Landlocked, almost inaccessible to foreigners, Nagaland has been fighting a secret, Often brutal, war for independence for more than half a century. Portyrad either as a land of ruthless guerrillas or exotic natives, Nagaland is in fact a complex and divide region, with an incredible history. The breathtaking Naga hills take us to the offices of Adolf Hitler and Emperor Hirohito, via well-meaning colonialists and anthropologists, and one of the most important battles of the second World War.
The third generation of this family to be seduced by Nagaland, Jonathan Glancey tries to reconcile his childhood idealism with the reality he finds, there, and explores his family tries to the region. Through his ancestral history, extensive travels beyond the tourists Zone, and through the voices of the Nagas he meets, he tells the true story of this forgotten land.
Jonathan Glancey is a journalist, author and broadcaster. He has written for newspaper, magazines and journals worldwide, and is the Guardian’s architecture and design correspondent. His book include Twentieth-Century Architecture, Lost Buildings and Spitfire: The Biography. He is proud to have fired and driven an Indian an Indian Railways WP class Pacific and to have helped save St Martin’s Church, New Delhi.
Landlocked, and largely inaccessible to foreigners, Nagaland is one of the youngest and certainly the most hidden state of modern India. Cut off from the rest of the world at the eastern hem of the Himalayas, it is home to nearly two million people from some sixteen Tibetan-Burmese tribes who have been fighting a remote and rarely reported war for independence from India, on and off, since the early 1950s. The fighting continues sporadically, skirmishes between rival independence movements and against Indian armed forces undermining fragile treaties while tourists, some apparently unaware of the struggle being fought around them, continue to enjoy the more peaceful areas of the state.
Nagaland is tucked into the far north-eastern corner of India. It borders the states of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh and, across an international frontier, the Union of Myanmar, once known as Burma. But up to a further two million Nagas which has existed as a state only since 1963, is an Indian fabrication that fails to recognize their nationhood: a fragmentation of their natural homeland by politically expedient boundaries. What Naga independence movements and guerrilla of ‘Nagalim’, or a Greater Nagaland, an independent country that would unite all the tribes in a land of their own. As this book hopes to explain, their dream remains just that, and may do for many generations to come.
Here is remarkable place- Shangri-La through a glass darkly a people, and a war without end, largely unheard of outside the Indian subcontinent , and not much known even within it, Nagaland is a place of stunning beauty, of stunning beauty, a once-flourishing secret garden blighted by war and effectively cordoned off from the rest of the world . More than 200,2000 people have died here in seven decades of brutal conflict while its political masters, despite numerous short-lived peace settlements over the years, maintain a heavy-duty military presence in the region. The Nagas, however, remain unwilling to settle for anything less than a much greater degree of freedom than the government of India is ever likely to sanction.
I had wanted to visit this high and haunting land since I was a small boy. My father, chifford George Glancey, a Child of the Raj born in Lahore, and my grandfather, George Alexander Glancey, an Anglo-irish Indian Army general, knew Nagaland well. It was then the partly unexplored Naga Hills district of Assam, the great tea-growing region, where my uncle Reg, a future Eighth Army officer, was a planter. He spoke fondly of the Naga people. They were, he said, headhunters. But they were also hospitable, loyal, brave and passionately fond of music, dancing, hunting and extravagant costumes. They lived in remote regions of lush hills and valleys patrolled by tigers, and across the Burmese border in Self-governing highland villages.
My father returned to the region with the RAF in 1944, when Commonwealth forces and Naga warriors loyal to the British drove the Japanese back from the Indian border to Burma and the tropical seas. The Japanese had hoped to reach Calcutta (now Kolkata) and Delhi through the Naga Hills. Had they done so, they would have broken the back of colonial India and of the British Empire itself.
My father said I would enjoy a trek to Burma from India through Assam and the Naga Hills. This, tricky enough in his day, is more easily said than done in-rnine. For many years Nagaland has remained a dream destination, much as Kafiristan had been for Brothers Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan, Freemasons and soldiers of fortune, in Kipling's 'The Man Who Would Be King', a short story that I read over and over again as a boy. In I975 it was made into an equally enjoyable and compelling film, directed by John Huston and starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine, renewing my enthusiasm for some unknown, mythical Asian world beyond established frontiers.
What few written references I came across to Nagaland as a boy were, however, hardly encouraging. I remember buying a second-hand paperback copy of H. E. Bates's The Jacaranda Tree at a time when this author was best known for his frightfully English novels Love for Lydia and The Darling Buds of May, but not for the stories he wrote as 'Flying Officer X' for the RAF during the Second World War. Bates developed one of these into The Jacaranda Tree, published in I949. It tells the story of English settlers in Burma making a tragic escape to India with the Japanese army in hot pursuit. Led by Paterson, manager of a rice mill, their route would take them north ... through Naga territory:
The hills might be tough, but he knew the road, if you could call it a road, for about a hundred and twenty miles north- westward, roughly in the direction of Naga country, but beyond that he did not know it and there were few who did. He could only guess what lay there. Soon the scraped-out terraces of blistered rice-field would give way to the wretched fields where nothing grew but the thinnest sesasum and millet where in harvest the flocks of raiding paroquets were like hordes of banana-green locusts ravaging the seed. It had always been a country of continual exodus up there: a wandering from place to place by thin cattle, lean men, sore- eyed children, women with faces of teak-wood, an endless search for the hills' less bitter places. And soon all that would go, to be replaced by the folded parallels of forested rock, basaltic, bitter, waterless, like hills of iron veiled with minutest cracks of sand scorched to whiteness by the long dry season, mockingly like rivers between the great sunless towers of forest and bamboo It was not the things that lay behind that troubled him but the things that lay in front of him. If he feared anything at all it was that the road might die up there, somewhere in the high jungle, between the foothills where they now were and the far tea country of Assam.
Bates's Paterson and his fellow escapees are left at the end of the book as they cross a bridge into these darkly haunting hills, although not before they have encountered at least a few Nagas on the way, written off here as 'the eaters of opium, the head- hunters', forever squatting, spitting chewed betel nut and waiting silently for nothing.
Undeterred by this hardly enticing advertisement, in time I got to Nagaland, and have returned several times since, not always in possession of the correct visas, yet with good grace and in hock to no party, faction, media, military or business interest. I have trekked through its eleven districts - Dimapur, Kiphire, Kohima, Longleng, Mokokchung, Mon, Peren, Phek, Tuensang, Wokha and Zunheboto. I have crossed the high and slippery eastern and southern mountain borders into Burma, where the eastern Nagas live in a world that has changed little since my grandfather's day, or even for centuries before that. Sometimes it has been a very cold place to be, at others baking hot or, all too often, sopping wet. Walking in Nagaland is rarely easy, and walking is usually the only way to travel in the saw-toothed Naga Hills, though the flora and wildlife, hunted to near extinction in parts, have provided ample and very beautiful reward. I have seen leopards and elephants on hilltops. I have watched and listened in mute amazement to striped laughing thrushes and other stunning birds competing with the extraordinary nightingale-like songs of flying lizards. I have brushed my way through a wild proliferation of rhododendrons, orchids and bright mountain flowers while eating as many wild cherries, mangoes and figs as I have been able to pick. And while the area has few conventional buildings of note, the state's natural architecture of densely crumpled and deep green landscapes crowned with traditional thatched hilltop villages remains imprinted and reprinted in my mind's eye. The Naga Hills have indeed been my secret garden.
The beauty of this mesmeric landscape is only the more haunting because of the sorry state of Nagaland's volatile politics. A tourist visa will grant access to the main approved visitor sites and nature reserves, and seeing them will be memorable experiences, yet, without understanding the story of the Nagas and their country, such trips are like travelling around England ignorant of the fact that it is a monarchy and the cradle of modern democracy, however imperfect.
The politics of Nagaland are arcane and understood by all too few people even in India, many of whom still look down on their 'primitive' countryfolk with a condescension that recalls the views of British imperialists a century and more ago. A report I watched on India's NDTV in October 2007 on the problem of Delhi's ever-increasing monkey population encouraged viewers to suggest what might be done with these cheeky, and sometimes aggressive, simians. 'They can be sent to Nagaland, where the local people have no problem dealing with monkeys: they will eat them,' was one suggestion. Presumably while swinging naked through the trees between bouts of headhunting.
Art & Culture (745)
Emperor & Queen (484)
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend