What we can learn from the Self-Sustainable Villages of Nagaland
Updated: Jul 13, 2020
Amidst the anxiety surrounding Covid-19 pandemic, the Indian government declared a 21-day complete lockdown. Panic-stricken Urban India rushed on hoarding essentials, eatables, ready-to-eats and everything that was available last minute. The other concern in every household was the absence of domestic help.
While I am managing the never-ending chores of cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc my thoughts drift to the little Naga hamlets I had visited in December of 2019.
Not far away from Kohima, are two perfectly setup village hamlets of the Eastern Himalayas. Just 20 kilometres from Kohima is Khonoma, that sprang to famed as the 'First Green Village of Asia' in 2005. The other village that intrigued my interest was the self-sufficient way of living in Dzuleke which is around 40 kilometres from Kohima and just 7 kilometres ahead of Khonoma. Both these villages are a population of the majority Angami tribe of Nagaland. Over the years, the Naga villages have adapted to a lifestyle which is not deprived of the modern amenities while still embracing their ancestry of the Head Hunter Clan.
Khonoma and Dzulekie are a perfect example of how a place could adapt to modern living while preserving their age-old traditions and applying the wisdom of the village seniors to lead a sustainable life.
The Angamis have thus got the secret recipe to leading a life of self sustainability.
What is Self-Sustainability - (Source: Wikipedia)
Self-sustainability and self-sufficiency are overlapping states of being in which a person or organization needs little or no help from, or interaction with, others. Self-sufficiency entails the self, being enough (to fulfil needs), and a self-sustaining entity can maintain self-sufficiency indefinitely.
However, if you think of the current Gen X, we all know how up-to-date we are with the latest technology, yet when succumbed to self-sustenance, we would fail miserably at it.
Here are the little insights on sustainability from the Naga Villages -
Khonoma, First Green Village of India -
Tucked amidst the lush-green mountains is a village of around 600+ houses that welcomes you with the board of 'Asia's First Green Village'. Khonoma is a 700-year-old village of the indigenous Angami tribe also known as the head hunters of Nagaland. This is perhaps the only village in India that was never captured by the British Invasion. The Naga Warriors gave a tough time to the Britishers. The village forts still stand in the glory of Naga Warriors and the might in martial arts.
A little history on Khonoma's sustainable village model -
The local Head Hunters of Khonoma practised hunting of wild animals and birds primarily for food and even as part of their festivities. As history has it, in 1997, after repeated efforts by some ecologically sensitive seniors, the villagers agreed to give up hunting to protect the wildlife which was then endangered due to the frequent hunting activities. In 1998, the Khonoma Village council declared around 20 sq.km land as the Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan Sanctuary (KNCTS). A wild bird known as Tragopan had become endangered due to frequent hunting. Around 300 Tragopans were killed in 1993.
Followed by this initiative, the people of Khonoma embraced many such reforms as a community -
Today, every villager is responsible for protecting the wildlife of the surrounding forests and thus in 2005 the Indian govt. recognized their efforts and named it as 'India's first green village'.
The collective effort of the people here is visible in their agricultural strategies. The village follows the jhoom cultivation passed down from their ancestors. As per this method, the agricultural farms co-exist with adler trees which maintains the nitrogen level in the soil thus maintaining the soil health for every crop cycle. These trees are never felled but only cut every few years. Thus the region produces around 30-45 varieties of crops, vegetables and even many varieties of wild fruits and berries.
These terraced fields are the first thing to notice on your entry to the village due to their picturesque landscapes across the valley.
The entire village is maintained by the people themselves. Students and youth groups lead by guardians are responsible for construction, maintenance and cleanliness of communities spaces like roads, pavements, etc. You can find dustbins placed throughout the village.
Sufficient water supplies are maintained by storing water in community water tanks which ensure continuous water supply to the houses. Rainwater harvesting is also practised. Clean water streams flow through the fields and little ponds can be spotted at places. These water sources are even used for fish farming.
If you happen to venture out after sundown, you will notice the streets and pavements are well lit by solar bulbs.
Sanitation is also a top priority. One may notice community toilets. Every household maintains a clean surrounding around their houses. Beautiful flowering plants makes the home entrances colourful and lively.
From the economic point of view, an eco-tourism board is setup where every tourist needs to pay a fee to see around and stay in the village. People operate guesthouses just giving us an opportunity to experience a local home-stay. Weaving baskets and shawls are some creative activities taken up by the women.
Khonoma is a perfect example of a self-reliant village and fits perfectly in Gandhi's definition of India -
"India's way is not Europe. India is not Calcutta and Bombay. India lives in her seven hundred thousand villages."
Dzuleke, a sustainable eco-tourism community -
The drive from Khonoma to Dzuleke is through dense green mountains covered in clouds. Just 7 km from Khonoma, along the serpentine roads we reached this quiet little village. The forest on the way looked so colourful with trees of yellow and red popping between the greenery. A few shades of late autumn in early December.
At the entry of the village, we were marvelled to see a self-service vegetable stall with no human monitoring. I was glad that there was so much good in the world yet. People are supposed to pick their choice of vegetables/fruits and leave behind the money in a box. Imagine the same during our current lockdown! Doesn't it sound too good to be true?
So here we were in a simple life setup perfect enough to sustain in a complex world. We reached early morning to notice very few people out and about. Of-course there were flowers from every home-garden smiling at us and welcoming us, birds singing melodies and butterflies fluttering all around.
The Dzuleke village primarily got its name because of the Dzuleke river which flows underground through this village. Dzuleke is also inhibited by Angami tribe and has only 40 houses in the village. The village has adopted Christianity and a tiny church building is its proof. One will come across a primary school also in the village but the students move to Kohima for further education.
Much like Khonoma, the Village Council of Dzuleke too decided to ban hunting in 1999. This resulted in the enhanced bio-diversity of the village with increasing flora and fauna of its mountains, many varieties of birds visiting the region and freshwater and snow trouts.
How eco-tourism is helping Dzuleke's sustainable living -
The village council has set up the Dzulekie Eco-tourism Board (DETB) with the help of the North East Initiative Development Agency, NEIDA (a Tata Trusts group) in 2014. The bio-diversity and wildlife of the region had started attracting tourists, wild-life enthusiasts and various student groups interested in trekking in the nearby hills.
Though agriculture was the primary livelihood for the locals here, DETBs initiative has helped the villagers to get involved in community-based eco-tourism model.
Tourists need to pay a fee at the DETB office to enter the village. A portion of this fees is used for the development and maintenance of the village.
Around 4-5 households have opened their homes as overnight home-stays. These home-stay owners were trained in basic hospitality management by NEIDA to provide the tourists with the first-hand experience of the village lifestyle. However, this community-based management ensures, every homestay gets a guest on a rotational basis. This adds to their income apart from their agricultural produce.
Traditional Naga meal is also served by the village women, each time from a different household thus distributing the income equally. All that is cultivated and served here are only organic vegetables. You may even have the choice to pick up your vegetables from the family's kitchen garden.
DETB office allots a guide to every group, who show around the village houses, farms and takes you for treks in the mountains. Agro-tourism is also something the village has recently started, where tourists can opt to learn and practice some farming basics during the cultivation season. There are around 4-5 tour guides which take turns to serve the next tour group.
DETB also has certain rules to be maintained by the tourists like avoid littering the village, take back all your plastic waste, carry a refill water bottle and not forcing the homestay to cater to any touristy demands rather enjoying the local life.
This is how I would summarize a visit to Dzuleke -
"Waking up in a cottage bed to the sounds of chirpy birds and the sight of colourful butterflies fluttering around you , experiencing some local cuisines cooked with vegetables picked from the kitchen garden of the homestay while taking up some adventures in the wild is what a perfect visit to Dzuleke looks like."
This is the last of the four-part travel blog series on 'Discovering Nagaland'.
Check below links to read the other blogs from the series here -
Pin this image
Follow me on Instagram for more such travel stories.