We first reach Guwahati by flight, and thanks to Avanish Maurya have a wonderful lunch at his home. We are three of us, Jita, Johann and me; and we board the night train from Guwahati to Dimapur. There is a terrible smell in the train; apparently the adjacent bogies are used to transport pigs.
We reach Dimapur at a very early hour in the morning, even before the clock strikes 6. Just as we are exiting the railway station, we see lots of shared taxis to Kohima are available but we have to first go to DC office in Dimapur to get the ILP (Inner Line Permit). Even though we are travelling in Nagaland during the Hornbill Festival time when the rules are said to be usually relaxed, we don’t want to take any chances.
Since the DC office is likely to be closed at 730 am, we first go to see the Kachari ruins in Dimapur. The auto guys quote astronomical prices, and it is very funny indeed! The auto guys in Dimapur quote a minimum of 100 Rs. per kilometre and make a killing! Most are migrants from UP and Bihar.
We end up having breakfast somewhere in Dimapur market, at a small eatery. The food is tasty and freshly made, and we are relieved to eat mainland India food like poori sabji. It might perhaps be our only proper meal before we enter ‘real’ Nagaland – Kohima onwards.
Dimapur is full of Marwaris. It is perhaps the most cosmopolitan town in Nagaland and where usual Indian food is readily available. There are signboards for Zutho – Rice beer that is available everywhere in the market. We also come across a vegetable market in stalls and many sellers for Naga chilly.
Dimapur doesn’t feel like like a proper Nagaland town, it is a sort of a city and we spot many posters that are trying to get ILP (Inner-Line Permit) in Dimapur too. The weather is surprisingly quite hot for December and the dust levels in Dimapur are a different category altogether.
Kachari ruins are officially closed at the early hour in the morning, so we can only see them from outside. The guy who has the keys hasn’t come yet and even though we inquire from the nearby school/shop we are unable to find him. The official opening time is around 10 am so we give up the idea of seeing the Dimasa Kachari ruins and just go to the DC office to get the ILP done at the earliest.
We end up bargaining a bit with the auto guys and reach the DC office. After spending 2-3 hours at the permit office and getting awed by the level of corruption in Nagaland, we are finally issued our ILP permits. The official cost of the ILP is around 100 Rupees, but we are asked to pay 400 Rupees per person. This is the usual price of corruption in Nagaland.
At the DC office, we meet some interesting people who have travelled far and wide and are in Nagaland for the ‘exotic’ Hornbill festival. We talk about the mired up bureaucracy in Nagaland and how this state could do so much better! After having been to other states in the northeast, I can safely say repeat that for the entire northeast region!
Thankfully we had carried all the documents and photographs required for getting the ILP issued. The ILP only mentions 3 districts and we got the document in our hand and triumphantly walked out of the compound! It is around 1230 in the afternoon.
Dimapur to Kohima
We then rush to the shared taxi stand in Dimapur and get inside a van leaving for Kohima. The distance from Dimapur to Kohima is around 70 kms and the charges are fixed at 150 Rupees per seat. We get 3 middle seats. The ride is crammed for space but surely not the worst that I have experienced. We leave from Dimapur at around 1 pm. The road from Dimapur to Kohima is in horrible shape and surely rates among the worst roads in the entire Northeast.
The cab guy stops midway for lunch at a sort of a dhaba place. We are somehow able to eat because it is bearable food, and is vegetarian. The reasonably priced thali comes with rice and is a staple here as I notice everyone eating the same. I figure it is better to eat something than to stay hungry. After all, it is Nagaland and it makes sense to leave my picky behaviour at home!
We reach Kohima market at 330 pm and immediately try to find a cheap hotel or guest house to stay. Within 5-10 minutes, we understand that there is minimal chance of a cheap place to stay, especially since this is the time of the Hornbill Festival. Luckily on the road, we find a van to Pfutsero.
We had heard the name earlier and there are 4 of us headed to Pfutsero now. It is a fun 2 days in Pfutsero. We come back to Kohima via a shared cab in the morning from Pfutsero and ask the shared cab guy to drop us to the festival site near Viswema.
Now that we know a little bit about the layout of Kohima, and the fact that there are more possibilities of finding a reasonable homestay near the festival site itself. It also ensures that we are free from the famous traffic jams and dusty environs of Kohima. There are many signboards for camping sites near the Hornbill festival site that set up shop during the Hornbill Festival dates. The prices are quite expensive at around 1000 Rupees per person for a stay excluding meals.
I spot a signboard for a homestay near Kigwema, Vicha Paying Guest House. We understand that there are many homestays in the region and it makes sense to get out from the shared taxi. At Vicha Homestay, the host shows us a dormitory for 4 people, it is 400 Rs. per person including breakfast. There is a nice open space in the homestay. The common shower and toilet, have a geyser too.
He has rooms too on the upper floor and quotes 1500 per double room that look really comfortable and he offers the room to me for 1200 Rs. if we plan to stay for longer, but the room prices don’t include breakfast. The dorm room isn’t big but it has a reasonable space, is located on the ground floor and works for us. The beds are nice and comfortable and the linen and blankets are clean. I really like it since it is a family run homestay sort of a place, and the kitchen is run by the ladies of the household!
The homestay is located at a convenient walking distance from Kisama – Hornbill Festival Site. Around 1.5 kms. It always made for a nice walk when we used to return half drunk from the festival site.
Kohima to Kisama Hornbill Festival Site – A local bus plies and charges 10 Rupees and even the regular shared cabs charge 30 odd Rupees.
Kigwema is a big village and also has a church and marketing shed where vegetables are sold, there are shops on the road and a few restaurants too. The best bet for eating simple food remains the homestay where you are staying though.
Vicha Homestay, Kigwema – The dining room is a cosy & separate space with 4-5 tables and one has to tell in advance if lunch / dinner is required. We usually had breakfast at the homestay as it was included with our price and had lunch at the festival venue. For dinner it was a buffet setting with hot casseroles for rice, vegetables, dall, papad, salad and freshly made and tasty. It is priced at 150 Rs. per person and feels reasonable.
A water filter is installed inside the dining area itself and is really helpful since one can fill the water bottles at their own convenience. Bottled water everyday can become too expensive and anyway I hate the taste of packaged bottled water. I always carry my own bottle and am pleased to fill water from the water filter itself.
World War II Museum – Located in the same venue as the Hornbill Festival, the World War II Museum is a good place to know the history of World War II. Memorabilia is kept, alongwith stories and placards. It is a big museum with exhibits and can easily take over 1 hour to explore.
Vegetable Market, Kohima – The vegetable market is in Kohima city and all kinds of exotic stuff is for sale here, in addition to the usual vegetables. Local ladies sell snails and weird stuff, ducks, fiery red chillies, greens, bamboo shoots, variety of mushrooms, tomarillos, exotic leaves.
Shopping in Kohima – All the northeastern states are like the fashion capitals of India and Kohima is right at the forefront of it! Fashionable clothes at only 300 Rs. per item, really good stuff if you can see a sale signboard, otherwise for boutique and unique stuff the prices in Kohima can get quite expensive.
World War II Cemetery – The World War II cemetery is located at a fantastic location on a hillock overlooking Kohima city. It is peaceful and green and I highly recommend it when you are sick of the dust and traffic of Kohima. It is maintained by the CWGC (Commonwealth War Graves Commission) and pays homage to the soldiers who died in World War II.
Nagaland State Museum – Fabulous collection of Nagaland things from across the state. The museum showcases the artefacts of tribes and their daily life, weapons, tribal costumes, instruments and utensils. It is a must see when you are in Kohima.
Street art of Kohima – Nearly every wall is painted in Kohima and the street art and graffiti is very well done with messages and social slogans.
Veg restaurant Kohima – Yaotsu Veggie Restaurant. Overlooking Kohima, it is a concrete establishment but perhaps the only pure vegetarian restaurant in entire Kohima. It lies on the main road on the way from Kohima to Kigwema. On offer are dosa, aloo paranthas, puri sabji, chai etc and served at very reasonable prices too. We eat lunch here and have snacks 1-2 times.
Hornbill Night Carnival – During Hornbill Festival; stalls, street food, parties, and concerts are held here from 7 pm. The Hornbill Night Carnival is from Y junction to Razhu Point, it is a crazy atmosphere and I recommend going once.