I really didn’t know what to expect when I was visiting Longwa. The North East doesn’t have endless travel guidance, but, I definitely knew one thing about this place; it was the home of the last surviving head hunters!
Hornbill Festival gave me a tourist taste of Naga tribal culture, but we weren’t in Disneyland anymore folks. As my bumpy night bus from Kohima wound around the dusty Naga hill roads at dawn, the concrete houses and modern life as I knew it slowly turned into thatched huts and tribal villages.
The adrenalin started to run through me, finally, a real adventure! One where I didn’t feel certain or secure, where I didn’t know what lay ahead of me. I was on a mission to meet the Konyak head hunters of Mon (eek!).
Longwa was a place that intrigued, confused and amazed me all at once. It was a mix of Opium fumes, Christian Hymns blaring out and tribal face tattoos.
It was definitely THE place in North East India that I will never forget. I guess it’s hard to wipe encounters with a chief tribal king offering you opium and ex head hunters from your mind.
This is a full travel guide for your visit to the Naga village of Longwa.
Where is Nagaland and Mon in India?
The state is comprised by 17 major tribes which are;
Angami – Ao – Chakhesang – Chang – Dimasa Kachari – Garo – Khiamniungan – Konyak – Kuki – Lotha – Phom – Pochury – Rengma – Sangtam – Sumi – Yimchungru – Zeliang
Although hard to believe you are still standing on Indian soil but no one speaks Hindi here, the local language is Nagamese.
Getting into the state of Nagaland is easy with Dimapur airport being located on the West side of the state. This is in perfect location to access the Capital City of Kohima which is a further 3 to 4 hours drive away.
Mon is located on the East side of Nagaland and can only be accessed by road. Mon is home to the Konyak tribes; every last name is Konyak here!
The roads aren’t so pretty here!
Do I need a permit to enter Nagaland?
No, you do not need to buy a permit to enter Nagaland. But, you will need to inform the police station that you have arrived, where you’re staying and how long you plan to stay.
I will go into this more below.
A beautiful sunrise in Mon, Nagaland
How to reach Longwa & formalities for when you arrive
I decided to get a night bus to East side city of Mon after attending Hornbill Festival for a few days.
This was a rather long bus journey which left at 1pm that day and got into Mon at 6am the following morning. Nagaland roads are notoriously terrible and the bus actually went into the state of Assam to the West and back into Nagaland to the East side to avoid long delays. Assam has better roads which makes sense.
It was a pretty terrible ride as the buses were crowded with tourists and locals wanting to leave Hornbill and go back home. I was pretty much the only foreign girl on the bus travelling alone at the back, but it was safe enough.
When I got into Mon, I decided to hop in a Sumo jeep that morning straight to Longwa from the sumo counter. Luckily, one was available at ‘special request’. What this means is that, although the regular cheaper jeeps were full, a couple of people wanted to rent one privately. It was only 100 rupees more and cost me 250 rupees. I was lucky or I would be staying in Mon for the night.
Sumo Jeeps in Nagaland are the only means of public transport and only a few run to Longwa each day. It’s a gamble if you’ll get a ticket so I would recommend as far in advance as you can!
If you’re a foreign visitor, you must sign in with the government official in Longwa once you arrive. Your guest house owner will take you there. Bring your ID like a passport. He’ll take down your details about where you’re heading next and where you’re staying.
Where to stay in Longwa
In Mon there were only 2 guesthouses to choose from and in Longwa it’s the same. I stayed at the ‘Traveller’s Inn’ which was opposite the Chief Angh’s residence (the King of Longwa!).
Although it looked a little intimidating with the locked barbed wire fence, I took comfort in the fact that I would be safe in my stay.
This was a great, clean and tourist friendly place to stay. The beds were warm with extra blankets, electricity and private bathroom. Hot water was available on request and in a bucket like most guesthouses in North East.
As I was a single guest, I totally robbed all the warm blankets!
Breakfast was included and there was a kitchen where a lunch/dinner buffet was prepared by a local chef daily at a small cost.
Our chef in Tourist Inn
The room rates are 1500 a night per room but most have 2 beds inside. So, if you have someone to share with all the better!
For bookings contact +91 9856015152 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was staying here with two Israeli guys who were on their Royal Enfield bike. They were pretty much high all the time. As there wasn’t much to do in the evening’s we’d watch Rick and Morty to pass the time ha!
If you’d rather stay in a homestay type experience you can stay at Aunty’s guesthouse which is a typical village hut. I didn’t stay here or hear of anyone who did but it does sound cool to stay in a Naga hut for a few days.
Traditional huts in Longwa
What to get up to
If you’re travelling here solo, I would highly recommend a local guide to show you around. The language barrier is quite strong so having someone that speaks Nagamese can really open doors for you. Don’t expect people to be friendly and welcoming without! And, if you want to meet the head hunters, this is a must.
I took comfort in my friendly guide from my guest house Namei. Of course, you pay a guide fee around 1500 rupees for a whole day. But, I spread the cost over the days I was there. It was the only way I would have met the headhunters and that’s what I was determined to see!
On the occasion I did decide to go for a walk alone, I felt strangely intimidated. There were so many stares and not the curious ones, heckles and laughing in Nagamese and even kids threw rocks at me! Go careful.
If you’re not comfortable going at it alone, I would go on a tour. Sange Tsering at Holiday Scout is one of the top people you can know in the Himalaya’s and will have you in good hands. For some context see my full review of my tour with him in Arunachal Pradesh here.
The kids were cute but terrifying!
Visit the Cheif Angh (King) in his official residence…and sit in the opium den
According to the laws here, every traveller who visits Longwa must meet the chief King in his Longhouse. You must be prepared with a gift of a donation…usually in the form of money for opium.
Most older children (even as young as 6/7) would babysit and have their baby brother or sister on their backs like above!
I have to admit the fact that I was going to meet a king set my expectations pretty high and I was nervous! But, actually it wasn’t all that grandeur. The king has only been recently inaugurated and isn’t covered in tattoos like the warriors from long ago. Both times when I sat in the longhouse I was taken into a visitors room which was pretty much a drug den.
The fumes of Opium filled the air – even in the morning. It’s constant. The chief king was pretty high when I met him around the campfire. The second king pretty much prepared opium for himself, the chief king and others all day.
If you’re not familiar with opium it’s a drug that I’ve only heard of being used in Victorian times in UK. It’s a type of morphine that’s extracted from an opium poppy. The way the mixture was prepared here was in a spoon being burned over the open flames of the campfire. Tobacco is then saturated with the vaporised liquid. This tobacco is then put into a bong and toked. Then, you drink tea. Lol, as you can tell I’m not an expert in this field but that’s what it looked like to me!
Although I was offered to take part, I declined. I never do drugs and as a solo female traveller it just wouldn’t be safe. The fact that I knowingly would do that may cause complications if something were to happen to me.
India has a strong view of ‘loose’ women who visit from a Western society and I didn’t want to a victim of that. Don’t worry the king won’t be offended, it just means more for him and his officials. As long as you’ve contributed a donation (I think I gave 300 rupees as I had no cash), you’re all good.
Luckily, the two Israeli guys took the offer, it would have been a short visit otherwise! As the language barrier was quite strong, one of the Israeli guys got out his recorder and it went off a hit in the palace! The king and his officials were impressed.
The chief house in itself is worth a look around. I met the Queen and the new prince of Longwa who was just a baby (and so cute). Saw a dozen Mithun and Buffalo skulls on the walls and learnt that half of the longhouse is Indian and half is Burmese. Just make sure you visit with a local or your guide, don’t walk in uninvited.
Explore the beautiful village that is Longwa
The fact that Longwa is on top of the Naga Hills makes for some amazing scenery! You truly feel on top of the world. Namei took me around the whole village and just walking around it was stunning.
There was a walk up towards the Army camp which was really beautiful. You’ll walk past Long houses, huts, the church, and look into the plains of Myanmar!
Make sure you take some time to explore.
Be in two countries at once – step into Myanmar at the look out point
Longwa stands directly on the border with Myanmar and almost half is classed as Burmese. So, you can actually walk into Myanmar here without border control. Obviously you can’t go any further than this point but it’s definitely something you should see, for the glorious views alone.
The marker is placed on a vantage point and one side is in Hindi and one side is in Burmese. There were some cute kids playing as we walked up. I couldn’t stop staring at the amazing rolling hills, the landscape was so lush, green and incredible!
Meet the last surviving head hunters
Ah, the thing that all tourists want to see when they visit.
It was a strange feeling coming face to face with a head hunter. To see the years of opium take an effect, the surprising kind eyes staring back, the wrinkled skin with the tribal tattoos over their face and bodies. I had so many questions that would remain unanswered and an admiration mixed with anguish. To know that these were head hunters, I was face to face with a famous killer.
After every raid of head hunting, the warriors were traditionally inked. First on the face, neck and then other parts of the body. The different tattoos worn by Naga tribes represent the different stages, status and achievements in their life. For men they were inked once they became a man and went into battle and for women it represented different life cycle stages.
Head hunting was banned by the British in 1935, so these are truly the last surviving head hunters! Give it 10 years or so and these guys won’t be there anymore. Most are 80 to 90 years of age.
Although head hunting became illegal, the battles between tribes here were frequent until Longwa converted to Christianity in the 1980s. Today, these face tattoos are illegal.
You will need a guide to show you around to meet them, without one it may not be possible. They mostly spend times at home and with family. They also won’t be dressed up in traditional dress. Most of the Naga people don’t these days.
This is Namei’s father. When I went to his house to take pictures he took me through to the other side of his hut. He pulled back some washing to reveal all these awesome buffalo skulls to shoot against! Awesome.
Come prepared with tips if you want to take photographs and to meet them. I would say 100 or 200 rupees per person should be enough. On request, they will get dressed up in traditional wares. One even showed me his head hunting basket too!
My guide translated that the Naga people kept saying ‘although language isn’t the same, smiling is the same’ and I guess that’s the only language we had! They were so friendly and would ask questions through my guide.
I’m going to release an article in more detail about how to meet the head hunters – watch this space.
Attend a Sunday service
The church of Longwa is huge and stands in the middle of the village. I was curious to take a peek inside a Naga church.
Would they have the bible translated in Nagamese? What did it look like? All these questions drew me in more.
I missed the Sunday service as I was touring around and just caught the locals leaving, all in their Sunday best! The church was quite spartan with long lines of benches to fit everyone in.
I learnt at Hornbill Festival that Nagaland is a devout Christian state. British missionaries arrived here as early as the 1930s. Nagaland converted entirely in the 1980’s as, before this time, the tribes were always fighting each other. Hence, where the term head hunter came from!
Namei told me that his father was actually one of the first people to bring Christianity to Longwa.
For me, I had a hard time digesting it all. I hated the colonialist feel to taking over a culture with the ideal that Christianity is somewhat superior. That the values of one religion is better than the other. But, when speaking to the locals they thought that it was the best thing that ever happened and were happy. I guess people got tired of fighting and would rather be united than divided.
Shop for local handicrafts
I had already bought a brass skull necklace at Hornbill Festival, but there were SO many options to choose from here.
You’ll find a lot of the local handicrafts for sale outside of the King’s house each day. The prices are reasonable to the time they took to make and they are such interesting souvenirs to take home.
You can buy necklaces, shawls, masks and antiques. Sure beats the typical Indian Pashmina or Ali Baba Pants.
The children are nice on the surface, but watch out..
At 29 you’d think I’d be too grown up to be intimidated by little kids but in Longwa you’d be wrong! When I was with Namei, a lot of them were terrified of me and hated me because of my camera.
Kids would throw rocks at me, one threatened me with a makeshift bamboo sword, some would run at me with clenched fists.
Apparently a lot of them are told ‘no photos’ and that the camera takes the soul out of you. So, no wonder they were terrified! But also I saw a lot of kids working at stone yards, maybe the citizens of Longwa didn’t want the world to see.
So, if you find you’re under attack, just get the camera out and they’ll flee. They were so cute but so terrifying at the same time!
The only time they were happy was when the Israeli guy started playing with his Dapostar and we got our phones out and started taking selfies haha. So, maybe get your Snapchat filters out?
Top Tips for visiting Longwa
- Guest houses – Longwa doesn’t see much tourism so you won’t find many guesthouses which have been set up here. But, you won’t find that the rooms are sold out either.
- Electricity – This comes on when the lights go down, so make sure to charge your phones and equipment at night.
- Eat in your guest house – Longwa doesn’t have ‘restaurants’ per se. They have kitchens in the guesthouses that can prepare you meals. Traveller’s Inn would prepare a huge buffet each day for Dinner and Lunch for 350 rupees a day. That included rice, meat, breads, vegetables, tea and water.
- Language Barrier – Nagamese is the local language and not many speak Hindi or even English. This is why I feel it’s good to have a guide with you who can open doors for you.
- Get a guide to show you around or go on a tour – Next time, I would go on a tour. Not only do these guys probably have a relationship with the locals to show you around, you also get driven in and out and don’t have to stay over. Although I was comfortable, I didn’t feel completely safe at all times.
- On Sunday’s everything stops and closes – As Nagaland is devout Christian they’re completely by the Holy Book. That means that everything is closed. It’s illegal to work. The ATM’s shut down and transport doesn’t run. Sunday’s are a day of rest so prepare for that if you’re staying over.
- Bring some warm layers – as Longwa is on a hill and has strong winds, it’s freezing once the sun goes down. Bring some warm layers to walk around and sleep in at night.
- Book your bus out in advance – As I arrived on Friday and I couldn’t leave Sunday, I had to factor in an extra day and luckily I got my ticket Saturday afternoon. I would highly recommend booking your sumo jeep out of Longwa on the day you get there. There are only a few that run and each have 10 spaces that get taken up in no time. If you don’t get the jeeps that day, it’s another night.
- Bring lots of cash from Mon – Although I was advised that there was a cashpoint, it was false information. So, stock up when you get to Mon city for Longwa. Luckily, my kind guesthouse owner took me to an ATM in Mon to pay for my guesthouse. But, as it was Monday, there was a half hour wait for cash. Stock up before to go!
For more of the top travel tips I wish I knew before my visit to Longwa, click here.
Is it safe to visit Longwa solo?
I would say for the most part, yes. Of course, I visited as a solo female traveller and so I took extra precautions by staying in a locked guest house and hiring a guide to show me around. When I was with my guide the people were so friendly as I had a Nagamese speaker who could translate.
But, on the one attempt I took to go out alone, I felt very intimidated. Young men were laughing and making jokes asking for my number, I was getting a lot of unkind stares, kids were being the terrifying kids they were hurling rocks.
I had heard before my visit that without a guide Nagaland isn’t so friendly and, although I’m sure nothing would happen I didn’t personally feel that safe then.
You have to think a place isn’t designed to make you feel safe, it’s to make its own people feel safe. I feel that Longwa is very protective and doesn’t want or really ‘need’ the tourism.
It was out of my comfort zone and in a way I loved it. But, I always have to consider my safety. So, next time I wouldn’t go it alone and go with a tour.
Visit Longwa now before it’s too late
The headhunters of Longwa aren’t going to be around forever, so put this on your list before it’s too late!
It was an incredible experience to come face to face with head hunters. Although years ago they were fierce and have the marks of bravery on their faces and skulls around their necks. Nowadays they’re living out their days with family and melting their memories with opium.
You don’t want to miss out, so visit Longwa the next time you’re in Nagaland!
With thanks to Traveller’s Inn for hosting my stay. For bookings contact +91 9856015152 or email email@example.com. All views, opinions and pictures are my own.