Even if I wanted, a solo trip to Nagaland pretty much couldn’t have been on my list going by the impression that northeast has in most parts of India, . For those wondering with me is Nagaland safe to visit? Last year, my friend and another traveller I met in Sikkim, India in a shared cab went to the Hornbill festival. I understood a tiny bit about it then but it left my mind right after, only consciously. I later met some restaurant owners in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India from Nagaland, India earlier this year and just for the heck of it I said that I would like to visit someday, as I would say about any new nice place I hear about. That was forgotten soon after too.
Planning my trip to Nagaland
About half a year ago, my friend told me she was getting married in Lataguri, West Bengal, India on December 7 and 8. As I had lived in Sikkim for two years and visited it and the neighbouring areas two more times, I wanted to do something different since I was coming this far from the west. Just then I recollected all the above Nagaland related thoughts and figured the largest festival of Hornbill is every year from December 1 to 10. I made calls to those friends, the Hornbill festival office and exchanged messages with my potential hosts to do my research. However, I realised the information wasn’t consistent nor enough through Nagaland travel blog and that’s why I am writing my story in this Hornbill festival travel blog for you guys.
And yet as as a female solo traveller, I was absolutely skeptical, nervous and all those emotions until I got on to my solo trip to Nagaland.
Transportation, packing smart and detailing
I bought my inner line permit online and it cost 50₹ but nobody checked it while I was there.
And Dimapur, Nagaland, India is the only place you can get to by train or aeroplane in the entire state.
The best train, the Rajdhani from Dimapur to New Jalpaiguri, West Bengal, India was at 2 am every night.
I took one jacket, one light sweater, a muffler and sleeveless clothes with me as according to my sources the days were hot and as soon as the sun began to set, it became cold. Quite an interesting weather was awaiting me. I managed to have two small backpacks when I about to leave Delhi including the wedding attire.
As for my Nagaland itinerary, it made the most sense for me to fly out of Delhi on December 3 and arrive by night in Kohima, Nagaland, India. Explore the night market and do local sightseeing the next day, making it to the festival area by afternoon. That was followed by spending 2 nights in Kisama, Nagaland, India and exploring the Hornbill festival from where I left on December 5 evening, arriving in NJP on 6th afternoon.
Accommodation in Kohima and Kisama
I was told accommodation fills up way as I read in some Nagaland travel blog before so I wrote to all the government-approved places from the Hornbill website and after understanding prices, location and type, shortlisted two. The first one was in Kohima called Central guest house run by Vecüto Tenyi (+91 7628-842222; [email protected]) which cost about 500₹ for a bed. The lovely sisters from Explore Nagaland (+91 9089948353, +91 9089801821; [email protected]) set me up with the second one in Kisama called Japfii Homestay run by Savino (+91 87310 53304) which cost about 1200₹ per bed. Both dorms were coed. The hosts were helpful over text and helped me answer all my questions related to ‘is Nagaland worth visiting?’ . Yet that information wasn’t sufficient to plan a Nagaland itinerary.
Since, I was going to spend a few hours in the night at the Dimapur station, waiting for my train, I was terrified of being on the platform alone. After a lot of research, I booked the retiring room for 8 hours for a 195₹ from 8 pm to 8 am.
Flight delays, more delays and miracles
The night before the Air India flight I heard that the flight departure time was delayed by about the two and a half hours which gave me only an hour to the next flight. I was afraid if it delayed any further, I would miss my next flight which was the only one for the day. When I called to check for an earlier flight, they said there was no other flight.
After getting to Delhi airport, the flight kept getting further delayed, to a point that I would miss the next one. It was so interesting that there were nineteen passengers on the same route and they held the next flight for us. After all the passengers got out of the first flight at Kolkata through the aerobridge, we passengers going ahead to Dimapur got down the stairs, into a small van and then onto the flight standing on the neighbouring parking area. I knew my Nagaland travel blog would turn out to be very interesting.
While moving between flights one young Naga boy asked me a couple of times if he could help me with my bags. This had never happened on this trip while I was carrying the same luggage from Mumbai – Patna – Bodhgaya – Patna – Delhi – Bhopal – Delhi. That’s when I began to trust the Nagamese and there was no looking back. The guesthouse booked for a day later called and texted to make sure I was doing okay. By this point I was certain that I had found my answer to the question, ‘Is Nagaland worth visiting?’.
Dimapur airport to Kohima
I was ecstatic that my solo trip to Nagaland was actually happening. Here’s the unexpected part of my Nagaland itinerary After I got off at Dimapur airport, I found the tourist information which helped me find the state transport bus to Kohima which cost just 110₹. Unfortunately, since I was the only passenger, it didn’t make sense to do a few hours journey, I asked them to help me with the shared cab. Since the bus was returning to the main bus stand, he dropped me there for free. On the way, he told me to try tutse, be aware of drunk men, eat lots of smoked pork and showed me the spot where people watch the flight take off right above them. That one was definitely one of the offbeat places in Nagaland. I saw the flight I came by, take off from there too! Finally, he helped me buy a ticket worth 300₹ of a window seat in a shared cab to Kohima.
Everyone on the cab was so nice. There were a couple of men drinking at the back seat but they maintained their behaviour. It was perfectly normal because of festival time. I made a female friend who was heading to Kohima for a wedding and we spoke about so many different things. The driver put on nice music and everyone was singing along. The strange part about the Dimapur Kohima highway is that there is mostly no road! It’s just a muddy way with no street lights and barely any houses. I am so glad I had my mask and stole to cover my hair. I’m sure without her, I would have been so scared. But all along everyone assured that the locals were nice and it was very safe. I bought some organic local oranges on the way and they were so delicious. I heard local organic pineapples were pretty cheap like 4-5 pieces for 100₹ on the way. My solo trip to Nagaland was already memorable.
By the way, I heard that the new highway is under construction and should be ready in a couple of years. This should cut down the journey time by half. If you do visit, please share your Hornbill festival travel blog in the comments.
Central Guest House and night carnival in Kohima
Once I got to the capital city after a 4-hour drive, I found myself amidst the night carnival with no sign of my accommodation. I later found tourist police who helped get there in a fluorescent yellow reflective jacket. The host said since there were mostly men in the dorm and they were coming back drunk, he would arrange a bed for me in the room next to his where he sleeps with his family. They put up some curtains in a makeshift way to make it private. My solo trip to Nagaland would be nothing without such experiences.
I went down to the night carnival and ate some Sumi style pork for dinner and drank maize tea. What I didn’t know was there was a lot of maize in the tea as well. Because I was full, I asked my host to share it with a dog.
I learnt with time that most Nagamese are Christians and no other place in India has really felt of Christmas like this one. If you want to experience Christmas in India, this is one of the offbeat places in Nagaland to do so.
I finally called it a night. It was cold almost reaching 10 degrees celsius unlike the day when I was sweating but I made it through until the morning.
Nagaland State Museum
I was ready to see the museum on day two after some local honey lemon tea. I changed two buses and walked up the hill with a local to get to the state museum. The entry fee was just 10₹ and 50₹ for the camera. I decided not to take any photos though. The museum was impressive with the housing, clothes, jewellery, weapons of each Nagamese tribe well explained. They also had a collection of articles found in the excavation. It is a must-visit. I saw it for 1 hour but it could take about 2 hours as well. Trust me, this has got to be a part of your Nagaland itinerary.
Making friends from Mumbai
What I loved about this solo trip to Nagaland is that I found a middle-aged couple from Mumbai, Maharashtra, India who said they had space in their tiny Bajaj car and were heading my way. They had driven from Imphal, Manipur, India and were eventually going to end their trip there as well. I went with them to their accommodation opposite the war memorial.
On the way, they told me about how the actual journey duration from Imphal was the same as from Dimapur to Kisama. However, the roads from the earlier were way better and hence the journey was more comfortable. If you did have this experience, do mention your Nagaland travel blog in the comments below!
The War Memorial
While they packed their luggage and checked out, I had a stroll through the war memorial and graves of the men who were caught in the middle during the world war 2. It is peaceful and gives a good view of the Kohima town, requiring just 30 minutes.
Kohima General Post Office and scooter taxis.
I made a quick visit to the general post office but unfortunately, there were no postcards nor any Philatelic stamps. However, they told me about their stall at the Hornbill Festival.
I wanted to get a scooter taxi that started at 20₹ and 10₹ added for every further destination to get back to the war memorial. However, they refused to ride me because it was very near and I shouldn’t waste my money. How nice of the locals to be so genuine right? So I finally walked up to the accommodation on this solo trip to Nagaland.
Kohima Cathedral aka Mary Help of Christians Cathedral
We stopped next at the Kohima cathedral which is built in the Naga style costing 3 crores rupees. It was built when the British signed the peace treaty with the Japanese. The architecture is interesting and worth spending about 30 minutes exploring the place. The fact that it takes quite some effort to get their by even your own transport, makes it one of the offbeat places to visit in Nagaland.
Then they dropped me below the Hornbill festival area in Kisama as they headed up. I found another shared cab that dropped me to Dimori cove. I took a small walking path 5 minutes in and found Japfii homestay. It was a large house with huge rooms and private rooms. The huge rooms had 8ish beds and were made into dorms. First thing, I had a hot water bath and then my lovely host gave me some tea in the kitchen. Such are the unforgettable experiences from my solo trip to Nagaland.
The Hornbill Festival
I walked towards the festival area. On my way, I found a family returning in a car from a wedding and I managed to hitchhike in their car to the top.
At first sight, this festival concept was very confusing. The schedule which released a month ago had too many things in different places and I couldn’t understand anything as I was on this solo trip to Nagaland. I just couldn’t find the post office stall.
Eventually, I found the main festival ground, full of domestic as well as international tourists and saw the tribes performing. I ate a meal of pork and some chutney at the first morung I found with the view of the festival grounds. It was of the Changsethang tribe. After I maybe ate a 300₹ meal, I saw tribes leaving the festival grounds area in a well-disciplined order which gave me their close up view. I then went shopping through the stalls and bought some local style beaded earrings for maybe 100₹ and Konyak tribe style muffler for 500₹. I came with a motive of contributing to the economy. The interesting thing I understood that the day was for the tribal performances and at night it was a rock concert. At 5 pm it became pitch dark. The hosts always suggested I get back by about 8-9 pm.
I grabbed one last meal and took a walk around the morungs. I read a lot about the morungs over the internet and learnt that it was the place where the food was cooked, locals got together, sat around the fire and made conversations. It was one of those places where you could learn about the tribe.
At Ao morung, I met two young people dressed in traditional attire. They told me how they were college students and others had actual jobs. Every year, one village from each tribe gets to represent their tribe from 20-30 villages so it’s really an experience they get every 20-30 years and they looked forward to it. I learnt how their jewellery has been passed down through generations and it’s quite normal for men to wear all the jewellery. Tattoos were earned they would cross certain milestones in life. They spoke English well but a lot of Nagamese have never really been out of Nagaland. That’s also when I met Bhutan’s first female solo traveller blogger vlogger Denkar and she runs by the handle @denkarsgetaway on Instagram. Her stories on her solo trip to Nagaland were delightful to hear.
Heading back and Savino’s
I decided to make my way back to the guesthouse around 7 pm. When I got to the festival gate, I saw a few taxis and I tried to hitchhike. This lovely couple who lives so close to my house in Mumbai offered to let me share their cab as we were all heading the same way. The cab charged 50₹ to Dimori cove. The couple was so nice, they walked me to my Homestay.
The Homestay had so many human beings, all very nice. They were actually from all over the world and our inquisitiveness brought us together in the kitchen over hot tea and the heat from the fireplace. I met so many Israelis and this lovely lady from Poland.
I wore a jacket and thermal and put two blankets over me and called it a night.
Instead of the usual continental breakfast, I requested my host Savino to make me a local breakfast. She gave me some beans, tea, bananas and bread by the fire. It was delicious and served in local style cutlery.
Back to the festival grounds
This time, I walked up to the main street and took a shared cab until the first festival gate. I then climbed up the slope to the main gate. I didn’t know from the earlier day as I took another path up but I bought 2 entrance tickets to make up for the previous day, each costing 30₹.
I headed straight into the festival grounds to catch the best seat on the edge before the fence. That’s how I finally started to get the hang of the festival.
It turns out that every tribe would enact a small performance like a wedding or hunting in their culture. It was so interesting and they tried to make it fun for the audience as well. One of my favourite performances was of the tribe trying to put the babies to sleep with a group song having words like mom has to go to work, please go to sleep, I will hit you in the head, please go to sleep. That ended with a joke which was mothers giving some children tutse, local rice wine and them running around frantically.
I met some more new people from Delhi and Kerala, India and everywhere else possible. We had so many fun conversations. We now actually have a Hornbill reunion Delhi Whatsapp group and we plan to catch up once I move to Delhi.
Some other people I met told me about how crimes were very low in Nagaland as the punishment in the local tribes was very severe.
I later gathered up the courage to try out some silkworms at the Kachari tribe morung I heard about from my new Polish friend. The shop owner was kind enough to let me try one and I was drooling enough to get an entire stick. They were fried, actually so delicious and full of protein.
I went to all the morungs, watched the tribes sing and dance, ate a vegetarian lunch with dry smoked pork on the side, caught the beautiful mountain and valley views.
At one of the morungs, I met a Burmese lady who is actually from the border of Myanmar and India and was on the Naga tribe. She also studied in Nagaland for many of her years. She and her friends got to Dimapur station at 2 am and drove all night to Kisama. She said they felt perfectly safe.
I saw the exhibition on Gandhi and got a foot massage from the locals in a local style.
It was 6 pm and time for the very famous Teseo Sisters show. They are 3 sisters and a brother, typically Nagamese and sing folk songs. I enjoyed singing with them and their show as it gave me an insight into the local music. I have been wanting to watch them live for a few years.
Then as I started to look for a taxi to head back to the same location as the day before, they all said 100₹. I didn’t mind paying that but since I didn’t see consistency, I had my doubts and contacted the tourist police again. One of them was so nice, he dropped me in his bike near my guesthouse.
Once again we followed the same flow of making conversations by the fire and then calling it a night.
My last damn day in Kisama.
The next morning was as lazy as it could be. I woke up a bit late, ate a local breakfast and had a shower. I packed and left for the festival with a hug from my super host.
Once again I found a shared cab to the first gate of the festival, then hitchhiked in a defence bus until the final gate.
I spent the first half of the morning watching the performances followed by shopping, being touristy through all the morungs, exploring the world war 2 museum, eating more silkworms and amazing food and making the most of my last day of my solo trip to Nagaland . I bought lots of jewellery, dried apples, bamboo glasses, postcards from the India Post stall, chilli peanut chutney, and some energy bars.
Kisama to Dimapur
I headed to the festival gate with bags full of souvenirs and mind full of memories. But hey, apparently the universe thought all that experience wasn’t enough for me and I had no clue what was awaiting me.
It was almost 3 pm and it was high time I left for the city. I couldn’t find a single cab and the shuttle bus to Kohimmafe all my lo would only start after it would get full. This kind lady and her friend were heading towards Kohima and let me hitchhike in their cab until the outskirts. She then helped me find another shared cab into the city.
When I got to the taxi stand, I couldn’t believe my eyes, that only the last two cabs were remaining for the day. I was grateful to my stars that I could get that one last seat in that one cab. The rest of the cab was full of student young people doing a fellowship in Assam, India. I bought some world famous Naga chillies on the way.
I finally made it to Dimapur station at around 10 pm. It was pitch dark but well lit. The station was under construction. That made it a bit too scary.
I found my way to the retiring room. It was extremely basic, the toilets were dirty and so was the water. I managed to get some clean hot water, took a quick shower and somehow made a clean space for me on the bed. I slept.
The staff at the retiring room was so kind, he even woke me up a while before the train came and told me where my bogie might come. I packed and headed straight to the platform.
And you know the only reason, I booked a retiring room was because I was afraid of being alone on the station right? But on the contrary and to my astonishment, the station was full of locals and travellers. What beats it was that there were tourist police there as well. I couldn’t have felt any safer.
By the way, I also heard that the station renovation is complete and I believe it should be way better.
I fell in love with Nagaland for numerous reasons from the rich culture to great food and amazing people. I think it stands neck in neck with Hampi, Karnataka, India for very different reasons comparatively as some of the best places in India to explore. All the fantastic travellers added to my experience of this solo trip to Nagaland.
The Government of Nagaland and the Hornbill association along with the locals involved did a superb job in making sure everything was well organised and everyone felt safe. I couldn’t have imagined hitchhiking anywhere else in the country and travelling so freely.
I am coming back to Nagaland and next time for a week but once the roads are better. I would consider exploring the Dzuku valley as well. It also inspires me to visit the rest of the northeast. But there’s no doubt that the best time to visit these places is during their festivals.
Do save my list of things to do in Nagaland. Check out my photos where I am being super touristy in Nagaland on @explorer.heena with #heenainnagaland. Please share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below. everyone
Oh, Nagaland is a must must must visit.
PS: The above is my experience and my opinion. It may or may not be true.