Grey hill tops, Green tree lines, Colorful people, Untouched culture and Proud history … To an outsider visiting Nagaland for the first time, the romantic image of this part of India is very fascinating. But to Border Roads Organisation personnel engaged in making and maintaining roads – these very characteristics of Nagaland present an entirely different aspect. Gone is the romanticism associated with hilltops – in comes the soft/ mixed soil with sinking zones, gone are colorful people – in comes the man/ manpower management tactics, untouched culture is replaced with issues of distance/ segregation from mainstream and, proud history is substituted with problems of insurgency. .. And in continuation of the same logic, the issue of “… CONNECTING THE HINTER LANDS” is changed into “… SURVIVAL, WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TRADE!” But besides everything the point remains that the enchanting beauty and serenity of Nagaland is worth taking any pains to go and see it first hand.
Our Journey to the state begins on the National Highway 39, the lifeline of Nagaland and other five north-eastern Indian states. This road, maintained by 15 Border Roads Task Force of Project SEWAK, begins at Numaligarh, Assam and runs across the states of Nagaland and Manipur, up to the Indo-Burmese international border, covering a combined length of 436 km. On its way, the road passes through Golaghat, Barpathar towns of Assam then Dimapur, Kohima Districts of Nagaland, and further Mao, Imphal, Thoubal and Palel towns of Manipur before terminating at the border town of Moreh.
Of its total length, 115 km is in Assam, 110 km in Nagaland and the rest 211 km in Manipur.
Dimapur District was upgraded from Sub-division to full fledged District in December 1997. The district consists of Dimapur and Niuland sub-divisions, bifurcated from Kohima. The proposed headquarters for the District is at Chumukedima. At present, the headquarters is situated at Dimapur town. The District is bounded by Kohima district on the south and east, Karbi-Anglong district of Assam on the West. The DAB (Disputed Area Belt) in the north borders Golaghat district of Assam.
The District draws its name from the Kachari dialect; ‘Di’ – meaning river, ‘Ma’ – meaning great or big, and ‘Pur’ – meaning city, together connoting ‘The City near the Great River’. That the Kachari kingdom flourished in Dimapur in the days of old is evident from the existence of the Kachari Rajbari Fort ruins, housing the ancient stone monoliths, and the many excavated tanks dug by the royalty known even today as the Rajpukhuri, Padampukhuri, Bamunpukhuri, Jorpukhuri etc. to name a few. History and legends trace their civilization to the epic age of the Mahabharata, where Bheema the second of Pandavas, while in exile, married the Kachari princess Hidimba. Dimapur, before the advent of the British, was known as Hidimbapur, which might have got gradually corrupted into its’ present form ‘Dimapur’.
Chumukedima is situated in Dimapur District, about 14 km from Dimapur town on the National Highway 39, on the route to Kohima. Chumukedima had served as the first headquarters of Naga Hills District of Assam during the British rule. The Department of Tourism is constructing a tourist village at a distance of 8 km from the highway also. A complete view of Dimapur as well as Karbi-Anglong of Assam can be experienced from here.
Waterfalls, located in this area, particularly Seithekima Triple Falls are also worth visiting. This three-tier waterfall plunges from a height of approximately 300 m and is a favorite spot for trekking enthusiast.
Kohima is the capital of Nagaland and is also one of the three Nagaland towns with Municipal council status along with Dimapur and Mokokchung. The word Kohima is derived from “Kew Hi” that is the name of a plant grown on the mountainside. “Kew Hi Ma” means “the men of the land where the flower Kew Hi grows”. Earlier, Kohima was known as “Thigoma”.
The initial British incursions into the Naga territory beginning in the 1840s met with stiff resistance from the independence loving Nagas who had never been conquered by any empire before. The stiffness of the resistance can be gauged by the fact that it took nearly four decades for the British to conquer a territory that is less than 10,000 square kilometers (the eastern region was left free). Under the erstwhile Assam state of British times, Kohima became the first seat of modern administration as the Headquarter of Naga Hills District with the appointment of G.H. Damant as Political Officer in 1879. When Nagaland became a full fledged state on 1st December 1963, Kohima was christened as the state capital.
‘Kohima village’ called ‘Bara Basti’ or ‘large village’, which is the largest village in Asia forms the northeastern part of Kohima urban area today. The Bara Basti is divided into ‘khels’ or localities. There are four of them, namely – Tsütuonuomia, Lhisemia, Dapfütsumia and Pfuchatsumia. They are termed shortly as T, L, D, and P khel respectively. The main indigenous inhabitants of Kohima district are the Angamis and the Rengmas. But today the town’s population composes of all the 16 tribes of Nagaland. The population of the Angami and Ao tribes is the largest in present day Kohima urban area.
THE WAR CEMETRY:
Kohima has a large cemetery for the Allied war dead of British 2nd division maintained by the Commonwealth Graves Commission. The cemetery lies on the slopes of Garrison Hill that was once the Deputy Commissioner’s tennis court and also the scene of intense fighting. During World War II, the Battle of Kohima along with the simultaneous Battle of Imphal was the turning point in the Burma Campaign, when for the first time in South-East Asia the Japanese lost the initiative to the Allies, which they then retained until the end of the war. The memorial remembers the Allied dead who repulsed the Japanese 15th Army, a force of 100,000 men, who had invaded India in March 1944 in Operation U-Go.
The Memorial itself consists of a large monolith of Naga stone such as is used to mark the graves of dead Nagas. The stone is set upright on a dressed stone pedestal, the overall height being 15 feet. A small cross is carved at the top of the monolith and below this a bronze panel is inset. Two tall crosses stand at the lowest and highest points of the cemetery overlooking Kohima. Between them, and stretching all the way across this gently rising garrison hill, are stone markers with shining bronze plaques. Each commemorates the name of a single man who gave his life for freedom. At the base of the upper cross there is an inscription which reads:
“Here, around the tennis court of the deputy commissioner the men who fought in the battle of Kohima in which they and their comrades finally halted the invasion of India by the forces of Japan in Mar-Apr 1944”.
To one side of this memorial cross and often missed by visitors, there is a tree with a small plaque on it. The plaque says:
“This flowering cherry tree is of historical interest”.
The original tree was used as a sniper’s post by the Japanese and was destroyed in the fighting which raged round the tennis court and marked the limit of the Japanese advance into India. This hand-to-hand battle and slaughter prevented the Japanese from gaining a high base from which they might next roll across the extensive flatlands of India like a juggernaut. The present tree is from a branch from the old one.
“When You Go Home, Tell Them of Us and Say,
For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today.”
These world famous lines written here on the epitaph are attributed to John Maxwell Edmonds (1875-1958), and are thought to have been inspired by the epitaph written by Simonides to honour the Greek, who fell at the battle of Thermopyle in 480 BC.
THE STATE MUSEUM:
The Nagaland State Museum is the one-stop treasure house where one can get a glimpse into rich Naga culture through history. The main items exhibited here are gateposts, statues, pillars, and jewelry. A ceremonial drum which looks like a dug-out war canoe is exhibited in a separate shed. The basement of the museum has birds and animals of the North-Eastern hill states.
Both the War Cemetry and the State Museum are situated along the National Highway Number 39, maintained by 15 BRTF itself.
Japfu peak is situated about 15 km south of Kohima, at an altitude of 3048 m above sea level and is the second highest peak in Nagaland. From the top of the peak, one can get breathtaking scenes of the hills below as well as the panoramic view of sunrise and sunset – as the range gets covered by mist at the break of dusk and dawn, adding to its mystic beauty. It is an ideal place for adventure lovers and trekkers from November to March when visibility is at its best.
Dzukou valley is situated about 30 km south of Kohima at an altitude of approximately 2438 m above sea level, near the Japfu Peak. Overshadowed with a type of tough bamboo brush to make the place appear like a mown lawn, the entire valley is a very good trekking site. The serpentine rivulet that flows through Dzukou becomes frozen during winter but in summer, wild herbs sprout along the riverbanks including the world famous white rhododendrons of Asia, which incidentally finds a place in the Guinness book as the tallest rhododendron tree.
From Kohima, we take the NH-150, of which the Kohima-Jessami-Imphal part is being maintained by 89, 82 and 98 RCCs under 15 BRTF. This picturesque road full of mountain viewpoints leads us to the town of Jessami.
Jessami, in ukhrul district of manipur is the land of colorful Tangkhul tribe famous for the tangkhul cuisine. Apart from tangkhuls, kukis and other non-tribals like nepalese also coexist here.Though, now largely chrisitans, the ancestors of tangkhuls practised a sort of monotheistic religion ‘HAO’ and were governed by a type of hierarchical democracy.There used to be the king or chief of the village at the head, under whom the clan chiefs, who constituted the HANGVA – the village authority, worked. The collective wisdom of the Hangva used to govern the village administration. This is akin to the present division of subjects into the center and the state lists of modern governments. Jessami with its neighboring PHEK district of nagaland is situated on the NH 150.
Phek is derived from the word “Phekrekedze” meaning watch tower. Phek, with its four subdivisions – Phek, Pfutsero, Melrui and Chozuba, is home to mainly chakhesang and pochury tribes of nagas. the word “Chakhesang” is an amalgamation of the names of three sub-tribes – “cha” from “Chokri”, “khe” from “Khezha (Kuzha)” and “Sang” from “Sangtam (Pochury)”. There are atleast three main lingustic group in the district, namely, Chokri , Khezha and Pochury. The medium of communication among the people is mainly Tenyidie and Nagamese. There are three important rivers namely Tizu, Lanye, and Sedzu and three important lakes called Shilloi, Chida and Dzudu. Khezakeno, the legendary village here is famous for the “Spirit stone” called “Tso Tawo” locally. Footprint shaped Shilloi lake is believed to be created by the guardian angel of the village as per the village legends.
Zunheboto, situated along NH 61, is home to the Sumi Nagas, a warrior tribe of Nagaland. Zunheboto derives its name from two sets of words “Zunhebo” and “To” in Sumi dialect. “Zunhebo” is the name of a flowering shrub with white leaves which bear sponge like ears containing sweet juice and “To” means the top of a hill. Head hunting was practiced among them extensively till the advent of the American missionaries who converted the warriors to Christians and thus the gruesome practice was stopped. Today the people are peaceful and hardworking, practicing agriculture as their main occupation. A hilly place, Zunheboto is covered by evergreen forests and surrounded by small streams and rivers. Today it is home to the Nagaland University whose campus is situated in the village of Lumami in the sub division of Akuluto. This has become the cultural center for the people of Nagaland, as all the Nagas irrespective of tribes come in droves to study here
Kiphire is a newly formed district of Nagaland carved out of the Tuensang District. This district is bound by Tuensang District in the north, Phek District in the west and Myanmar in the east. Headquartered at Kiphire town, at an altitude of 896 m above sea level, Kiphire is connected with jessami by Jessami-Kiphire-Tuensang part of NH 155. This road was built by Border roads and handed over to Nagaland PWD on 30th Aug 2007. The major cities of this district are Seyochung, Sitimi, Pungro and Kiphire. From Kiphire, roads emerge radially to Zuenhoboto (Zuenhoboto-Aghunato-Kiphire Road), to Lukami (Kiphire-Amhatse-Lukami Road), to Pungro (Kiphpire-Pungro Road). Pungro is the stopover to trek from Kiphire to the Saramati peak – the highest peak (at 3,841 m) in Nagaland. Kiphire also has an earth station. Kisatong heritage village, Fakim wild life sanctuary, caves at Salomi, Mimi and Wawade waterfalls are other tourist destination in the district. Sangtam(Eastern), Yimchunger and Sema are the predominant tribes.
Maram is situated in Senapati district of Manipur along the NH 39 at about 55 km from Kohima. The important tourist places here are Mao and Makhel. Mao is one of the oldest hill stations in Manipur and is located midway between Dimapur and Imphal. Makhel, the historic place of the dispersal of Nagas is also the place of origin of Meiteis and Nagas.
Peren is a new district and has been formed by the partition of Kohima District. It is bounded by the North Cachar Hills District, Karbi Anglong District and Dimapur District in the west and north-western part. Kohima District in the east, Tamenglong District of Manipur in the south is the other boundaries.
Peren District is headquartered at Peren (about 1,445 m above sea level). Tening and Peren are the major towns of the district. Most of the inhabitants belong to the Zeliang and Kuki tribes. Zeliang, Rongmei, Kuki, and Ao are the main languages spoken here Major point of attraction in Peren District is the Rani Gaidiliu’s caves and sites. Peren is being connected with Maram town by Maram-Peren Road. This road is being constructed by 98 RCC under 15 BRTF. Peren is also connected to Dimapur via road through Jaluke.
By whatever name people call this realm, hidden among the mountains of India’s northeast, Nagaland has always evoked a sense of mysticism and awe, intensified by the remoteness of its geographical location. Right from the days of Mahabharata, when Pandava prince Arjun married Ulupi from this region to the present day, Nagaland preserves man’s early animist culture, through its awe inspiring highlanders and their ancient traditions. This concludes our journey to the land where the terrain is as vivid and colorful as the people and their vibrant life styles.