Nomadic Luxury in Nagaland: The Hornbill Festival

Nomadic Luxury in Nagaland: The Hornbill Festival

Piece published in SUITCASE magazine.

My Bell 412 helicopter searched for the helipad, a spherical silhouette on a patchwork of multicoloured terraced houses, slung out on a ground of undulating forest. I felt like Elizabeth Bowen, a lone female entering the Land of the Head Hunters – albeit by much more modern means. In these far-flung reaches of eastern India lies Nagaland, a region shrouded in mist, mystery and misconception. Every December, amidst a cacophony of colour and sound, the state’s 16 tribes put their differences aside and take part in the annual Hornbill Festival.

Heard of it? Probably not… but in India, the Naga’s notoriety precedes them. Despite government initiatives to increase footfall, only a trickle of tourists travel to this corner of the country every year. But the wheels of change are in motion. The 12-hour journey from Delhi has been slashed thanks to the introduction of daily flights to Dimapur and The Ultimate Travelling Camp, India’s most ingenious ‘hotel’ has embarked upon a pioneering venture to introduce luxury travel to the region.

I was not fortunate enough to enjoy such luxuries as direct flights but the private helicopter, courtesy of TUTC’s Kohima Camp, made up for it. Operational for just two weeks, from November 29 to December 12, the team has perfected the concept of nomadic luxury. Brainchild of General Deepak Raj, of former Indian Army fame and Dhun Cordo, wedding planner to the stars, this unlikely duo combined military precision with artistic flare to create the first camp of its kind. Nestled between the lush Dzüku Valleys in the village of Kigwema, it is just a 15-minute drive from the festival ground; when Modi is not in town.

Tribal Dance Khaki Tent

Having missed the opening ceremony (the Prime Minister does not do security by halves nor do I skip breakfast) Keja, my guide, updated me on the afternoon’s activities: a pork fat eating contest, a pork fat kicking contest and a pole, lathered in pork fat, climbing contest. So that myth was true: Naga’s love their pork. Lard-based activities aside, attendees can also look forward to traditional song and dance performances and peruse the tribal wares for obligatory souvenirs.

While we waited for Modi to complete his presidential duties, Keja took me to his tribe’s morung. Traditionally the physical and metaphorical centre of village life, a morung is a place for men to share stories, farming tips and the odd glass of rice beer. These days women are allowed in too and I was treated to a tankard of the stuff. I was beginning to enjoy myself as much as the locals, who’d been boozing since the AM.

“How about a traditional Angami lunch?” suggested Keja, “to accompany your traditional ‘aferitip’? They’ve got everything”. He was right, the Angami’s really did have everything on the menu: cows intestines in a blood gravy, fermented bean curry and tushichi which, for those of you that are not familiar with, is dog.

Stomach distinctly turned, I passed at the opportunity to take part in the infamous (and potentially fatal) chilli-eating contest. But for purveyors of peculiar foods or those in search of the unusual, Nagaland and the Hornbill Festival is the assault on the senses that many have been looking for. Be gone the Golden Triangle, this is India as you have never seen it before.

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Take the Road Less Travelled in Style: The Kohima Camp, Nagaland

Take the Road Less Travelled in Style: The Kohima Camp, Nagaland

A piece published in Delhi’s own Little Black Book, Delhi.

As a Brit, the words ‘festival’ and ‘camping’ conjure up memories of leaky tents, soggy clothing, and hangovers that just won’t budge. Whilst the concept of “glamping” has been around for a while, you will need very deep pockets to escape the mud: VIP tents at Glastonbury festival will set you back £7000+. Ever the innovators, the concept of “glamping” {glamorous camping} is enjoying a real moment in India right now. With many adventurists wanting to explore its roads less travelled; temporary, luxury accommodation is the perfect option for locations not frequented all year round.

Whilst India might not be able to compete in the way of music festivals, it has more religious and cultural celebrations that you can shake a sacred stick at, with many modern day pilgrims and travellers wanting to attend.

Presenting The Ultimate Travelling Camp; bringing you five star accommodation in seasonal or date specific locations. The first camp of its kind in India, it is a truly nomadic experience. Having only last month wrapped up their second season in Ladakh, where they were stationed for the Kalachakra festival, in honour of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as I write this, TUTC is busy traversing the country’s most winding passes and remote hill stations, making its way to Nagaland in time for The Hornbill Festival.

At this annual festival, the sixteen tribes that make up the state come together to showcase their traditions, tribal fashion, culinary delights and musical talents. Despite their fearsome reputation of being the Land of the headhunters, for ten days, the Nagas put their differences aside for a jam-packed program of events. Running from the 1st to the 10th of December, with Mr. Modi inaugurating the event, there seriously is no better place to experience the festivities than from TUTC’s Kohima Camp, Nagaland.

Kohima Camp TentThe definition of ‘glamping’: a khaki luxury tent at The Kohima Camp

Forget sleeping bags, we’re talking four poster beds with memory foam mattresses. On returning from a day of exploring the Hornbill Festival, warm your feet by the roaring camp fire, and slip out of those well-worn hiking boots into a pair of fluffy hotel slippers. Maggi noodles and toasted marshmallows? Try freshly baked focaccia bread, to accompany your piping hot lobster bisque. The Kohima Camp, Nagaland has taken care of everything, and if there really is anything else you require, then your own personal butler {who you will literally want to take home with you when you leave} will take care of the rest.

This is camping like you have never experienced it before!

Notes in our Little Black Book | Four poster beds, luxury tents, a delectable menu, here’s presenting the ultimate traveling camp, bringing you five star accommodation in seasonal or date specific locations. Next up, the Hornbill Festival in Nagaland.

Where: Kohima Camp, Nagaland, Tekweuju, Above Japfu Christian College, Kigwema, Kohima, Nagaland

Kohima Camp is running a special limited edition for eleven days only, from 30th Nov to 10th December for The Hornbill Festival. Find out more at here.

It’s My Birthday: I’ll Get High If I Want To!

It’s My Birthday: I’ll Get High If I Want To!

Lying in bed with a pounding headache, unremitting nausea, unable to leave my room save for some medicinal strength coffee is pretty much how I spend most of my birthdays. Nothing out of the ordinary here. Except that this year my incapacitation was not alcohol induced, this year it was because I got high – 10,500 feet high to be exact.

thiksey  View of Thiksey monastery – and some local wildlife!

Waking up with altitude sickness isn’t everyone’s idea of a Happy Birthday, but as I lay in bed, feeling as rough as the local terrain, with that view of the Thiksey monastery, the “hangover” was totally worth it. A self-proclaimed vagabond and unashamed indophile what better job could I ask for than working for a nomadic camp, traversing some of India’s roads less travelled.

988   My new Home Sweet Home

Consequent to its remoteness “only your best friends or worst enemies will visit you in Ladakh” or so the local adage goes. There is merit in this – Ladakh is not everyone’s cup of chai (in fact its local butter variant is one of the more disgusting things I have tasted). With overland routes closed due to heavy snowfall, for the majority of the year it is only accessible by air and even then, flights operate at the mercy of the weather. Assuming you’ve arrived in one piece you then have the altitude sickness to contend with: 24 hours bed rest, one Diamox tablet and a helping of sobriety for good measure. Like I said, Ladakh is not for everyone.

But for those of us who like their mountains high and their rivers wide it is a veritable Himalayan heaven. “The Land of High Passes” really is a perfect destination for the seasoned road-tripper, mountain trekker, river rafter and spiritual learner. Not to mention an excellent escape from the merciless Indian summer.

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One of those seasoned travellers I was talking about…

2014 saw Ladakh set the scene for the 33rd annual Kalachakra festival. The largest Buddhist gathering in the world it was hosted by the Dalai Lama – during which we wished him a very happy 79th birthday! As I sat crossed legged amongst a sea of red and yellow clad monks, wishing His Holiness many happy returns, I could not help but give myself a mental pat on the back. Swapping Delhi for Ladakh, knowing that I was going to spend the summer here, was a gift money could not buy.

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     Happy Birthday Your Holiness

Four months without a working phone (the Kashmiri government restricts use of all non-local prepaid simcards) and very limited access to internet sounds like your average city dwellers worst nightmare. Yet armed with a yoga mat, a stack of books almost myself in height, my DSLR camera and a new pair of walking shoes I cannot wait to see what the rest of summer brings.

An English Woman Abroad: Dharamsala

An English Woman Abroad: Dharamsala

I can only going on what we ourselves did and what we have been recommend as I try to only use guidebooks as a last resort. However I’m sure you’ll find a fair few of these your dog-eared Lonely Planet.

McLeod Ganj: Headquarters of the exiled Tibetan government, bustling market town and home to the Dalai Lama.

The Church of St. John in the Wilderness: a slice of Nottingham Forest right here in Dharamasla. You will feel as though you are a pilgrim in medieval England when you stumble across this archaic little church.

Tsuglagkhang Complex: comprising a three metre high statue of Sakyamuni Buddha and a lot of ‘Free Tibet’ propaganda. The temple itself is not one of the most beautiful but the sound of so many people chanting was deeply moving and brought tears to my eyes.

Dip Tse ChokIing Gompa: funded by Richard Gere (who knew he was a practicing Buddhist) this is such a haven and much less busy than Tsuglagkhang Complex. Wander the beautiful grounds, visit the Tibetan Doll Museum and enjoy lunch and the Hummingbird Cafe (no, sadly they don’t sell cupcakes). There is also a guesthouse here which I would highly recommend anyone travelling to Dharamasla staying as it is such an oasis, however apparently it is recommended you book in advance as it almost always full.

Friendly Planet: Vikram (our hostess’s husband) raves about this place and even if we’d wanted to, I don’t think he would’ve allowed us to eat anywhere else! There is a nice mix of travellers and locals and the staff are super friendly although I would advise heading there before you’re actually hungry as the food can take a while (read: forever).

The Cricket Stadium: if your visit to Dharamasla coincides with it why not attend a cricket much. I can garuntee there will be much more crowd participation than at Lords.

Wild Camping: we did not have time to do this, but it’s top of my agenda next time I come to Dharamasala!

NGOs: if you fall in love with Dharamasla as much as I did and would like to stay for an extended period, why not volunteer at one of its several NGO’s. We visited the Jagori Rural Charitable Trust where Nasma used work. They support women in the local villages with matters concerning domestic violence, women’s and children’s health. Nasma became a little emotional upon returning and explaining the work that the women here do; it is touching to see how much time and emotion the volunteers invest in the (charity) and how deeply involved they become.