Dimapur: Nagaland Beyond Kohima
Any visitor to Nagaland usually passes through Dimapur, before moving on to the hills of peaceful Kohima, home to the Hornbill Festival, 75 kilometres away; the pristine village of the Angamis, near Kohima, called Khonoma; scenic Dzukou Valley, part of the Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan Sanctuary; or rustic Mon, stronghold of the Konyak tribe half a day’s drive away from Dimapur, which hosts the Aoleong Festival ,showcasing the traditional homes of these one-time headhunters and anghs (kings).
Dimapur, the largest city in Nagaland, is the gateway to its treasures, home to the only railhead and airport. The capital of the Dimasa Kachari Kingdom in the middle ages, it is located on the banks of the Dhansiririver (Dimapur is literally ‘city by the river’). The city is dusty, its roads are ridiculously pothole-ridden and difficult to navigate. But a few days here will acquaint you with urban, local life in Nagaland, away from the typical tourist itinerary.
The Kachari monuments are a major point of historical interest, located at the edge of the city’s river, in the heart of the city. Dating back to the 10th century, these mushroom-domed pillars—most around eight to 10 foot high—are decorated with plant and animal motifs. While some of them are crumbling, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) cleans and preserves these ruins. It is believed that a game akin to chess was played here, using the pillars.
About 35 kilometres from Dimapur, the Intanki Wildlife Sanctuary features langurs, black storks, sloth bears and hornbills—worth visiting to get a sense of the wildlife of this region. Chumukedima Village, 14 kilometres away in the hills, has some scenic waterfalls and was the first headquarters of the Naga Hills district under British rule, in the early 19th century.
There are lots of sites of day trips within easy access, from Dimapur. “Go to the paddy fields, the river. If you are lucky you might spot a few wild elephants—all on a cycle,” says Sanen Pongener, a local finance professional and photographer.
“Dzuleke, about two hours from Dimapur, is great for camping amongst beautiful streams and lush forests and valleys,” say Mhabemo Ezung and Phejin Konyak of Deep Root Tours, a new company which organises village tours in the region. And, among other daytrips, are Shalom Resort (Gaili), about 37 kilometres away, and Triple Falls Seithekima Village, about 20 kilometres away. Some visitors like to stay at Noune Mini Resort, 16 kilometres away, for its serenity.
Given the sheer variety and unusual nature of Nagaland’s crafts, shopping is often high on the list of priorities. Diezephe Craft Village is a nearby handicrafts village, known for bamboo products, canework and woodcarvings. Hong Kong Market, in the city’s centre, is a popular spot featuring foreign goods at cheap rates: from gadgets to clothes, these Thai and Burmese goods attract a mix of locals and tourists. The local market is full of flavourful local foods, and worth a visit, as well—bamboo shoot and meat pickles, beans and all kinds of produce are on offer.
For high-end shopping, visit Fusion, a clothing store which sells attractive accessories, bags and design objects from local brands like Cache. There’s also Heirloom Naga, full of gorgeous local textiles, jewellery and home decor. And don’t forget The Angry Mother Soap Company, a delightful eco-conscious shop full of natural products such as ganja soap (‘made with fresh hemp leaf puree, ganja extracts and oil infusions’) and washcloths woven in Nagaland. Packaged with fun illustrations of women from the sixteen tribes of Nagaland, the products use materials which can be composted and make for great, local gifts. Angry Mother is run by a young Naga entrepreneur from the Sema tribe, one of several young locals who have come home and started businesses.
Naga food is tasteful and unique. Your trip or tour should ideally feature a visit to a traditional household full of smoked meat and pungent chutneys —and Longchen Homestay offers homecooked meals. Also, do try momos when you eat out in Dimapur. Bambusa, a local restaurant, is green and spacious, and boasts the “best beef momos” say locals. Featuring a miniature park and a bamboo gift shop with souvenirs, Nagaland Bamboo Resource Centre is a restful place to spend the afternoon. Ili-ah, the restaurant in Aiko Greens, a multipurpose venue with a lake and trees, is another urban oasis. Built around a living tree and serving Indian, western and pan-Asian food, it is also a great spot for drinks. Hetika Bakery & Cafe, the Korean Uncle’s Cafe (for Korean food) and The Black Sheep are also popular haunts.