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.

hornbill-festival-03

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.

The Chamba Camp, Thiksey: Nomadic Luxury At Its Best

The Chamba Camp, Thiksey: Nomadic Luxury At Its Best

Published on The India Tube:

A former playing field of “The Great Game” Ladakh was once considered a destination so remote “only your best friend or worst enemy will visit you”, or so the local adage goes.  But with daily flights from Delhi to Leh, it’s now a firm favourite for a long weekend getaway from Delhi. And The Ultimate Travelling Camp really is the ultimate way to do it.

The Chamba Camp in Thiksey is TUTC’s flagship property and will be running until the end of September, before packing up and journeying to Nagaland for The Hornbill Festival, where they will be stationed from the 1st–7th of December. With four-poster beds, a designated butler service and bespoke menus, TUTC takes the concept of “glamping” to new heights – over 10,000 feet in this case.

blowing-conch-shells-before-the-morning-prayers-thiksey-monastery-02

It is the brainchild of an unlikely duo; General Deepak Raj, a former army general, and Dhun Cordo, wedding planner to the stars, combined creative flair with military precision to bring this pioneering venture to life. The concept is simple–a luxury nomadic camp that’s focused on seasonal or date-specific itineraries–but the execution is not: each tent fills one truck, and there are 14 tents. It is quite the convoy.

white-tent-interior-01The White Luxury Tents at The Chamba Camp, Thiksey nagaland-68The Khaki Tents at The Kohima Camp, Nagaland

An oasis of colour, The Chamba Camp sits serenely in the rocky embrace of the Ladakh and Stok mountain ranges. By day its 28 acres are a symphony of birdsong, and by night they are unbelievably romantic, bathed in moonlight and the flickering glow of more than a hundred lanterns. And with those views of Thiksey monastery you’d be forgiven for not venturing out your tent.

With the luxury market in Ladakh almost as barren as its terrain, The Chamba Camp could rest on its laurels, but it’s the attention to detail here that really set it apart. There are several private dining options for a start, from meals in the organic garden, by one of its many water-bodies, in and amongst the alfalfa fields, as well as several outside the camp, every experience is tailor-made, as are the menus. Chocolate momos? You bet. High-altitude scallops? Why not!

picnic-set-up-02Lunch by the Indus River

harvest-threshingA pastoral scene during the harvest season

Surprises abound, like the live kitchen that greeted us after a day of exertion at water rafting, or the train of red-robed monks perambulating the camp while I sat sipping on a gin & tonic. Needless to say that G&T disappeared quicker than you can say “om mani padme hum”.

I visited the Chamba Camp during the 33rd annual Kalachakra, hosted by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Richard Gere was there, but namedropping aside, it is the perfect destination for those interested in both the spirituality and history of the region (you can barely drive a few hundred metres without stumbling across another monastery or stupa) as well as a luxury break.

trekking-01A walking tour of Ladakh

If Ladakh is a spiritual Mecca then it is also the adrenaline junkies Elysium. With everything from trekking and white water rafting to mountain biking and climbing, there’s no shortage of activities to give your travel insurers the chills. There’s also horse polo matches which seasoned riders are welcome to try their hands at, and a list of activities so long I defy anyone to try them all. Yes, the Chamba Camp, Thiksey is both an adventurer’s paradise as well as a recluse’s hermitage.

The Ultimate Travelling Camp offers a luxe route to India’s more offbeat destinations.

 hornbill-festival-01 hornbill-festival-03Tribesmen at The Hornbill Festival, Nagaland