Road-tripping in Nagaland

Mohit Anand

Anyone going to Nagaland from this side of the country will agree that the idea of travelling in that state does evoke expressions of grave concern from family and friends. Their worries are enough to make one give the idea a second thought and evaluate the feasibility of going to a state that is strife with militancy, and where, as a Naga colleague put it, “Anything can happen anywhere.” Notwithstanding the above, recently I had the good fortune of spending some time in the state for an ASER regional meeting and a district level dissemination. My experience has not only changed my perception of the ground realities of the state, but has also exposed me to the immense beauty and peace that the state has to offer. 

I got a true sense of the place on my journey by car from Dimapur to Kiphire, officially considered one of the underdeveloped districts of Nagaland. The road-trip got me in touch with the pulse of the state by bringing me in close contact with some of the main characters and realities at play in the complex social dynamic in the state. The people you interact with at random stops makes you realize that the life for the average person is very normal, with people going about with their rural lives, not harbouring any deep sense of fear or threat. What really touches a spot is seeing little children standing on the highway in villages, waving at cars passing by. One really gets a sense that they are happy and content and are receiving an upbringing that makes them connect with the world around them, making them comfortable with random human interactions.

The first stop we made on our way to Kiphire was at a little chai place that also had some roti-subzi for food. What surprised us immediately was the fact that we were getting roti-subzi on a highway in the middle of Nagaland. This made sense once we realized that the place was run by a Bihari family that had been around for a few years. It is then that one related the fact with the larger idea that at its heart, Nagaland is one of the most liberal and accepting states in the country. This fact was reinforced during our field visits and various other interactions with people around the state. The general sense of acceptance that Nagas have for “outsiders” is very remarkable. Their level of social maturity in interacting with migrants from other parts of the country, irrespective of region or religion, is really something that the rest of the country can learn from.

The most striking thing about the state, however, is the behavior of the police personnel. While travelling through Nagaland, you encounter a lot of police check-posts, where more often than not, you are expected to prove your identity and have your belongings checked by the police. Keeping police behavior in other parts of the country in mind and considering the security situation in Nagaland, one would imagine that the police would generally be curt, rude and even ruthless at times. However, it was refreshing to see that the police, having stopped you for checking, make the effort to come across as friendly and working for the security of the people. They usually apologise for having stopped you and explain why they need to go through your bags. I think it was my first experience in the country where I felt comfortable with a cop scrutinizing my identification documents and going through my bags. There was a strong sense that they understood and respected their people, making an effort to be nice to them in the otherwise unpleasant task of security checks.

With single lane roads where you do not cross a single vehicle in the opposite direction for kilometers, to mouth-watering pork and rice in almost every little town and habitation on the way, a road trip in Nagaland added more to my work trip than I could ever have asked for. Travelling in the state made me deeply appreciate its people, and their warm culture of respecting people for who they are and believing in and practicing the idea of being ‘human’.