Travel Bucket List: India – Nagaland Part 1

After I pass through Manipur, my next destination will be the mist-shrouded state of Nagaland.

Bordered by Arunachal Pradesh to the north, Assam to the west, Manipur to the south and the Sagaing Region of Myanmar to the east Nagaland’s capital is Kohima and its largest city Dimapur. One of India’s smallest states, Nagaland became the 16th state of India on 1 December 1963 and has experienced insurgency and inter-ethnic conflicts since the 1950s, limiting its economic development. Agriculture is its most important economic activity, accounting for over 70% of its economy and other significant activities include forestry, tourism, insurance, real estate, and miscellaneous cottage industries. Home to a rich variety of flora and fauna, Nagaland lies between the parallels of 98 and 96 degrees east longitude and 26.6 and 27.4 degrees latitude north.

The ancient history of the Nagas is unclear with tribes migrating at different times, each settling in the northeastern part of present-day India and establishing their respective sovereign mountain terrains and village-states. There are no records of whether they came from the northern Mongolian region, southeast Asia or southwest China, except that their origins are from the east of India and that historical records show the present-day Naga people settled before the arrival of the Ahoms in 1228.

The origin of the word Naga is also unclear, with a popularly accepted, but controversial view being that it originated from the Burmese word Na-Ka or naga, meaning the people with earrings while others suggest it means pierced noses. Both Naka and Naga are pronounced the same way in Burmese.

Before the European colonialism of South Asia, there were many incursions from the Burmese on the Nagas, the Meitei, and others in India’s northeast where the invaders head-hunted and the Burmese word Naka was used for them which became Naga and has been in use since then.

British troops recorded 10 military expeditions between 1839 and 1850 and after the bloody battle at Kikrüma in 1851, the British adopted a policy of caution and non-interference with Naga tribes. Between 1851 and 1865, Naga tribes continued to raid the British in Assam. In 1866, the British India administration established a post at Samaguting with the goal of ending intertribal warfare and tribal raids on property and personnel. In 1878, the headquarters were transferred to Kohima which created a city that remains an important center of administration, commerce, and culture for Nagaland. Between 1880 and 1922, the British administration consolidated its position over a large area of the Naga Hills and integrated it into its Assam operations and in 1926, it became a part of Pakokku Hill Tracts Districts of Burma until 4 January 1948. Since the mid-19th century, Christian missionaries from the United States and Europe, reached Nagaland and its neighboring states, converting Nagaland’s Naga tribes from animism to Christianity.

In 1944 during World War II, the Japanese Army, with the help of the Indian National Army led by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, invaded Burma and attempted to take India through Kohima. The Allied soldiers defended Kohima and successfully repelled the Japanese troops in a battle that was fought from 4 April to 22 June 1944.

After India’s independence, Nagaland remained a part of Assam, but after the Phizo-led Naga National Council demanded a political union of their ancestral and native groups, it led to a series of violent incidents, that damaged government and civil infrastructure, attacked government officials and civilians and so the army in 1955 to restore order. In 1957, an agreement was reached between Naga leaders and the Indian government, creating a single separate region of the Naga Hills and it became a union territory directly administered by the central government with a large degree of autonomy. This was not satisfactory, however, and agitation with violence increased across the state. In July 1960, Nagaland became a full state with the state formally inaugurated on 1 December 1963, and Kohima was declared as the state capital.

The state has continued to see violence and insurgency. In March 1975, a direct presidential rule was imposed the state has seen President’s Rule imposed four times since its creation, though today the state is not under such directive.

A largely mountainous state, about one-sixth of Nagaland, is covered by tropical and sub-tropical evergreen forests—including palms, bamboo, rattan as well as timber and mahogany forests. The Naga Hills rise from the Brahmaputra Valley in Assam to about 610 m and rise further to the southeast, as high as 1,800 m with Mount Saramati at an elevation of 3,841 m the state’s highest peak where the Naga Hills merge with the Patkai Range forming the boundary with Myanmar. Rivers such as the Doyang and Diphu to the north and the Barak river in the southwest dissect the entire state with 20% of the state’s land area covered with wooded forest. Nagaland has a rich birdlife with more than 490 species. Blyth’s Tragopan or the grey-bellied tragopan, a vulnerable species of galliform, is the state bird and the state is also known as the falcon capital of the world. The Mithun, a semi-domesticated gaur is the state animal and has been adopted as the official seal of the government.

The people of Nagaland live a largely rural life with 71.14% of the population living in rural regions belonging to 16 major and some minor tribes. The state is also home to the bhut jolokia or the ghost pepper, one of the hottest chilis in the world at 855,000 SHU on the Scoville scale.

Let’s start our exploration of the state with the state’s largest city, Dimapur.

Nagaland’s largest city, Dimapur is the state’s main gateway and commercial centre, located in southwest Nagaland. Located near the border with Assam along the banks of the Dhansiri River, Dimapur is the only plains tract of hilly Nagaland and also has the only airport in the state for connectivity and economic activity. Its main railway station is the second busiest station in Northeast India.

The name Dimapur is derived from the Dimasa words Di which means water, ma which means large and pur which is a Sanskritised word which means a city, translating to the big river city, and associated with the word Kachari which means the people of the river valley after the river Dhansiri which flows through it. Others contend that Dimapur is a corruption of Hidimbapur, meaning the city of Hidimbi from the Mahabharata who was the demoness turned woman whose marriage to the Pandava prince Bhima that led to the birth of Ghatotkacha, which was the Hindu lineage created for the rulers of Dimasa by the Brahmin pandits at Khaspur. Hidimbapur is said to have been abbreviated to Dimbapur and subsequently to have lost a consonant to become Dimapur. In the Ahom Chronicles, Dimapur Is referred to sometimes as Che-din-chi-pen or the town earth burn make which means the brick town and its rulers as Timisa which is a distorted word for Dimas.

In the 13th century, the city was the capital of the Dimasa kingdom. During World War II, Dimapur was the centre of action between the Allied and Japanese forces and the staging post for the Allied offensive. The airport at Dimapur was also used for supplies to the allied forces in Burma. In 1918, Dimapur was leased to then Naga Hills district, which is today’s Nagaland by then erstwhile Assam Province of British of India for 30 years for the construction of railways lines. In 1963, it was once again leased to the state of Nagaland for 99 years. There is controversy surrounding this claim, as both state governments have not come forward to comment on the matter. Present-day Dimapur has far outgrown its old town area and is a contiguous urban sprawl from the Assam border at Dilai Gate and the new field check gate up to the foothills of Chümoukedima, the designated district headquarters of Dimapur district.

Located in Seithekima village, the Triple Falls are three glistening water streams trickling down from a height of 280 ft to a natural pool. The stunning fall area is maintained by the tourist department of Nagaland and also serves as a lovely trekking spot. Situated on the foothills of the Naga Hills, Chumukedima is an ancient village famous for waterfalls.

The Kachari Rajbari ruins are famous for their monoliths. It is believed that the scattered stones and bricks are the remains of temples and embankments. Although is left in ruins after centuries of abandonment, after facing conflict with the Ahom King in the 18th century, today, it lies in the centre of the town and signifies great historical importance for the northeast region.

The Shiva temple is located in Singrijan and is believed to have been built by the local villagers in 1961. It is said that once, one of the villagers went to the Rangapahar Reserve Forest and found a stone which he sharpened later with his knife. He realised some liquid was released from the stone and later dreamt that the stone was a manifestation of Lord Shiva. Soon, the villagers started worshipping the stone as a Shivalinga.

The Dimapur Jain Temple was built in 1947 and has intricate glasswork. The temple is considered very auspicious with intricate architecture. The main deity of the temple is Lord Mahavira. In the back portion of the temple, built-in 1989, there are statues of Lord Adinath, Lord Bahubali and Lord Bharat Swami. On the first floor are the Samavsaran and the Chaubisi which are the idols of all the twenty-four Tirthankaras.

The Nagaland Science Centre aims to promote creative learning through its three galleries, our sense, fun science and the children’s corner. Besides, there is an inflatable dome, the Tara Mandal which lets one peak deeper into the sky at night. The science centre has some specially designed exhibits that increase learning tendencies.

Diezephe Village, located about 13 km south of Dimapur is well known for its handlooms and handicrafts as well as the many workshops organised here. The craft and development society also houses tools that could be used by craftsmen at the rate of Rs 150 per day. The village also has beautiful artefacts made from wood, bamboo and cane.

The Rangapahar Reserve Forest located just 7 km from the city, on its outskirts is known for its wildlife and is famous for its variety of plants, especially those relevant to medicine. There is a variety of unique birds in this reserve which attracts many bird watchers.

In the next part, we will explore Nagaland’s capital city of Kohima.

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