Wednesday, 13 January 2016

TRAVEL DIARIES: Nagaland, North East India

Nagaland, North East India

Beautiful, traditional village of Khonama, one hour outside the Nagaland capital Kohima
For many years I have dreamed of going to Nagaland in North-East India near the border with Northern Burma, to see the culturally colorful Austronesian tribes. These tribes, according to many anthropologists, are closely related to the Dayaks and the Iban of Kalimantan; the Nias islanders are also related, as are many of the minority tribes of Yunnan, and the tribespeople of Batanes in the Philippines (next month’s column). The region has only recently been open to foreigners — due to decades of separatist strife — and since the year 2001 has annually held a ten-day Hornbill Festival to celebrate the culture of the nineteen far-flung tribes. It’s an excuse for a big get-together, to stage a night carnival, and to promote tourism.
From Jakarta one flies to Kolkata (Air Asia the cheapest) then on to Dimapur, Nagaland’s capital.
In Kolkata it’s best to overnight in one of the cheap hotels near the Airport. I can recommend the Silverline ($15) and the Sri Krishna ($40). Both have air-con and WiFi in the rooms.
Watch my video My Kolkata:
The village in which the hotels sit is full of Bengali life in the mornings.
We flew to Dimapur, the commercial capital of Nagaland, on Indian Airlines. Indigo Airlines also flies.
In Dimapur I stayed one night at the charming Aiers Enclave Lodge ($50) which has a very good spa next door. The lodge arranged a dashing Assamese driver and an Innova. We were set!
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We drove to the Nagaland capital of Kohima (three hours) then straight on to the festival ground for the morning show, — a sensational medley of tribal dance performances — in a large amphitheatre with terracing of Naga Morung houses and courtyards representing each tribe above and surrounding. Everything was well organized, and everyone was incredibly friendly and hospitable.

Chief Minister of Nagaland open Hornbill Festival 2016
The honor guard of Naga tribals  await the arrival of the Chief Minister of Nagaland at the Hornbill Festival
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Images from the tribes’ village at the Hornbill Festival
After a fabulous lunch at the festival venue we drove back to our lodgings in Kohima, a rather grim-looking and congested place. We had lucked out with rooms at the very atmospheric colonial-era Razhu Pru lodge which is owned and run by Nagaland’s handicraft pioneer Jesmina Zeliang.
The first night we went into town to the Carnival — a festival night-market selling duck momo and other local delicacies in a calm New Year’s Eve atmosphere.

Tribesperson at the Hornbill Festival
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There are many architectural interesting villages one hour’s drive (on good roads) in any direction from Kohima.
Please watch my videos: Hornbill Festival and Nagaland, MY NAGALAND TRIP, 6 - 11 December 2015, for a fuller overview of the festival, and the scenic and cultural delights of Nagaland. Otherwise, here are two postings from my travel diaries:

Entrance to the old walled fortress in Jotsoma

The charming mini-museum in Jotsoma, 15 minutes outside Kohima

The traditional Naga village front gate of the Art and Culture
Museum in Kohima

Inside the Kotsoma village museum
8 December 2015: Razhu Pru lodge, Nagaland
Last night we came in from the carnival to find that the Bangalore Aunties (a busload of old school friends doing the Northeastern states tour) had occupied the sole fireplace in the lodge and were semi-smashed on Indian wine, in a nice way, and were screaming and shouting over a game of gin rummy.
Now, Miss Daisy and I had bedrooms off the communal sitting room and needed to go to bed — but we did not want to break up the Aunties' game. I was a tad reticent also as the alpha aunty, a Mz Poonam, had earlier chastized me, in front of the pack of closet man-haters and redhead bigots, for calling them 'Sandras from Bandra' on arrival. Poonam, the architect, had pulled herself up to her full 5'6" and bellowed, ‘We are not Sandras, we are pure Indians’. My position was indefensible, so I beat a hasty retreat.

Jesmina Zeliang owner of Razhu Pru (left) and Miss Daisy (right)
We went into our rooms and put earplugs in, but they did little to stifle the din. Every five minutes or so, a huge holler would go up, like a goal had just been scored at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
I went out and asked if they could just keep it down to a dull roar.
Well, they were so embarrassed and apologized profusely and scurried off, all fifteen of them, layered to the max in Fab India fashions, to wreak havoc on the back verandah.
This morning, as I was lighting the fire and emptying their ashtrays, they started coming out, one by one.
I was feeling frisky and thought I’d try again to mend the bridge. 
Special staff of Razhu Pru
One aunty was a ringer for Ava Gardner, and I told her so. None of them had heard of her. I told them what a legendary screen goddess she was, and that she had starred as the stationmaster’s daughter, a half-caste, in a famous Jean Renoir film set in India.
They all looked daggers at me; three sauntered off.
Mercifully, Rawlinson's Arms came up on my iPod mix, and I tried to explain, thinking that Anglican school-educated anglophile Bangaloreens would love an explanation of Vivian Stanshaw’s seminal 1950s humour.
Their eyes glazed over to a woman as their lips curled in disdain.
Mz Poonam said, ’I have brothers who like that sort of thing’.
The 2016 Miss Nagaland ceremony
10 December 2015: Mischief-making
There was a terrible incident at the Hornbill Festival Naga Chef Season 3 dining terrace yesterday. Miss Daisy and I got separated from our dashing driver Tapan.
I asked the waitress, a very pretty docile Assamese miss named Vesky Chernobyl BSc, HM, if I could borrow her cell-phone, and she agreed, but in that moment a demon took possession of my very being and, recalling some graffiti I had just seen on a tribal village house wall, and wanting to titillate sweet Tapan (the love of our lives), I texted, ‘Loverboy, kiss by kiss every day, Vesky. PS: we are at the barbeque stall’, and handed the phone back. 

The impossibly suave Tapan Swargiany of Assam,
our driver in Nagaland

Sophia, one of the attentive staff at Razhu Pru Lodge,

Line-up at the Jotsoma Sports Associations Annual Wrestling tournament
‘Why did you write this?’, protested Miss Vesky moments later. I had no defense. I did say that as she had a degree in tourism she needed to learn that tourists come in all packages and that I was a naughty one. She just scowled and stormed off.
Tapan appeared moments later looking ashen-faced. He had rung Vesky to clarify our location and she had scolded him. Tapan told us that a Naga girl would have laughed it off. 
Motto of the story: What’s good for the goose may not be good for the gander.
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Art and Culture Museum at Kohima