Exploring Kohima could throw up several surprises such as an old village, the second largest in Asia, that holds several secrets to Nagaland’s fascinating past. Discover the hill state’s many charms with Niraamaya Retreats Aradura, Kohima.
Have you ever heard of a village with a population of one lakh people, the second largest in Asia, which snuggles within deep valleys, is ringed in by high mountains and yet, is as ancient as the Japfu mountain range that envelops it?
This is Bara Basti (Big Village) or the Kohima Village, an age-old settlement of the Angami people, a major ethnic tribe native to Nagaland. While parts of the village have now merged with Kohima, a rather large section of the original settlement still exists and is a major tourist attraction.
This old part of town, scattered across picturesque hilltops and forested ridges above the main Kohima city, is home to four clans that follow their own system of governance. Travellers enter Bara Basti through an imposing traditional wooden gate with elaborate carvings of warriors, hornbills, and Mithun (wild buffalo) sculptures and horns. Mithun is considered a symbol of prosperity in this hill state and you will find its image, carvings, statues and horns in almost every home and building.
Walk down the twisting lanes of Bara Basti, on narrow village roads, past an array of lovely wooden houses set to the backdrop of the mountains to understand traditional Naga lifestyle and culture. The Naga homes have stone monoliths in front of them that the Angami people raise as memorial to the brave acts of their ancestors. The homes of the society elite — the rich, the landlords, the big farmers and hunters — have horns of the Gaur or Mithun, crisscrossing each other, installed on the rooftop to indicate the status of the family that lives there. Even a family that has hosted two major feasts for villagers in times of good fortune earns the right to install the horns on their homes. In fact, the horn homes of the Nagas are considered an architectural heritage and have been documented in government archives.
The families that are really high-up in status have homes with majestic facades carved out of wood panels and decorated with symbols of Mithun, as well as skulls of other animals that the family’s ancestors have hunted in the past.
Every Bara Basti home (as do homes across most of Nagaland) has a huge basket granary in the verandah that holds the grains and a trough that is used to make rice beer. Finely woven baskets, husking trays of bamboo and large mats for drying paddy are found in almost every home. The woven baskets hold grains, clusters of vegetables and onions, local garlic, as well as chunks of pig fat.
The tall, good looking Angami people either till their fertile terraced fields on the hilly slopes and in the valleys around their villages, or rear livestock. They are also considered expert weavers. When there is no work in the fields, they weave for long hours on their simple looms, interlocking the horizontal threads of the weft with the stretched vertical threads of the warp to create the striking white, red and black band patterns, called Loramhoushu, on their clothes. Often, they also wrap fabrics patterned with black, red and yellow bands, called Lohe, around their waist. In winters, the Angami people add a black weaved shawl called Ratapfe to their ensemble.
The villagers live in a cocoon, discussing local politics, growing their own food in the backyard and in the fields spread across the hills, and celebrating local festivals as a community, a rarity in a rapidly urbanizing India.
Bara Basti is among India’s last-remaining heritage villages in which long-celebrated customs and graceful old homes tell the story of a people whose ancestors have probably been here for as long as those huge old Rupo trees from which they draw the tannins used to colour their vibrant black and red robes.
Niraamaya Retreats Aradura, Kohima is a getaway to the mysteries and beauty of the ancient pastoral and tribal land of Kohima and Nagaland. Explore Bara Basti with an experienced guide on a trail that the retreat organises for its guests. After an eventful walk across the world’s second largest village, unwind at the retreat. Enjoy the view of the mountains and abundant greenery from its glass windows as you sip your favourite tipple and savour a traditional Naga meal.