The state of Nagaland, in remote Northeast India, is divided into eight districts -- Dimapur, Kohima, Mokokchung, Mon, Phek, Tuensang, Wokha, and Zunheboto. Whether you venture to the villages just a few hours from Kohima, or to the far-off districts of Mon (famous for its Konyak headhunter tribe) and Mokokchung, you're sure to be engaged by the fascinating tribal village life in Nagaland. Colorful and unusual, it's not something that travelers are used to seeing!
There are 16 major tribes in untamed Nagaland, which shares a border with Myanmar. Relatively new to tourism, the people are curious, warm, informal -- and open to attracting visitors. You'll never feel alone when visiting villages in Nagaland. But which villages to visit? There are many different options depending on how much time you have and how much of Nagaland you want to see. The five popular tourist districts of Nagaland listed in this guide will give you some ideas of where to go in Nagaland.
Just don't expect people to be donned in tribal clothes everywhere, because modern life is already catching on in Nagaland! Most towns have concrete buildings -- these days, the traditional Nagaland is only in the villages.
It's most convenient to travel to Nagaland on a tour, such as those offered by Kipepeo, Greener Pastures and Holiday Scout. Permit requirements for Nagaland have been relaxed for foreign tourists. You can find out more about permits for North East India here. Also, when planning your trip to the Northeast, take a look at this important information to know before you go.
Interested in a first hand experience of visiting Nagaland? Have a read of this fascinating travelogue, including travel tips for visiting the state.
Dimapur: Nagaland's Commercial Center
Dimapur is the commercial center of Nagaland, and the main entry point into the state. Nagaland's only airport is located there, with flights to and from Kolkata, and Guwahati. Dimapur is also the only city in Nagaland to be connected by train. There are direct trains to and from Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, and Chennai.
Once the capital of the ancient Kachari tribe, Dimapur has some mysterious 13th century ruins from the Kachari civilization, which ruled there until the Nagas came down from the hills and took over. These ruins, dotted about Rajbari Park, are perhaps the most interesting attraction in Dimapur although they're sadly neglected. There's also a Wednesday market close to the ruins, which provides an insightful look at Nagaland life. Familiar products such as spices, wicker goods, and vegetables are on sale. However, you'd best avoid the meat section unless you're keen on unconventional offerings such as dog meat.
Most people are quick to leave Dimapur. From Dimapur it's a two to three hour drive to Kohima. Or, if you're in a hurry, a 30 minute helicopter ride.
Kohima: Nagaland's Capital
Kohima, the state's capital city, is the second largest city in the state. It's well developed, with a population of about 100,000 people. Those who're interested in history will find a visit to the Kohima War Cemetery worthwhile. This cemetery is a tribute to the soldiers who laid down their lives pushing back the Japanese army during World War II. The bodies of around 1,100 British and 330 Indian soldiers are buried there.
Othewise, Kohima is best known for the annual Hornbill Festival, held at Kisama Heritage Village during the first week of December every year. This open-air museum can be visited daily from morning until evening, and contains a collection of traditional style tribal Nagaland buildings. It's about 10 kilometers from Kohima.
Razhu Pru is a top heritage homestay in Kohima
There are a couple of tribal villages in the district that are of interest as well..
Picturesque Khonoma village, home to the Angami tribe, is located around 20 kilometers from Kohima. The journey is a bone rattling two hour one because of the terrible condition of the road, yet the village draws visitors with its soul soothing vistas. Village homes cascade down hilltops to the valleys below. Get an intimate taste of village life by staying one of the rustic homestays there. Meru Homestay is perhaps the best one. It's popular and recommended. (Hosts: Khrieni and Megongui Meru. Phone: 0370-234 0061). The inhabitants of Khonoma place a lot of emphasis on wildlife conservation, and have established The Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan Sanctuary.
Touphema is an appealing overnight option for those traveling on to further districts, such as Mokokchung. You won't have to sacrifice too many comforts to have a cultural experience here -- the bathrooms even have Western toilets. The attractive tourist complex is positioned on a hillock that overlooks the village, with the hills providing a dramatic 360 degree backdrop. There are guides to show visitors around the village, and excellent cultural programs in the evenings. The village women will even share their recipes!
Mokokchung: Land of the Ao Tribe
Mokokchung town is the third most important urban hub in Nagaland. It takes about six hours to get there from the Nagaland capital, Kohima. The district is home to the Ao tribe, which holds their celebratory Moatsu Festival during the first week of May each year.
To catch the festival head to Chuchuyimlang village, an hour and a half drive from Mokokchung town. The location of this village, high on a hill, is its best feature. Each house in the village looks out on to an unending lush chain of hills, which change color with the rising sun. The tourist lodge, while situated away from the village, is perfectly positioned to receive the evening sunlight.
Mopungchuket, positioned closer to Mokokchung town on good roads, is perhaps the best kept village in Nagaland. Often referred to as Ao heartland, you can absorb yourself in tribal culture here. Every house opens onto a well tended garden, and the people are accustomed to visitors and welcome a chat. Cultural programs are held in an amphitheater overlooking the lake. The tourism department has also overhauled the tourist accommodations in the village, and there are now a number of cottages built to resemble a morung (traditional communal house). The cottages are equipped with double beds, attached bathrooms, TV, running water, and even room service! Indigenous cuisine is offered, and interested visitors can even try cooking their own meals.
Mon: Land of Konyak Headhunters
The Mon district of Nagaland, land of the Konyaks (infamous for being former headhunters), offers the best opportunity for finding semi-traditional villages and tattooed warriors in loincloths. The main attraction in Mon is the remote geographical location, and the opportunity it affords to get a glimpse of a life far removed from ours.
The Mon landscape has the densest landscape in Nagaland, and the plains of Assam can be delightfully viewed from high up in the hills. The district's largest village, Longwa, is situated right on the Myanmar border. In fact, the chief's house is bisected longitudinally by the border. Visitors to the village, who must stop by his house, will have the strange experience of sitting near the hearth with half their body in Myanmar and the other half still in India. It's not the only unusual thing -- the chief also has dozens of wives! The chief's house, filled with dubious trophies of various animal skulls, is also quite a sight.
If you visit Mon during the beginning of April, you'll be able to witness Konyaks all over Mon celebrating the Aoleong Monyu festival. Undertaken to welcome spring and pray for bountiful harvests, this happy week-long festival has plenty of feasting and sacrifices to appease the divine forces that watch over the farms.
There are two ways of getting to Mon -- from Kohima along the eastern extreme of Nagaland, and via Jorhat in Assam. The latter route is longer, but it has excellent roads. However, those with a thirst for adventure should be sure to travel via Naginimora in Mon and Wakching in the Tuesang district of Nagaland. There road changes from monotonous concrete to a tyer-marked trail. However, due to its remoteness, the best way to see Mon is on a tour.
One of the best places to stay in the area is the boutique Konyak Tea Retreat, on a tea estate. The host is the great granddaughter of a tattooed headhunter, and she's actively involved in researching and documenting the various tattoo patterns of her tribe.
Wokha: Organic Fruit and the Lotha Tribe
The four hour drive from Kohima to neighboring Wokha is a picturesque one. Terraced fields, bright foliage, blazing flowers, and tiny towns shrouded in mist are all stunning sights that reveal themselves on the journey.
Wokha is the land of the Lotha tribe. The district is known for its healthy, fertilizer and pesticide free oranges and pineapples. One of the interesting features of Wokha are the ancient stone monoliths, erected by tribal elders, that dot the hillsides.
For a memorable laidback rural experience, venture an hour from Wokha town to the tourist village above Riphyim. There's an old colonial cottage, dating back to when horses were housed at Wokha during World War II, that's been transformed into an inspection bungalow and is worth a visit. But the real joy for nature lovers are the countless trails that thread through the surrounding forest. Some lead to seasonal farms, and others are woodcutter trails that don't lead to any particular destination at all. Those who enjoy a long walk should go up to the viewpoint up and away from the tourist lodge, which rewards with a spectacular view of a dam on the Doyan River.
The tourist lodge in Riphyim is also quite unforgettable. It's precariously positioned close to the precipice of a hill, which provides magnificent uncluttered views from the rooms. A wide variety of traditional and mainstream food is on offer, and there's a space for bonfires during the sunset.