View of the Barail Range, southern Nāgāland
Tucked away in the far north-eastern corner of India lies the mystical and beautiful hill state of Nagaland. The dissected landscape dominated by crumpled mountain ranges is bounded by Myanmar in the East, the Indian states of Assam in the West, Arunachal Pradesh and a part of Assam in the North, and Manipur in the South. The often surreal terrain of towering peaks and deep gorges is interspersed with dense patches of vibrant semi-evergreen rain forests of breathtaking beauty. To top it all are the people - strong, proud, hospitable and cheerful. People who embrace tradition but are not drowned by it. Ingredients that make Nagaland a true "Jewel in the East". Pity that history and geography has led to its relative isolation from the outside world. Those who have never been to Nagaland do not know what they have missed.
Nagaland is thinly populated (density 120/ sq.km) and predominantly tribal. There are 16 major tribes along with other sub-tribes of Indo-Mongoloid lineage. Each tribe is distinguished in terms of tradition, custom, language and dress. Clan traditions and loyalties play an important part in the life of Nagas. English is the official language in Nagaland and Nagamese acts as the bridge language between people whose tongue differs from tribe to tribe. Most Nagas are Christians today, and an overwhelming majority are Baptists.
Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy with about 70% of the population dependent on it for a living. Rice is the staple food. The major land use pattern is the destructive slash and burn cultivation system locally known as 'Jhum'. Wanton 'jhumming' leads to pressures on the forest and wildlife which is compounded by the widespread prevalence of traditional hunting. Most of the land area is under tribal ownership and is managed under their customary practices.
Nagaland is part of two bio-geographic zones. i) Mizoram-Manipur-Kachin Rain Forests (IM0131) and, ii) Northeast India-Myanmar Pine Forests (IM0303).
The Mizoram-Manipur-Kachin Rain Forests represents the semi-evergreen sub-montane rain forests that stretch from the Arakan Yoma and Chin Hills into the Chittagong Hills, the Mizo and Naga hills and finally into the hills of Myanmar. It's location at the junction of the Indian, Indo-Chinese, and Indo-Malayan bio-geographic regions results in the presence of biotic elements from all these regions making it very rich in floral and faunal resources. Resultantly, the region has the highest bird species richness of all eco-regions in the Indo-Pacific region. Intanki and Puliebadze are protected areas in this region.
The Northeast India-Myanmar Pine Forests region is located in the Burmese-Java Arc. The Patkai, Lushai, Naga, Manipur and Chin Hills are a part of this Arc. Pine forests occur in this eco-region between 1,500-2,000 meters. Due to the nature of forests, the biodiversity of this region is limited. However, they contain some species unique to the ecosystem. Fakim is a protected area in this eco-region in Nagaland.
Nagaland has a wide variety of forests types. Forests occupy 21% of the land area.
(i) Northern Tropical Wet Evergreen Forests - Mon District. Dominant species are of the evergreen type.
(ii) Northern Tropical Semi Evergreen Forests - Mokokchung, Wokha & Kohima Districts. Deciduous species are dominant.
(iii) Northern Sub-tropical Broad Leaved Wet Hill Forests - Occurs in areas between 500m and 1800m elevation in all districts of Nagaland. Dominant species are mostly semi-deciduous.
(iv) Northern Sub-tropical Pine Forests - This type is found in elevations between 1000m to 1500m in Phek and Tuensang Districts. Pine is the dominant species.
(v) Northern Montane Wet- temperate Forests - These forests occur above 2000 meters in Japfu, Saramati, Satoi, Chentang ranges. The flora species are typically evergreen.
(vi) Temperate Forests - These forests are found above 2500m in areas like Saramati and Dzukou. The species that dominates is rhododendron.
Luxuriant tropical forests amidst diverse topographical and climatic conditions favour an abundance of plant and animal forms - and Nagaland is no exception. Despite serious hunting pressure and conversion of forests to agriculture, Nagaland's bird list easily crosses 500 species and most of them can be found in Nagaland even now. Top of the list of birds in Nagaland is the Blyth's Tragopan - the State bird. It is fiercely protected in most places that it occurs. Other key birds include three regional endemics - the Striped Laughingthrush Garrulax virgatus, the Brown-capped Laughingthrush Garrulax austeni and the (Cachar) Wedge-billed Wren Babbler Sphenocichla humei roberti and specialities like the Spot-breasted Parrotbill, (Naga) Long-tailed Wren Babbler, Tawny-breasted Wren Babbler, Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, Dark-rumped Swift and Rusty-capped Fulvetta.
To the outsider Nagaland often resembles the killing fields as far as wildlife is concerned. Hunting is as old in Nagaland as the people who inhabit it, and most Nagas find it odd that people could just watch birds! But as forests shrink and weapons improve, the traditional balance between the hunter and the hunted shifts inexorably in one direction and it is hoped that the wise people of Nagaland will recognize that before it cannot be reversed.
Southern Nagaland birding hotspots
[Covering the Districts of Kohima, Peren and Dimapur]
Khonoma area in Kohima District: The picturesque village of Khonoma, which lies 20 km west of Kohima, was known for its fighting prowess in the past. It is also known for the fallow management of its Alder trees and for its beautiful terraces which are carved out of the hill slopes surrounding the village. But today it is known as a hotspot of birding activity as a direct result of a hunting ban over a 70 sq. km area imposed by the Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan Sanctuary which was set up in 1998. The ban was initially imposed to conserve the Blyth's Tragopan in its natural habitat.
Khonoma village's immediate habitat comprises of agricultural land, land under Alder, degraded forests and small patches of conifers. Dense and undisturbed tropical forest of considerable diversity is found on the border dividing Kohima and Peren district in the Dzulekie area. Key birds include: Mountain Bamboo Partridge, Striped Laughingthrush, Brown-capped Laughingthrush, (Cachar) Wedge-billed Wren Babbler, (Naga) Long-tailed Wren Babbler, Rufous-capped Fulvetta and Chestnut-vented Nuthatch. Common birds around Khonoma include Crested Finchbills and Grey Sibias.
Benreu area in Peren District: Benreu is a little village perched 1950 meters under the foot of Mt. Paona. Benreu is famous for housing an unique community where 20 percent of an animist population dictates the customs and social rules of the majority Christians. The key to bird diversity in Benreu is the intact natural forests characterized by an abundance of broad-leafed evergreen and deciduous trees. The area has wild cherries, apples, lemon, banana, walnut, fig and other tree species like Bonsum, Gogra, Alder, Oak. A rare species of bamboo, believed to be the tallest bamboo in the world, is found in the foothills of Peletkie village close to Benreu. Birding in Benreu is along the road and key species that can be found in the area include a variety of thrushes (including Grey-sided in winter), galliformes (including Blyth's Tragopan), and most of the birds that occur in Khonoma plus the enigmatic Spot-breasted Parrotbill.
Intangki area: The Intanki National Park is the centre of all birding activity in the lowlands of Peren District. Intanki is a low elevation tropical deciduous forest and abounds in Himalaya foothill species. Access to Intanki is difficult with the nearest village at Llilen still 10 kms short of the Park. Infrastructure at Llilen is basic and one has to depend on the hospitality extended by the villagers to spend any time at this place. Despite seasonal hunting (daily on Mondays and Thursdays between June - February), Intanki is a birding hotspot with an abundance of lowland birds which include drongos, minivets, bluebirds, thrushes, barbets, woodpeckers, green pigeons, hornbills, bulbuls. Key birds include Brown Hornbill, White-Winged Duck and Black-headed Bulbul
Dimapur Area: Dimapur is almost entirely in the plains and the only place to see birds is the protected Rangapahar National Park and Zoo. Only 15 kms odd from Dimapur city, this small walled area is a true haven for birds. The birdlife here is largely unexplored but a brief visit gave us birds like Spot-winged Starling and Green-billed Malkohas. Bulbuls and starlings abound in the scrub/grass habitat and there was local information that suggested the presence of green pigeons and pheasants in the area. Access to Rangapahar Zoo is from Dimapur. We found that it opens after 10 a.m. despite literature that suggests an earlier start time.
How to reach
Air: Dimapur has the only airport in Nagaland. Direct flights connect the airport to Guwahati and Kolkata.
Rail: Dimapur has a railway station on the main line of the Northeast Frontier Railway. It is well connected to Guwahati.
Road: NH 39 is the main highway for entry into Nagaland from Assam. It connects Kohima with Dimapur, a distance of 74 kms. Tarred roads connect much of Nagaland internally. Many need repairs.
Where to stay
Kohima: The Heritage. Officer's Hill, Kohima. Tel: (0370) 224 1864; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dimapur: Aier's Enclave. No-7, Vikiye Colony. Dimapur - 797112, Nagaland.
Benreu: MT. Pauna Tourist Village. Benreu, Nagaland. Tel: (0370) 227 0072
Contact and permits
Tourists visiting Nagaland are required to get an Inner Line Permit (ILP). These can be obtained online or by visiting the designated office. For details please visit: http://www.ilp.nagaland.gov.in/
Area: 16,579 Sq.Km
State capital: Kohima (1444m)
Population: 2,000,000 appx.
Important tribes: Angami, Ao, Chakhesang, Chang, Khiamniungan, Kuki, Konyak, Lotha, Phom, Pochury, Rengma, Sumi, Sangtam, Yimchungru, Zeliang
Language: English. Nagamese is widely used in verbal communication.
Staple food: Rice. Pork is an important protein source.
Highest Peak: Mt. Saramati 12,552 feet (3,826 m)
Key rivers: Doyang, Diphu,Barak and Chindwin
Protected places: Intanki NP, Puliebadze WLS, Fakim WLS and Rangapahar NP
Temperatures: Summer 16 C - 31 C; Winter 4 C - 24 C
Location: Between 25°6'N - 27°4' N and 93°20'E - 95°15'E
1. Govt. of Nagaland website
2. Department of Forests, Ecology, Environment and Wildlife, Nagaland
3. Nagaland Tourism Department
4. A Pocket Guide to the Birds of Nagaland by Anwaruddin Choudhury; 2003. Gibbon Pocket Guides
5. Some bird records from Nagaland, north-east India - Anwaruddin Choudhury; Forktail 17 (2001): 91-103
6. Birds of Nagaland by Bikram Grewal, Sumit Sen, Ramki Sreenivasan