Nagaland – Travelogue of tea plantations and the Hornbill Festival – Information for your trip to India
Today we left Assam and thus the Kaziranga National Park again. Teiso said that the journey would be long. The distance would still be okay, but the roads to Kohima are very dusty and there is a lot of construction going on. So we set off at the usual time and made our first stop after a few kilometers.
I was interested in the many famous and large tea plantations here. So we decided to visit a group of tea women who were busy plucking the delicate leaves in the morning hours. A little reticent at first, Teiso managed to win my trust again so that I could take my pictures in peace. The women had a good time with each other and their solidarity was palpable … I think they had a lot of fun when we two green beaks suddenly appeared on the scene.
Only the light green, fresh leaf with the so-called bud (or tip) is collected from the tea. The dark green leaves are unsuitable for tea. Harvest time is generally between March and October, twice a day. However, we have still seen tea being harvested at the end of November or even later in December. Later, the bushes are cut back and we wait for spring in March.
In addition to the tea, black pepper grows here on the shady trees, which sells very well and makes a good profit. Tea has tended to lose value in recent years.
After this wonderful encounter, it was now time to settle in comfortably for the long drive. I was sure that I would enjoy the ride and was looking forward to the adventurous section to Dimpur, the border town to Nagaland.
After just an hour, Mon stopped again, this time in Numaligarh. Apparently there was still an ancient temple complex here, but not much is known about its history. So we climbed up the steep path, a good place to relieve ourselves briefly, and then made our way to the archaeological site, the Deopahar Archaeological Site. There must have been a round altar/tower in the center of the site, which shows several faces from the Gupda era. Parts of it are still clearly recognizable. There are many smaller and larger wall stones around the center, many of which point to Indian scenes of dance, battle and gods, described in the Sanscrit. Shiva is also there. The tranquil place is surrounded by tall trees in which pairs of birds (red and yellow) cavort. Large beehives also hang high up on the trunk.
After visiting the temple, it was time to move on quickly. There was still a long way to go. As we drove through the villages, I noticed the many schools we passed. The pupils here still wear uniform clothing, which often differs from place to place.
We only reached Dimapur in the early afternoon and after a quick check of our papers, we were finally in Nagaland. From here on it was rather dusty, as there were many construction sites due to the expansion of the highway. The next checkpoint was still to come as soon as we entered the hills. An hour later, we had to show our papers again. Done, Kohima, here we come.
From now on, the road winds its way up the hills in countless bends, everything is under construction. Entire mountain sides are being removed to make way for the highway. The construction work will probably take a few more years. Every now and then the view was so “dusty” that every caution was required. In any case, it’s much easier to drive with the windows closed.
We reached the top of the pass just in time for sunset and were enchanted by the sunset. We also had delicious Momo’s and a masala tea in the nearby teahouse. That’s how it should be, relaxing and taking time for the important things in life … Enjoying nature for a moment, treating yourself to something good.
As so often before, we reached our destination, this time the hill town of Kohima, in the dark. Just before the town, there were dozens of trucks in a convoy. At first I thought, no, not a traffic jam … Well, Teiso reassured me that the trucks are only allowed to drive through the narrow streets after 17:30 to avoid any more traffic chaos. Yes, we did indeed have to be patient as we drove to the Hotel Vivor, a better address in Kohima. The hotel is well guarded, is locked at night and when we arrived there were government vehicles in the form of larger 4×4 SUVs. It seems that this hotel is also popular with respected government and military leaders and businessmen, especially with the Hornbill Festival coming up. That’s fine by me, we were well protected by armed security guards. This was probably also the reason why I had a smaller adjoining room for the night.
Kohima, the capital and second largest of Nagaland with around 100,000 inhabitants, stretches over several hills at 1382 m above sea level. Accordingly, it was pleasantly warm during the day with sunshine and quite cool in the evening. This afternoon was the opening ceremony of the 10-day annual Hornbill Festival. There should be lots of visitors, and on today’s first day there will also be well-known names from government and business who will give their speeches.
As the saying goes, the early bird catches the worm …
To bridge the time until the opening, we first visited Kohima Cathedral in the morning. Nagaland is over 80% Christian. The cathedral is located in the southern part of the city, my hotel about 5k north, and offers a fantastic view of the city. It is a newer building, so the interior is more modern than you are used to from other cathedrals.
There was still plenty of time before the festival opened and we decided to drive to the festival site or Heritage Village to secure a parking space.
As usual, the 16 tribes took part and each tribe represented itself in this village with its morung (community house), showed how it traditionally dresses and spoiled the guests with delicious meals. Naturally, the rice wine flowed in large quantities and the exuberance, joy and pride were clearly palpable.
So Teiso and I made a pilgrimage through the village. Some members of the various tribes, dressed in their traditional costumes, were already in the village preparing various things for the festivities. The houses were decorated, stalls were set up and delicious food was already being prepared over the open fires. I was impressed by the colorful impressions I saw. I was particularly moved by the young women and men in their traditional dress. They were proud, sometimes a little reserved. The atmosphere at this time was calm and relaxed. There were only a few tourists in the village. Entering the Morung, which is both living room and kitchen, was a little strange at first … Typical Swiss reserve. However, we were always welcome and I felt very much at home among these people. The action always takes place around the fire. I soon came into contact with my first delicacies, be it wrapped rice with pork or a sip of rice wine from a bamboo cup … really delicious. The cooking area was very interesting. On the one hand, the food is prepared on the open fire, on the other hand it is used to smoke meat on a device hanging above it … and again above it to store the cooking pots and other crockery. So everything has its place in a small space.
19TH HORNBILL FESTIVAL 2018 – OPENING
Gradually, the forecourts of the Morungs filled up with their fellow tribesmen, people greeted each other, laughed, patted each other on the shoulders and hugged. There were the Konyak, the Sema, Ao, Lotha, Chakhesang, Angami, Phom, Sangtam, Yimchungrü, Zeliang, Chang, Rengma, Khiamniungan, Pochury, Tikhir and Chirr. They will all be present at the opening of the festival today.
As usual at festivals of this kind, the first part consisted of the opening speech by a respected politician, the Governor of Nagaland Shri P. B. Acharya. In addition, the Home Minister Shri Rajnath Singhji had also arrived, who virtually rang in the festival with a gong. Their arrival was an event in itself. Various tribes lined up early along the path to welcome the Governor and the Minister. The very late arrival after sunset was accompanied by many security officers and military personnel. Wow, really a big reception. By now the temperatures were really dropping noticeably. I felt for the half-naked men and women who stood there and were still allowed to listen to the speech. It then took an extremely long time for them to warm up.
After the long speech was over, everyone was enchanted, accompanied by dance performances – also with guests from Sikkim and other parts of India – and songs. The chilly night was forgotten and all the warming colors contributed to a great atmosphere. The arena turned into a place of togetherness, especially when the well-known singer took the stage, I didn’t know her. She got the crowd going and everyone danced to the twinkling stars and the beat of her music. A worthy end to the opening … I was looking forward to tomorrow, to the real stars … the Tribes.
19TH HORNBILL FESTIVAL 2018 – DAY 2
Full of enthusiasm, we arrived back at the village early to experience the awakening of the village. Today things really got going. At the center of the arena were group and dance performances by various actors, who performed from 10:00 to 12:00.
Beforehand, we strolled through the village and many tribes were already performing their traditional dances in their squares. Accordingly, many tourists and photographers were present to capture these ancient and traditional dances in the form of pictures … including me.
In beautiful weather we then enjoyed the official part in the arena … there was a group from South India in their colorful robes, the choreography was impressive, then a lovely performance by couples. Later we saw swordsmen, solo artists, fire spitters and many more. At the end of the morning block, the Nagaland Tribes gathered in the arena and celebrated all together in a rhythmic procession around the visitors. It was a fantastic and moving moment to witness.
The afternoon performance was essentially the same as in the morning, easy with slightly different costumes for the actors. I therefore decided to devote myself to village life and visit the various places again. It was easy to be fascinated by these tribes with their colorful and expressive members. And I love taking photos that are not posed. They then reflect their true nature, proud, playful, laughing and sometimes serious, thoughtful, shy … Maybe a little annoying from all the photographers, which I understood.
I always say, other peoples, other cultures. A pig has just been killed, just in the way that we would probably turn away from, it was beaten to death. But it belongs in this life. To condemn it would be arrogant. There, the young ‘warriors’ loaded their muzzle-loading rifles with black powder and fired into the air. These rifles are still made in villages today and used for hunting. Even the visitors could try them out. I kept my hands off it, it was easy for me to be too loud without ear protection, but it was still exciting to watch.
The day gave me incredibly great and profound impressions of these tribes. So we left this place of festivity after nightfall. I will definitely be back. A balloon seller overtook us on the way to the hotel. It’s funny what is transported here. The festival also takes place outside the village. There are night parades, markets in Kohima, hikes, car rallies, pony rides and so on. A huge program is put together here and I think it is expanded every year. There is something for everyone.
See you next time, off to bed, tomorrow I’m heading for Jorhat, so back to Assam for a short while.
Wonderfully well-rested in my prince’s bed, after a short walk in the park of the estate in Jorhat, I enjoyed a really sumptuous morning meal consisting of scrambled eggs, toast, fresh fruit, butter and jam … this time once again typically British, continental. It was delicious, although a little unusual for India. Afterwards, I took the time to marvel at the ancestral gallery in the hallway. You could really feel the history of the building.
At the usual time, Teiso and Mon, who slept in the building next door, drove up and we set off towards Jorhat. It was already very busy in the town, the locals were out shopping, there were lots of stores on every corner and the road was shared by cars, bicycles, rickshaws and other roadworthy vehicles. At first glance, you might think it was just chaos. However, thanks to the hub signs, everyone finds their place in the traffic and people treat each other with consideration.
Nevertheless, I was glad to leave the city behind us and return to the countryside. To my left and right, the familiar rice fields opened up again. Past Teok and along the Dikhow River with its fishnet constructions, we reached Sivasagar, formerly known as Sibsagar, the former capital of the Ahom Kingdom in the 17th century.
HINDU TEMPLE SHIVA DOL (04.12.2018)
We were interested in the Hindu temple Shiva Dol (Temple of Lord Shiva), one of the three temple towers located on an artificial lake, the Sivasagar. With its 32m high tower, it is the highest Shiva temple in India. Its interior is a round, dark chamber, lit with a little light from the oil lamps, where priests and visitors gather for prayers. Every now and then a pigeon fluttered through the narrow corridor into the interior. Outside the entrance portal, I was blessed by a priest for a small fee, a nice tradition.
The border to Nagaland via Sonari was the same distance away as to Jorhat. It was already past midday when we set off again after feeding the ducks at the tank.
After a short paper stop at the border, the journey continued on dusty roads into the Naga hills belonging to the Arakan Range in the direction of Mon, the land of the Konyak Naga people, who are often still ruled by a king in the village, the so-called Angh. Several bends led us up to Longponshing, just in time to enjoy the setting sun in a sea of flames. A little further down in a small neighboring village, the boys are playing volleyball, a popular sport here.
Tia, in the dark, we finally reached the village of Mon, situated at an altitude of 1,000 meters, and with it our guest house, a multi-storey house, brightly painted and with around 4-6 guest rooms. After a brief inspection of the room, I went to the warmest place, the kitchen, greeted the hosts, sat down on a typical stool and sipped the wonderfully fragrant masala tea that was offered to me.
A visit to the Angh, the king, sounds exciting, doesn’t it? That was exactly the plan for today. In fact, we wanted to visit the two Konyak villages of Longzang and Longwa, the first of which could turn into a bit of an expedition. Let’s see…
Like the delicious dinner, I enjoyed purely Indian meals here again. For breakfast I had flatbread, curry vegetables, tea and also some toast with butter and jam. I got into the habit of tasting the butter first before spreading it … rancid is not my thing, although nothing happens, just the taste is different. The hostess’s daughters served me the food on the balcony right outside my room. The sun was already warming my face, so the fresh night and the cold shower were quickly forgotten. They would have brought me warm water, but I preferred the short, refreshing option. A good morning visit to the kitchen and then watching the village wake up all around is always a special experience for me and a great way to start the day.
So we set off later and visited the local market here in Mon as our first stop. We had an additional guide, his name was Adniang, in the area with us. He also showed me the various souvenir stores. They had great and colorful souvenirs. I was more interested in the people and the market with its colorful fruits and spices. The first time I saw smoked forest rats on sale here, 5-8 pieces bundled together. Teiso explained to me that the distortion of city rats is rather unsuitable … for well-known reasons. Insects were also on sale again, packed in bamboo tubes.
Then we finally set off. We set off in the direction of Longwa, a well-known place for tourists as it is located right on the border with Myanmar. Shortly before Pomching, we turned off. The first impression of the path, road would probably be too much of a good thing, promised an adventure. Deep, washed-out ruts were clearly visible right from the start. As everything was dry, I thought it wouldn’t be a problem for Mon. So we followed the sloping path at walking pace. We were captivated by our first view of the village high above. We were very excited to make the acquaintance of the king of the village.
After a few more bends, we entered shady terrain, further down we could see a river or stream, which we probably had to bridge before climbing steeply up a sunny slope. Tia, one thing at a time. The shade meant that the path turned out to be more and more of a muddy track. It got to the point where we all left the vehicle to inspect the next few meters and measure the depth of the mud. I think Mon was starting to feel queasy. Nevertheless, we ventured another few 100m, Mon in the vehicle and us watching. He showed off-road driving skills.
After a few meters, another mud hole. It got steeper and I wondered whether we would get back up here. Hm, it always goes downhill and we reached the bridge. It didn’t look any better on the other side for the time being. My two friends therefore decided to abandon the project for safety reasons and we turned back. Adniang and I went ahead and collected stones and branches, as we would need them in one particular place. There was a small step in the path that needed to be overcome. It turned out as expected… the jeep got stuck and to make matters worse, it slowly slid towards the abyss with its wheels spinning. A small concrete ledge finally stopped the vehicle from falling, even though the lower edge of the plate was dented a little. Phuu, what now. After inspecting the path, Mon began to remove the step using a jack pole. It was a special kind of pickling. Then we made a gentle ramp with the material we had collected. I was very excited. Once again we marveled at the work of art and Mon decided it was now or never. Teiso and I hung on to the vehicle on the opposite side of the slope to put more weight on the ground there. It worked, the concrete ledge still scratched the sheet metal a little and then the jeep was over the spot. From then on, we managed to get back on the original route.
Longwa is a fantastically beautiful place high up in the mountains. On one side you can see the cleared slopes of Nagaland and on the other the protected forest of Myanmar. The Konyak are taking more and more of the original forest for their agriculture such as potatoes, pineapples and also coriander. It is difficult for them to estimate what this means for the system in ecological terms. However, there is already a certain negative impact on the climate. I was told that the authorities are working with the local people to find ways to make it possible for forest and agriculture to coexist. For example, coriander can also be grown between the trees in the forest.
Every year, this type of land reclamation results in entire areas being set on fire in February so that the land can be used later. The fires cause so much smoke that the sun is often no longer visible, not to mention the impact this has on the health of the tribes here… Everything is shrouded in smoke. Along the way, I saw several new fields where felled bushes and tree branches were lying around waiting to be set on fire in the spring.
Back to the village, on the hill we wanted to visit the king in his longhouse right at the beginning and also present him with the gifts we had brought with us in the form of gifts in kind (e.g. tea, cookies etc.). A king’s house is characterized by its size and the many animal trophies in the entrance area. We were in the right place. We entered the palm-straw palace without hesitation. Inside was the reception room first, followed by a corridor with various rooms to the left and right. Straight ahead was the kitchen.
In the first room we came across relatives of the royal family (uncles etc.). They were sitting in a circle around a small fire and were probably smoking the peace pipe, or rather they were enjoying tea and some opium. I gratefully gave up the pipe, but a sip of tea was very welcome. So we joined them and chatted as best we could in English.
Later, we were greeted by the Angh’s wife, the queen. Her husband was just going about his duties outside the village. She invited us for tea and cookies, which she cooked for us over an open fire in the huge kitchen. A delicious meal could easily be prepared here for several visitors. We sat around the fire and Teiso showed her some pictures of the country on her notebook. It was a pleasant, informal atmosphere and a natural closeness was palpable, really great and beautiful. Her 3 children were playing in the next room.
The house really seemed to be open to the public. Soon a motorcyclist from Delhi sat down next to me and we exchanged our various vacation experiences. It was really exciting and impressive. That’s exactly what I love about touring. You never know who you will meet in the next moment.
After this refreshment and saying goodbye, Adniang showed me around the village. We strolled through the village for a few hours and I got to know some of the local crafts. I also met countless children on my tour. They were happy to have fun, playing here and there in various corners or helping out with everyday tasks such as collecting wood, carrying their siblings around and much more.
Half the village was working together to replace a family’s roof over 2 days. Apparently, every roof has to be re-roofed after 5 years so that it remains rainproof.
Later we visited the village gunsmith, who still makes the rifles entirely by hand, and I had the opportunity to meet an elder of the village who still wears the traditional facial tattoos. What a gift! Yes, this is how everyone pursues their talents. We also visited the home of the village artist and were able to watch him casting his works of art.
Without realizing it, the day was soon drawing to a close and the sun was already turning the hills of Nagaland red. Surprise! At the end of the village, Mon conjured up a table and chairs from the car. He served home-made masala tea, accompanied by wonderfully tasty cookies. What could be better than enjoying the sunset with a cup of tea? The residents also returned from collecting wood or a young hunter set out to kill a piece of game … with a muzzle-loading double-barrel shotgun from the village’s own workshop, of course.
Satisfied and with incredibly beautiful impressions, we left the village and set off on the night journey home to Mon. On the way, we were later stopped by locals because an accident had occurred there. The two occupants of a car were standing on the road and needed medical assistance. At first glance, they got away with scratches. Their car was lying on its roof about 150 meters down the slope. The driver had probably had a little too much alcohol. Teiso treated them both as best he could and we took them back to Mon. However, the journey took another 1.5 hours and the younger of the two kept the driver awake. They insisted on getting off at the hostel there and not at the hospital. We hoped that they had both recovered. So after a sumptuous dinner, a rice dish of course, I drifted off to sleep, content and full of pictures. Namaste for the day, the warm encounters, the kids and the hospitality of all the Konyaks.
Many thanks dear Patrick. We always find it incredibly difficult to choose the right ones from your many touching pictures. It is not possible to get so close to people on every tour. That’s why we at Terralaya Travels are very proud that this is possible on our tours and that we can respond individually to the wishes of our guests. Conscious and sustainable tours are our priority!
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