not before we explored the village and surroundings. So, off we went strolling towards the main village connected by a single road. We crossed the Baptist Church and several homes decked with beautiful nurseries at their entrances. A bunch of happy infants posed for photographs and their genuine laughter and excitement on seeing us brought a sense of contentment to our faces too. They even indulged in a quick game of hide-and-seek before we headed back to our campsite.

With walks-with-views like these, who needs towering buildings? Experiencing dense forest views from our Jakhama village walk

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

A bonfire was lit by the time we were back. We met another few individuals who were camping there and were setting out to Dzükou the following morning via the Jakhama route. We played a game of Antakshari post dinner, engaged in some friendly banter, and resigned to our cozy tents for the night.

The window to a better tomorrow - Jakhama scenes

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Highlights of the day:

(1) Celebrating Fool’s Day by pranking 7/8 members of the group (courtesy: Vikho and me) - Shruti called me an idiot thereafter, but I’m quite confident the swearing would have been exponentially intensified had it been more private. Haha!

The brief stop right after exiting Dzüleke to capture a scenic photograph

(2) A glimpse of Mithun who was heading carefree into the dense forest - unfortunately, couldn’t capture it on camera! The Naga Mithun isn’t as camera-friendly as the Bolly Mithun. Haha!

(3) Our next stop at the Nagaland Center Souvenir Shop - some of us bought pickles, coffee, traditional wear, and a book. One of us also left a souvenir there, which she hopes to get back on her next visit to Nagaland (that would be Richa’s bottle)

(4) Coffee lover’s den aka Ete Coffee, where we were treated to great coffee, cheesecake, and cinnamon buns

(5) The market walk that followed, leading us through some meaty (and not so pleasant) sights for the faint-hearted

(6) The mixed-feeling lunch at Cafe Aurora - for some the flavors worked, for others it didn’t!

(7) Divyansh’s mysterious ways of sourcing French Fries into Ete Coffee and Cafe Aurora - made me wonder if that was allowed or did restaurant authorities let us be thinking we don’t mean any harm

(8) Kohima War Cemetery and the city views it had to offer

(9) Yedhika campsite and the homely vibes that followed as we sat in the Mhachoki (kitchen)

(10) Jakhama village walk

(11) The momentary run-for-your-lives fear when a dog made its presence clear

(12) The genuine and playful smiles of kids who posed for photographs and indulged in a 15-second game of hide-and-seek

(13) Beautiful nurseries donning almost every home - a striking and soothing feature across Nagaland!

(14) Acres and acres of paddy and potato fields - Wish we found such organically grown produce in our cities. I know we get it, but the taste isn’t as authentic as the “real” deal, if you know what I mean.

(15) Meet and greet with some fellow travelers from Bengal and Assam later that evening at the campsite

(16) Antakshari by the fire - another event that is mandatory at altitudes above sea level. It was mildly comforting to see that I’m not the only one who can mess up song lyrics (hint: haste huye aate hai sab)

(17) My OCD with wet towels and Divyansh’s creative ways to ensure they dry by the fire quickly

(18) Vikho’s, Isha’s and Manav’s singing skills on display - an evening to reminisce!

(19) A quick and interesting addition to my knowledge about tenders being contracted to secure control over Dzükou Valley for a desired period

Chapter 5: Mystical Dzükou - A Hike to Remember!

April 02, 2023: Upwards and onwards…

When you look back at what you’ve achieved, you know every pain endured was worth it!

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

The stage was set for the only trek of this trip. Our morning started earlier than planned thanks to the “Isha Alarm” that rang at 430 AM. Not that she was intentionally loud (Divyansh would beg to differ here, I believe!), but given the proximity of our camping tents, it was pointless to sleep for another hour and simply keep rolling in our sleeping bags.

The skies weren’t exactly attractive, but we were hopeful that it wouldn’t be as bad as it seems. The Rain Gods had plans of their own and they started their dance rituals while we were having breakfast. Soon after, we left for our base village and the starting point, Viswema. Viswema happens to be the largest village in the Southern Angami belt. There are two routes that lead up to Dzükou - one via Jakhama (the steeper but shorter one) and the other via Viswema (the longer but more scenic and less strenuous). The drive to reach the starting point was bumpy and wobbly. It felt like one of those body massages you didn’t sign up for.

An hour later, we arrived at the starting point of our forest trail and began our ascent. The first km or so led us through the dense forests comprising rhododendrons and several trees. The rains had stopped by now and all that we could hear was the gentle pitter-patter of droplets from the leaves. The strong gush of winds from the valley blended with the occasional bird calls as we gradually made our way up.

Nature’s funny bone - An eerie demonstration of bare trees complimenting the overcast sky

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Upon arriving at our first official view point, which was also the starting point of Dzükou, we ensured several photographs were taken to capture the moment. Two signboards caught my attention:

(1) The best views come after the hardest climb

(2) Your trails of the long journey ends here becoz Dzükou view begins

Motivating, indeed!

The trail, the valley, the winds, and the view - mix these ingredients equally and enjoy Nature’s magic

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Humble attempts to make the world a better place - it starts with you!

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

There was another trail leading to Mt. Tempu, but that’s for a later exploration possibly. Thereafter, began our journey through the valley, and boy oh! Boy, what a sight! The different shades of green, intense winds, thick dark and bare trees, and dense bamboo shoots for miles and miles hypnotize you. The meandering trail is no longer tiring. Simply follow the trail one behind the other at your own pace and enjoy the mesmerizing views that each turn in the trail has to offer. Ikan’s jukebox of Bollywood melodies complimented the mood and enthused additional vigor inside all of us as we marched along.

As luck would have it, we were around an hour away from our cabin, when the Rain Gods gave a preliminary warning via their messenger aka thunder, and started showering, seconds later. We knew this wouldn’t stop immediately and since the cabins didn’t seem far away, we continued ahead. We did stop at one point only to realize that it wasn’t just water droplets emerging from the skies, but hail that was pelting down on our rain gears and the accompanying flora.

Do you really need a reason to stay indoors anymore?

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

The winds, by now, had pierced our bones and the wetness within was soon turning into numbness. Our hand and finger gestures became restricted, and by the time we arrived at the cabin, we were drenched. There was a need to immediately change into some warm clothes to avoid any health scares, but I was finding it difficult to slide the chain of my bag. I had to resort to some quick warming strategy and managed to secure a dry shirt and spare jacket from my bag. Vikho was nowhere to be seen yet.

Moments later, a local dropped by to let us know that Vikho was waiting for us a few hundred meters ahead, which is where our cabins are booked apparently. Luckily, the rain subsided, and Shruti and I managed to reach the other spot. Vikho was busy placing wood for fire while the others were huddling up to embrace the heat. The howling winds were having their share of fun by preventing the fire from seamlessly, well, fire up!

Believe it or not, Nature always finds a way to amaze you! Stills from Dzükou Valley

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Once the fire somehow originated, the next task was for folks to slowly get their wet clothes and shoes dried. While we weren’t hopeful it would work out, there was no harm in trying. Some of us managed to fill our stomachs by eating the packed lunch that was provided. It was delicious, but not enough to satiate my hunger at least. I found Divyansh craving for more too!

Fly with the wind, my friend! Don’t stop, don’t hold back! Spread your wings and be free

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Folks were glued to the logs by the fire and simply refused to budge unless some natural calamity shook them off. We were advised by Vikho to go down the valley around 2 PM since the weather had cleared up and we could enjoy the views. The important question was - what if it rains again?

Of course, none of us wanted to get drenched again. Three of them backed out and settled by the fire. The remaining five went ahead with Kiko. With one eye constantly set in the direction of the clouds, my objective was clear. Walk fast, reach the view points in the valley, click pictures, and walk back before the weather strikes. And that is precisely what I did! The valley opened further as we hiked ahead. The views were stunning to say the least. Small mounds of green in the distance with a stream flowing all along reminded me of the scenery that our school teachers made us draw when we were kids. I wanted to get camouflaged with Nature, if only there was a way to do so! The sun was trying hard to make its presence felt, and at one point, its rays shone on a particular segment of this green carpet, adding the perfect blend to Nature’s glory.

Teacher, teacher - now I can draw you a perfect scenery as I experienced one

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Once we were back on the fireside, Richa surprised us by preparing a massive bowl of steaming Maggie. It was over within minutes of its arrival. It was beginning to get dark soon after and we were advised by Vikho to head to the neighboring hill for dinner. Once there, we waited for another fire to be started. The winds continued to play spoils-sport. When dinner got served, we relished the parathas, daal, rice, mixed-veg, and chicken curry with farm-grown potatoes. There was much to carry from the base, and we were grateful to Vikho and his cousin, Kiko for their help and culinary treats.

I don’t think anyone was in the mood for further adventures, and though it was only 15 minutes past 7, we headed back to our cabins and fell asleep. It rained occasionally through the night and my subconscious mind could register snippets of the same. The winds made their strong presence felt, and if it was to be believed, Divyansh caught a glimpse of “purple lightning” in the early hours of next morning.

What the group also realized was that there were rats that entered the room where Ikan, Richa, and Pragnya were resting, and they turned out to be fitness freaks as they treated themselves to protein bars and aloo bhujia.

Highlights of the day:

(1) The ooh’s and aah’s after waking up and looking at the overcast sky - silent prayers being sent to the Rain Gods to hold off some steam

(2) The soon-to-follow dismay when the Rain Gods didn’t listen to our pleas - maybe, our communication skills weren’t as effective and loud to pierce through the stratosphere

(3) The delightful snow crackers for breakfast

(4) The extremely bumpy and free-of-cost massaging drive to our starting point in Viswema - Hey! I ain’t complaining because I managed to doze off midway.

(5) The gentle pitter-patter of raindrops as our forest trail commenced - the sun was trying hard to find its way out in the open, but the traffic up there was inexcusable

(6) When Shruti effortlessly turned into “Jaadu” after donning her Poncho and pointed at the sky for “dhoop” (sunshine) - Bollywood fanatics would have guessed the movie.

(7) Divyansh’s stiff competition on the rain gear when he alighted the vehicle in what appeared to be a bathrobe (petticoat, in my eyes!) - he didn’t miss a chance to comment that this raincoat was mistaken as the famous brand Burberry on his Europe trip

(8) The gradual ascent through the dense forest - of winding trails, rhododendrons, and valley views!

(9) The windy pit stop right before our entry into the valley - a hot spot for clicking pictures and catching a breath before the Dzükou trail begins

(10) The charming trail of Dzükou that only gets better as you walk ahead

(11) The gentle sound of the flowing stream all along the valley

(12) The sun playing hide-and-seek

(13) The eerie feeling that several dark and barren trees in the valley contributed towards during our hike

(14) The shades of green throughout the vast valley that our eyes couldn’t get enough of

(15) The finale blunder and thunder by the Rain Gods - they did enough to ensure we’re wet on the insides. No puns intended, but that was certainly the case for some of us!

(16) The bone-chilling winds once we arrived at the cabin - numbness personified and only to realize that we had to walk back a few hundred meters to our booked cabins

(17) The sheer arduous work in getting a fire started against the fierce winds - the huddle had already begun! No permission sought

(18) Curbing our hunger by eating a simple and delicious packed lunch - boiled rice with greens!

(19) Hanging clothes out in the open when the rains stopped but the winds didn’t

(20) The walk by some brave souls towards other view points in the valley - the weather was on our side!

(21) Richa’s thoughtful gesture of making Maggie and satiating our hungry palettes. After all, not indulging in the guilty pleasure of having Maggie at altitudes above sea-level is a crime that cannot be forgiven

(22) Kiko’s impressive and casual response to Divyansh’s question about getting soaked again in the rain - “I don’t care. This isn’t my jacket!”

(23) Another struggle with getting a fire started in the neighboring dining area

(24) Trying hard not to cry or catch fire because of the strong smoke emerging from the fire - Well! It was one of those situations where one couldn’t bear the heat or let go of it.

(25) Dinner under not-so-ideal climatic conditions, comprising mixed-veg, daal, chicken, rice, and parathas - didn’t miss a beat in terms of taste!

Chapter 6: Back to Base - Left Our Hearts and Souls in the Valley!

April 03, 2023: Let’s turn back time…

Until we meet again!

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

We woke up early, and this time, it wasn’t Isha’s doing. She took feedback seriously and controlled her urge to speak loudly or scold Arunava at 430 AM. The weather seemed supportive today, but we didn’t want to sound overconfident and bet that it would continue to be on our side until our walk back to base was complete.

Folks were ready to begin the descent earlier than planned, but how could I (of all people) walk back on an empty stomach? That’s being totally unreasonable. We met at our dining spot from the previous evening and tried to start a fire while waiting for breakfast to be served.

Thirty minutes later, we set off. Our bodies were slowly warming up and responding to the breezy calls of the valley. Maybe it was the fear of not having to get stuck in the rains again that led our leader, Shruti, to focus all her attention on the trail, and not stop for even a water break. We were doing so well on time at one point that I thought a new record for covering Dzükou would be made. Such was Shruti’s determination that none of us dared to utter a word until finally I took the risk of interrupting the silence and seeking a water break. We captured a few candid shots along the way. One such shot became so candid that Isha almost fell into the valley. In hindsight, had that really happened, it would have another story to narrate to a new audience. No surprises on how it would begin with - “Ek baar pata hai, kya hua tha?” (Translates to: Do you know what happened this one time?)

As we covered more ground and had reached the last leg of our descent, Divyansh’s hunger pangs and his quest for finishing the last morsels of “chikki” (traditional Indian sweet made of jaggery and peanuts in MasterChef lingo) slowed us temporarily. When we finally reached our starting point, I noted the total time taken for our descent, and it was 2 h 30 minutes. Now that’s impressive, guys! Slow claps. Since six of us had already descended, we decided to push off to our campsite in Jakhama. I dropped a WhatsApp to Vikho in this regard and set out.

We reached Yedhika campsite within an hour and freshened up. Richa, Pragnya, Vikho, and Kiko arrived 15 minutes later. Our trip, technically, was over by now and that sad feeling was slowly creeping in. We had one final pit stop for tonight in Kohima, and that is where we headed off to post lunch.

Rustic and subtle interiors at the Razhu Pru heritage hotel in Kohima

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

And, once we arrived in the city and our vehicles parked outside the heritage hotel entitled Razhu Pru, we were pleasantly intrigued by this bungalow overlooking the city of Kohima. For the unknown, although this bungalow has been serving as a hotel recently, the bungalow has been around for almost 68 years and has several stories associated with it. This bungalow was used as a meeting point for the first Naga insurgent group. A stone monolith to commemorate this event has been erected on the premises. The bungalow also stands testament to the Second World War, having been bombed twice during the war. Renovations to turn this bungalow into a heritage hotel began in 2006, and the doors opened to its first guests a year later. The rooms have names of the different villages across the state and have a mix of old-world charm and modern amenities. The wooden floors as well as the attic are unchanged and a mango tree even older than the bungalow still stands strong.

This is what home-away-from-home feels like - Razhu Pru laying it out in Naga style

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

This is where we bid adieu to Vikho. We were extremely fortunate to have him as our guide for this trip. We had loads of fun, polished our knowledge about the Angamis and in general on Nagaland, and hopefully didn’t trouble him much along the way. I was glad to have changed his perception about Bengalis as the three of us (Arunava, Isha, and I) made all ends meet to do so. Just kidding! Vikho, you’re awesome and on behalf of the crew, I wish you all the best on your future travels and escapades.

After freshening up, we walked towards the main market for dinner. We settled for Crescent International and had an early dinner. The trip was officially over and all that remained to be done now was to reminisce these past few days and take back the memories from this land in the far North East.

Highlights of the day:

(1) The bone-chilling winds in the valley while returning

(2) Divyansh’s arrival at our doorstep at 530 AM in his “petticoat aka bathrobe” look and the oozing confidence with which he hoped to find someone at the dormitory to engage in some morning banter

(3) Divyansh’s re-entry 30 minutes later to showcase his disappointment on not finding anyone, but the mountain dog who wasn’t too friendly - I blame Divyansh for having ruined the dog’s beauty sleep!

(4) The incessant need for some of us to huddle by the fire

(5) Arunava’s and my humble and earnest attempts at getting the fire started in the first place

(6) The morning fireside huddle before breakfast was served

(7) The customary group photograph with the valley in the backdrop (Important! One eye above on the moving clouds and hoping it wouldn’t start raining)

(8) The walk back through the valley - no sign of rain and Yay moments

(9) Shruti taking charge and leading from the front - pace matters! Reminded us of the Dark Horse (in this case wearing a Poncho) that leads its followers in the right direction without losing focus

(10) Isha’s downfall - not as dramatic as it sounds but she tried hard to fall right in the valley (glide perhaps) when I attempted to take a group selfie

(11) Divyansh’s hunger pangs once we were in the last leg of our descent - was coupled with his innocent “Haaiii…” as an expression of the physical turmoil his body was experiencing

(12) Divyansh’s unwarranted attempt at experiencing Mother Earth with his rear during the descent - Alas! His Burberry coat became MudBerry

(13) Kiko’s mother’s praise for our trekking speed - Still unsure if she was just being polite or Vikho/Kiko notified her about our agility at some point! Either way, it felt good to hear that we did well given the circumstances and returned in one piece. Haha! Drama in my soul…

(14) Later that evening, the last supper at Crescent International

(15) The candid conversations in Razhu Pru - politics, how the Indian Government is making shitloads of money, what more can be done to rake in the moolahs and boost the country’s economy, Divyansh’s knowledge sharing session on how one can get back the money that was incorrectly transferred to someone’s bank account

(16) Belly rubs for our sweet hostess, Ribbon (the dog) and a passing introduction to the cats, Tiger (and I forgot the other one!)

Chapter 7: RRR - Recharged, Rejuvenated, Reborn!

April 04, 2023: Mixed emotions…Reality bites!

Sustainable living might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the thought itself is so refreshing

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

The last day of any holiday is the worst feeling of all. The mind and soul desperately try to hold you back and wish that we wouldn’t head back to our routine lives and drown ourselves in the laundry list of customary things and worldly challenges. But such is life, and one cannot counter the emotions as the strong barriers of practicality, sensibility, and responsibility creep in and you need to circle back to reality.

After waking up to a final cock-a-doodle-coo alarm and soaking in the bright sunshine against the backdrop of Kohima from my room, we were getting ready to bid farewell to each other. Some of us were heading back home, while others were setting out on their respective adventures. There wasn’t much talking at the breakfast table. Flight departure times and onwards travel plans were briefly touched upon, and before we knew it, our bags were loaded onto the vehicles, and we were headed towards Dimapur airport. The 1.5 h drive wasn’t as enticing as the one we experienced a few days back (for obvious reasons) and thoughts of what needs to be done (on priority) once we’re back home took charge of our minds. It wasn’t necessarily household and office thoughts for everyone. Some of us were craving Paneer Butter Masala, Veg Pizza, Idli, and Fish. As for me, Kooopiii was key! Haha! Just Kidding. I had no such cravings.

On our arrival at the airport, we got to see a gathering of the different tribes in their traditional attire to welcome some delegates for the ongoing G20 Summit. We were fortunate to briefly experience their traditional dance and the amalgamation of the different customs and finer details of each tribe’s clothing and accessories. While I couldn’t note down everything as the environment was entirely conducive and open to communicating effectively, it was a remarkable sight. Maybe this final sneak-peek (or coincidence) was a way to lure us back to this destination in the future and indulge in activities and experiences of a different kind.

Although this chapter of Nagaland has ended, I would like to think of this as the beginning of more trips to this part of the country and other states of the North East. Let preconceived notions and superstitions about the North East be at bay for one has to physically be there and experience the heartwarming gestures and genuine happiness of the people. Their smiling and content faces are a reminder to us all that money can’t buy happiness! Good attitude, being gentle and caring, and supporting each other through hard work and diligence are the appropriate ingredients to drive humankind on the right path and hope for an even better future. As philosophical as this may sound, we all have something to learn from their local stories and life-altering experiences and understand the hardships that they may have to face from time-to-time even if that isn’t evident on their happy faces. It’s got something to choose between reality vs myth, want vs need, and believing in being good vs disrespectful. Simple, positive, and realistic values could go a long way, and sometimes all it takes for us to take the right initiatives at the right time. One such takeaway (among others during the trip) that stood out was the simple hoarding in Jakhama advertised by the National Mission on Himalayan Studies. To summarize, these 7 tips can help you love The Earth - (1) Notice Nature, (2) Plant a tree (3) Try to eat sustainably, (4) Shorten your shower, (5) Reuse or Recycle, (6) Turn off the tap, (7) Shop with a conscience.

Positive and sensible thoughts only - one of the many meaningful signposts across the state

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

As Vikho justly put it at one point during our conversations, “If you’re looking for luxury or adventures of a different kind with lots of activities and expensive tastes, you will find Nagaland boring. However, if history, culture, and understanding the life of locals and language of the land interests you, you have come to the right place.”

Last, but certainly not the least, I extend my sincere gratitude to the ChaloHoppo team for their vision of experiential travel to the North East. Their curated itineraries and customized iterations bear testimony to the fact that they are conscious of the kind of experience they’d want travelers across the globe to be a part of. It isn’t something that caters to every audience as the definition of luxury differs among individuals, but I am glad to have discovered this amazing bunch of folks, who without the slightest doubt in my mind, have become my chosen travel partner of the North East. In other words, their definition of luxurious travel resonates with the kind of explorations that I’d like to retain in my memories for years to come!

Never say goodbye for we never know when our paths might cross again

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji

Until then, keep practicing (details in the picture below) …

The Carrom Chronicles

Photo of Journey to the North-East: An Angami Chapter in Nagaland by Tushar Chatterji