Over the weekend I traveled to the Land of Naga otherwise known as Nagaland between Assam and Myanmar where they speak Nagamese – a blend of Hindi, Assamese and English. I invited myself to accompany Susie and Rosie to the Hornbill Festival. It’s an annual festival showcasing the indigenous tribes of Nagaland. There were 16 represented there each with their own dialect, dress and lifestyle. I had no idea what to expect and was told my co-workers about how dangerous it is. I absolutely fell in love with the place and the people. It doesn’t feel like India and the locals themselves don’t consider themselves Indian! They have pride to be a Naga. The state actually wants to separate and become its own country.
We headed out of Guwahati last Friday on a 6:30am train to Dimapur which is on the border of Nagaland and Assam. Rosie actually finished her one year contract with Operation Smile and this was her symbolic departure from Guwahati. So we we were feeling sad and excited at the same time. At the train station we were directed to the police station to register. Rosie forgot her passport though. So we spent the next few hours hanging around the Dimapur Police Station as she contacted various people that may have a copy of her passport and visa. This required trips to an internet café and many phone calls until finally we handed it over. Then we took a shared taxi to Kohima – capital of Nagaland. Our co-workers from the area told us over and over how cold it is in Nagaland. So I brought every warm piece of clothing I own. Dimapur felt like Guwahati though so I thought they had overexagerrated. However, during the taxi ride, the temperature must’ve dropped 10 degrees. Kohima is freezing! The drive was winding up the mountain side during the sunset at 4 pm. There are endless, rolling green hills as far as the eye can see. Pineapple stands decorated the side of the road.
Susie had arranged for us to stay at her friend’s cousin’s house there. Yunger and his family welcomed us into their home with a warm fire and tea. They gave us their living room piled with blankets and pillows. His wife cooked us dinners and fixed our breakfasts. They were so hospitable and generous. They have three young sons that were very timid at first, but began to open up by the fourth day.
We reached Kohima late Friday evening and learned that Nagas actually go to sleep and awake much earlier then Guwahati – 8pm and 4:30am! So their lunch is actually our breakfast time and dinner our lunch time! They teased us when we slept in until 8:30am because they were already fixing lunch. We slept 12 hours the first night because we were so exhausted from the day before. It sure was cold at night. I wore thick socks, long underwear, beanie with two thick blankets on top. All three of us slept on the living room floor cuddled up, so we stayed warm.
We took a lot of pictures with the different festival participants in their tribal dress. The girl’s jewelry was beautiful – big, colorful beads covering their chest. They had headdresses and bangles also. Men from some of the tribes basically showed their bums only wearing a piece of cloth over the front side. I don’t’ know how they survived in such cold! My favorite dance was the fish, honeybee and star dance. I love how they celebrate and appreciate nature’s elements so much.
The daily program ends around 3 pm. We did some shopping and then headed back to New Market in the middle of town for the night bazaar. Many student groups set-up tables and were serving fresh food and tea making it look like street cafes. We sat and ate stick rice donut type things with tea and people watched. The Nagas look and act more East Asian then Indian. They are much shyer and very sweet. There are Christmas decoration all over the place which surprised me. I’ve become so used to only seeing Hindu holiday spirit. Nagaland is actually majority Christian. We returned home by 6pm in time for dinner, but still didn’t make it on time. She made us separate food that wasn’t as spicy, bless her heart! We sat and talked around the fire before heading to our blanket room by 9pm. Sunday we returned to the Hornbill Festival, but it was even colder. We had a hard time sitting too long and tried walking around to warm up. We ended up leaving earlier to eat at the night bazaar.
That evening at the stadium was a rock band competition. Every night bands were competing for a 60,000 INR prize. One of our co-worker’s Raina’s boyfriend, Girish has a band. He’s on tour, but his little brother and the rest of the band still perform – including this rock concert. We bundled up and went to the stadium to see the performances. Some of the bands were like death metal! They screamed in loud demonic voices from their scrawny, little bodies. I don’t know how. A lot of boys stopped us in the crowd to ask us where we are from. We heard at one point “Nagas are crazier than Americans!” which made us laugh. We didn’t feel intimidated at all, unlike how I’ve felt before in a group of Indian men in Guwahati. They are curious, but not aggressive and almost innocent. Their energy is totally different and it’s hard to explain.
Susie raised a good point – do we feel more comfortable with them because they are closer to American culture? Yunger explained Naga culture and history to us during our fire conversations. He said in recent decades, Naga culture has actually been very influenced by American culture – dress, music and I guess even holidays. I wonder if Susie is right. Hindu culture is almost as different as can be from American or even Christian culture so it does get frustrating sometimes. Cars don’t honk as much and actually let you cross the street. People are more helpful, but not aggressive about it. The family gave us our space and independence. I felt peace there and want to go back to learn more.
Monday we decided we had had enough Hornbill Festival experience and decided to spend more time at New Market. We saw grasshoppers, live caterpillars and spiders for sale to eat! I guess they fry them to eat with their rice. The night bazaar wasn’t going on, hence it titled “night” bazaar. So we spent the afternoon at the home. She wanted to make us lunch and we didn’t object. Her cooking is delicious. I ate enough for two meals. Then we played games with the boys. Susie brought her Uno cards so we taught them and played a few rounds. Then they taught us a game like billards but on a piece of wood with chips. The game never ended so we had to cut it short to go catch a shared taxi back to Dimapur for our 11:30pm night train back to Guwahati. We stopped by the night bazaar on the way out for a cup of tea and almost were too late for the shared taxi! The Nagas really do end the day early! The drive back was nauseating. The driver drove fast and my head was out the window.
We reached the train station in plenty of time and headed back to the police station to see if Rosie’s necklace was there that she had left. We found the same Officer in charge, Sali, who had saved it for us. We thanked him profusely and requested his higher up’s contact information to write a letter about his helpfulness. He obliged and then insisted on taking us to dinner. We had only asked for a restaurant recommendation and before we knew it, we were in his car heading into Dimapur to eat dinner. He let us order whatever we wanted and paid! Then he took us around Dimapur for an informal tour including to the border with Assam where we stopped and took pictures. Keep in mind, he is on duty and in his police officer suit the entire time as people are saluting him when passing by. It was hilarious! We kept looking at eachother with confused grins wondering how we got here and what was going on! We spent the rest of the evening in his office. Our train ended up being delayed for 3 hours so we fell asleep on the couches and he checked the status of our train regularly. Then he bumped Susie and Rosie’s sleeper class tickets to third class tickets to be in the same cabin as me! He as well as other policemen helped us load our stuff to the train and get settled and jumped off as the train started! We couldn’t believe how helpful he was! We all exchanged numbers and agreed to host him if he ever came to Guwahati. What an unexpected and unique experience. Indians are such great hosts! I’m learning a lot myself about how to wholeheartedly give.
I bought Christmas decorations in Nagaland including a little Christmas tree that resembles the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. I decorated it with beads, lights and a star at the center today and everyone loves it. I feel both happy and sad this Christmas season thinking of all my family and friends at home, but looking forward to sharing it with my new Indian friends. I booked my plane tickets for Christmas to Kerala, a southern state in India. I’ll be there for 10 days and will spend Christmas with a co-worker, Biju and his family.
Article source: http://kellyannin.blogspot.in/2011/12/land-of-naga.html