If you’re going to Nagaland, travelling beyond Kohima is an experience you should not miss. While Kohima is a large, bustling city with some spectacular views and tourist spots, the real feel of Naga culture comes when you step beyond the ordinary, as a village stay during my tour of this hilly, verdant state revealed.
You could stay, for instance, at Mopungchuket village, a 17 km drive from Nagaland’s third largest urban centre, Mokukchung.
At 4am in Mopungchuket, even the roosters are yet to stir when the village begins to awake. The silence is broken by a loud blast of hymns from a store nearby and as if on cue, the cock-a-doodle-doo chorus begins punctuated with the noisy grunting of pigs. For a city-bred traveller, the unexpected early morning rumpus was enough to shake me out of bed.
In Northeast India, the day begins almost an hour ahead of the country standard time and so by 5am, the village folk were up and about doing their daily chores. The centre point of Mopungchuket village is a tower, with an imposing view of the village and countryside. There is a story behind the tower: it was built to commemorate a pair of lovers from the local Ao tribe. The village also has a small artificial lake with a wrought iron bridge over it, as a local tourist attraction.
Some of the homes in the village have become homestays after the approval of the village committee. The homes are clean, yet basic, but what’s more endearing is the love of the local people. Meals are served in their kitchen, where in the fireplace, there is always salted pork hanging above the fire, getting smoked and cured and a huge kettle of water boiling for a very light, local green tea.
The Nagas are very proud of their villages. The streets are clean and pigs are not allowed to run around – they have to be kept in pens in backyards. The sight of teenage girls sweeping the streets is not unusual here. During Christmas, which is a month-long celebration, they decorate the trees outside their homes and build nativity scenes at every street corner.
The village homes are no longer the traditional Morungs (tee-pee like homes made of hay) but they do have a few samples for tourists to take a peek. An old war drum, which was used to announce the Ao’s victory over the Ahoms, is the centre of attraction.
Just a 10 km drive away is another beautiful village, Mangmetong, where you could spend an afternoon picking oranges at a farm. For a fee of Rs 80, the owner let me pick 30 oranges. So I ate a few there itself (the joy of eating oranges in the winter sun in something else!) and bagged a few for my return journey.
The second night was at Longkhum village, about 10 km from Mupungchuket. Longkhum has a tourist bungalow, built by the tourism department. The rooms are very basic and badly kept. But the locals make up for the lack of infrastructure by cooking delicious meals for you. The view of the river from your balcony in the morning makes up for the crummy infrastructure.
Here too, a war drum and a quaint cemetery can keep a shutter bug clicking for hours. But a visit to a local inventor’s house was the most interesting. The old man, who passed away a few years ago, has some interesting gadgets, which his family has preserved.
I ended the visit with a short trip to a local tea estate, gave me time for a quick dekko and my Bollywood picture moment before I headed for Jorhat to catch a train back to Guwahati.
How to get there:
Mokukchung is 145 km by road from Kohima. You can hire cabs to get there.
Nearest airport is a Dimapur, which is connected to Guwahati with daily flights.
Nearest railway station is at Jorhat, 104 km drive by cab from Mokukchung. Jorhat is connected to Guwahati and Kolkata by train.
Where to stay:
Longkhum: Tourist Guest House
Mupungchuket: Homestays and village lodge run by local youth are available.