It was a bright sunny day in Japhii. Riding a rough, very dusty 5 hour drive from Dimapur didn’t dampen our spirits. Sitting under the bright sun, smoking and laughing away in the open space of the homestay, Bhim and I were taking in each moment.
There were a few others in the group with us at the homestay. But we had trekked with so many groups these past couple of years, we moved away from the usual social pleasantries or any forced mingling. No offence intended, it’s just the way we were.
We decided to walk to Kisama – The Naga heritage village where the Hornbill festival was being held. I also remember that day we made an instant connection with Ratan.
And let me tell you, there is nothing Marwari about him! A bright fair guy, all of 27 years with sparkling eyes and an infectious energy, he was truly a Naga. 😊 A native of Dimapur, he started this offbeat destination travels called ‘Experience Destination’ a year and half ago. Our trip to Nagaland was not planned as usual. An Instagram profile is all it required for me to jump in. Hell, until October end I myself didn’t know I was going to Nagaland.
It was blind faith or maybe it was intuition, it made me and Bhim sign up with these guys whom we knew nothing about and thank god we did!
I have truly come to believe that birds of the same feather flock together. So as we were ready to walk to Kisama, Ratan told us, he would be checking the music scene at camp sites that night and we could join him. We nodded in approval and off we walked to Kisama. A 2 km walk passing by benches and plagues on the road dedicated to the memory of Naga Generals/Soldiers who fought for their ‘nation’( Nagaland), we were finally at Hornbill.
An uphill walk up with scents and sights that overwhelmed us. And I must tell you how stunning Naga women and men are! Their sense of style, fashion and grooming could put the most Uber person from any metro to shame. It’s never about the brands guys, it’s about the confidence and the way one carries it. It set me thinking as to what a frog in the effing well city Hyderabad ( my home city btw) was! BMWs, Mercedes, real estate, branded clothes does not amount to good upbringing and exposure! 🙄🙄
We stopped at the local food hut to savour some snacks, had wine shots made locally that gave me a heady kick and made our way up where all the action was.
Nagaland was complex with 16 tribes( maybe more) in that, there were sub tribes, then again clans, different villages, ‘kels’- another important community place in villages, and mind you there are different ‘kels’ in one village, add to that each tribe had their own language, and each sub tribe within that had their own language and dialect! I would begin to understand through the journey as to how important this identification was to them.
We stopped at the hut called ‘Morang’ of one tribe, regal in their traditional dress with hornbill feathers on their intricate head gear, dancing and singing, war cries descended from their ancestors with each tribe communicating through huge logs used as drums. The splatter of clouds in the blue sky added to the electric atmosphere. Each Morang belonged to a particular tribe showcasing with pride, their history and their way of life. It was really cold and the only ones who were covered up from head to toe were outsiders like us.
Bhim and I promptly stepped into a hut cafe run by Khonoma Students association. We ordered rice beer with hot and I mean really hot kidney beans. I remember Bhim taking a spoonful and he was on fire! The Naga chilli was not to be messed with! 😁
Just touching the skin of the chilli could explode a bomb! But the combo of rice beer, kidney beans and heady rock music played by the students was addictive. We were singing it aloud with the Naga students, right from The Beatles, Queen to the Rolling Stones! It was incredible to see 17-18 year olds passionate about Rock. We moved on from there and spotted another Morang belonging to the tribe ‘Angami’. We would know more about this tribe later on.
I was waiting to meet one chap, Himanshu. And let me tell you I owe him a lot. He guided me through Meghalaya with solid tips on backpacking not even knowing who I was.
I was a solo backpacker traversing Meghalaya with no clue and over a call/message he helped me. He was part of another offbeat tours and what was commendable was that he didn’t do a sales pitch about his tours but helped me as real friends do and I was finally going to meet him after 11 months!
Himanshu had got a group of people for Hornbill yet he made time to meet me. I always hold those moments precious. That someone thought you were worthy enough to spend time. We hung out for sometime until he had to leave with his group.
Bhim and I then went to the Angami tribe Morang and ordered two different kinds of beer with a big packet of wild apple chips. My rice beer was so effing strong, I got a solid kick! Just then we bumped into Ratan and his team mate Piyush- another Marwari guy and nothing Marwari about him either! They hung out with us and Ratan warned me not to eat the rice too much but to press it with the spatula and have only the liquid. The rice was truly kicking my ass high!
Hornbill had a beautiful open arena like a Colosseum spread out. Music concerts were held between 4-8 pm. On a dark evening at 4 pm( yup) Bhim, Ratan, Piyush and I sat there and got drawn into a fantastic jazz concert. From Cello to Piano to the Violin, the talent was unbelievable. Western classical pieces, a rendition of Janis Joplin’s Summertime that got my hair standing and Louis Armstrong’s What a wonderful world’ sung with the soul of Aretha Franklin. Here was where music truly breathed and lived. It was in their blood and veins, we were mesmerised.
After the concert, we sat by the fire at another Morang, ‘Lotha Chumpa’, there were bonfires in every hut to huddle together in the cold freezing night. As four of us were chatting away with another group who had come from Tamil Nadu, a guy came rushing towards Ratan, his name was Nicholas.
He was a guide, well more than a guide. He was well known and popular. Jovial and bursting with energy, he and Ratan chatted for a bit and he introduced us to him. Bhim and I would get to spend some quality time with Nicholas in the most unexpected of situations later.
After sharing some snacks, the four of us left for the homestay. The night had not ended at least for Bhim, Ratan and me. We discussed about life, it’s banalities, hard core simple questions.
Then the three of us got in his car and decided to buy some bread for tomorrow and some smokes in the next village. I remember the songs Ratan played in his car, Have you ever seen the rain by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Piano Man by Billy Joel. Here was this awesome guy, high on life and yet so balanced and calm.
Bhim offered to drive to Camp David where a band was playing. Now this was the deal, there were so many campsites set up for visitors coming to Hornbill, there were bands playing every night at some camp or the other.
But by the time we reached the camp, the band had just about wrapped up and in place was an awful EDM/ Trance shit playing, so then and there we decided to go back to the homestay. I was really glad when Ratan said, this type of music was not his scene. You know a true rock music lover when you meet one.😊
We came back to the homestay and munching on chips and food we continued our discussion. It was time to call it a night.
There were other travellers in the homestay but that night we would form a kinship with a very few and that would lead us to an unbelievable journey.
To be continued…