Hornbill and the Headhunters

Tripoto
2nd Dec 2017
Day 1

A member of the Chang tribe of Nagaland

Photo of Kohima, Nagaland, India by Gayatri Cherian

Catching the early morning Janshatabdi Express to Dimapur was the hardest part of the whole trip. The ride takes approximately four and a half hours, give or take a half hour since it is Indian Railways. We decided the best way to kill time was to enjoy the lovely countryside while snacking on anything the vendors were selling, samosa, chai, cutlets; a train journey strangely makes everyone hungry. The train was running just a wee bit late, lucky us.

The Kohima night view

Photo of Hornbill and the Headhunters by Gayatri Cherian

A cab took us from Dimapur to Kohima. The fare is around 1800 to 2000. The inner line permit or ILP is mandatory for all visitors to Nagaland, you could be in trouble if you don't have one. We enjoyed a sumptuous Naga lunch of smoked pork and rice at a local eatery, a typical naga fare and set off for Kohima. The distance from Dimapur to Kohima is around 70 km, but the roads are bad, which is putting it mildly, we literally bumped our way to Kohima. The journey takes longer due to the bad roads that are narrow and uphill all the way to Kohima. Kohima was freezing, and kept getting colder as the night came on. We had put up at a nice homestay where room charges were 2k per night for a room for two with an attached bath and breakfast free. Ofcourse, Rose, the lady who ran the homestay was kind enough to provide us with tea every now and then, which was a blessing in those cold conditions.

The blue morning sky

Photo of Hornbill and the Headhunters by Gayatri Cherian

By now, it was dark and I stood on the balcony braving the cold as I enjoyed the enchanting view of the Kohima night sky. Many houses had already put up the Christmas lights and they sparkled against the dark night sky. The view was akin to being in a magical world.

We decided to give Kisama, where the Hornbill Festival was being held, a miss that evening since it was already quite late by the time we had freshened up and settled down. Instead we visited the night bazaar which was quite near to where we were staying on P.R. Hill.

Haggling at the night market

Photo of Hornbill and the Headhunters by Gayatri Cherian
Day 2

The night market was a carnival of sorts, I felt like I was revisiting Bangkok. It is always advisable to haggle madly for stuff, which are usually quite cheap if you can haggle well. And guess what? there was a place selling dog meat too. Some of my friends were bold enough to try the dog meat, but I just couldn't. The night market shuts down around 9 p.m., which by Kohima standards is quite late, owing to the cold weather and early sunset. We returned to the homestay for a good night's rest, huddling under blankets to keep ourselves warm.

Orchids

Photo of Hornbill and the Headhunters by Gayatri Cherian

Day 2: A warm hearty breakfast got me going again the next day, ready for the drive to Kisama and Hornbill. The road to Kisama surprisingly was quite good, it didn't take us too long, and there we were, soaking up the sun while we enjoyed the festival. Kisama was even colder than Kohima. We started off with the local flora and fauna exhibition. I loved looking at the rare and exotic fruits of Nagaland, like the Naga tomato and the Naga Ghost chilli. We bought some succulent plants and some beautiful Naga jewellery too.

Naga Chilli or Bhoot Jolokia

Photo of Hornbill and the Headhunters by Gayatri Cherian

Traditional Naga jewellery

Photo of Hornbill and the Headhunters by Gayatri Cherian

Next we visited the War Museum at the festival. There were various artifacts of the war, cannons, weapons, etc., and the history of the contribution of the Nagas during the World War II.

The photography exhibition at the festival was worth spending time on. It had pictures of various aspects of life in Nagaland, their culture, their history, modern life, and the beautiful tourist places in Nagaland.

Kachari women dance at the cultural festival

Photo of Hornbill and the Headhunters by Gayatri Cherian

We finally entered the arena to watch the cultural programs going on. There was the fire making competition which was unique, I had never seen anyone use traditional method to make fire. Then there was the dance performances by the different tribes that inhabit Nagaland. We then proceeded on to have a traditional Naga lunch at one of the various joints or thatched hut-like structures that were serving up delicious authentic Naga food with rice beer. This was the first time I had tasted rice beer. It was quite unique in taste and was served in big wooden glasses with wooden straws.

Fire-making competition at Hornbill

Photo of Hornbill and the Headhunters by Gayatri Cherian

Thatched huts inside the festival venue

Photo of Hornbill and the Headhunters by Gayatri Cherian

As we finished lunch, I saw a group of Naga tribesmen from the Konyak tribe standing nearby. They are the ferocious headhunters of Nagaland who killed their enemies and ate them and kept their heads as trophies. I requested for a few clicks with them. They obliged and to my surprise, one of the tribesman took out an old mobile from the folds of his clothing and gestured me to put the pics I had clicked into it. I felt so helpless as I couldn't make him understand that his cell doesn't have a camera or that I couldn't give the pics to his cell. Seems like the fascination for selfies has invaded the headhunters too.

The Sangtam tribesmen

Photo of Hornbill and the Headhunters by Gayatri Cherian

We enjoyed the various wooden crafts on display at the festival and enjoyed the unique coffee of Nagaland. It was nearly 4 p.m. when we made our way out of Kisama, down to Kohima.

That evening we visited the night bazaar again, shopping for random things to memorize our stay in Nagaland and to take as gifts for people back home.

Refreshing brew

Photo of Hornbill and the Headhunters by Gayatri Cherian
Day 3

Day 3: Our taxi arrived on time to take us back to Dimapur, but not before we visited the War Cemetery in Kohima. It is dedicated to British and Indian soldiers who died during World War II. It was a solemn time we spent there, reading the touching epitaphs on the tombstones. We headed back to Dimapur, having a bumpy, dusty ride down. Dimapur was hot in the daytime with heavy traffic jams. We decided to do some more shopping at the famous Hongkong Market in Dimapur.

Where peace prevails, the wa

Photo of Hornbill and the Headhunters by Gayatri Cherian

Our train back to Guwahati was at 5 p.m. and we finally reached back home at 10 p.m.

Nagaland the land of the head-hunters was enchanting to say the least. The delightful weather, scenic location, pretty ladies, humble people, and unusual food left us wanting for more and I hope to revisit it sometime again, and I hope my dear headhunter friend is left untouched by the modern world and its complexities until then.

Chang tribesmen at the festival

Photo of Hornbill and the Headhunters by Gayatri Cherian
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