This part is all about Nagaland’s capital city, Kohima.
The capital of Nagaland, Kohima is the second-largest city in the state. Originally known as Kewhira, Kohima was founded in 1878 when the British colonial rulers established its headquarters of the then Naga Hills District of Assam Province. It officially became the capital of the state after the state of Nagaland was inaugurated in 1963. Kohima was the site of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II and the battle is often referred to as the Stalingrad of the East. In 2013, the British National Army Museum voted the Battle of Kohima to be Britain’s Greatest Battle. Located in the foothills of the Japfü rang, the city has an average elevation of 1,261 m.
Kohima was originally known as Kewhi–ra which is an Angami name that means the land where the Kewhi flower grows. The name, Kohima, came about as the British could not pronounce the Angami name of Kewhi–ra, but most locals still prefer to use Kewhi–ra when speaking about the capital city.
Kohima was originally a large village named Kewhira, located in the northeastern part of the present-day Kohima urban area and was divided into four large clans or thinuos. The East India Company administration started to expand into Kohima beginning of the 1840s and continued to annex the region after the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Kohima was the first seat of modern administration as the Headquarters of Naga Hills District, then under Assam.
In 1944 during World War II, the Battle of Kohima along with the simultaneous Battle of Imphal was the turning point in the Burma Campaign. For the first time in South-East Asia, the Japanese lost the initiative to the Allies, which the Allies then retained until the end of the war. This hand-to-hand battle and slaughter prevented the Japanese Army from gaining a base from which they might have easily gone into the plains of India.
When Nagaland became a full-fledged state on 1 December 1963, Kohima became the state capital. On 20 March 1986, two students were killed in indiscriminate firing by the Nagaland Police when they participated in a peaceful protest called by the Naga Students’ Federation or NSF to rally against the state government’s decision on the introduction of the Indian Police Service cadres and the extension of the Disturbed Area Belt from 5 to 20 km along the Indo-Myanmar border. The event was so tumultuous that it led three Cabinet ministers and five state ministers of Nagaland to resign.
On a green and verdant hillock, lies the township of Touphema. Built by the local community in partnership with the Tourism Department of Nagaland, Touphema Village is a collection of small huts built and decorated in traditional Naga design which gives visitors the feel of living in a Naga tribal house. A very popular tourist attraction, the village is a wonderful recreation of a traditional AngamiNaga village set up with cabins and rooms that have been built to look like traditional huts and cottages. A short walk around the village can transport one way back in time when Naga tribes lived. The AngamiSekrenyi annual festival is celebrated with great fervour in the village in February. Most of the traditional village buildings have roofs made of corrugated iron without chimneys. Located on a gentle hillock with a panoramic view of the surrounding valleys, Touphema offers a chance to stay in quaint little huts, enjoy pleasant evenings around bonfires with cultural dances just adding to the rustic feel of the entire place and offer some of the best photo opportunities. A recently refurbished museum inside the village offers an extensive ethnographic collection including wood carvings, musical instruments, textiles, handicrafts traditional artefacts, jewellery, and archaeological finds.
A town belonging to the Angami Naga tribe, Khonoma Village is a one-of-its-kind project located about 20 km from the state capital. In a Green Village, where all forms of hunting have been abolished for a more sustainable ecosystem, the residents live a more sustainable way of living. Nestled on the base of the mountains, this eco-friendly, conservation-based village also provides fantastic views of misty valleys, gently sloping hillocks, and terraced farms.
The Naga Heritage Village in Kisama on the outskirts of Kohima seeks to preserve and promote the culture and traditions of the Naga people. The name Kisama itself is an amalgamation of the Naga villages, Kigwema (Ki), Phesama (Sa), and the word Ma which means a village. The venue for the famed Hornbill Festival, the village is designed in the form of an ancient Naga village to give an authentic feel of a true Naga village and the experience of travelling back in time. The village is opened to the public for a week in December, during the Hornbill festival which is the best time to visit. The Hornbill Festival is the biggest annual festival in North East India. The festival is held every year from 1 to 10 December with the purpose to promote the richness of the Naga heritage and traditions. It is also called the ‘Festival of Festivals’. The week-long festival unites one and all in Nagaland and people enjoy the colourful performances, crafts, sports, food fairs, games and ceremonies. Traditional arts which include paintings, wood carvings, and sculptures are also on display. The festival highlights include the traditional Naga Morungs exhibition and the sale of arts and crafts, food stalls, herbal medicine stalls, flower shows and sales, cultural medley – songs and dances, fashion shows, the Miss Nagaland beauty contest, traditional archery, Naga wrestling, indigenous games, and a musical concert.
The Kohima Cathedral also known as the Help of Christians Cathedral is a prominent Kohima landmark in Kohima. The church is noted for its architecture which incorporates many elements of traditional Naga houses, including its facade which resembles that of a Naga house and the architecture blends into the hill on which it is situated. The 16 feet high carved wood crucifix is one of Asia’s largest crosses. Conceptualised by Kohima’s first bishop, the cathedral complex also contains his tomb and was constructed in 1998. After the battle of Kohima, the Japanese contributed to the making of this church in memory of their loved ones.
The enchanting Dzükou valley with its emerald green rolling hills, interspersed by a gently flowing stream, is tucked away at an altitude of 2,438.4 m, about 30 km south of Kohima. A trekker’s delight, Dzükou is known for its bio-diversity with the bamboo bush its predominant plant and looks likes a fully mown lawn from afar. The valley is considered to be the base of the crater of an old volcano and is well known for its natural environment, seasonal flowers, flora, and fauna with the North Eastern Valley of Flowers a sight to behold.
The second-highest peak in Nagaland, Japfu Peak stands 3048 m above sea level and is about 15 km south of Kohima. The best seasons for climbing this mountain are between November to March. In the Japfu range, one can find the tallest Rhododendron tree, featured in the Guinness Book of World Records, over 109 ft tall and the girth at its best measures more than 11 ft. The sight of the sunrise from the hump of Japfu peak in November is something that needs to be experienced.
The Kohima Museum takes visitors closer to the lives of the tribals living in Nagaland. Built to introduce visitors to the rich culture and tradition of the 16 tribal groups of Nagaland, the Kohima Museum is located in Upper Bayavu Hills and displays gateposts, endemic regional animals and birds, statues, jewellery items and pillars. The museum also houses life-size models depicting costumes, weapons and jewellery worn by the people.
The Kohima State Museum allows visitors to get a deeper insight into the history and culture of the tribes residing in the state. Established in 1970, the museum houses rare artefacts belonging to the 16 tribes of Nagaland. From tribal attires and weapons to jewellery and sculptures, the exhibits of the museum leave visitors fascinated. There is an art gallery, which displays amazing paintings made by local artists as well as showcases musical instruments used by the Naga tribes. One of the best attractions of the museum is the models of traditional Naga huts known as Naga Morung. The museum also houses a rare collection of precious stones like cornelian and tourmaline along with brass artefacts and silver bells.
Set amidst picturesque surroundings, the Kohima War Cemetery was built in April 1944 to honour the brave soldiers of the 2nd British Division of the Allied Forces who lost their lives during World War II. The war cemetery houses 1,420 graves and is well-maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The cemetery was built in the tennis court of the then deputy commissioner’s residence, the exact place where one of the fiercest battles against the Japanese was fought. Popularly remembered as the Stalingrad of the East, the battle of Kohima was fought from April 4 to June 22, 1944, and offers gorgeous panoramic views of Kohima. The cemetery’s top also houses a dome-like memorial raised to honour the 917 Hindu and Sikh soldiers who lost their lives in the battle and were cremated according to their faith. The cemetery is well kept with lush green, mowed lawns and well-groomed flowers. There is also a War Museum as well as the Kohima Cathedral nearby.
The Kohima Zoo houses the state bird, the rare Tragopan, and the state animal, the wild buffalo. The zoo is created on a hill and the hill has been beautifully used to provide natural landscapes for the animals. The golden langurs and Blythe’s tragopan are the biggest attractions of the zoo with a section of the zoo turned into a special area for kids with a play zone and fun facts about the animals.
Established in 1923, the Ntangki Wildlife Sanctuary was declared a reserved forest in 1975 and converted into a national park in 1993. Located about 29 km from Kohima, the national park is said to be home to several animals including elephants, wild buffalos, the rare Hoolok gibbon, sloth bear, barking deer and black storks. The 200 km national park has a natural and protected habitat.
In the next part, our last part about this wonderful state, we will explore some of the lesser known towns in the state.