Wokha, a tiny town, around 150 km from Dimapur is a perfect hill station vacation destination. The lush green valleys around which the town is settled, the age old churches and the beautifully constructed homes dotted across the road decorated with colorful nurseries makes you want to settle down in this town forever.
We hopped on to the bus at Dimapur that leaves for Wokha via Kohima and takes you through picturesque valley, virgin wilderness and through roads dotted with bamboos towering over several meters on either side. Though the roads are terrible and bumpy, the slow moving bus stopped at several fruits and vegetable shops en-route so that the villagers could make purchases. After crossing Kohima the bus stops for breakfast too. (It was our first time that for a 150 km ride the bus stopped for food break, says a lot about the condition of the roads!)
En-route our bus had a flat tire and while the driver and the conductor worked on replacing the tire, we were able to see the kindness of North Eastern People. Most of the cars that passed by offered to drop stranded passengers to their destination.
While almost everyone got down at Kohima barring very few locals, we were the only non locals in the bus and we also got a taste of the much talked about North Eastern hospitality. A random conversation with a fellow passenger ended up with a generous offer of inviting us "total strangers" to her home for a cup of tea. We were introduced to the family and the environment was so positive and cheerful like long lost friends catching up. We were treated to the most awesome fruits from their organic farm and we swear by our travel that those were the best papaya we ever had. In the mean time, they had figured out a place for us to stay and were kind enough to drop us there. There would be a few people who you would meet only once in your lifetime but would be great friends and be grateful to them forever.
Exploring any place by foot is the ultimate joy a traveller longs for. We were wandering around Wokha and stumbled upon a Baptist Church and it seemed like the entire town of Wokha grew around this church. It was very soothing to hear the church bells echo around the green valley.
The S.M. Baptist English school is one of the oldest schools and Shanjamo is the man behind S.M who was the first Naga to visit USA to study Christianity. This school is set amidst a pretty scenic location but it was indeed sad to see that the state of the school was in shambles. The window panes were broken and antique crumbling wooden benches were lying around that seemed fit only to be used as fire wood. While we are no advocates of city style schools which are ore of a money making model with their fancy AC classrooms and sometimes a trip to NASA, there is no doubt that schools in Nagaland are in dire need of upliftment. If the government schools could be in better shape providing good education, clean water, food and toilets and a playground for the kids to enjoy a carefree education, the private institutions today would not be charging such exorbitant fees.
As we were walking by we came across a humble and beautiful home for children- 'Morning Star Children's Home' run by a lovely couple Mr and Mrs. Benjello. This kind couple have converted their home into a children's home and are taking care of seven children. They gave us a tour of their lovely home which is exceptionally sparkling clean and all the rooms were beautifully decorated. They were kind enough to offer us to stay with them completely free of cost and spend time with their family and children but unfortunately we were not able to do so. We learned a very valuable lesson that we should not be self centered and help the lesser fortunate in whatever way possible and most importantly not expect anything in return. Apart from education, Mrs. Benjello teaches the kids the importance of hard work and being responsible. This has resulted in them setting up a wonderful nursery for their home.
We had read about the Tokhu Emong festival that happens in Wokha District and without much information, as soon as we got our permit for Nagaland we decided to head to Wokha. While the Hornbill festival is more famous, this festival makes you truly understand the tribe better and the difference in cultures across various tribes. A festival that should definitely not be missed.
The best part of Wokha apart from her natural beauty and the Tokhu Emong festival is the Serrano Restaurant between Public garden and Police point. This excellent restaurant emotes the absolute love and passion that the chef and owner Mr.Gilbert has for food. The restaurant has a small library and a small setup for music gigs. We tried an authentic Naga delicacy 'Bentsu Honoso,' grilled chicken with Bentsu sauce accompanied with boiled vegetables, chutney and a bowl of rice. This dish is relatively mild in spice but the chutney made of red chilly that come along is very fiery. We were told that the chutney was made of local chilly and not the popular ghost chilly. Needless to say the dish tasted excellent. Though Nagaland is a dry state the mocktails served in this restaurant can easily make you forget alcohol. We tried 'Guava Spice' and 'Oriental Spice,' while the former has a taste of green chilly and tabasco sauce the latter is a mix of worcester sauce and black pepper. A good meal for two would cost between Rs.400-500. The best part about the restaurant is the open kitchen which is sparkling clean.
Nagas love rice so much that they relish this stuff for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The sheer number of rice hotels that serve only rice with varied curries are standing testimonies. People like us from South India had a very tough time to find a single hotel that would serve anything else apart from rice for breakfast.
Another thing to keep in mind is Sundays in Nagaland resonate a total Bandh like mood. Even the Nagaland State Transport buses do not ply and the private taxis too are off the roads. Sundays are more like National holidays. If you are backpacking across Nagaland, it would be a good idea to travel on other days.
How much ever one reads about short days in North East, experiencing it is a very different ball game altogether. The day begins very early and the sun sets at 4.30 pm along with the businesses and the town too calls it a day but for one or two paan shops. Our biological clock instantly adapted to the environment and we would have diner by 7 pm and crash by 9 pm, a healthy lifestyle almost impossible in city life.
Wokha village has very recently been exposed to tourism and there is only one very bearable stay option- 'Tourist Lodge.' The rooms are in terrible condition and there is nothing fancy. The place is not even basic but fortunately they provide clean sheets and thick quilts which is must as the mercury level drops significantly post sunset. The restaurant serves basic and ordinary local food but let all of this not discourage you as the views of Wokha valley from their sit out is mesmerizing and over compensates for the shoddy stay. We were very happy to stay here for 3 nights as we prefer places that are not touched by commercialization and hold natural beauty and charm.
Keep in mind thought the distance is only 150 km from Dimapur, the road condition is pretty bad and depending on the traffic and the narrow lanes of Kohima the duration of the journey is determined. The bus will easily take a minimum of anywhere between 6 to 7 hours to reach. The first bus leaves from Dimapur at 6.45 am. Also, if you have big rucksacks like we had or suitcases you have to climb atop the bus and secure your baggage. It would be a good idea to keep your permits handy as there is a check-post before Kohima where you may be asked to show your permit.