Vanilla skies over Kohima

The British took well over 40 years to subjugate the fiercely independent Nagas. When they finally did in 1879, they made the settlement of Kohima the regional headquarters and established a small cantonment there. Kohima led a discrete, fairweather existence till 1944, when it found itself on the frontlines of World War II, between the Japanese pushing in from Burma, and the British desperately trying to hold fort. From April to May, the British garrison found itself under siege from the Japanese, whose repeated onslaughts eventually boiled down to even hand-to-hand combat in the tennis court of the local commissioner’s bungalow. The battle of Kohima proved to be a turning point, marking the first victory of the allies in the Asia-Pacific, and went down in British military history as the ‘Stalingrad of the East’. A handful of years later, Kohima found itself on free Indian territory, and eventually, as the capital of the state of the Nagaland. Today, the city retains a quirky yet provincial air, with its bushmeat market halls and church choir practitioners. History, meanwhile, now finds itself relegated to the quiet Kisama Heritage Village, the site of the annual Hornbill Festival that celebrates Naga cultures; and the stoic grounds of the Commonwealth War Cemetery, where the graves of lost allied soldiers sparkle in the sun against the view of the city they died trying to defend.


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