The tiny Maruti 800 labours up the winding roads of Kohima. It is a Sunday and most of the city is closed. Beautiful people dressed in their sunday best emerge from the lanes after the mass at the churches end. We make our way up, to the top of Aradura Hill. Few hours ago, the train from Delhi had brought me to Dimapur, a station in Nagaland.
Kohima is the first stop of this maiden visit of mine to India’s beautiful and picturesque Northeast. A few more twists and turns and we are at a soaring Catholic Cathedral. Up here, away from the hustle and bustle of the growing city, I am in a virtual state of bliss. The Northeast springs its first surprise when I see jewel like pink flowers blooming all over, adorning the tall trees. Cherry Blossoms – popularly known in Japan as Sakura flowers. Here on the hill, the tranquillity is in total contrast to those times of yore, when fierce battles of the Second World War were fought here between British Indian and Japanese troops. This Cathedral was built by the Japanese people to honour all the brave soldiers who died here. Just beyond, on the edge of the hill with the city spread out below, I am treated to a flaming and spectacular sunset.
The next day, I head out into the city. The city is gridlocked with traffic jams, characteristic of a working day. But the traffic is disciplined – restricted to single lanes from opposite sides, with the empty middle lane reserved for emergency and security forces vehicles. Yes, the presence of security forces is a constant reminder that fuels hopes of things soon getting better.
We turn off the main road to arrive at another serene oasis – the Garrison Hill. This is the Kohima War Cemetery, the final resting place of more than 1420 Commonwealth soldiers including 330 Indians, who died during the Kohima Siege of the spring of 1944. Walking among the immaculately maintained gravestones and reading the moving inscriptions on the gravestones of mostly young brave men is heart rending. Today the soothing blanket of green grass and flowers seem to comfort the traumatised souls. The WWII memorial is another reminder of the absurdity and futility of war.
In the afternoon, I leave for the nearby Naga Heritage Village of Kisama, where the annual Hornbill Festival takes place during the first week of December every year. A time for all the tribes of Nagaland to come together and showcase Nagaland’s culture and beautiful diversity.
All good things come to an end. And so did my time in nagaland. So after soaking in some Naga culture, it was time for me to move on. Next on my agenda was a visit the famous Kaziranga National Park – home to the Great Indian One-horned Rhinoceros. I go back to Dimapur to catch a train to Jorhat in Assam. From there, buses available that go upto Kohora, which is a base from where we can explore Kaziranga. It has hotels and resorts to suit all budgets.
Come next morning, it is time for jungle safari. This is the tea country of Assam, and the road leading to the Western Range of the Sanctuary is lined with lush green, glistening tea gardens. Soon we are bouncing along in the bountiful jungles of Kaziranga. Afar in the distance, through the tall grass I espy some rhinos munching in the abundant grasslands and wading in the swamps created by the Brahmaputra. The driver and the guard are experts and help spot elephants, wild buffaloes and birds too.
Refreshed with culture and wildlife, it was again time for me to move ahead, this time to head out to Scotland of the East. Catching a bus to outskirts of Guwahati, I take a shared taxi to Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya.
The name Shillong conjures up images of waterfalls, dew fresh meadows, lakes and beautiful people. On the way, I stop-over to take a quick look at the Umium Lake. In Shillong, Police Bazaar is the nerve centre and home to hotels and shops. It seems the whole town has descended here on a chilly winter afternoon. I walk the streets enjoying the views and getting smitten with the sharply dressed pretty girls of Shillong.
The Meghalaya Tourism office runs day-trip buses to attractions around Shillong. I take the opportunity to visit Cherrapunji, hoping to get all wet – but too bad for me, it is as dry as Marathwada. I duck through the Mauwsmai Caves with its hanging staglacites, and enjoy the perpetual roar of the Seven Sisters and Nohsngithiang waterfalls. The next day, I cross a river via a living root bridge formed by training roots of trees to span the entire breadth of the river. Nearby, I am in a flower-filled wonderland called Mawlynnong, which is Asia’s Cleanest Village. Walking through the flowery lanes, I wondered why we can’t make all our cities this clean.
All in all, it has been a wonderful trip. Getting to know the friendly and beautiful people of the Northeast has been a great revelation. The trip has introduced me to our very own paradisical wonderland nestled in India’s Northeast. In the coming years, we hope to get to know each other even better, as I travel to the region again … and again.