We had been relaxing at Karan’s friend Rohit’s house in the far off district of Longding for a while now. After fattening ourselves with Yadavji’s delicious food everyday(read ROTI) we decided to finally leave the very beautiful Arunachal and head to Nagaland. My neck had been giving me troubles and after taking an extra day to recover I decided we were good to go. Yadav ji sent us off with curd and sugar (Dahi-Shakkar) 😄. Dahi Shakkar has been given before important tasks in India since always 💁, random forums on internet say it is for keeping the person cool(curd) and energized(sugar) but who knows 😛
Long and Painful Road
We stared our day early. Our journey was to be long:
- Longding to Kanubari(1.5 hours by Jeep), this is where we had parked our bikes.
- Kanubari to Sepakhati(1 hour by bike), for some reason this route in not on Google Maps
- Sepakhati to Dimapur via Sonari, Titabor and Sarupathar on bikes (7 hours by bike)
A total of 11 hours of journey, seemed doable if we started early. We reached Kanubari in time and strapped the luggage on our bikes to get ready for the journey ahead. We stopped for a refuel and asked the attendant how long will it take to Dimapur, he just said it was TOO FAR. We had gotten used to this kind of disbelief by now and so we moved on 😛. We entered Assam uneventfully. The roads were good sans some bad drivers; the usual.
Whenever we say good roads, my Murphy feels challenged 😛 Hence we faced a new challenge today, on the perfectly tarred road, suddenly our bikes used to jump over speed bumps. The obvious question is why were we doing that? Was it our misplaced sense of adventure? NO. It seemed like they were purposely placed right in the shadow of the trees so that they are hard to make out. Karan was leading so he faced the brunt of this seemingly calculative positioning of the bumps 😳 I used to brake enough to avoid them after seeing him jump or hearing him curse angrily in the intercom. Initially Karan thought it was just us missing them because we were on a high speed, I was quite furious with him for missing them as well because such jumps fuck with the bike rims as well. But then, I saw other vehicles, irrespective of the type or size jumping over them. This was horrible. After a point we got so angry that we decided to take a break and calm down. This just seemed someone’s evil design to ruin a beautiful road. Thank you Murphy 😠
We booked a hotel while lunching. Google said we were an hour away from it. BUT, as always, Google did not give us the correct time and just kept adding time to the original estimate of an hour whenever we checked. Why was this happening though? There weren’t many cars on the road. Well!!! The speed bumps were gone and so was the road!😭. Shortly after lunch we reached a point where the road started developing potholes and soon after we were zig zagging on the bits of available roads. We entered Dimapur and the road was soon reduced to stones and dust. Apparently all major roads of Dimapur were under construction to make a better highway. Karan had started feeling a little sick and we wanted to reach Dimapur soon.
After battling the city traffic on dusty roads we reached our hotel. We talked to the lady at the DC office who had our ILPs. She was out of town on a leave but she told us to pick up the permits from her office the next day. It had been a long day and we crashed soon after dinner. The first impression of Nagaland had not been very promising, we blamed our tiredness for being so irritated and decided to sleep over it. We had 3 days left of the Hornbill Festival in Kohima, so we had enough time to make it for the last 2 days of the festival(or so we thought).
The next day started with an onset of dust allergies for both of us. We were kinda okay with it because it was just a matter of a day and we would leave soon. We were expected at the DC office around 11 so we thought we will check out the Kachari ruins which were a walking distance from our hotel. Google sent us to someone’s house while directing us to the ruins 😛. We were turning back when we asked a lady where the ruins were, she told us to go around. Looking at the dejected look on our faces she proposed a short cut with a mischievous smile. We agreed. We entered the same compound of someone’s house we had just left and then the lady got a ladder and we jumped over a wall to enter the ruins 😁. Err… what about the entry fee!! Well, whatever. The ruins were a lot of left over stone pillars which no one knew the purpose of. Nothing very impressive though. The shape made us laugh a lot and after walking around we realised the main gate was still closed. Maybe it was not opening time yet. We were to leave for the DC office so we concluded we have no choice but to go back the same way we came. After much of an effort we climbed the wall back.
We left for the DC office soon after having some breakfast. We reached the office and were told it was a Sunday and the office was closed. OH! Maybe that’s why the ruins were closed. LOL. We called our contact and the moment we mentioned it to her she realised what day it was but she made a few calls to figure out where the ILP was and we were told to contact some babu in the office. This is where the woes start. Karan goes inside to enquire about the ILP 😭.
A babu is a government official, usually known to be not very helpful 😛 Karan: Hello sir, I am here for the ILPs, Madam X got them done for us. Babu: We gave out all the ILPs yesterday. Karan(confused): To whom? Babu: *No response* Karan: We really need to get to Kohima. Who did you give the ILPs to? Babu: Someone came from the airport and we gave them all the ILPs. Karan(still confused): Who came from the airport? Can you tell me who has the ILPs? We will go and get them. Babu: I am going to a meeting for the bandh tomorrow. Talk to the guard!
We learnt that there was a curfew(bandh) called out for the next day. So we had to get the ILPs today else we were stuck for another day and were definitely missing the festival. After a lot of calls to and from Madam X we came to know who at the airport has our permits! We hopped on the bike immediately and started for the airport. The road to the airport(which also leads to Kohima) was just dust and stones. Nothing else. This brought the traffic down to a crippling slow speed and made the entire area look like an apocalypse zone 😒.
Nevertheless we were on our way when a new problem came up. Ifrit’s rear tyre got punctured. But that was not the only problem, since it was a Sunday everything was closed. CLOSED! We eventually found a shop and pushed the bike to that place. Now this guy refused to remove the tyre from the bike! An irritated Karan asked for the tools and we somehow managed to get the tyre off. A thing we were doing for the first time. We got the puncture fixed and then decided it was just too late to get the ILPs and went back to the hotel. By now we had accepted the fact angrily that we were going to miss the festival.
We learnt that the curfew was from 5 AM to 5 PM the next day. This meant we could not even leave our hotel in this duration. There were some tourist police patrols going on which we could have followed but who knows where those patrols were? Plus the dust allergy wasn’t really making things easy for us! We stayed in the whole curfew day and the moment the clock hit 5 PM we hit the road again to the airport. After the ride on the shittiest road in north east we reached the airport to learn the guy who has the ILP is not there and will reach in 2 hours. Karan was not ready to leave the area without the ILP. So we found a café close by and had some food there to kill time. The café in the middle of this apocalyptic zone turned out to be surprisingly nice! The café seemed like an authentic Thai restaurant and when the hostess said “Sawasdi Kha” Karan was sure we are going to get amazing food. The Christmas feel had set in and the cheer inside the Bangkok café and Cuisine topped with lip smacking food made us forget what we had been going through. The moment we were close to the 2 hour mark we left the café for the airport. Got our ILPs and went back to the hotel feeling accomplished!
About cafés and Music
It was Karan’s birthday today. Happy with the thought of leaving the city of despair to celebrate it in Kohima, we left around 11 AM after we made a funny video for the moment on this song 👑.
It wasn’t very far, only 70 kms! A million people had warned us how bad the road was. What was surprising was everyone said it very nonchalantly. A few said it in a way which was more like we didn’t know what were in for. It took us an hour to get out of the standstill traffic of Dimapur, thank god we were on bikes. Soon we were on the highway(to hell) 😛. The traffic thinned out shortly and the hilly region started. With each passing car there was a smoke of dust which reduced the visibility to zero. There was one point when Karan who was riding just 20m ahead of me was not visible anymore because of the thick cloud of dust. I tried to brake to see where I was going and as soon as I braked I skid only to realise I was on thick gravel, thankfully my bike rebalanced itself. I cursed angrily. We got a short patch of tarred road and decided to stop for a break and vent out our feelings. I jokingly dusted off my riding jacket and with the whiff of dust flew off. It was time to sing “Another one bites the dust” now.
We were on our way again and stopped one more time to take a break. This picture of mine says it all.
We reached Kohima 4 hours after we had started and settled in our rooms. We had put in a lot of energy to travel a road which did not even offer us a good scenery to compensate for the shittiest roads we have been on so far. We wondered why did they dig up the whole 70KM stretch in one go. We also debated if we should just leave for Imphal the next day. That is how furious we were. We thought of eating and seeing a few cafés of the city before we decide. Kohima boasted of a lot of them and being café lovers we decided to give it a shot.
The first café we walked to that night was Sorshia and Co. It was a tiny little café with lot of Christmas cheer and served the best French Fries in Kohima. It had Korean food and menu boasted of non-vegetarian dishes mostly. We enjoyed our tea and snacks and decided to go to some place to eat something more filling 🎄 🍟 🎅.
We stopped at JAT restaurant for some north Indian food 😛. Next I wanted to find a place which can serve us pastries. It was a birthday after all 😄. Next stop was D café. Another beautifully decorated café with lovely music. We sat down and ordered some good pastries and tea. I picked up one of the books from the library which turned out to be a photobook of a bike ride by Dili, the owner of the place. He soon came up to us and we started talking about the usual stuff, where are we from, where all have we been to. And we asked the usual questions, what are the good places to see around and (of course) how is the road to Imphal 😛. We asked Dili where we could get rice beer in Nagaland. Oh Nagaland is a DRY state by the way. I think I forgot to mention that. Dili smiled and said they had made some for selling at Hornbill. He went off only to return with a giant bottle of Rice beer. We asked him how much do we owe him for it and he smiled and said take it, he was trying to give it off to people anyway now that the festival was over 😁. We discussed how Kohima was what we had thought Shillong to be.
Most of the cafés in Kohima shut down pretty early, as early as 7 PM. Plan your day well in Kohima, as everything opens early as well. Next day started with FIFA café. It was a tiny little café and after having our fill of the items on the menu we left to visit the World War II memorial. It was a sad and beautiful place. Was built on a high mountain so we could see the entire city from there. We spent time walking through the tombstones and discussed how the average age of the martyrs was probably not more than 22 years 💔. We went to D café again to work on our blogs and left when it was café closing time . It was slowly becoming our favorite café. We walked our way back to the hotel and saw swarms of people around stalls across the road. These tiny stalls were selling, Aloo and Anda chops! We ate the delicious chops to our hearts content 😛.
The next day we went to a museum which was closed but I could not help overhear a bunch of kids talking about going to a “Mela” or fair. Excited because I hadn’t been one to for ages we decided to go there. Karan as always humored my excitement ❤️. It was such a typical mela with a lot of gambling options and the prizes included everything from utensils to cars 😂. I had been craving for “pao bhaji” for days now and I saw one of the stalls selling it. I had to have it. I knew it was not going to be close to what we have back home but I had to eat it. Fooling around in the fair for an hour or so we went back to the hotel.
We spent 3 happy days in Kohima. Hopping one café after the other, discussing what we need to do next. Do we head to Imphal or do we see the villages around Kohima? We wanted to do Dzukou valley but there was this added complexity of where do we leave the bikes while we are away for the trek. So clearly this option was out. Unable to figure this out we decided to stay another day and visited Ete Coffee after a long ride of 40 mins. On reaching we found the café closed 😱. We had come quite far for it. So we sat down at Flavour and taste restaurant which was next to it. It was a pretty restaurant like all others in Kohima and served good food. While we were leaving the restaurant we noticed Ete Coffee had opened up 😛. We went in of course. Ete Coffee are the first generation roasters and are doing pretty well. We did not know that coffee was grown in Nagaland. We had delicious coffee and cakes here and even bought some coffee to take back home. We also decided after much of my persistence that we will leave for one of the villages near Kohima the next day ✌️
The Homeliness of Dzuleke
So at this point we were not sure if we want to go to Dzuleke or Khonoma. Khonoma was 2 hours away from Kohima and Dzuleke was an hour further. Given that we had to go in the same direction, we left around 10 AM for Khonoma. The road was broken as usual but it started getting prettier once we entered the forest. We reached Khonoma with breaks to play Brawl Stars in about an hour and a half. We discussed that we had enough time in hand to go and try Dzuleke and see if we can get someplace to stay. Someone had told us that the homestays in Dzuleke had shut down. if that would be the case we could always return to Khonoma.
We were now climbing up a hill on broken roads. So dreamy 😒. But at least the hills were beautiful. Slowly we were on the other side of the hill and saw beautiful houses in the greens. Another hour and a half had us at Dzuleke. We got off our bikes and started looking for humans 😁. The tourist office was empty and then we heard someone call for us. This guy Vizu was apparently managing the homestay scene in Dzuleke and while we sat in his verandah sipping tea and having oh so delicious Banana cake he went to enquire who had availability in their homestays. We were soon joined by 2 Germans and their Indian guide who were on their way out of Dzuleke.
Vizu returned soon to tell us we will be staying at his place. We were not complaining. His house looked beautiful and the room being made for us was against a very scenic backdrop ❤️. As the fellow travelers bid us goodbye we shifted to the room or rather the outhouse and finally got out of our gear. We checked with Vizu again if the entire house was for us as it had 2 rooms and he mentioned he is not expecting anyone else so we have the whole place. The setup was very cozy, sparkly clean and given the weather seemed very warm. We soon met Vizu’s beautiful wife Anise and his 4 year old son Diethosele who would end up owning most of my time in Dzuleke. Their dog Fluffy was a sweet heart as well.
The village was small and consisted of about 40 houses. The first look suggested we were going to love it here. We sat out to enjoy the serene surroundings and while the lady of the house got busy making some lunch for us. Vizu was telling us what we can do in Dzuleke. Apparently there were some hiking trails around us. We had initially thought of staying for a day here but over the delicious lunch we decided to stay another day. It was already 3 PM by the time we were done with our lunch and it was time for an afternoon nap 😴. We were woken up by Anise asking us if we wanted tea 😁, oh how she loved serving tea. No complains though! We had tea watching the setting sun ⛅️.
Post dinner while we were trying to get warm in our beds when I heard a familiar sound. I ran out of the room and could hear “Warriors call” by Colored Keys playing in what seemed like a community hall. Karan followed confused and I pointed in the direction and asked could it be possible!!
Back story of the dramatization is as follows:
We had seen Colored Keys perform in Ziro 2018 and their music had struck an instant chord with my heart. One night I had dreamt that when we are entering Nagaland, Colored Keys will be playing the "Warriors Call" in the background as we roar in with our bikes. How Karan had laughed! And now we were in Dzuleke and out of nowhere the same song is playing and we were standing there wondering if its them! Sadly that was not the case 😞
Next morning Karan left for a jungle walk with Keza the guide for the day. I decided to sit out as my neck was beginning to give me some trouble again and I did not want the pain to interfere with our biking. They went hiking on the hill on the other side of the village. To begin with the trail was simple and almost immediately they saw a wild hog 🐗, alone and probably male. Keza had mentioned how Jhum cultivation would return to this area next year. The village sold their produce in Kohima where it was in huge demand because everything was organic. Soon after the trail became a little menacing. Karan tripped over the branches that were laid down to make a path. More than once the thorns of a cane vine pierced him. It was a tricky thing to get it out, resisting or pulling out did not help, he had to pull it back in the direction it entered. Keza taught him how to do it. The jungle was extremely beautiful though. Leaves of multiple shades of orange carpeted the floor while the green curtain of the trees surrounded you. Keza was an excellent guide. Must have been one hell of a hunter once. He soon sensed Macaque around and guided Karan to follow him. They ended up seeing a fleeing group of Macaques which was extremely rare 😱. They were back sooner than Keza had thought. He mentioned usually people take longer to complete that.
I had struck friendship with Diethosele meanwhile. He made me push his broken scooter around and we even went to see our bikes. He sat on Ifrit and when I started it he held me startled. How I love the sound of our bikes!! We spent some time playing around the bikes before we returned.
When the men returned they mentioned Macaques and even Vizu was surprised and expressed they were very lucky to have seen them. We had lunch and then went for an easier hike to where the old village used to be. That area was now a viewpoint from where you could see the existing village, the hill on the other side and the stream flowing below. We did not see anything as exciting as the Macaques on this trail but heard a lot of creatures.
That night we sat drinking with Vizu. Our Old Monk was exchanged for some rice beer. Anise was visibly unhappy with the exchange 😝. Vizu mentioned how the kids in the village have to be sent either to Khonoma, Kohima or Dimapur for higher studies and how they return home for weekends and festivals. Dietho would be sent to Dimapur next year. Vizu was not really happy about it. but did not want his love for his son to come in the way of his future. He also mentioned how kids are taught English and Hindi in school and after class 7 they had the option of picking up the local language as the main language. We appreciated the approach of the school here and how forward looking it was given that the kids will eventually go to other parts of India for higher studies and English and Hindi will help them blend and communicate easily. Their way of thought was way more advanced than villages in the part of the country we lived in. Maybe the lesser population was the reason.
Next morning we packed up for Imphal and Deitho sensed that we would leave. He held my hand and made me sit near his scooter and softly said “Don’t go”. My heart broke into a million pieces 💔. I asked him if he would like to come and help us pack up the luggage on the bike. He cheered up and agreed. I gave him the lightest piece of our luggage to pick up, the rain cover of my bag 😝. He carried it proudly to the bike parking and soon we were all ready to leave. We bid everyone a warm goodbye and left. How we had loved this tiny little village and how glad we were we made this trip.
Rainy days of Khonoma
We had decided to pay a short visit to Khonoma before we left. Should have taken a couple of hours at max. On our way to Khonoma we discussed how we had enjoyed Dzuleke and would have loved to stay another day. Don’t know why we discuss such things once we are already strapped up and on our way 😒. We were told of a shortcut to reach Khonoma and as all shortcuts this was exciting. We crossed one of the most beautiful forests we had seen so far. The road was, err, well, a jungle path, which made biking quite challenging 😁. We instantly fell in love with the forest.
We reached the tourist office and without much of a discussion we decided to stay here for a day and giggled on how we both left Dzuleke unwillingly 😒. The tourist information center gave us a card for a certain Alder Cottage and we called to ask if they have rooms. We went all the way back to the edge of the forest we had come from. The beautiful house was in the middle of what I called an enchanted forest. It had a beautiful backyard with all sorts of vegetables and herbs growing in-house. The room was very basic but suited us well. We agreed to stay here and went for a village tour with Mr. Methaheto Chase, the elderly gentleman who owned the cottage.
Mr. Chase started with telling us how Khonoma was India’s first green village, what that means is it was the first village in India to have banned hunting completely (a BIG deal in Nagaland). He told us various stories of the village and how Khonoma fought back British and never agreed to pay taxes to them. How the young believe in an independent Nagaland and how he thinks it doesn’t matter. He explained how the tribe was divided in to Khels and clans and how each Khel had a Morung house(house of the elderly to resolve disputes). Typically a clan had 30-40 families and there were a total of 3 Khels in this village. He told us how the severe penalties had helped reduce crime in the village. He shared how they are working like their own governing body. One of the things we absolutely loved was the notion of age groups. Age groups spanned 5 years and each one of them had a specific responsibility. For example, the age group of 20-25 year old had the responsibility to made sure the village had a well paved path to walk on. Now if that was not done for any reason than the entire age group gets a bad name. This sense of community was working out very well for them and we were wondering if this is what Shangri-La is like ❤️. As we were talking we could see the clouds setting in ☁️.
We decided to stay another day for some photos. That night it started raining and rained non stop for 24 hours. Mr. Chase had mentioned that after Jhum cultivation it rains because of the heat generated. Something that Rohit, Karan’s friend had also mentioned when we had visited him in Longding, Arunachal. So we assumed that was what was happening. Karan had made friends with 5 year old Vivi and apart from going to the living room for food our activity was very much limited. For music we had Mr. Chase’s daughters piano and singing which was oh so melodious! They were practicing to play in the wedding of a friend. Also, it was our anniversary ❤️. Over calls back home we learnt that we were in the middle of some low pressure belt that had formed in the Bay of Bengal and was causing these non stop rains. Oh well! Stuck in Nagaland once more 😛
Karan had been posting the updates of our stuck state in his Instagram stories and a lot of locals were replying to us telling us not to ride out on the road to Dimapur given that it was just a lot of slush after the rains. Even though we did not have to take that road the idea of it gave me jitters. Even Mr. Chase’s son was happy that we decided to wait a day after the rains to ride out. Once the rain stopped we went to the enchanted forest to get some photos we had in mind. It took us a lot of effort but we finally managed to get the shot we wanted. We went to the village once more to get some photos and saw a feast being prepared for a wedding and it was some sight! We sat in the tiny café in the village and had some food before heading back. That night we met a couple from Delhi who was stuck in Dzukou valley in the rainy weather with minimal facilities to keep them warm. We discussed the road trip the guy had taken to Bhutan and Karan was excited about it once more.
Next morning we packed up and left Khonoma thanking the Chase family. We crossed Kohima once more only to leave this time. After leaving the boundaries of the city the road magically improved and we stopped one last time to take a look at the town and brawl some more before we rode off to Imphal.
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