Fiddling with my keypad for an hour now, I try hard to wake up my blog from a deep deep slumber. In Case you’re wondering where’d I go missing, did I not travel all these months? or was it just the creative slowdown? more commonly known as writer’s block ( not even sure if i could use that fancy a term for mere mortals like myself for whom writing is synonymous to puking my feelings out in the form of random unfiltered travel rants. So what makes me write today then? Two prime reasons for that
I am visiting my folks in Delhi and somehow I feel the city eats my charm. Writing about trips is therapeutic, it makes me feel closer to that place, transporting me to all those neverlands.
I was sitting in the Delhi metro watching the hustling city zoom by when I found another female co-passenger smiling at me. On seeing my puzzled expression she exclaimed, ‘Your mask! Are you from the north east?’ Aha! I realized my mask spoke before I could introduce myself. A traditional Nagamese design with the typical leaf shaped spears decorated with red tufts all delicately embroidered by the Angami tribe women of Kigwema. I picked it up in December during this incredible backpacking trip to Nagaland. The feeling of belongingness to a place that I call home for perhaps just this year was overwhelming. Thanks to this random stranger that i just met in this crazy metro rush, the heart felt like sharing travel tales from her place. Isn’t it amazing how we end up finding motivation at places that we least expect.
What I Thought About Nagaland!
Like most of the people living outside of the north east I too had a very skewed perception of Nagaland. Long time ago when I was in college my roomie’s best friend was a Naga. All I gathered from my super brief rendezvous with her was that the Nagas love their pork ( clearly food was all that mattered back then) . Rest of my opinions were made out of the news that I often heard, ‘It’s unsafe. One should not venture out on their own’ is what i mostly heard every time i expressed my interests in traveling to this state. And then Hornbill happened. While it was around the corner, Instagram and bloggers from the northeast couldn’t stop talking about it. Living in Assam I couldn’t have let go of this opportunity and so I decided to shut all those voices in my head that kept intimidating me and went on a reading marathon. Blogs of solo female travelers were reassuring and inspiring and so I document yet another tale from this often misunderstood land of Nagas that turned out supremely incredible so that just in case you too have any lingering doubts or fears like me, you know who to listen.
Beginning Of An Adventure
Throwback to 31st November 2021. It’s 8 pm and I’ve just landed in Kohima. The city is lit up like a Roman candle, bedazzled in all its Christmas fervor. It’s nothing like what I’d imagined. Men and women dressed in flamboyant overcoats, berets and boots walk down the streets of Kohima, Cathedrals sparkle like Christmas trees and I can’t help notice an array of coffin shops that endlessly spam either side of the streets. But apart from that what’s not to love about this quaint yet bustling beautiful capital perched on a hilltop. ‘ Kigwema is another 16 kms from here madam. You should be able to find a shared taxi from this point,’ quipped the guy who was kind enough to drop me close to NST. Btw it’s just half an hour back that i confirmed my stay booking at Mr Zhato’s homestay. My plans of attending Hornbill materialized at the last moment and whoever I called in the last two days was fully booked. Thanks to a blogger friend I know through insta, I got Mr Zhato’s contact who was kind enough to fix one bed for me even on a short notice. Until half an hour back I had no idea where I’d be crashing tonight. Well this was just the beginning of my adventures here. Who had thought I’d be camping on a homestays terrace by the end of the trip ( about that later though)
Two hitch hikes and a km walk later I am finally at the homestay. The place was bustling with a huge bunch of curious enthusiastic travelers. Mr Zhato and his wife welcomed me with a cup of warm Naga tea and even warmer hearts. We sat down around the sigri in the kitchen for a bit getting to know a little about each other just when our conversations were obstructed by the sound of guitar. It is after two long years of covid when i get to see travelers from different corners of the country getting together in this idyllic village that never existed in our knowledge until today. For someone like me who’s a tad socially awkward, I surprised myself during this trip for I blended seamlessly without any apprehensions this time and mostly because of such wonderful folks I met throughout this 6 day journey of mine. I met a woman who’s a mother to two dogs and has hiked many trails in Himachal and Nepal. That’s it. We were glued to our bamboo stools, around the fireplace sipping on endless cups of hot water only to be joined by more people talking and sharing stories from different places all under one roof. It’s just been three hours yet Nagaland already feels like home.
Exploring Kigwema Village
While I had only Hornbill, Khonoma and Dzuleke planned on my itinerary, Kigwema and Mima Village were a secret that unfolded like a beautiful present during my conversations with Mr Zhato on the breakfast table while eating the best rice flour cake and Naga tea.
While Zakhama, Khonoma etc steal all the limelight, Kigwema is only known amongst travelers for stay options due to its proximity to the Hornbill festival venue. But there’s so much more that I actually spent my entire morning hiking to this village and beyond that to the beautiful organic bee paradise hamlet called Mima. During my six days of trip, I rarely had to spend on public transport because I relied mostly on hitch hiking. Truly amazed and touched by strangers kindness, this trip was one of a kind where right from a Bihari man who worked here as a labor on his scooter, to this very polished Manipuri gentleman on his Enfield, to a Naga family driving in their alto to a Nepali driving his taxi and soo many more who just went out of their way to help me reach places that only my homestay owner and google maps knew of. All of them were so different yet they had one thing in common , kindness and warmth galore and that curious question ‘ akele ghoomne mein dar nai lagta?’ little did they know I was a bundle of nerves until just yesterday.
After being dropped at the divergent to Mima road, I walked a km and a half only to find A huge gate saying Kipho Mera Khel ( khel denotes a part of village. I had no idea where I was going but I decided to take this route. All I knew was it was going up and was a part of Kigwema village. Endless paddy fields laid beneath, the crops all harvested while one could see bashas ( farm huts) scattered in the middle of the farms. Far away colorful tents popped up in the landscape, a usual sight during the hornbill. I had been walking with my heavy backpack for quite a bit now and decided to sit down at this sunny spot. Small monoliths shone in the comforting winter sun, spirals of smoke spewing up from the huts below. While I sipped on some water trying to catch my breath, my eyes ran across the trees swaying to the tunes of the cold mountain breeze bearing some motivational anecdotes.
Ps: The wooden gates carved by the tribes at their enterance and exits signify different realms of their culture. The heads on tip signify that the village is occupied by quite a few inhabitants, the warrior means the wise man, the round figures signify the sun and moon, the bulls head shows the health of the livestock etc.
A little more hiking and I finally reached the main entrance of the village. A typical stone and wood gate with tribal figures, stars, hens, mithuns and spades carved and painted on it. The village alleys were insanely spick and span and the walls were painted with virtuous quotes. Every house was a riot of vibrant colors with Geraniums and Poinsettias adorning the verandahs. Succulents growing in recycled dabbas and tins enhanced the windows while mithun horns hung at every entrance. If you’re a plant lover like me you’d definitely leave with a whole lot of green souveneirs.
Kigwema In World War 2
While walking around in the village in a quest to find Gen Kotoku Sato’s house, (a Japanese Commander who lived in Kigwema during World War 2), I came across this unique Open Community Library, perched on a little slope right beside the road. Two little glass cupboards stacked with books with cement benches around overlooked Mt Japfu, under deep blue azure sky. How therapeutic would it feel to get lost in those stories inked inside those pages watching the sun go down behind those blue hills. I was quite blown away by this mere idea of having something set up like that to ignite young minds.
A very kind gentleman asked this old lady who lived near Sato’s house to guide me to the place. I followed her through narrow stony paths, piles of wood stacked on sides, every wall painted with one good positive quote. I was in love with Kigwema already.
The house stood towards the end, a huge flight of stairs below. It is now occupied by a local Angami family. There were one or two bullet marks still etched in the walls forcing one to think of that bygone era. Kigwema screamed history and stories. During world war 2, Japanese troops arrived in Kigwema on 4th April 1944 around 4 pm. The then Japanese commander General Kotoku Sato was stationed in Kigwema during the famous battle of Kohima.
An elderly person who witnessed the war as a teenager said it was an adventure for them. It was a long war and they were warned by the British making them apprehensive about the Japs but they turned out to be friendly. They lived with their families, paid for everything and unlike the Brits , had no relationships with local women. They never misbehaved. Gen Saito was a very nice man, said the old man.
This Fancy Cafe That I Stumbled Upon At Kigwema
Sometimes while traveling I am often made to believe that I’m a child of the universe. Having said that, I hope I don’t jinx my luck. I was famished and hoped to find a little cafe in the village which was a rare possibility. Just when I spotted this house that stood out amongst the rest.. A board saying ethnic corner marked its entrance. On entering its porch I saw about 25 mithun horns hung over the main door. A signage saying OPEN meant it was more than just a house.. probably a cafe hiding inside those rustic bamboo walls, that my heart had been secretly wishing for.
If i had to describe this little cafe in simple words it’d be All things aesthetic, all things sustainable, all things homemade. The Angami women who run this cafe made it from whatever was available in the village and the decor not only looked aesthetically pleasing but also every little thing boasted of their unique culture. I shall let the pictures do the talking.
On seeing me sit alone without company, a young couple from Karbi Assam asked me to join them at their table and just like that I ended up making two more friends over a cup of Naga tea in this quaint little cafe at Kigwema.( i found people unusually sweet and kind this end)
Ps: they have recently started running a homestay too.
Kigwema was this sweet puzzle that got only more and more interesting as I took new turns and alleys but sadly I had to rush back to the bus stand at Kohima for a new journey awaited me to yet another stunning town of Nagaland. I’m glad I went beyond the Kigwema known to most of us. I know a traveler ain’t supposed to hold biases but I won’t shy away one bit from calling Kigwema, the most beautiful with an incredible bunch of people always ready to go out of their way to help.
Here’s a little virtual teaser of the upcoming blogposts on Nagaland
THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW WHILE PLANNING A TRIP TO NAGALAND.
INNER LINE PERMIT
An inner line permit is required for Indian ( domestic) tourists entry into Nagaland. You can download the form from Nagaland Portal and apply for an ILP at ilp.nagaland.gov.in. If you live in Delhi, Kolkata, Shillong or Guwahati, you can apply at the Nagaland House present in these cities.
Here are the helpline numbers that work between 10 am to 3 pm.
I applied for My ILP online and it was processed within 24 hours.
HOMESTAYS IN KIGWEMA/ WHERE TO STAY?
Kigwema makes an ideal base since it is just a stone’s throw away from the Hornbill venue (Kisama Heritage Village) I stayed at Vicha Homestay which is not only budget friendly with the best bunch of hosts ( Mr Zhato and his wife) but also just a km walk away from the Hornbill venue because of which i ended up saving a lot and spend more days exploring.
Here’s the Homestay Contact : Mr Zhato 7005130393
Ps: If you are visiting around the Hornbill time make sure you book in advance for most of the places are fully booked. Mr Zhato was kind enough to accommodate me at the last moment.
GUIDE FOR HIKES AND TREKS
Taking a guide for treks to Dzuoku and Japfu is mandatory while Khonoma also requires a mandatory guide. Passing on the contact of this really noble gentleman who knows the places extremely well and has a lot of knowledge to share about the local culture and places.
PLACES TO VISIT
While I enjoyed hiking the most and village hopping, there’s so much more that one can do if you have enough time on hands. Must definitely visit Kigwema and Mima villages which can be easily reached and hiked up to. Shall be writing a detailed post on Mima.
If you’re looking for a good trek, you must plan on doing the famous Dzukou Valley and Mt Japfu and Saramati peak.
The Japfu peak is also famous for being home to the tallest Rhododendron tree in the world.
Visit the Kohima War Cemetery and the Cathedral. It’s a memorial dedicated to the soldiers who died during the second world war in Kohima.
The World War 2 Museum located at the Kisama Heritage village has some vintage war equipment and remnants and is quite an interesting place giving you a sneak peak into the lesser known battle of Kohima.
Khonoma and Dzuleke are two idyllic villages close to Kohima with green meadows, bigger mountains, numerous streams offering hikers and nature lovers umpteen surprises. A detailed post on these two shall follow up soon.
How To Travel To Nagaland and Within Nagaland?
The nearest airport and railway station is in Dimapur which is around a two hours drive to Kohima. Shared taxis, cabs and buses are easily available at the station.
I paid Rs 300 for a shared taxi up to Kohima.
While one mostly relies on shared taxis, Nagaland State Transport buses are pretty efficient too plus super budget friendly. I traveled to Khonoma by bus and it was a pretty comfortable ride. Because traveling in this part of the country can get a little difficult due to lack of info given online, here’s a picture of the bus routes and timings along with the ticket fare for your convenience.
PS: However, state transport buses do not operate on Sundays.
I personally am a strict budget traveler and relied mostly on hitch hiking and buses.
Do feel free to reach out or ping me on Instagram if you’ve got any queries. would be more than happy to help. Shall be back with Chap 2 on Mima Village very soon. Till then Happy Travels 🙂