Anyone who knows me also knows that I have an insatiable urge to chase festivals. I love large gatherings, especially if they are cultural festivals – and I never let an opportunity go past me to visit another one where large group of people flock together. “More people. Give me more people!!”, I sometimes cry in my sleep.
Not really. That’s just melodrama, but you get the point.
But then, there are some festivals that I never heard of before, and never planned to visit. And when they magically fall out of a calendar right onto my lap, ahhh, that is one of the most pleasant surprises ever.
So it happened in Kohima too. I had come to the capital of the Northeast Indian state of Nagaland to see another famous festival – the 10-day hornbill festival in December. But I was so excited to see it, that I came a full 5 days earlier, in the last week of November. With the routine sight-seeing in Kohima behind me, I was unsure of what to do.
Further Reading: If you are planning on visiting Hornbill, I highly recommend camping during the hornbill festival, because it taught me many valuable life-lessons.
A casual visit to the Nagaland State Museum in Kohima, taught me that there were nearly 24 major tribes in Nagaland, each occupying a different region of the state. And all of them had their own festival, apart from the hornbill festival which was participated by all the tribes. This got me thinking about whether I could include any other tribal festival into my Nagaland trip. I searched google and came across a festival of the Rengma tribe of Nagaland, which was celebrated in the last week of November.
Turns out, majority of the Rengmas were actually based in Kohima. So somewhere here, there was a Ngada festival happening too.
The Search for the Rengmas and their Ngada festival
Thanks to a link that I had found through google, I knew that the Ngada festival was sometime in the last couple of days of November. But nobody in Kohima seemed to know the exact details of it.
I asked my receptionist in the run-down guesthouse that I was staying in Kohima. She had never heard of Ngada festival before! I curiously asked her what her tribe was. She was Ao, and she regaled me with stories about the Moatsu festival of the Ao’s, which happens sometime in May. I asked her if she knew any Rengmas, who might know about the Ngada festival. She knew no one.
I went outside my hotel and started asking around about the festival. Unfortunately, I am unable to distinguish between the different tribes of Nagaland, so I ended up asking to any Naga I met. And none of them knew about the Ngada festival. Maybe it was just my dumb luck that I did not meet any Rengma around.
At one shop, I was talking to an Angami lady, and she was the first person who said she had heard of the festival. But she had no idea when or where it was taking place. Eavesdropping on our conversation was a taxi-driver, who was not Naga. When I was leaving the shop, he tapped me on the shoulder and said:
“The festival is happening this weekend. It’s at the Naga Solidarity park”
I was flummoxed at first. This man was definitely not a Naga. When I asked him, he mentioned that he is a Bengali. Then, how did he know about this festival?
“I picked up a couple of passengers who were talking about the festival”
Aah. I had forgotten the lesson that taxi-drivers are sometimes much more effective than Google. I thanked him, and prepared to visit the Ngada festival during the Weekend.
On Saturday, I got up early and prepared myself. I hopped on my motorbike and started searching google maps for Naga Solidarity Park. To add some last-minute chaos to my wanderlust, there was no Naga Solidarity Park on Google maps!
I knew there was no mistaking the event location, because I had already stumbled onto news-links from previous years of this festival which confirmed the location and the date that the Bengali taxi-driver had informed me. There was definitely a Naga Solidarity Park somewhere in Kohima, and I once again took to the street to ask around.
Again, no one know where the Naga Solidarity Park was. Everybody kept asking me if I was referring to the Naga Heritage village, where the Hornbill festival happens. And I told them it wasn’t. This to-and-fro went on for a bit and this time, even the taxi drivers did not know. I even started to zoom into google maps and looked at each of the parks in the little city of Kohima, and try to ascertain if any of them could be the Naga Solidarity Park.
Eventually, I found out that the Naga Solidarity Park was not a Park at all, but rather a Naga-style morung and open ground near the Nagaland State Civil Secretariat building. The locals called it the secretariat ground, and that’s why no one had recognised the name of ‘Naga Solidarity park’ when I asked them. I had spent a good few hours in the morning trying to figure out this little secret of Kohima, and rushed there straight away.
It was already 11 AM, but I was finally at the Ngada festival of the Rengmas.
Further Reading: Like checking out photogenic festivals? Click here to read about the Masskara festival of Bacolod, Philippines, a total riot of colours and masks.
Ngada – The Festival without any Tourists
Turns out, today was the last day of the Ngada festival. The Ngada is an 8-day festival, and marks the end of the agriculture season for the Rengma tribe. The previous 7 days were mostly private and indoor events, and involved activities like preparing the rice beers (1st day), repairing ancestral graves (2nd day), visiting the graves (3rd day), washing the weapons (4th day), and several other ceremonial activities. But the 8th day was the last and closing day, and it involved the Rengmas coming together to celebrate the festival.
And my luck was such that I had managed to visit the festival during its last few hours.
The Naga Solidarity Park was on a less-visited stretch, a short walk away from the civil secretariat building. It was a large open ground with an amphitheatre in the middle. When I rode my motorbike into the open ground, every body stopped what they were doing and stared in my direction. It was obvious. This was NOT a touristy event, and I was probably the ONLY tourist at this festival.
I parked my bike and waited a little bit to gauge the reactions. Was I welcome? Or was I intruding a community affair? It did not take long for the stares and the initial surprise to turn into bright smiles. Many were genuinely surprised that I had managed to find out and come – from Kerala, as some of them correctly deduced from my license plate – to see the festival. I was told that unlike hornbill, the Ngada festival is not advertised in the media. But tourists are always welcome and that the Rengmas loved to share their culture with the outsider.
I was further invited into the amphitheatre and made to sit on the first ring of the amphitheatre. The best seats in the house are always kept for the guest, I was told.
I had wasted a lot of time in the morning to figure out the Naga Solidarity park, that it was already 11.30, and I barely had an hour remaining in the festival. The closing ceremonies were going on, and the lunch would begin shortly. After that, the festival would close down. But nevertheless, I got of a good taste of what was going on.
The closing day was mostly games among the community. I was told that I was a little late to see some of the earlier games like high-jump and some other warrior games. But what I did get to see was a unique anti-tug-of-war game. Well, I don’t know what exactly this game is called, but it looks related to the tug-of-war. Instead of 2 teams pulling a rope, here, 2 people pushed a bamboo pole, until they forced the pole into the other person’s side.
Sadly, this was the last game too. The MC came to me and told me that I was late, thereby missing some of the action in the morning. I told him about the difficulty in finding out this place.
Soon, the other Rengma members in the audience came to the amphitheater. Despite all their colourful, ceremonial clothing, it was obvious that the Rengmas had accepted modernisation – they were soon taking a whole lot of selfies and doing facebook/instagram live sessions. Entire families and groups of friends got together to pull a few selfies together. And they were more than happy to have me – I was the exotic, dark-skinned, south-Indian tourist here – to join in their selfies.
The group soon started to disperse and lined up outside the amphitheatre for the communal Rengma lunch. There was rice with some steaming hot pork, and everyone gathered for their lunch.
Never one to miss a good lunch, I joined in too, completely content at the flow of events and how the festival season in Nagaland had just begun.
Dates: The Ngada festival is an 8-day festival, but the 8th day is the public, community day. This usually happens on November 28th, but check with locals as the date is not fixed.
Venue: Naga Solidarity Park, near Civil Secretariat in Kohima.
To Remember: An ILP (Inner line permit) is required for travelling in Nagaland beyond Dimapur. During the time of Hornbill, this is rarely checked. But since the Ngada is before that, prepare the ILP in advance. Can be done at the Dimapur airport also.
Pro-tip: Since this festival is conveniently located between 2 colourful festivals of the NorthEast (Sangai festival happens in the last 10 days of November, and the Hornbill festival happens in the first 10 days of December), it makes for an interesting itinerary in any North East Trip.
Further Reading: Planning to visit Kohima and then merge with a trip to Manipur? I highly recommend visiting the town of Moreh on the India-Myanmar border.
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