When I reach Dimapur by the Inter City Express from Guwahati, it is half past four in the morning. Although it has been a sleepless journey through the night, I am glad to be here so early in the day. My permit to Nagaland starts today. I am a little surprised that no one checks my permit as I leave the train station. Perhaps, it will checked later as I make my way to Kohima.
Dimapur is commercially more important than Kohima. It is a large town with many hotels and fine restaurants. Among the restaurants, one can choose to go for typical Indian food or exotic Naga food. Of the latter, dishes are mostly non-vegetarian. One needs a lot of courage to enter an authentic Naga restaurant. The smells are awful. I take a room, catch up on sleep and do my laundry. I have a nice lunch of rotis and mixed vegetables. The meal is good but pricey. Service is slow.
‘Do you know where I can find the Kachari ruins?’ I ask a traffic policeman. He is dressed in white clothes. This is the third time I am asking about these ruins. Previous attempts have been unsuccessful. This is the way it is in much of India. Locals will not know anything about historical ruins unless it is part of a popular tourist trail. They will know about it only if it has some commerical value.
‘Yes. They are on the other side of the railway tracks. You have to walk down past the bus station and a market. It is right opposite the Circuit House,’ he says cheerfully. While he chats with me, traffic is flowing rather smoothly. It is a leisurely afternoon hour and a good time for him to take a break. Meanwhile another policeman dressed in khaki comes up to him for a chat.
‘This guy is going that way. He can drop you at the ruins,’ the traffic policeman tells me. I hop on to his bike and we are on our way over the flyover. Within five minutes I am dropped off at the ruins.
‘Do spend too much time here. It is not safe,’ the policeman advises me. With daylight still around, I have no fear.
There is an entrance gateway to the ruins. It is not impressive and probably of a later period. The ruins on the other hand are all from the 10th century scattered widely within grounds overgrown with tall grass and weeds. There are iron railings in place around the stone ruins but they are simply to protect the ruins from local vandalism. Vandalism is visible in the form of scratch marks and graffiti. Inner railings prevent closer appreciation of the ruins. This is not a place planned and developed for tourism. The caretakers of this place could do better by making a nice garden to display these ruins to good effect.
There are no massive structures of buildings. All the stone ruins are basically of a single type – tall and stout standing stones, somewhat like lingas but heavily sculpted with intricate design. With these designs, you could think of them as chess pieces. Time has robbed the designs of their original sharpness. It occurs to me that these designs are indigenous with little of Aryan elements that we see in rest of India. I see motifs seen nowhere else in India. The ruins are unique and definitely worth a visit. Lotus or other floral motifs or medallions are common. Animal reliefs include deer, elephant or cow. There is a man raising his arms to the sky as if in celebration or in invocation. He wears a headress. Tasselled motifs are common and like skirts they fall with their repetitive folds.
The stones are generally 8 to 10 feet high, their bases embedded into the ground overgrown with grass. I suspect ASI has done some cleaning and preservation of these stones in the past. Otherwise, they might be today covered with creepers and mossy undergrowth. I pass three youths sitting below a drink. They are smoking and getting drunk on some local brew. At the far end of the complex is a massive monolith. This is perhaps the biggest one here, standing about 22 feet tall. This is only a rough visual estimate.
As I leave the place, I can only say that it has been wonderful to visit these ruins. They require better attention and care. I make my way to the market nearby. Markets are wonderful places to observe local cultures and customs. Nagas are known to eat all sorts of things and this market at Dimapur is a good place to surprise yourself. I see worms squirming in large bags and wicker baskets. I see frogs strung together like a necklace and dumped in a metal container. One woman is selling chunks of meat which I learn to be pork. It doesn’t look fresh. Meanwhile dark clouds have gathered over town and it pours. I stand in the market next to spring onions and pig meat. When the rain stops, the streets are flooded. Then I hear a dog barking.
A barking dog might go unnoticed elsewhere but it is a significant event in Dimapur. I have not seen any stray cows or dogs in town the entire day. I turn round to see the dog sitting unnaturally next to a vegetable vendor. The dog is bound in a gunny bag. It is unable to walk or move. Only its head is sticking out of a small slit. It looks around in a confused manner and continues its bark. Little does it know that each bark is an invitation for potential customers. Another dog next to it, similarly bound, is quietly looking around from its gunny cage. So here is man’s best friend waiting to become dinner. Nagas eat dog meat.
I am told that dogs are not common in this part of India. Dog meat is generally rare and often customers can buy only a hundred grams or so. One guy tells me that a kilo of dof meat can cost Rs. 350. Here’s a thought for all of you in Bangalore: bring a couple of Nagas down to Bangalore and we are rid of all stray dogs in the city!