Mekong TrailsFrom the north of Thailand to the Mekong river, spiritual Luang Prabang, Pakse, Paksong and the stunning archaeological ruins of Siem Reap
Razhu Junction lies at the intersection of Traders and Dimapur Roads in Kohima, Nagaland. I don’t know where the colloquial term ‘up the Razhu’ originated but it could easily have been here at this road junction during the battle for Kohima in April 1944. Garrison Hill, site of the famous seige at the Tennis Court is just up the road. These places are now inscribed in history as the Stalingrad of the Allied campaign to drive the Japanese Army out of Burma but until quite recently I knew almost nothing about them. Hundreds upon hundreds of Allied and Japanese soldiers died on these hill tops in a desperate see-saw fight to control the strategic Dimapur Road. The final act took place literally on the terrace of the Tennis Court above the District Commissioners bungalow. It must have been a terrible and bloody affair. When the sun rose on the morning of the 10th day the Allied forces were down to their last handful of bullets. The Japanese too were demoralised and exhausted, in fact they were too exhausted to make that final charge across the Tennis Court that might have resulted in victory. Later that morning when the relief force of Allied tanks rolled up the Dimapur Road to reach Razhu Junction the siege was lifted and the Japanese began to retreat. Today we went there, to Garrison Hill Commonwealth War Cemetery, to stand on the Tennis Court amongst the graves and consider the lives lost and the sacrifices made. Today it is a peaceful place in the middle of a bustling city of more than 1 million people. Seventy one years ago who could have known what the future might hold, yet were willing to make it possible.
We arrived in Kohima by the Imphal Road, itself the scene of bloody clashes between the advancing Japanese and the defending Allies. Now the road is at war with itself and the travelling public. In Asia there plenty of bad roads and the Imphal-Kohima road is definitely one of them. But it is no match for our small fleet of Toyota Innova wagons which have been bred in India for roads such as this and worse. We have been lured up to Kohima by the annual Naga Cultural Festival which take place on the first 10 days in December. It is a stunning spectacle of colour, song, dance and tribal culture. Sure its contrived but the primary focus is definitely on preserving and presenting Naga cultural heritage. Tourists are a bonus and we were happy to be there alongside other travellers. The Nagaland Tourism Department promote the event as the Festival of Festivals. We reckon that they have it about right.
In fact they are doing pretty well considering that Nagaland is one of India’s ‘Naughty States’ which like neighbouring Manipur and Assam get little in the way of assistance from Delhi. For their sins, the naughty states get martial law and a military presence that closely resembles an occupation. Of course its true that insurrectionists lurk in the hills and violence has been used to settle scores with the folk who have the unenviable task of implementing Delhi’s policies in these strongly Christian States on India’s N.E Frontier. For all that the defence of Kohima back then has at least given folk the right to self determination. Its a thing that is catching on next door in Myanmar but probably won’t just up the block in China for a while yet. Tomorrow we are back up the street to Razhu Junction to take the Dimapur road down to Sibsagar on the Bramaphutra plains.