Kohima the under-rated state capital of India

Kohima the under rated state capital of India

Nagaland was declared a state on the 1st of December 1963 and ever since for 56 years Kohima has been the state capital, without even undergoing a name change. While Nagaland features in major travel magazines across the globe, the glory of Kohima has been confined to the hornbill festival and the blog pictures of edible insects floating around its markets. Kohima has been one of the most under-rated state capitals of India. While Guwahati, which is in actuality the only city in Northeast India, has always overshadowed most of the towns in this region, Kohima as a commercial hub loses out to Dimapur in Nagaland. A trip to Nagaland is not something that one can conjure up in a moment. It always requires planning. To the rest of India, a trip to Nagaland might sound a bit extreme to the popular tastes, for many being in Kohima is a point of arrival. Whatever the case, being in Kohima is always fascinating.

the state capital perched on the hills

A night View of kohima town from Zubza village
A night view of Kohima town
Photograph @Stefan H

As you ascend the mountains from Dimapur, the yellow and white lights coated view of the hills of Kohima from Zubza village is a reminder that you are in the extreme east of India. It is just half-past five. I have wonderful memories of Kohima from the early nineties. Kohima was fashionable back then too and now it has grown exponentially. It was a shame to be seen in shambles in Kohima. It was said that the youths of Kohima back then dressed up even to go to the beetle-nut shop, two floors down or the alley two blocks away. I guess it’s still true. The old bus station was lined with that they called “video parlors”. These mini cinema halls showed movies of Tom Cruise, Bruce Lee, and other Hollywood stars, on a television connected to a video cassette player. I never really remembered what the interiors looked like; it was always dark and full of people, with vivid perfumes. Aha and I forgot, the South Korean movies which to date have taken over the fashion fad in Kohima. I never understood where and how it originated.

the original problem of Kohima

Unfortunately back in the early nineties, Kohima had its problems that originated in Dimapur and spread out to other parts of Nagaland. Drugs and substance abuse and subsequently AIDS. This problem had its wings and roots in other cities that have Shillong, Aizwal, Imphal, Guwahati, and even in pockets of urban metros like New Delhi and Bangalore. Much of the menace in Kohima is contained now. With active efforts from the Naga Mothers’ Association and the Church, Kohima has shed off its affinity to drugs. The mothers association has been able to keep till date, Nagaland legally free from regular sale and usage of alcohol, a natural substitute for drugs.

While many argue that Kohima has always been lethargic to entrepreneurial endeavors, it would be wrong to brush of Kohima as a lazy, slow town. From the video parlors of the early nineties to the modern night food bazaars, this town has been very enterprising. Kohima has certainly been the under-rated state capital of India. The world has always place Kohima as a historical World War 2 battlefield site, the “offbeat tourist” has viewed it as a colorful destination for 10 days during the Hornbill festival and the modern Indian backpacker has labeled it as a point of arrival for its Dzukou Valley trek, a wonderful experience which Nagaland has always got to share with Manipur.

Kohima has a lot to offer, both from as a travel destination as well as a research perspective of Northeast India. Indeed, Kohima can be used as a point of start for understanding why youths from this region migrate to other cities in search of higher education and need of employment.

an early morning view of Kohima town from japfu hotel
An Earliy morning view of Kohima
Photograph @ Kartik Kumar S

Things to do in Kohima

The Kohima Cathedral: Located on the Aradura hill, it is one of the biggest cathedrals in Northeast India. Japan’s gift. The actual work of the cathedral began in 1986 and the Japanese contributed generously to see its completion. The Japanese wished the church to be a place of [prayer especially for the Japanese war victims who laid down their lives in World War 2 in Kohima. The architecture of the cathedral blends with the landscape of Kohima and Naga tradition. The 16 feet high carved wooden crucifix is one of the largest in Asia. The cathedral was conceptualized by the first bishop of Kohima, Abraham Alangi Mattathil. A tomb is erected in his memory inside the complex.

The Kohima War Cemetery: It is a memorial dedicated to the British soldiers who died in a battle in April 1944. The Kohima war cemetery comprising of 1420 burials was built and is being maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The Battle of the tennis court was part of the Battle of Kohima during the Burma campaign in World War 2. It is believed that the fiercest hand-to-hand combat took place in the garden of the Deputy Commissioner’s bungalow around a tennis court.

The Kohima War Cemetery consists of 1429 burials from World War II

The morung at the entry of the Jakhama village in Kohima
As we enter Jakhama Village in Kohima

Nagaland State Museum: The Nagaland State Museum in Kohima is a well-loaded museum that exhibits artifacts of the early Nagas, offers a peep into the traditional and cultural lifestyle of Nagas and their costumes, weapons, traditional sports, lifestyle equipment and more. The museum is dependent on electricity and easy access to restrooms is restricted. This is a nicely arranged property that needs either privatization or the government has to sponsor on a more modern chic look.

Touphema Tourist Village:  Touphema village is 100 kilometers away from Dimapur Airport and is the last bastion on the Angami tribe in the state of Nagaland. The accommodation with a series of huts, built by each clan from the tribe, houses a common kitchen with facades displaying Naga symbols like a “Mithun”, swords, spears and wooden cups. The villagers added a museum to promote the Angami tribal way of life. Exhibits were collected from each household to fill up the museum. An open-air amphitheater was added to be used for football matches and celebrating the annual Sekrenyi Festival in February. The cuisine is local in the stay and food is prepared by local youths, the mixture of corn and honey in your breakfast table is a specialty. The village allows one to relax within the natural confinements of a traditional Naga village. 

Khonoma Village: A mixture of an erstwhile battlefield and lush valley of paddy fields, Khonoma is 78 Km from Dimapur Airport, southwest of Kohima town in Nagaland. The village of Khonoma has an unwritten history of the Nagas and the natives of this village gave one of the bloodiest resistance to the British forces from 1859 to 1879. The change from a battle zone to Asia’s first green village is a story in itself. This quaint little Naga village of more than 700 years in existence is surrounded by farmlands that produce 60 varieties of rice in a year. 

Dzuleke Village: An oddball tiny village consisting of 30 odd houses, South West of Kohima is Dzuleke village. It is approximately 40 km from Kohima but with the given road conditions and the Nagaland topography, it will take you 2 hours to reach. This village lined with lush green evergreen rain forests, is the epicenter of eco-tourism in Kohima. While eco-tourism is slightly over-rated at a lot of places in India, in Dzuleke, it is in-built. The community is involved, a community dominated by the Angami tribe. Here honesty thrives in its raw form. Vegetable shops run without shopkeepers and buyers drop money as per the price in the boxes. No overpricing, No shoplifting, and no bargaining. Simple. The village rolls on community income. Each individual who earns from eco-tourism has to deposit 10% of the income in the Dzuleke Development fund. This fund is utilized for community development work. The main attraction of Dzuleke is “get involved with the community”. You are always welcomed.

The famed Dzukou Valley Trek

A view of the morning on the Dzukou Valley Trek
A view of the morning on the Dzukou Valley Trek

The Dzukou Valley Trek: Maintained by the Southern Angami Youth Organization (SAYO) in Kohima, the Dzukou valley trek is nature’s craftsmanship done without stray thoughts. The valley spreads across the states of Nagaland and Manipur and is at an altitude of 2452 m. The Dzukou valley trek has two flavors – the summer and winter. While the summer trek takes you through colorful flowers woven on a green canvas, the winter one is on a frostbitten green canvas. Each has its peril and sweetness. Strangely as per Angami myth, Dzukou is considered a soulless dull region, a place where the dead rest before departing. The Dzukou valley is one of the most sought after experiences by the living, modern backpacker from mainland India. It is said, a river existed with water that heals and a white elephant roams the valley. I once remember, in my first trip to this valley, before it was mapped into the commercial tourist circuit, running into a village headman, whose approval was needed to get water from a nearby river. The water was salty.

Fashion and Music in modern Kohima

Alluring destinations can get overshadowed when they are near other favorite towns. But they have much to offer and Kohima does offer more than its tag of being an under-rated state capital of India. Keds Krome, educated in a fashion school in Bangalore, is based in Kohima and her designs range from western clothing, bridal gowns to modern ethnic wear. Her home-based workshop churns out junk jewel to classy outfits with traditional touches. Owner and creator of Indian fashion label ‘Alem Ozukum’, Alem from Kohima says “You also need to be responsive, professional, more organized and self-disciplined. I still do believe in my path and I am excited that I have a lot to learn in the coming years”. Ikali Sukhalu, who won the Northeast Academy of Performing Arts designer award in 2013, is the creator of the Little Naga. Vishu Rita Krocha, quit her job as a fulltime journalist, to devote time to Penthrill, a hub for poets and writers. Vipichu Tati from Khonoma village brings the unique combination of aesthetic décor with the utilitarian adaption of Naga tribal art. The Testseo sisters have single-handedly taken Naga lyrics all over the world and made them popular across clubs in the country. The Tetseo sisters of the Chakaseng tribe and who always dresses in Naga costumes for their performances were born and brought up in Kohima. Divine Connection, Nagaland seasoned Christian rock band, though disintegrated now, were winners of the second edition of India MTV’s Rock On Show in 2010. Mercy Tetseo laments “We cannot blame people for this ignorance. Indian students are not even taught the history of the Northeast in school. Even our national anthem does not mention us.”

The Tetseo Sisters from Kohima who sing local naga folk songs

“We cannot blame people for this ignorance. Indian students are not even taught the history of the Northeast in school. Even our national anthem does not mention us.”

Indeed mainland India’s thought process and contained geographical knowledge about east India has limited itself to Kolkata and Darjeeling. As a student and as a corporate professional in Delhi, I had to educate a lot that Northeast India has seven states each with a state capital and people who lived in houses like everywhere else.

An old lady in Kohima wearing traditional ornaments
An old lady in Kohima

Kohima with all its affinity to the South Korean lifestyle and Southeast Asian outlook is a beautiful modern town. It is not a late entrant of modern towns in India but was always progressive and advanced for decades. Sometimes travelers tend to overlook towns and cities, over other celeb destinations, sheer out of lack of information. 

A french doctor visiting Kohima with Eventours Travels
On the way to Khonoma
A Naga performer at the hornbill festival . Hornbill festival in Kohima in December
A Naga performer at the hornbill festival
Burials at the Kohima War Cemetery. There are 1420 of them
Burials at the War Cemetery

Accommodations in Kohima

  • Hotel Blue Bayou: Modern hotel just opposite to the Kohima War Cemetery.
  • Hotel Vivor: Hotel Vivor has 29 Charming rooms which are categorized into Standard, Premium, Deluxe, Deluxe Suite, and Executive Suite & Niathu Presidential Suite.
  • Hotel De Oriental: Situated on the highway and easy to access modern hotel
  • Hotel Razhu Pru: Quirkily poised between a heritage and boutique hotel, Razhu Pru was originally a family home built in the post-world war II winter of 1946
  • Touphema Tourist Village: The accommodation is a series of huts in Naga style at Touphema village
  • Dovopie Inn: With soothing traditional decor, this inn at Khonoma village, has six rooms and perhaps the café, known as Zievo Coffee Café is one of the best located in Nagaland.
  • Dimori Cove: Next to the Hornbill Festival site, an interesting boutique accommodation.
  • Alder Retreat: Located 10 minutes away from the city, Alder Retreat is the ideal place for travelers who want to get away from the rush and pollution of the town.
  • Medom’s B&B: A homestay run by Dr. Kenny is in one of the most picturesque locations in Kohima, Nagaland.
  • Morung Lodge: A bed and breakfast homestay located in the heart of Kohima

“I cannot change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination” – Jimmy Dean

Read the other story on 14 offbeat accommodations in Northeast India

The people of Kohima

It is time, travel agents stop ignoring Kohima. The nearest airport id either Dimapur or Imphal and not Guwahati. Kohima should always be placed at the start or end of a tour program and never in the middle. Jitaditya Narzary in his blog site, says about the visitors who he met at the hornbill festival in 2017, “I met a lot of people, some hardened travelers, some newbie, all enjoying rice beer and rock concerts. But I still felt that most people are not sure what has to be done in Kohima.”

Happy kids on a sunday in Kohima
Happy kids on a sunday in Kohima
Photograph @Michaelangelo Francis

Kohima perched on a few hills is an important trading point for all the small farmers in the surrounding villages. With its penchant for strange foods, Kohima also has modern cafes where more uptown food is served. A trip to Kohima for leisure is generally advised from October to May. But if you have got more in your mind, the rainy months could be very interesting too.

Kohima no wonder gives you enough fodder for your Instagram posts but beyond those wonderful photos are the more kind-hearted people. Kohima is full of people who are educated like any other mainland citizen. People from Kohima have a culture embedded with a more progressive thought process. Kindness and understanding are natural to them. Education is something that they did not acquire, they inherited it. The reason you find open doors in Kohima is because they practice humility as if it is an in-built thing. They say in Kohima, every person you meet knows something you don’t. You just need to be humble enough to learn from them

5 Books before you travel to northeast india

Published by Bearded Traveling Soul

My name is Amitabh Sarma and I am a storyteller. People fondly call me the “traveling pundit”; I humbly present myself as the “bearded traveling soul”. I appreciate you taking some time to read my experiences and in case you would like to stay connected, please do get in touch through my social media profiles. Stay Blessed!

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