We’re sitting at a table and passing around the silk worms. They’re deep fried dust-coloured maggots the size of my index finger. Should I…? What the hell. I pop one into my mouth and bite down. Squelch. Something gooey shoots out and I gulp it down. Quickly.
It’s Day No. 1 at the Hornbill Festival at Kohima, Nagaland, and we’re loving it. The festival is everything all festivals are not nowadays – it’s for the people and by the people; it small, it’s accessible, it’s not over-hyped.
What it is, is spectacular.
We’re in Nagaland thanks to a dear friend – our very own Dora the explorer, who’s planned this exotic trip – and an unexpected bonus is The India trail, an adventure tour company who have recently launched an off-the-beaten-track set of tours – they currently specialise in the North Eastern part of India – and have promised to show as the ‘real’ Nagaland.
And so we sit for 2-3 delicious hours in a large open amphitheatre every day, letting the sun soak into our cold bones – Kohima has a nice chill in the air during the day and the nights are cold…temperatures fall to around 10 degrees celsius – as we watch the many Naga tribes celebrate their old head-hunting days, when the men stalked off to scalp a few heads every once in a while and the women stayed back and spun yarn and sung songs and collected grain (and did all the rest of the work as well).
We’re surrounded by other happy locals, who like us are also soaking in the warm sunshine: grandfathers explaining the nuances of a harvest dance to their rosy plump-cheeked grandchildren, pretty young Naga women giggling away at an inside joke (probably something to do with the fine gluteal muscles on display a few yards away); a young performer texting as he waits for his turn – it’s all untouched and fresh and raw, speaking of which, India trail were the ones responsible for an authentic Naga spread which included the worms; I must say though, that bamboo worms are rather nice: this time, mine were nice and crunchy.
The next day we set off for a visit to the Kohima War Cemetery – it’s the only place in India where any fighting ever took place during World War II, and Rohan and David, the (very handsome) young men behind India trails take us back in time, along with the help of an old gardener who’s been in charge of the memorial for the past twenty-five years, and who tells me that in the old days, when the memorial was open at night, he often heard the sounds of hooves and horses neighing – the fighting had included a large cavalry regiment – and that ghosts were an open secret. As we walk past row upon row of head stones – many of them mere boys of 18 and 19 – the sun begins to set, and I say a prayer: Rest in peace brave soldiers. Be with God.
The next day we do a walk through the night market, where a friend wins a duck! – yes a duck! – on a street-side roulette, and then we take in a choir competition by the local Kohima church groups and then it’s finally time to head back home, but not without a pit stop at Kaziranga national park, where we have an intimate view of the one-horned rhino on the most amazing elephant safari ever, and we promise ourselves that we’ll be back.
And India Trails.
Thank you guys 🙂