After a late night typing I awoke at 6am – just over 5 hours sleep, but that’s life, at least I wasn’t lying in a trench getting shot at all night!!
Vijay and I had eggs on toast followed by watermelon and a cup of tea on the balcony of where we are staying.
Kevi our driver turned up on time and at 9am we made the very short drive to the Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery at Kohima. The cemetery is located right where the battle for Kohima took place. It is a very sobering place to be, standing there surrounded by hundreds of graves, right where they were killed. I knew the history of the battle, but to actually be there bought it vividly to life. Vijay was previously unaware of Kohima, but being an Indian, on his own countries soil surrounded by the war dead made an impact on him (as it always does on me).
I was able to explain some of the details of the battle and what happened to Vijay and Kevi (our local guide), it is impossible to visit these places without being deeply impacted by the events that unfolded where we stood.
It is hard to comprehend that somewhere so serene could have been the place of such incredible violence and destruction. Literally hundreds of young men lost their lives in an area smaller than a rugby field, and most died fighting across tennis court.
We spent probably 1.5 hours there, taking our time to wander among the graves, and pondering how this could have happened in a civilised world, but it did, we saw it first hand and eventually we left. It is a very special place to visit and I am so grateful that I was able to be there.
From there we went up the road to the site where there is a WW2 tank. The tank slid off a hill in the monsoon and was left there as a memorial ever since.
Next stop was a restaurant that is sort of like a water tower – it had an upper floor which was open with the most spectacular views looking back towards our accommodation. We had a lovely lunch then headed out of town to where every December they have the massive “Hornbill” Festival. All the various tribes of the state converge for festivities and cultural shows. There are houses there which are local houses for all the different tribes, they are all different and whilst they aren’t real lived in houses they were a good representation of how the various tribes lived.
In that area we also visited the War Museum, which was actually quite informative and had one very good diorama which clearly showed the battle of Kohima at the tennis court. It was quite informative, but it didn’t tell the full story of the battle, but I guess most people are only interested in the basics and not the full detail like me.
Our last stop was going to be Garrison Hill which overlooked the Tennis Court area where main battle took place and where the cemetery is.
As we walked to the point where you could get a view I noticed a large immaculate property hovering above the road. It was fully fenced with soldiers guarding it. I asked Kevi what was that and he said it was the Governors Residence and Offices. The Governor is the Prime Ministers Representative in the State, and is an extremely high ranking person that is like a King for the area. The Governor of Nagaland is also Governor of Assam (the neighbouring province to the west), so he is extremely important and is a personal colleague of the Prime Minister. I asked Kevi did he know if the Governor was in residence – he said he must be because the flag was flying, so I told Kevi that I would ask to have a cup of tea with the Governor.
Kevi thought I was joking and said that would not be possible, but I thought why not give it a go.
So I knocked on the huge solid gate that you couldn’t see through and called out to try and get a response. More banging and shouting and eventually a crack appeared and an immaculately groomed Soldier poked his head through the gap and asked what did I want. I asked him to tell the Governor that I was here and I would like a cup of tea. The Soldier looked at me like I was some sort of idiot – he said that would not be possible. I said how did he know that when he hadn’t asked the Governor, that got him completely stuffed and in the end he said I would need to speak to the security forces around the corner, so off I trotted. Kevi was telling Vijay it would never happen, Vijay was telling Kevi not to be so sure because I had succeeded in meeting the New Zealand High Commissioner in Delhi, and also the District Commissioner of Joypurhat, and the Police Commissioner there also.
I wandered around the corner and there was a very imposing metal barred gate with 4 heavily armed soldiers inside. Directly across from them across the road was small portacom – into that I went and there were 2 women and 1 man, they were undercover Police.
I confirmed that the Governor was in and asked them to tell him that I was there and that I would like to have a cup of tea with me. They also looked at me like I was some sort of idiot. So I persevered and told them that he would like to meet me as I was from New Zealand, and it would be more interesting that dealing with boring officials all day, again I got the “are you mad” look. I persevered and one of the women made 3 phone calls. I told her I only wanted to spend 5 minutes with him to say hi, and that was all.
In the end she disappeared and told me she would be back soon. I couldn’t see out of the portacom so had no idea where she went. Vijay and Kevi arrived and the 3 of us sat and chatted with me winding up the remaining policeman and woman. After about 15 minutes the woman who had left came back and said that the Governor was in a meeting, but that I could see him after his meeting finished in about 10 minutes – I was amazed that I was going to have an audience with this very important man – he rules the entire 5.3 million population of Assam and Nagaland and is a personal friend of the Indian Prime Minister, and there was I in my smelly sandals, filthy shorts and odorous shirt.
After about 5 minutes a man came and collected Vijay and I (Kevi was still in shock that I had arranged to have a cup of tea with the Governor and didn’t come), followed the man through the gates, past the armed soldiers and up into the magnificent grounds of the Governors mansion. We were escorted to a waiting room in an adjacent building and kindly asked to wait until someone came and got us.
After 15 minutes a bugle started – I went back to the door and watched as two ranks of immaculately presented Indian Soldiers lowered the Indian Flag out from of the Governors mansion.
A couple of minutes later a man came and got us and asked us to follow him. We walked past the ranks of Soldiers and up the red carpet into the magnificent mansion. We turned right into a massive room with portraits all around it and there sitting in a chair was the Governor – an 84 year old man who was solid in stature and bespectacled. I introduced myself and Vijay (including Vijays last name, Misra so that the Governor would know that Vijay is a Brahman which is the top caste of Indian Society).
We sat and chatted for 40 minutes, we were served water, tea, and light food. It was just like meeting the Queen. The room would have had 10 couches in it and was luxurious.
The Governor was a sharp witted, very intelligent man. He opened the conversation asking where we were staying and what did it cost per night – we embarrassingly told him where we were and that it was costing us about $10 each per night. He also asked how we got there and remarked that normally people have to apply for an appointment to see him. I told him I was a cheeky Kiwi and that I thought I would try my luck – he smirked at that. He told me that Christians and Muslims were all killers and that the Hindus never invaded or killed anyone. He was correct to the best of my knowledge so we agreed on that. I mentioned cricket to which he replied he wasn’t interested in cricket, it wasn’t sport anymore but a business.
We discussed quite a few things, he chatted to Vijay in Hindi and we all got along just fine.
He gave us some advice on where to stop for lunch when we go to Imphal in a couple of days, then added that sadly he cannot eat at any places like that now because of his position. I felt he was happy to have a couple of fellows just drop in the give him a break from the monotony of office.
After we had been there for 40 minutes I felt we should go as Kevi was waiting for us in the Police Portacom, so I asked if I could have a photo – he was happy with that, so we got one of his many servants to take a couple of photos, we bade him farewell and after a handshake we exited back down the long drive, past the armed security soldiers , through the gates and back to the Portacom to get Kevi who was still reasonably speechless at what had transpired.
Vijay and I laughed pretty much the whole way down the driveway at having pulled off a spectacular coup in meeting such a major VIP. After that we carried on down to the viewpoint over the cemetery (which was a little disappointing) and then back to the place we are staying.
Dinner was Chicken with bamboo shoots, potato soup, cabbage and rice and it was very, very nice.