Where World War II was won and lost: Kohima, Nagaland
Kohima the state capital of Nagaland is situated at an altitude of around 4,766 feet above sea-level and is home to the Angami tribe. Nagaland is also known as the Switzerland of Asia and the town of Kohima gives travellers a first hand glimpse of the natural beauty this state has to offer. Nagaland is located at the extreme end of India’s North Eastern belt and has a seclusion in culture from the rest of the country much like the seven sister states which also include Assam, Tripura, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Meghalaya..
To reach Kohima travellers have to first reach the town of Dimapur which is the commercial capital and gateway to Nagaland since it houses the sates only railway station and airport. Dimapur is around 74 km from Kohima and the best way to get to Kohima from Dimapur is by booking a seat on a shared taxi. The journey takes around 150 minutes on extremely bumpy roads but there is a breathtaking terrain which takes travellers through beautiful stretches of hills, forest and endless greenery. These shared taxis ply all day from 5 am to 6 pm. Overnight buses also ply to Kohima from Guwahati in Assam and Shillong in Meghalaya. Taking a train from Guwahati to Dimapur is the most convenient and economical way of reaching Kohima.
The town of Kohima first sprang up in international news way back in 1944 during Second World War since Kohima is where the Indian Army combined with the British forces that halted the progress of the rampantly invading Japanese. A World War II cemetery has been built in the heart of the city where the battle took place, in order to honour the memories of the British and Indian soldiers who lost their lives in the war. The cemetery is located on Garrison hill and is one of the main tourist attractions in Kohima, today.
The other attractions in Kohima include the zoo which houses the rare Tragopan bird and the Mithun which are the state bird and animal of Nagaland. The Catholic Church on Aradhurah hill is the biggest church in the Christian dominated region of the North East. Bars Basti is supposedly the second largest village in Asia and is definitely worth a visit.
The Naga Bazaar is surely a must visit place for anyone who claims to be a food junkie as in this bazaar travellers can find anything that is living and moving on sale. Some of the unique animals and insects include live frogs, eels, cat fish; ducks, chickens, maggots, lavas and even dog meat are all sold in the open here. Naga Bazaar is surely a place animal lovers should avoid visiting.
Kohima is a pretty large town and the best way of getting around is by using a combination of walking and local buses as this is the best way to get a real feel of Kohima without spending too much. Local buses ply to every corner of Kohima with very good frequency.
The official language of Nagaland is English but strangle not many people can speak or even understand the language; Hindi is more commonly understood and spoken by most people in the town. The locals speak a language called Tenyidie which is a trade language just like Nagamese and is a mixture of Assamese, Bengali and Tibetan. The language is only verbal and has no written script.
A very important thing to keep in mind while travelling to Nagaland is that travellers both foreign nationalist and Indians need an Inner Line Permit (ILP) to travel to districts other than Dimapur and Kohima. The ILP can be obtained from Nagaland house in Delhi, Kolkata, and Guwahati. In Nagaland, the ILP can be obtained from the DC’s office in either at Dimapur or Kohima. It is advisable to avoid getting the ILP from Nagaland since the process takes much longer because the officials are never in their office.
Kohima has very good cell phone reception for a place which located at the extreme end of India. Nearly all leading cell phone providers have good connectivity all over Kohima and Nagaland. Most places have 2G connectivity also so internet usage is possible.
Eating options in Kohima are more suited to non-vegetarians since the Naga cuisine is meat dominated. Pork, chicken, fish, beef, dog and a host of jungle insects and animals are eaten so expect to get a chance to taste everything. A must try dish for pork lovers is pork cooked in baboon shoot Naga style and if spicy food is your thing then the Naga chutney made from hot and spicy green chillies is definitely worth trying. The spicy beef pickle made with Rajha Mircha apparently the world’s hottest chilli found only in Nagaland is also worth a try. For vegetarians the eating options are limited to just dal, rice and freshly plucked vegetables.
Nagaland is a dry state but alcohol is easily available at double the cost in black. Hotel waiters are your best bet to grab a bottle of beer or rum. A must try drink in Kohima is the local rice beer called Zouthou.
Accommodation in Kohima is not exactly economical to fit the budget of a backpacker since the lodges and guest houses which are in the price bracket of a backpacker are not hygienic and have very dingy rooms. There are plenty of mid-range guest houses and hotels scattered all over Kohima which offer very good accommodation.
The best time to visit Kohima is during the winter months from October end to March when the weather is at its pleasant best and air has a nice chill to it. Avoid travelling to Kohima during the monsoon season i.e. from end of May to mid-August since the monsoon here is very heavy and landslides are a very frequent occurrence. Peak season to travel to Kohima is during the Hornbill cultural festival which takes place in a town call Kisama not too far from Kohima every year from December 1 to 10.
The state of Nagaland has a myth of being unsafe to travel because of communal violence and unrest within the various tribes but this is totally untrue as Kohima and the rest of Nagaland are extremely safe. The Nagas are very helpful and warm people; very courteous and always happy to help. All the stories of Nagaland being unsafe are nothing but fabricated stories and even if there are any issues of any kind those are only in the interiors which are restricted travel areas.
The city of Kohima is an ideal place to set up as base for excursions to other districts in the state such as Mokokchung— the cultural hub, Phek, Tuensang and Mon. Kohima has a very peaceful feel to the place and travellers can easily spend a good three four days in the town either wandering around the place or chilling in the guest house by reading a book.