Had John Milton ever visited Nagaland, he probably wouldn’t have considered ‘paradise lost’. Nestled in a deep forest, The Ultimate Travelling Company’s (TUTC) Kohima Camp is surrounded by gorgeous, verdant mountains. I had never been ‘glamping’ before, and even ‘camping’ was a bit of an alien concept as I had only ever stayed out in the woods once when I was in fifth grade, an experience I have very little recollection of. As soon as I opened the flap of my tent, I understood why TUTC called it ‘the art of glamping’. Even my own room back home is not as comfortable as that tent on a random hillside, thirty minutes away from Kohima. A large, cosy bed, complete with bright green throws, looked deliciously inviting. A small heater placed at the foot of the bed was already whirring away. The bathroom had all the amenities one could have asked for, with the soaps and hand lotions in reusable metal containers instead of the small plastic bottles travellers are so used to seeing in hotels. All the lights inside the tent were solar powered. TUTC is where luxury and sustainability go hand in hand, a feat so incredibly rare.
Responsible for setting up the first ‘truly mobile luxury camps’ in the country, TUTC wonderfully flaunts India’s dramatic landscapes and lush country-sides. Though their Kohima Camp is only set up for two weeks during the Hornbill Festival, the verdant hill-side where these tents are pitched is leased for the entire year so that Mother Nature can go about her business undisturbed. For the uninitiated, the Hornbill Festival is held every year between December 1-10. It is organised by the Government of Nagaland to promote inter-tribal interaction and preserve the unique cultural heritage of the state.
My first day was spent snoozing soundly. I woke up just in time for dinner and was treated to delicious pasta. The ingredients, like all the food prepared in the TUTC kitchens, are locally sourced. Visitors can relish elaborate four-course meals here, true decadence while camping out in the untouched forests of Nagaland. On returning to my tent after the meal, I found a metal box on my bed with a delicious chocolate treat inside, and I ended my first day on the sweetest of notes.
After breakfast the next morning, off we went to Kohima for my first tryst with the city and its lovely people. At the local market, tribal women were selling fruits, vegetables and other tasty treats such as grasshoppers, frogs, snails, white rats and silk worms. “If you want to try, you will have to buy,” said the tribal woman while smiling from ear to ear at my incredulous reactions. After taking a fascinating walk around the market, we made our way to the Kohima War Cemetery. Wherever there is beauty, one can usually find tragedy. Kohima was once the site of a gruesome yet crucial battle during the Second World War. Even though the cemetery is situated in the heart of Kohima, you will leave thoughts of the bustling city behind as you think about those valiant soldiers who were willing to commit the ultimate sacrifice for their flag.
We then drove to a famous village about an hour away from Kohima — Khonoma. Touted as India’s first green village, since hunting and cutting trees is against the law, Khonoma is more than 700 years old. You need to climb hundreds of steps to reach the village, but your effort will be well worth it, for it is here that Khonoma surprises you with its unassuming beauty — the entire valley is covered with spectacular terraced rice fields. A few minutes into our village walk, my guide escorted me into a traditional morung— a youth dormitory, where in the past, young boys and girls were sent to learn about their tribe’s customs and traditions. I also passed a few villagers playing some indigenous games. As they wrestled and raced, one of them let out a blood-curdling war cry, and I understood why the warriors of Khonoma village were once feared across the land.
Every evening, there is a campfire set up near the reception tent and once I was back at camp, I sat by the fire to warm my fatigue away. Here, visitors have the chance to attend interesting lectures about Nagaland and its culture or enjoy traditional Naga music. Though there were no performances that night, I enjoyed the peace and quiet until the glowing embers of the fire extinguished.
A visit to the venue of the Hornbill Festival, Kisama, was in order the next day. While it was unfortunate that I was not attending the festival itself, I was not going to let the opportunity to witness its preparations slip away. Once we reached, I sensed the almost electric vibe that seemed to run through the venue. The hillside was dotted with morungs of the 16 tribes of Nagaland — each more elaborate than the previous one! They were decorated with remarkable wooden sculptures — some depicting animals and some with decapitated human heads (yikes!) hanging from the roofs, an effort to acknowledge their past as fierce headhunters. You can stop squirming; headhunting was banned a long time ago.
Another fascinating place here is Kigwema, the oldest inhabited village in the region. Here, you will find traditional houses, with mithun skulls (a bovine indigenous to the region) decorating their facades. The richer the tribesman, the more mithun skulls adorn the front of the house! We also stopped by Jakhama village. While walking down the clean streets, we came across an adorable little boy walking on stilts! Pretending that he was racing us, he picked up the pace, stuck out his tongue at us and was soon out of sight.
Don’t spend all your time in your tent when you’re in camp. TUTC’s reception area has a lovely, and surprisingly well-stocked library. You should also visit the boutique on the premises, where you can buy Naga shawls, toys and exquisite jewellery amongst other pretty trinkets. All too soon, it was time for my last supper and I was determined to relish every morsel.
I awoke at the crack of dawn the next morning and took in a lungful of air before I left for the pollution-ridden city I call home. One visit is all it took for me to fall in love with Nagaland. The Ultimate Travelling Company’s camp was the perfect setting to experience the untouched natural beauty of Kohima along with the ancient traditions of its many tribes. Not a lot of places in this wide world can claim to be truly one of a kind, but when it comes to Nagaland, nothing could be closer to the truth.