Kohima War Cemetery, Nagaland’s Unique Attraction
For travellers planning a vacation in north-east India, the Hornbill Festival in Nagaland is usually a common feature on a must-see list. While the festival definitely shouldn’t be missed, especially for those looking to learn about the culture of the Naga people, there is another site that one should visit while in this fascinating state – the Kohima War Cemetery. And we at The Ultimate Travelling Camp introduce you to this unique Naga attraction!
Kohima War Cemetery – History
Not many are aware that one of the greatest and bloodiest battles of World War II was fought in a nondescript little village in Nagaland. Fought from 4th April to 22nd June in 1944, the fierce ‘Battle of Kohima’ is regarded as the ‘Stalingrad of the East’ by war veterans and chroniclers, due to its intensity and importance in history.
In 1944, the Japanese had already reached Burma and their next objective was to enter British-occupied India through Kohima via the Burma border. The British made the mistake of assuming that the Japanese would not be able to make it through the thickly-forested areas. However, they came through Mizoram and attacked Kohima and Imphal, Manipur’s capital. A bloody battle ensued and a small Commonwealth force thwarted multiple attacks by a Japanese Division.
Kohima was the site where vicious hand-to-hand fights took place on the tennis court and garden of the Deputy Commissioner’s bungalow on Garrison Hill. There were heavy casualties on both sides, but the Allied forces held their own until reinforcements arrived. Soon, the Japanese were overpowered and forced to retreat, which was a major turning point in the battle. This engagement was named as “Britain’s Greatest Battle” in 2013 by the British National Army Museum. Indeed, India’s history would have been quite different had the brave Commonwealth soldiers not fought off the Japanese invaders, but it came at the cost of about 10,000 lives. The cemetery is dedicated to their memory.
The bungalow was destroyed in the battle, but white concrete lines show visitors where the tennis court once existed, and the site on Garrison Hill that witnessed the bloody battle is now the Kohima War Cemetery.
Things to Know about the Kohima War Cemetery
The cemetery can be considered an example of how war is an equaliser; in that it does not discriminate in death. The cemetery stands as a dedication to both Indian and British soldiers that were killed during the Battle of Kohima. But what makes it unique is that it also houses the Kohima Cremation Memorial, which is the highest point in the graveyard that commemorates 917 Hindu and Sikh soldiers.
It is unusual to find graves for people of these religious faiths, but the cemetery maintained a record of these soldiers even though they were cremated according to their religious practices. Interestingly, there are even tombstones of a few Hindu soldiers, complete with their identities – a rare occurrence in World War cemeteries.
Today, the Kohima Cemetery is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and it houses 1,420 Commonwealth burial sites, in addition to one non-war burial. Bronze plaques with epitaphs pay homage to the soldiers who laid down their lives. Designed by Colin St. Claire Oakes, the cemetery also houses regimental memorials, like that of the Dorsetshire Regiment, all of which has been built on and around Garrison Hill.
Spending time at this somewhat different tourist attraction is not at all uncomfortable. Rather, the impressively-maintained land with slabs for graves amid lush greenery, seasonal blooms, well-marked terraces, two crosses and panoramic views of Kohima, makes a visit here a soothing experience.
Walking among graves may not be the first thing to spring to mind when you are listing attractions to visit, but do take some time out for a trip to the Kohima War Cemetery. A surreal experience would perhaps be the best way to describe what you can expect there. As you sit or walk around, you just might find yourself pondering over the inscription on the 2nd Division’s Memorial near the entrance – ‘When you go home tell them of us and say, “For your tomorrow, we gave our today.”’
While the Hornbill festival is definitely a highlight of your stay at TUTC, our other excursions like the visit to the Khonoma village and Kohima War Cemetery are equally captivating. Come, experience Nagaland like never before!
Take a look at some of the other experiences we offer in Nagaland