About the blog: Longwa is an interesting place. Located near the Indo-Myanmar border, it is home to the last surviving tattooed headhunters of Nagaland. And then there is the curious case of dual citizenship. Read the blog to know more about Longwa, how to reach there and what to do.
There was an incessant sound of gunshots and the entire place smelled like gunpowder. And we could see the cloud of dust and gray where the guns were fired. We were at Longwa in Nagaland – a place that is known for the feared headhunting community, But, at that moment, there was nothing to be afraid of. In fact, we were present at the Longwa ground where celebrations of the Aoling Festival were taking place. Shooting with their locally made guns were a part of the festivities of the Aoling Festival.
Longwa, located on the Indo-Myanmar border is a place full of surprises. This small and beautiful village in the hinterlands of Nagaland is the home of the last surviving tattooed headhunters and warriors of the Konyak tribe. Longwa is also a place whose inhabitants hold dual citizenship of both India and Myanmar. All these and so many other reasons make Longwa a very special place that we have wanted to visit for a long time.
Longwa Travel Video
Longwa – the home of the fearsome Konyak Nagas
Nagaland is a land of folklore and fables passed down from generations to generations. As much as the place impresses with its gorgeous and wild landscape, it also enchants with its folk stories and culture. The Konyak tribe is one of the most important tribes of Nagaland known for their headhunting practices and their face tattoos. The Konyaks were fierce warriors skilled in warfare. They are infamous for beheading the heads of their enemies and bringing their heads back to the villages as a trophy. Headhunting and tattooing was completely banned in Nagaland by the 1970s.
If you want to know more about the headhunters of Nagaland, please read our blog on the same.
Longwa was one of the most powerful villages in the Konyak region. Located near the Indo-Myanmar border, its people have strong connections with the neighboring nation. Longwa also has a few of the last surviving tattooed headhunters. All these make Longwa quite an interesting place to visit.
Longwa – A place where opium goes with daily prayers
Opium is common in Longwa, but it is strictly forbidden. This is another peculiar dichotomy of Longwa. When the British introduced Christianity, education and modernity to Longwa, they also brought with them opium. This drug was introduced to pacify the aggressive and fierce Konyak tribe.
The opium had their desired effect. While it cooled down the Konyaks, the opium also engulfed the Konyak men into its psychedelic addiction. The abuse of the drug since the 1940s disrupted the family life of the Konyaks. The men got sucked into addiction and women were forced to go out to the fields. Free flow of opium from the neighboring state of Myanmar also does not ease the issue of addiction. While opium is illegal in India, you can find the Longwa men with a joint in their hands puffing up smoke.
Longwa and Christianity
As much as they are under the haze of opium, the villagers of Longwa are also devout Christians. They do not miss prayers, play Christian music in their speakers and go to the church regularly.
As the Konyaks turned to Christianity, schools and medical facilities found their way in their daily life. The Konyaks gradually embraced modern ways. But with that, many of their old traditions and cultures were lost.
However, not everything was bad. Our host at Sheanghah Chingyu village told us that before Christianity, no one would visit their village and neither would they visit other villages. Neighboring villages were considered enemies unless there was a diplomatic marriage between two warring villages. Christianity taught them to love their neighbors. Today, they can travel to other villages freely and have friends all over!
Nagaland, as a whole is a Christian dominated state and on Sundays, everything is closed. You will hardly find any shops, restaurants open and transport operating on Sundays. We had learnt it the hard way in Mizoram. So, this time, we kept it in mind.
Trip to Longwa
It was after our delightful stay at Sheanghah Chingyu, another village in Mon district, we started our journey towards Longwa. We started on a bumpy mountain road driving past the green mountains and villages surrounded by bamboo groves. Some of these mountains bore the mark of jhoom cultivation. And a few were dotted with woodcutters’ huts.
Passing through a quintessential Nagaland landscape and after a bumpy ride, we finally arrived at Longwa. We drove through the quaint village looking at the houses and shops till we reached the Baptist Church of Longwa. There is a huge playground in front of the church. The Aoling Festival celebrations were supposed to be held at this ground.
At Longwa, we stayed at Longwa Tourist Guest House, which is located just opposite the house of the Angh, or the chief of the village.
Longwa – Belonging to two nations
Longwa is a unique place. Lying along the Indo-Burmese border, the people of this Naga village belong to both India and Myanmar. In fact, they hold dual citizenship. There is free and unchecked trading and movement across the border for the villagers. We could see those small Burmese bikes all around in Nagaland.
It is said that the border goes right through the village and Longwa falls in both the countries. But the actual border line with the army post is just a little distance beyond the village.
And this brings to a very interesting and curious phenomenon in Longwa.
A House that Was in Two Nations
There is a saying that goes as “the King of Longwa eats in India and sleeps in Myanmar”. As per old geographical boundaries, the Indo-Burmese border lay right through the Angh’s or the King’s house. So, one side of the house lies in Nagaland of India and the other side in Sagaing in Myanmar. There is a signage that shows this dichotomy.
It was this house that we visited first. It was late afternoon when we reached the guest house. As I mentioned before, our guest house was located just opposite to the Angh’s house. So right after getting out of the car, I went towards the house. It was a huge one built in typical Konyak style. I was peeking around when our host came to fetch me. He promised that he would take us to visit the Angh the next morning!
So that you are not confused
Mon district is a district in Nagaland, whose headquarters is the Mon town (The town is named the same as the district). There is also another village near Mon town, which is named Mon village. Not at all confusing, okay?
Things to do in Longwa
Longwa is one of the largest villages in Mon district in Nagaland. It is also the most tourist friendly one. While you can stay at Mon town, it is better to stay a couple of days in Longwa in order to get a better insight of the life of the Konyaks. Being a border village, there are some interesting sights in Longwa as well. So here are a few things to do in Longwa while you are there.
1. Meeting the Ahng of Longwa
Well, the Ahng of Longwa is one of the most influential Konyak chiefs. He rules 30 villages in Myanmar and 11 villages in India, which also includes Longwa. The Ahng looks calm and serene, but once you look at his eyes, you will understand why he is the Ahng of 41 villages over India and Myanmar.
As promised by our host the previous day, we visited the Ahng’s house just after breakfast. The king’s house is accessible to all, without any prior permission. You can go inside the house and look around. But I thought it was courteous to take permission before entering the kitchen. After all, it was their personal space, even if they were the king!
The Ahng’s house will take you to a bygone era. The house is a traditional Konyak longhouse and is decorated with Konyak artifacts, guns and skulls of hunted animals. There are several wood carvings as well. And yes, the border between India and Myanmar passes just through the house.
Once we entered through the main door, we came across a huge room. There were a few photographs of the Chief and his family on the walls. On the farther walls were decorated with skulls of hunted animals. There was a wooden bed at one corner of the room. Any royal family member was laid there after their death before being taken to their final journey.
The Huge Gong
There was also a huge metal gong on one of the walls. The metal gong was brought from Myanmar. We also saw a similar gong at the house of the Ahng of Sheanghah Chingyu village.
Next we crossed a narrow passage leading to a huge kitchen. The kitchen had traditional as well as modern touches. We met the Angh and the royal prince. Since it was Aoling day, they were busy preparing for the festival. The little prince was dressed in his traditional attire and looked really cute. Several head gears were kept on a table. The queen and princess would wear them during their dance performance at the Aoling.
After meeting the Angh and his family, we went to our next destination, the border pillar and viewpoint.
2. Take photographs at the Border Pillar
Just outside the Longwa village, there is a viewpoint that is also said to be the highest point in Longwa. From the viewpoint you will get a sweeping view of the Nagaland and Myanmar hills. We could see the Burmese villages as well as a Burmese school. Students from Longwa have the choice of attending either an Indian school or a Burmese one. Children from Longwa attend the school located in Myanmar.
Another interesting thing there is the Border Pillar. There is a milestone erected on top of a hillock that has the inscription of India on one side and Myanmar on the other. Technically, one side of the pillar is India and the other part is Myanmar. So, this is one such place where you can be at two places at one time!! No time travel required!
3. Visit the Gunmakers of Longwa
We were told that every Konyak house possesses a gun and every male member has their own gun. After headhunting was banned, some of the blacksmiths turned to gun making. At Longwa and other Konyak villages, you might see the locals on the road slinging a gun on their back. Don’t worry, they are not going out for a fight.
The gun maker of Longwa is quite well known. His factory, which is in his house, is an open place to see how these local guns are made.
However, since it was the time of the Aoling Festival, the gun maker was on holiday. We could not see how these guns were made, but we visited his factory and saw the guns he made on display. Along with guns, there were daos and Burmese knives. We also got to know how he makes these guns. And I also took the mandatory picture with a gun!
4. Meet the Metalsmith and Artists of Longwa
The Konyaks are known for their wood carvings and other traditional handicrafts. We visited the house of a metal smith who makes masterpieces with wood and metal. His dark and dingy room was full of statues, figurines and showpieces.
There were a couple of life-sized figurines made of wood and polished in black. At a first look, they looked fierce – just like the feared headhunters. The darkness of the room complemented the intensity of the statues and the atmosphere. On a closer look, we could appreciate the craftsmanship of the artisan.
There were smaller statues depicting various life scenes of the Konyak tribe – like a person beating a log drum, a statue of a fierce headhunter with a dao in hand, two persons wrestling and many more. We were fascinated.
You can also see women making colorful beaded jewelry. These are amazing pieces of work and you can take them as souvenirs.
Usually, you can see the artisan working. But we did not see them at work as it was festival season.
5. Explore Longwa on foot
We always believe that the best way to explore a place is by foot. Longwa is a small village and you can just walk around, meet people and talk with them. It is better to have a guide because sometimes language can be a bit of a problem.
While exploring the village, we came across another interesting thing. There is a huge tree at a small hillock at one of the prominent places in the village. This tree also looked quite different and unique. This tree was the one where the headhunters would hang the severed heads of the enemies for everyone to see, after returning from their headhunting expeditions.
6. Visit the Morungs
The Morungs are community centers or dormitories where the boys and young men stay before they get married. The Morungs are beautiful structures and you will get an insight into the life of the Konyak men once you visit there.
Longwa has about 7 Morungs. We visited a couple of them. At the outset, they looked like ones we saw at Reiek in Mizoram. We also saw the huge log drums in the morungs. These log drums were used to convey messages to the village. These men would beat the drums on various occasions – during celebrations, when they came back after a successful head hunting expedition or when there was an enemy attack. The rhythm and sound of the beatings would be different for each occasion thus conveying the message to the village.
7. Watch the sunset at Zero Point
The Zero Point is the place where the current India-Myanmar border is present. The Border army camp is also placed there. It is located a few kilometers away from the village and there is a board by the BRO. The place is quite beautiful and calming. And you get a great view of the sunset from there.
8. Meet the last of the tattooed headhunters
Longwa village has some of the surviving headhunters. You can visit their houses and interact with them. But you would need a guide for that. Usually, if you want to take photographs, they expect some money in return.
Since it was the time of the Aoling Festival, we could not see the gun maker and metalsmith at work. But because of the festival, we were able to meet the elder headhunters in their traditional attire.
We met a few of the tattooed headhunters at the playground dressed in their traditional dress, tribal jewelry and beads. They had deer horns in their ears and wore necklaces decorated with brass skulls.
If you want to know more about the tattooed headhunters of Nagaland, please read our blog on the same.
How to Reach Longwa?
To reach Longwa, you have to first reach Mon. There are several ways to reach Mon town. It is located far north of Nagaland and is not one of the easiest places to reach. The roads of Nagaland are quite bad and it is sometimes an adventure to reach Longwa or Mon town.
The nearest airport is Dibrugarh Airport in Assam. The nearest railway station is Bhojo in Assam.
Dibrugarh to Mon
Dibrugarh is a major city in Assam and is well connected by flights and trains from Guwahati, Kolkata, New Delhi and other major cities in India. Once you reach Dibrugarh, you can book a cab to reach Longwa.
By shared vehicle
If you are looking for public transport, then you have to reach Sonari from Dibrugarh. From Sonari, you will get shared sumos towards Mon town. However, remember that these sumo to Mon from Sonari are found only in the morning by 7am, though I am not very sure of the timings.
If you are not opposed to multiple changes of vehicles, then take an auto from Sonari to Namtola. At Namtola, cross the Assam-Nagaland border gate to go to Tizit. From Tizit, you will get shared sumos to Mon all through the day.
Similarly, from Bhojo, you have to come to Sonari and then travel to Mon.
You can also fly into Jorhat and then travel to Mon. For a shared vehicle, you have to reach Sonari and then travel to Mon.
Dimapur/ Kohima to Mon
You can also visit Mon from Dimapur or Kohima. Dimapur has an airport. Buses are available from both Dimapur and Kohima towards Mon. The distance from Dimapur to Mon is about 280 km and it will take about 11 to 12 hours to reach Mon. Be prepared for a bumpy journey at parts. Book your bus journeys at least a day in advance
From Kohima, buses are available as well. However, these buses actually take a longer route through Assam to reach Mon. The roads through Nagaland are quite rough and bad.
Shared sumos are also available from Kohima and Dimapur to Mon.
Please remember, almost everything remains closed on Sundays. So plan your travels accordingly.
Where to Stay in Longwa?
We stayed at Longwa Tourist Guest House while at Longwa. This guest house is located right opposite to the Angh’s house over a small hillock. It is located very near the Longwa Baptist Church. The rooms are basic and clean. The food served is good as well.
There are other homestays at Longwa as well. We saw one more while exploring the village – Jeilei’ Homestay.
What is the best time to visit Longwa?
October to April is the best time to visit Longwa as well as Nagaland. Try to avoid the monsoon months between June to September. While rains are very beautiful and Nagaland becomes green, the road conditions are pathetic and landslides are common.
If you want to experience festivals, then visit during the Aoling Festival between April 1 to 6.
Do I need permits to visit Longwa in Nagaland?
Indian tourists need an Inner Line Permit to visit Nagaland. These days, ILP are very easily obtained online for a fee of INR 50. After applying online, the ILP is obtained within one working day.
As for foreign tourists, they do not require any permits to enter Nagaland. However, they need to register with the Foreigner’s Registration Officer (FRO) of the district they are visiting or the nearest Police Station within 24 hours of their arrival.
Because it is good to know
- Domestic tourists need an ILP to visit Nagaland.
- It is recommended to get a guide while visiting the Angh, headhunters, gunmaker and the metal smiths. You will get a better insight about the history and culture of the people and the place.
- The different tribes of Nagaland have their own dialect and so do the villages. However, the Nagas speak a common language, the Nagamese. It is very similar to Assamese.
- The Angh or the King is respected by everyone in the village. While you do not need explicit permission to enter his house, it is always better to take a local with you to meet him.
- If you are meeting the surviving tattooed headhunters and take photographs, they will expect some money from you in return. Please hand them some money as per your desire.
- There is army presence since it is located at the border area. While this international border is one of the most peaceful ones, yet do not wander off alone to places you do not know.
- Alcohol is banned in Nagaland. You will not get any shops selling any hard liquor.
- Support the local artisans by directly buying from them.
- Sundays are completely closed in Nagaland. Transport options are very less on Saturdays and lesser on Sundays. So make your travel arrangements accordingly.
- Please respect the local people and their culture. Even if you do not agree with some of their practices, do not judge them or go for an argument. See the world with curiosity and wonder. You will never regret!
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