Sunday, December 30, 2012

Darjeeling - resplendent Ghorkha heritage

On The Go Tours

AAPSU elections caused a shutdown in Arunachal. For a peaceful Christmas heading back to Cherrapunjee was a better option. Thanks to Sathyan, tickets to Shillong on an APST overnight bus was a big favour during the high holiday season. Frost bitten roads saw carols and we spent two days organising games and movie show for kids at Mawmluh village. Getting back to Guwahati to go to Darjeeling was as impromptu as the last minute ticket. Contact Mukesh at 98460 54505 -3G Tours &Travels, Didar Market, Opp ASTC, Paltan Bazar for your last minute train tickets. They get the tickets somehow circumventing the IRCTC servers. While staying at next door Daffodil Lodge (Tel 9864851737, dbl Rs 600) with shoebox rooms, relishing a variety of foods in and around the market area is a guilty pleasure.

GHY-NJP Northeast train (7hrs, Rs 300 including commission for sleeper class) was pleasant, sans the eunuchs. Classic Lodge run by Debashish is 10min from NJP station ( Tel 0353-2691673, Mob: 98323-15933, dbl Rs 600) is good enough for a night. Take a share auto to Siliguri Town station to find numerous sumos to Darjeeling. Avoid the agents surrounding you, get a seat at the hidden counter next to Siliguri bus stand gate for Rs 120, 2hr 30min ride. Kuttan at Madras Hotel was very glad to meet us, he hails from Cherthala.

Toy Train
Siliguri-Darjeeling train is cancelled currently due to landslides en route, the diesel train runs upto Kurseong from Darjeeling. The steam powered Toy Train has two joy rides in a day upto Ghoom on its 2ft wide track. You can book 120days in advance, Rs 270, 2hrs. The morning 8am joy ride was powered by diesel engine at the time of this blog, check in advance if you insist on steam. A cheaper option is to take the diesel version from Darjeeling to Kurseong for Rs 27, 3hrs and you may take the return train.
Wikipedia


Every other building in Darjeeling is a hotel or restaurant. Tea and Tourism Festival brought huge crowds during the holidays to this choking city. The best value accommodation at Youth Hostel (www.yhaindia.org ) franchisee Hotel Broadway Annexe, Dr. Zakir Husain Rd (Tel 09733022208, 0354 2253248, dbl Rs 440) was a steal. Mystic Mountain restaurant on the same road dishes up delicious home cooked meals -order in advance. They are planning to start a homestay in a tea plantation including a pony ride.
Though the local to tourist ratio is very low, we were lucky to meet a few during our stay. Most memorable was meeting P. Golay and his wife at Hotel ShangriLa while sipping beer at the counter. He talked at length about his treks to GocheLa and RocheLa while he was in college. He even gave us a treat at the end of two hour conversation, which was a shocker!

Tiger Hills
Tiger Hills, 15km away is much hyped sunrise viewpoint with 1000s of tourists and 100s of vehicles. Herds of tourists flock this location from 4am in the biting cold, vendors and taxi drivers making it more chaotic. If you have agoraphobia, get down from the shared sumo (Rs 150) before the entry gate and on your left side there is a peaceful viewpoint. Otherwise the heated lounge on top might be worth Rs 20. We were not lucky to see the '250km range of Himalayas' but the moon setting down was dazzling sight.


Wikipedia

Jalapahar
Yiga Choling gompa is a left turn after Ghoom station, known as the highest altitude station in India. Taking a steep concrete path towards right, we strolled up to Jalapahar cantonment- the first British settlement in Darjeeling. Golay advised us on this 2hr lesuire walk through army habitats at 8265ft gives, impressive Himalaya views. Road descends to Jalapahar cantonment cutting through a pine forest, reaching Dr. Zakir Husain Rd, close to Doordarshan building.

Darjeeling Zoo: Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park
The zoo is 15min pleasant walk from Chowrasta, located in a forest, housing rare Himalayan wildlife- snow leopard, red panda, Tibetan wolf etc. Himalayan Mountaineering Institute boasts a museum showcasing Everest expeditions. Mountaineering courses are offered, get ready in advance by running 1hr everyday for a month to pass the physical test of trekking 25km with 15kg backpack within stipulated time. Course fee is subsidised, starting at Rs 4000.

Tea and Tourism Festival
Parikrama band from Delhi enthralled the rock aficionados at the festival on Dec 29th. Bands from Darjeeling and Nepal did well keeping a high tempo. Unlike Hornbill, this is a festival for the masses with the absence of VIP pavillions. We relished the local selroti and aloo dum at the food stalls, sipping various flavour and flush of red, black, white tea in the price range of Rs 10 to 120.


mungpoonews

To view the majestic Kanchenjunga and neighbouring peaks without leaving the hotel room, Darjeeling is ideal. Those who can trek for a closer view, go to Mane Bhanjhang, 26km from Darjeeling, get a guide at the National Park border for a multi day trek to Phalut- there are lodges and food available. Tour companies offer 'deluxe' trek with all the creature comforts at Rs 2000/day per person. Even better, for motorheads, there is a Land Rover ride to Sandakphu! For a hasty one day trek, the best option is to stay at Rimbik and trek to Sandakphu and return, provided you are really fit like Golay.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Ziro valley - headquarters of Apatani tribe

Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar


Accommodation in Aalo was scanty due to a conference when we returned from Menchukha. Following the intuition we got tickets in a Sumo which leaves at 5pm from Aalo to Itanagar (Rs.600, 10hrs) via Basar, Lilabari, Silapathar. The road from Aalo to Silapathar is winding with heavy traffic during night, frequented by trucks and buses. Ghostly fog reflected the headlights but the expert driver tackled the mountain roads and the police check posts with ease. Fortunately Biju at Hotel Kerala Bhawan was kind enough to open the doors, though we reached at the wee hours shivering in the unprecedentedly chilly Itanagar. Planned 48hrs bandh was cancelled and we were plodding through the worst roads in Arunachal to Apatani tribes' Ziro valley via Potin, Yazali (Rs.300, 5hrs).

Hotel Valley View near DC office (9402031058/9856210112, dbl Rs.500-800) with scuffed paint and faulty plumbing is not the best option, but it is centrally located. There is a bukhari in the restaurant, but mostly surrounded by drinking men in the evenings. Locals advise not to roam around in the town after dark, we didn't bother to check if it is safe in person. Christian missionaries have been active in Ziro valley, still many continue to practise Donyi Polo (sun and moon) worship. The whole point of coming to Ziro valley is to see old Apatani (Abotani) women with facial tattoos and peculiar nose plugs - imposed to make them look ugly to avoid kidnapping by Nishi tribesmen. Watch carefully, you may see them in the market at Hapoli itself. They may NOT be keen to be photographed, be very sensitive. If you want some pictures of Ziro, check the link below.

http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/ground-ziro/article3994529.ece?ref=slideshow



Vikraman, who works with APST in Old Ziro gave us a ride to APST bus station adjacent to a  WWII airport and a former army camp, at Suliya. There are frequent Tata magic to Old Ziro, Dutta and Hong villages are at walkable distance. Later we tagged along with Kaushik (HV Kumar's reference) to visit Hong Apatani village where terraced paddy fields bordering pine forest. In front of the traditional houses tall babo poles with crosspieces are raised during Nyakom festival which is celebrated in a three year cycle in each village, Hong will be the host in 2013 March. Locals are proud of Lapang platforms, made from ancient timber and used for community gatherings.  Stroll around the village and the fields where a unique system of poly culture and water management of the Apatanis is practised enjoying the fall colours of fertile Ziro valley.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Menchukha - the heavenly snowland

Jobin George

 Close to Tibetan border, surrounded by the pointy peaks of snow clad Himalaya, this little town had no roads until 2005, an army airport with its runway at center of the village - doubles as a playground when it snows. Villagers used to trek up to Tato, 50km away where the road connects to Aalo. There are no fuel stations but fuel is sold by sub dealers at a hefty price. Boasts solar powered BSNL station and SBI branch, no ATM. This sub divisional headquarters has major army presence at the village and along the road to the border. Aalo - Menchukha road is better than most of the roads in Arunachal. Menchukha (2000m above MSL) popularly known as Mechuka with few letters missing in the spelling. Men - medicine, Chu - water, Kha - snow, literally means medicinal water of snow. Buddhist Memba people live here in harmony with Hindu, Donyi Polo and Christian minorities.

APST bus runs to Menchukha on alternate days (10hrs, Rs.230) is not preferred by the locals, so we booked Sumo (8hrs, Rs.450). Passing through Kabang, Kaying, the road ascends to Tato from where a diversion leads to Pidi and Monigong. We met Varghese, a school teacher who hails from Wayand, Kerala. He took a voluntary transfer to Menchukha during winter to enjoy the snow. There are four residential schools including a higher secondary, exemplary of the Buddhists' keenness in education. Tourist facilities are coming up in Menchukha, a large tourist complex is under construction. Hotel Naksang adjacent to the runway, with three rooms (263245, dbl Rs.500) is very basic with shared toilet. Best in town is the homestay (9402423444, dbl Rs.600) adjacent to the ground next to Kasturaba school run by the lovely couple Gebu and Nana. Gebu owns a grocery store and a restaurant and sub dealer of petrol, diesel and kerosene. Ask anyone for Gebu's house to find this Tibetan style timber house with six rooms and a kitchen- if you like cooking your own dishes. Nana and her sister Omu satiated our gastronomic desires with authentic Tibetan dishes. Nana's mother brought a special Tibetan soup with corn, radish and Mithun cartilage - Oshum Thuppa and Gebu brought the local beer Chang - unforgettable delicacies. The bukhari in the living room warms you up from the bitter cold after sunset, though the day is sunny and pleasant.

We spent most of the evenings inside Nana's kitchen sitting around the bukhari, chatting with the locals. The kids Zomba, Ohjo and Sonam are more than adorable and we gelled with them in no time. We spent time teaching them English and helping them with their homework. These kids are smarter than the city kids of their age. Nana was too keen to learn English conversing with us overcoming her inhibitions. Most of the heavy task are done by women including concrete mixing, possess diverse skills. Nana has seven sisters, each of them manage different businesses in the village.

Samden Choling Gompa aka Naya (new) Gompa is ten minutes stroll from the village. Long horns, drums and clarinets created a special ambience at the monastery. Relishing butter tea offered by the Lama, we spent one hour attending the puja. A steep climb from the monastery takes you to the army bunkers providing a closer view of the snow capped mountains. The incessant drizzle brought down the mercury close to zero and eventually a big snowfall. While we were teaching Nana to make wheat dosa, a motorcycle rider just arrived all drenched in rain - Jobin from Kerala.
Jobin George



According to locals snowfall is least expected in the month of December, it was my intense desire to see snowfall what made it snow on this day of 12-12-12. Nana all of a sudden saw it snowing and shouted from outside, I was wearing only a tshirt and cargos as I was sitting by the fire, while Romin was gaily talking in his mother tongue with Jobin, in simple words MMTP. The excitement of snowfall didn't give me time to think and pack myself before getting in the freezing cold and playing in snow. Sonam and I made a small snowman and keeping our mouth open to eat the snow. Romin was watching me be a kid with kids, or more kiddish than the kids. In the night when we slept after snowfall adventure I could feel each part of my body frozen.

Next morning, we saw Varghese was smashed by snow at the school grounds. It was a holiday, thanks to the first snowfall of the season. Jobin, Varghese and we trudged along the river Siang to the 400year old Samdem Yongcha Gompa of Mahayana sect at 150m higher than the airstrip. Varghese was leading us through some unused trails, tackling streams and swampy terrains covered in snow. Crossing the hanging bridge with a few planks missing was adventurous, snow made it like skating on the ice. Though the gomba was locked, we enjoyed the 9km trek watching Menchukha valley covered in white - looked like a magical land from a fairytale.
Jobin George



On our way back we wanted to hitch a ride in an army truck. When we reached the road we saw a truck coming, not an army one but GREF truck loaded with concrete mix. The friendly driver offered a seat in the front for me, seldom did he know that I was more keen than men to stand in the back of the truck. With the help of workers already on top of the truck, we climbed up and one lady warned us it would jerk and we would lose balance once the vehicle starts to move. Before we could react, the truck moved, Romin and I fell on the concrete mix. For the next half an hour we tried all possible positions but could neither stand nor sit and palms frozen holding the iron door. The drizzle made it more cold and we could feel the chill on our face as the drizzle sprayed on our face. The humble co-passengers offered to hold the umbrella for us. Rest of the day was spent near the fireplace.

After spending six days at Menchukha, it was not so easy to bid Adieu to our new friends. But we have miles to go before we sleep. When we return to Northeast, it is a must to visit Menchukha.
Jobin George

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Aalo (Along) - a picturesque Adi valley

Along (Aalo) -the headquarter of West Siang district is located at 300m elevation. This educational hub is at the confluence of Sipu and Siyon rivers, with photogenic Adi (Abor) villages. The road to Aalo from Pasighat is excellent until you take a left diversion before a bridge. Some parts of the roads caved in during the heavy rains. 8hrs of bone tattling ride from Pasighat will take you to Aalo going through lush green forest with river in the valley on your side. The waterfalls on your right side is a relief from the muddy and slushy roads.




Hotel Aagam (Nehru Chowk, Yubo complex, 9436645055, 03783 223640, dm/s/d/dlx/st Rs.200/500/600/1000/1200) is the best value option with water heater and newly painted rooms with small balconies entering through the toilet. The next door Hotel Yomgo offers cheaper rooms (dbl Rs.350 with shared bathroom and cold showers).

CARRY CASH!!! ATMs at Aalo may not be working and if working, there will be a queue of 50 people. Megha was impressed with the preferential treatment for women in ATMs with separate queue for women. The men/women closer to the machine will have more than 2 cards with ATM pin written on a piece of paper, of the others in the queue behind them. The machine spits out only 1000 currency notes.


foto_morgana


River Trek through Adi villages:
To visit the photogenic Adi villages, we marched on foot to Kabu village, one hour walk from Aalo town on the road to Tato. Don't be frightened by the machetes and guns carried by the villagers. Ask the friendly people for the school building once you reach village on your right side. Cross the football ground to reach the iron bridge built in Dec 2009 -  a good spot to watch the Mithuns, coming to drink water at dawn and dusk. The old bamboo bridge got washed away in the heavy monsoons of june 2012. Fishermen from Assam win bids in the range of 1lakh in the auction for fishing by casting nets in Yomgo river. Kabu village river boundary reaches to 7km on both sides from this bridge.

From the bridge, get down to the left side of the river bank and walk along the river on the round rocks. If you go right, you can reach Patum bridge in 6hours. Paia is 2hrs of trek from this bridge to the left. After a while, you need to walk up to the paddy fields to cross a difficult section. Follow the path until the iron bridge from Paia to Pobdi is visible. The picture perfect Adi village is visible on your right side. The houses are built by wood supported by stilts and thatched by palm leaf. The size of the houses are more than a hut, measuring up to 2000sqft. The thatched roof last up to ten years. Right to the iron bridge is the hair raising bamboo decked wobbling bridge.




Once you cross this bridge precariously, a steep trail leads to the main road from Aalo to Tato, from where you can get a city bus to Aalo at 12pm. We boarded the same bus and went to Bene village, where a barbeque was in progress after a puja with the cow skull kept on a tripod like wooden poles (hogi). Apong (rice beer) was loaded into the bus from another village, villagers told us about 'Mani Sir' - a school teacher from Kerala.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Crossing the mighty Brahmaputra (Dibrugarh-Pasighat)


http://www.theaustralian.com.au


Hotel Luit Regency (RKB path, near railway station, 9401999448, dbl Rs.650), is a central option with newly tiled clean rooms with bucket hot shower, though the narrow entrance is hard to find. From the bustling city, there are multiple ferries to cross the mighty Brahmaputra. The shortest is to cross to Silapathar and travel to Aalo, if you are ready to skip Pasighat. We spent a day at Dibrugarh working through the Inner Line Permit headache. Arunachal House is on the road to airport at Mohanbari, 40min, Rs 20 for a ride by shared taxi. While coaxing the officials for the permit to Pasighat-Along-Mechuka-Ziro, I met Nirmal Kumar, an avid trekker hailing from a tiny village Khellani near PulDoda in Kashmir. As we had been to that region with HV Kumar in Jul 2012, he was excited to talk about trekking options near his village.  Contact him at 9435716668 to enjoy nature at the virgin pastures of Kashmir.



We booked our jeep (1hr) -ferry (1hr) - winger (4hrs) tickets at Hotel Kusum (0373 2320143, Talkiehouse Rd, Rs.300). The jeep starts at 5.30 in the morning passing through Jhoonktolee tea estates, who owns tea estates at Samse, Karnataka.  The ferry from Bogibeel starts at 7am and crosses Brahmaputra while we were gazing at the rail-road bridge under construction for last ten years. Passing through Jonai we reached Pasighat, a small town of Adi tribe, headquarter of East Siang district. Stroll up to the sand banks of river Siang, which origins from Tibet and joins Brahmaputra, to gawp the snow glad peaks, rocky mountains and thick forest. Chopstick Restaurant run by a friendly Bomdila resident offers excellent Tibetan food.  Hotel Siang (near the sumo counter, behind the filthy meat market) dbl Rs.550, offers prison like rooms with squat toilet and bucket hot water showers. We spent 30min to wake up the staff next morning, to open the gates at 5.30am


 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Two months and counting

Joseph Hyoen

"Wow! You guys are travelling around without a return date, it surely is something to be envied about." This is the reaction we get most of times when we talk to people whom we meet on our journey. Yes it sounds amazing and it's definitely a dream come true for me. How does one feel, when her dreams come true? It's not possible to express in words. Since the very first time I met Romin at Kobe sizzlers in Bangalore, I have envied him and his way of travel. From that time onwards all I did was to dream of travelling like him "WITH" him of course :) According to me, travelling is the best way to learn how to live, not merely reading philosophical books. By travelling you experience every emotion, that you might otherwise not feel just sitting at home or at workplace.

Our way of travelling is backpacking, frugal and no unnecessary indulgences, no creature comforts. This way of travelling is fun there is no denying it, at the same time it requires not being just physically strong but emotionally stronger. For me this is the first time away from home for more than a month, other than summer vacations spent at Grandparents home. As I write this blog, it's more than two months since we began travelling. There are times when I was longing to see the bed at my room and crash on that or just eat the food that my mother cooks and just spend time with friends and loved ones. Like I said before travelling calls for lot of emotional energy at the end of the day. I very proudly say that I am growing strong emotionally. This doesn't mean I don't miss home.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Angami village at Kigwema and Rajadhani

Thommen Jose

Kigwema village, a few kilometres from Kisama is a settlement of Angami tribe. Akieno's sister took us on a tour to this traditional village with two modern Christian churches. We could see two traditional Angami-Naga homes with crossed horn gable (kikeh) which were not in use but rented to foreign tourists upon request. These houses are adorned with mithun skulls sporting a spooky appearance. The village is divided into four colonies with a morung (boy's dormitory) in each colony. Most of the houses are roofed with corrugated metal sheets. Until the common cemetery came up, the graves were built in front of the houses. There are huge water tanks in each colony where people shower, do laundry and fetch water for their houses. Peace settlement inscribed stones recording the settlement fee - number of mithuns - generated curiosity amongst us. These recent settlements were to end fierce head hunting practice which continued until 1980s. Today the Naga people sport jeans and shirt and wear their ethnic dresses and full warrior costumes only for festivals. The kids at the village are extremely friendly, lent me their circular wheel rotated by a metal hook for a joy ride. Adults seemed to be very serious and tight lipped, the need for being accompanied by a local guardian was very obvious.


We had the company of few wonderful people at the home stay. Joe, a globe trotter from Alaska, Fabienne, an avid traveller and Indophile from Brussels, Len, a gardener from Oregon, US accompanying his friend Becca, a teacher who was born in India retracing her early childhood in India.  Becca's father, a Baptist missionary  worked in Naga and Garo hills in 1950s and contributed linguistically to tribesmen. Swapping culture and travel stories, all of us made ourselves at home around the heater (charcoal filled a metal basket) at Akieno's sitting room.

Though we wanted to spend two weeks in Nagaland, the economics of Hornbill Festival was not suitable for our budget. We hitched a 'rocky ride' with Joe to the town- sitting on rocks in a Tata Mobile. Spent some time gazing at the delicacies unique to Nagaland- dog meat and other crawlies. Hiring a cab from Kohima to Dimapur after 5pm took 2hrs of haggling with taxi drivers, ended up paying Rs.300 per head. A police officer's intervention was too late. At Dimapur an ATM was guarded by five army men, this town cannot be considered totally safe after dark. Sleeping at the railway platform was  checked in our wish list while randomly waiting for a train. We never knew we would be travelling in Rajadhani to Dibrugarh! That too without tickets, but paying a small commission to the Ticket Inspector.




"You get angry, when you are hungry or in a hurry" - a traveller's wisdom by Joe

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Hornbill-Festival of Festivals


Named after an endangered bird, Hornbill Festival is an annual celebration at Naga Heritage Village at Kisama, 12km from Kohima from Dec 1st to 7th displaying traditions, culture, costumes, valor and camaraderie. 16 various tribes across Nagaland come together in traditional warrior costumes carrying their hunting paraphernalia. Dancers from other 6 Northeast states perform like true professionals. Marathon, cycling, Northeast riders meet, World War II Peace Rally, flower/horticulture/photo exhibitions and shopping stalls - other crowd pullers. Indira Gandhi stadium at Kohima host the music festival on the evenings, the rock festival has 20 bands over 4days. To soak in the whole experience of Hornbill Festival, spend at least 3 days; make sure you reach before 9am on day one.

On Nov 30th, to get glimpses of behind the scene preparations, we visited Kisama village. The flawless rehearsal for inaugural ceremony was exemplary for the meticulous preparation by the event management personnel. Gala opening ceremony on Dec 1st is a must see. Iconic Naga log drum by Chang tribe, unity dance and Tetse sisters' songs justified the sobriquet of Festival of Festivals. Konyak tribe's gun salute was shocking followed by troupes of bagpipers. Naga chilli eating completion drew large crowds, winner hogged 14 chilies- rated one of the hottest in the world, 1001304 on Scoville Heat Unit which indicates the amount of capsaicin. A 7kg piglet was released to be caught by agile Naga men- a daily event.


Dancers from 6 states enthralled audience on Dec 2nd. Cheraw dance by Mizoram, Dhol Dholak from Manipur, Dahal Tungri by Bodo girls were dazzling. Pork fat eating contest was nauseating to watch, winner consumed more than a kilo in 60sec! Naga cultural dances by tribes evoking various emotions - ferocious head hunting, meditative healing
practices, festive harvesting and exorcist burial ceremony - every tribe provided a visual feast. Every village amon the 1400 village in Nagaland gets a turn to perform here, some may take 30years to come back to Kisama.


The Hindu



Vivid pictures showcasing culture and heritage are abundant at the morungs, walk around and interact with the people. Many speak English and have been to South India. Mighty  wrestlers flexed their muscles at the Naga style wrestling. Relish the blisteringly authentic Naga food at the morungs - khalora and rice beer were our favorite. While you are not admiring pastiche of bamboo architecture, indulge in shopping for a piece of household tool at the bamboo pavilion. You can't carry in your bag? Indian Post has a stall inside the village to ship it at a cheap rate. Notably Indian tourists are less in number compared to the foreign tourists, Hornbill is organized eyeing on the dollar and euro signs. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Nagaland Express

National Geographic

Nagaland Express - the train from Kamakhya to Dimapur is aptly named. To get the ILP for Nagaland we visited Nagaland House, (Tel:0364 2520083) Laitumkhrah, Nongrim Hills at Shillong. To reach here, ride a taxi or bus up to Fire Brigade and walk across the football field to Bethany Hospital. Pay Rs.60 for a permit and no documents or photographs required-gives access to entire Nagaland for two months. Interestingly foreign tourists no longer need Protected Area Permit (PAP) since January 2011. Later we learnt that all the northeast states except Arunachal Pradesh do not need PAP/RAP for foreigners. Refer www.tourismnagaland.com

You can board a bus from Shillong to Dimapur, there is a Network Travels counter right next to Bethany Hospital. Buses go through Assam (NH52) and takes 12 hours. We took Nagaland Express from Guwahati at 11.30 pm and reached Dimapur by 5.30am. Taxi to Kohima leave the railway station when full and cost Rs.220 for 75km. Despite good roads, taxi fare is highest in Nagaland and goes up as the sun goes down.

Accommodation:
Prices sky rocket and very high demand makes it impossible to find an accommodation during Hornbill Festival. Book very well in advance (6months). Holiday Inn (Tel: 9863156696, s/d Rs.450/600), Hotel View Point (Tel: 9856346445/9856360163, s/d Rs.550/1000), Hotel Fira (Tel: 0370 2240940, s/d Rs.550/800, dormitory Rs.200), Hotel Pine (Tel: 0370 2243129/2240269/ 9436001041, s/d Rs.500/900), Viewpoint Lodging (Tel: 0370 224182, s/d Rs.700/1000). These hotels are at Kohima and the venue of Hornbill Festival is 12km away at Kisama Heritage Village. A taxi ride will cost Rs.30 to Kisama and staying at the city centre will be ideal to enjoy the night bazar during the festival.

For a truly Naga cultural experience, stay at one of the guest houses in Kigwema village, walkable distance from Kisama, albeit pricey. Contact Nino (+919856343037) for bed/breakfast homestay accommodation, who coordinates with women in the village to offer a true homely experience to guests from across the globe at a price range of Rs.1000 per person. Bring your own tent and sleeping bags in the worst case and Nino will find a space to pitch the tent.

We stayed at Akieno's house (9856259469) who runs Dawn Boys Hostel for the boys studying at Japfu Christian College, Kigwema. Akieno's mothering love was obvious when she dished up various local dishes. She ensured to keep us warm by replenishing the coal in metal buckets . It was like staying at a home with truly lovable people as hosts.