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Essay On Khonoma Village Of Nagaland Hotel

Guwahati to Dimapur - Kohima

Lone lady traveller

The flight to Dimapur was very early so Guwahati airport was closed when I arrived just before 5 in the morning. There were a few people waiting outside as the sun came up. It was as easy flight with lots of security checks and a plain-clothes policeman who checked out all my details when I arrived in Dimapur. The taxi organized by the Hotel Japfu was there, waiting for me with a notice with my name on it. He was a wonderfully calm and sane driver after the lunatic who had driven me to Guwahati from Shillong. Driving through Nagaland it was noticeable how much cleaner the roads and countryside were and the landscape was amazing.

The Hotel Japfu. This is a government run hotel with a huge and imposing entrance hall. The rooms were clean but badly in need of refurbishment with scuffed paintwork and ancient fixtures and fittings, the windows didn't close properly letting flies in. There was a balcony partly overlooking a garden but the view was rather grim and when I arrived there were piles of burning rubbish in the street. The corridor had a big hole in the wall where they seemed to be building something. The restaurant at the Japfu was quite good and all the staff were very helpful organising taxis and sorting out phone problems. It has its own generator so you are not affected by power blackouts. The hotel seems to be located at the least interesting end of town and it is a rather unpleasant walk along the traffic clogged and dusty main road down to the war cemetery and TCP gate point where there are lots of little shops and a market.

I moved to:

The Orchid on Chandmari Road. A new small, squeaky clean, modern hotel with excellent service and a really good restaurant. I had a room on the second floor with a balcony, which had imposing views over Kohima and the surrounding mountains. The room was well furnished, had marble floors, a kettle for tea and coffee, flat screen TV, and good storage. The bathroom was clean modern and everything worked. My laundry came back in tissue paper with a flower! The only downside was they did not have a generator so no power when there were blackouts usually early evening. However they had very bright rechargeable lights in all the rooms on the stairs and in the restaurant. For me this was a small inconvenience outweighed by the other advantages.

Observations on Kohima. I made contact with Nino Zhasa of 'Explore Nagaland' before I left the UK and and contacted her from Guwahati. She spoke good English having lived in the UK and was Angami Naga. She organized trips to Kigwema and Khonoma Village, the Naga heritage centre and WW2 museum and recommended the Orchid Hotel. The Naga are mostly Christian, Baptist and Presbyterian, they are very helpful, courteous and honest: I had no problems with overcharging. Kohima is a dry state, no alcohol, I am not sure if you can take your own. The local rice beer is good. If I had not already known about insurgency across the northeast I would not have been able to tell there was a problem other than the numbers of soldiers, airport checks and articles in the newspapers.

Kohima War Cemetery. I was interested in the cemetery because my father was in the area during WW2 so for anyone researching the subject it is a fascinating place to visit and I spent hours there. For most people it is a lovely, well-kept park overlooking the mountains that surround Kohima and an insight into the strategic importance of the location during WW2.

Kigwema Village. Close to the Heritage complex. This traditional Angami village is set, Naga fashion, on the top of the hill with wonderful views of the mountains. It has stonewalls, walkways and circular meeting areas. There are carvings, memorials and inscriptions "Japanese troops arrived at Kigwema at 3p.m. during WW11". Some of the homes and communal houses are built of stone others 'half timbered' decorated with carvings, most have corrugated iron roofs. There are neat piles of wood everywhere for heating and cooking, a pervasive smell of wood smoke and huge wicker containers for rice. The village is ordered and clean and although hugely different somehow reminded me of parts of the Lake District or Yorkshire dales. We were invited into one of the house for tea and bread which was made from sticky rice, a bit like puris and delicious. All the pots and pans gleamed in the dark interior. We also sampled the local rice beer, which I rather took a shine to. If you can get someone to guide you up there I would highly recommend it.

Naga Heritage Complex & WW2 Museum. The Heritage complex is only fully functional for tourists at the Hornbill festival in December, not a lot seems to happen the rest of the time and is a more local resource, there was a school sports days when I was there and a group cooking on the barbeque. The little cafe was open and we got a drink and some cake. It is pretty there and nice to climb about looking at the buildings but there they could sort out the litter a bit more. The WW2 museum is only open for a few hours but was not opened on time and we had to wait 30 minutes for someone to turn up. It is an imposing new building with a really well put together collection but as the generator was broken and had been for some time there was no lighting whatsoever so you could only see the 50% of the exhibits that were by the windows. The WW2 jeeps that were outside were falling to pieces and in dire need of conservation. The Museum looks like a high profile prestige project that that is not really being properly maintained.

Khonoma Village. The journey from Kohima to Khonoma took about 2 hours with stops on the way to take in the views across the mountains with giant bamboos in the foreground and stepped paddy fields waiting for the monsoon rains in the distance. The journey was very pretty and the landscape was clean and unspoilt. The road was rather bumpy but not too bad. Khonoma is where the Naga warriors made their last stand against the British in 1879 and there is a monument to the British killed there. The 'village' is really quite large with substantial churches, traditional houses, stonewalls, walkways, circular meeting places, carvings and pretty gardens planted with flowers. Wild plants abounded and spectacular cockerels strutted along the paths. We were invited into an imposing two-story house resplendent with bright yellow paintwork, a pristine kitchen and were offered some rice beer. We were also invited into a men's dormitory, which sported an enormous, 7ft long rifle on the outside wall. Khonoma is an Angami village and all the different Naga tribes have their own traditional woven shawl designs. We went into one of the weaver's workroom and I bought a beautiful cotton and silk shawl from the young woman who had made it.

National Museum. You can get a taxi to the museum from a taxi stand and they will wait for you but if you want to spend longer there you can walk down to the main road and pick up a taxi there. The museum has a very good collection showing traditional Naga life, costumes and artifacts and I spent a considerable amount of time there, getting lunch a of chai and rice and pork with hot green chutney in the little cafe in the museum grounds by the 'drum'. There was a closed bookshop inside the museum which was a shame because I would have liked to know more about the Naga belief system and culture. The state library is on another site.

Market. There are some fascinating markets in Kohima rather tucked away and difficult to find that sell some unusual foodstuffs, fresh and dried frogs, grubs and dried insects, snails, eels, honey comb complete with bees, asparagus, chilies and bean sprout paste.

Emporia. There are 'emporia' in Kohima that sell traditional Naga jewelry, woven items, basketry and carving that are well worth checking out.

Kohima to Dimapur. The Hotel Orchid organised a taxi for the journey back to Dimapur.Hotel Saramati. The hotel looks huge and imposing from the outside and like the Japfu has a large entrance area but with a sunken central seating area. Where as the Japfu was clean but rather dilapidated the Samarati was both dirty and dilapidated. You could see daylight around the air conditioning unit, the generator was outside my window and the noise was deafening. The view was over a dingy backyard. The bathroom was unbelievable huge and filthy with taps that did not work, bare wires, and water that came out brown. I got someone from room service to turn on the taps, which he eventually managed, leaving water and dirty footprints all over the floor. It was so bad I decided to have a 'wash' with a wet wipe. I am not that picky and in India will happily bathe with cold water a bucket and plastic jug. The staff did not really seem interested, they had to get someone to unlock the restaurant for breakfast at 8 o'clock and the taxi they booked to take me to the airport was overpriced. There must be better places in Dimapur!

Edited: 07 July 2011, 15:26

The Naga village of Khonoma made history in the 1800s when its inhabitants, known to be fierce warriors and hunters, put up a strong resistance against colonial invasion over five decades. In 1998, Khonoma, home to the Angami tribe, made history once again – this time by asking its residents to put down their weapons forever to protect the rich biodiversity of the village.

Today, Khonoma, about 20 kilometres from Nagaland’s capital, Kohima, proudly wears the tag of being a “green village” that has banned hunting or trade of timber in their forests.

This is a remarkable transition in a state where animals are not just killed for sustenance but as a centuries-old tradition. For Nagas, hunting has been a way of life, an embodiment of skill and courage and a sacred practice that has traversed through generations.

The Angamis are among the major tribes in Nagaland and were traditionally warriors and hunters. It is this that helped them put up such a formidable front against British invaders, whose weapons and military tactics were far more advanced. From the 1830s, they put up a stiff resistance against the foreign force, until a peace treaty was signed in 1880.

This fierceness and impeccable skill could be seen in the hunting skills of residents as well. The animal hunters of Khonoma were masterful at aping the wild calls of animals and adept at using all kinds of weapons, be it an air gun or the traditional crossbow. Ambushes were meticulously planned against animals of varying speeds and stealth capabilities – including wild boars, monkeys and deer. Their kill also included countless Blyth’s tragopan, the state bird of Nagaland that now faces extinction.

Seeds of change

So what could prompt such zealous hunters to lay down their arms?

In mid 1990s, T Solo, an IFS officer and Khonoma resident, started a conversation around the importance of conserving its wildlife and environment at meetings of the village council. The council, comprising respected village elders, functions as Khonoma's apex decision-making body for matters of local importance. What struck a chord with council members was the realisation that if the hunting and tree-felling continued at this rate, future generations would not be able to enjoy the natural beauty of the wildlife and vegetation of Khonoma.

In 1995, Tsilie Sakhrie, a former contractor with the Forest Department, joined the village council and took the conversation initiated by Solo forward and started pushing for a ban on hunting and timber trade.

Even as the elders in the village council jumped on the opportunity for change, the Khonoma Youth Organisation, another community-led initiative, also joined the cause. Together, they made it their mission to protect the village’s natural resources – an effort that initially met with a fair amount of scepticism and dismissal.

Asking an entire village to give up an integral aspect of their identity seemed almost severe, and was a herculean task to say the least. But over the years and through extensive discussions in the village council meetings and morungs (youth dormitories), more people came around to the cause.

In 1998, the Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan Sanctuary was founded over 20 sq km. Initially, hunting was banned only within the confines of the sanctuary. But by 2002, a strict ban was imposed on animal hunting and timber trading throughout the village, making Khonoma the first green village of Nagaland.

Khonoma thus created history by letting go of a part of it and the village today serves as a remarkable example of wildlife and environment conservation through a community-led initiative.

All photographs by Tanushree Singh

Corrections and clarifications: This story has been edited and corrected to reflect the collective effort in making Khonoma a green village.

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