After the Ziro Festival, our stint with the Tata Nexon continues in the North East and we head to the Hornbill festival in Nagaland this time and explore yet another hidden gem of the country.
The tyres were creating whirlpools of dust as we blasted out of Dimapur towards Kohima in the Tata Nexon. All I could do was apologise to the dainty hatchbacks as we left them in our wake, the guys on even more fragile two-wheelers were eating dirt for main course and tankers ran the length of the highway, pouring water on the unfinished roads just to keep the dust in check. Snaking through the Nagaland mountains, a four-lane national highway was being constructed to connect Kohima to Dimapur. Kohima may be the capital of Nagaland but it isn’t connected by rail or air, and the only single-carriageway that existed had been completely destroyed to construct this new road.
Every Naga I’d meet during this trip would talk about the horrendous state of roads in the state. When citizens are apologising for the government, you’ve got to feel for them, so here’s my bit on spreading the word, hoping it reaches the right ears. The whole state is a dirt rally stage, whether national highways, state or internal roads. Ah the joy of piloting theTata Nexon here is immense. I’m fearlessly crushing rocks and kicking dust, and the Tata Nexon glides over the trails that are actually supposed to be roads. That’s when we decide to get away from this dust, we should explore the interiors of Nagaland. How much worse could it get, right? The fine dust and ditches give way to stones and larger rocks, even jumps over crests and the occasional stream crossing. It may sound like we just had a horrid time but that’s the thing, when you are out on a road trip, you take everything the road throws at you. You can curse later. As much as we had loved the silky smooth twisties of Meghalaya, the villainous roads of Nagaland were just another character in this story. There’s so much more to appreciate in Nagaland, inspite of the horrid roads.
“Farmers will offer freshly plucked fruits where you go, life runs at a slow and peaceful pace, and you can literally hear the birds chirp and the leaves rustle in the breeze”
And there’s plenty. To begin with, there’s a Tata Motors dealership in Dimapur with a Nexon ready and waiting for us. Our steed to drive over the days of the Hornbill Festival. That Tata Nexon was in for a tough few days, days you don’t put your beloved vehicles through unless you don’t have a choice. The AH2 on the outskirts of Dimapur has more car washes and tyre shops than grocery stores. I’m not exaggerating one bit about Nagaland roads. In places like these, having the Tata Nexon at our disposal was essential. Then there are the interiors of Nagaland. Few probably venture off the highway between these two cities because it’s enough to tire you out but the real beauty of Nagaland is in its interiors. The forests don’t end and the roads don’t exist. Farmers will offer freshly plucked fruits where you go, life runs at a slow and peaceful pace, and you can literally hear the birds chirp and the leaves rustle in the breeze. The beginning of December is also perfect weather here with a nip in the air all through the day and chilly nights that are ideal for a cup of hot chocolate or something more potent.
Kohima as the state capital and Dimapur as the closest and most accessible of cities in Nagaland are well developed. Every other place is a small town or a village, with locals who are very close to their roots and every Naga is a part of the tribes in Nagaland. There are so many tribes and the Hornbill Festival celebrates the state’s culture unlike any other cultural fest we’ve seen. If you’ve travelled the world, you might have come across many cities with rich architectural heritage, buildings from another era adding character to the city. Even Mumbai, Lucknow and Kolkata have them and you just can’t imagine the city to be the same without them. In Nagaland, the state’s heritage are the people and they don’t want to lose that because without the tribes, Nagaland would definitely lose its identity.
“There are so many tribes and the Hornbill Festival celebrates the state’s culture unlike any other cultural fest we’ve seen”
So the festival isn’t just at one location now. It’s spread across the state with a major part of it in Kisama, a heritage village outside Kohima. At Dimapur, you’ve got the rock concerts, fashion shows and even a bamboo festival (Nagaland is a major producer of bamboo). Hornbill International Rock Contest (HIRC) is an interesting part of the Hornbill Festival because it isn’t just a concert but a contest. Rock bands from around the country come to perform and hope to win. The prize money is good too – `10 lakh for the winning band and the runners up don’t go empty handed either. The audience is mainly Nagas but you do get a few national and international tourists. What I like about the festival is that it doesn’t try too hard to attract crowds from outside. Rock is very much a part of the Naga culture and the contest works as a concert for the locals. Perfect Strangers, a band from Bangalore won the award this year. We went headbanging to the rock festival courtesy the Tata Nexon, over challenging Nagaland roads and continued the rhythm through the length of the festival. After all those days of hard driving, the only TLC the Nexon required was a wheel alignment. Nothing broke, nothing rattled, not a single flat tyre and we didn’t need a visit to a chiropractor either. We had fun driving it in fact, thanks to its responsive steering and brilliant handling. Nagaland was rough but it was beautiful enough to endure its roads.
Words by Anand Mohan