In the mountains high and secluded, live Naga people. The Naga ethnic tribes had held the New Year festival in their respective villages, but since 1956, the chieftains have collectively held the New Year festival in towns. In 2020, the annual festival will take place on 14-15 January and here is what you should know about the event.
Where is it?
The Naga self-administered zone is located in the Naga Hills of Sagaing Region. The region is composed of three townships: Lahe, the administrative seat, Leshi and Nanyun. The New Year celebrations will happen in Lahe, located northwest Myanmar, in the mountains near the border with India.
How to get there?
You can fly from Yangon to Mandalay and from there to Hkamti Airport. The flight between Mandalay and Hkamti takes around an hour. You get to Lahe after a 6-hour drive from Hkamti. The buses between Mandalay and Sagaing are also available and the distance between the two is not more than 20 kilometres.
Where to stay and eat?
Lahe has only one guesthouse and it is just a small space at the village chief’s house with a shared bathroom. Homestay options are available during the festive season but the prices can be as high as Ks 900,000. The eateries offer tea, coffee and simple Chinese food.
What to expect?
The opening day begins at 8 am on 14 January. The Naga people from different villages will gather at the festival ground and erect the totem pole. Men don warrior costumes complete with weapons as if they are marching into a battle. Women wear colourful dresses and ornaments. Then, they chant and beat drums to drive away evil spirits.
After the opening ceremony, Nwar Naut, a kind of cattle usually kept in the mountainous regions, are killed and shared among the villagers. Each village contributes the cows for meat in advance of the festival. The second day is all about dancing and being merry. There are 10 Naga tribes and each has its own distinct dance patterns.
Don’t forget the photocopies of your passports and travel documents. As you reach Lahe, you may experience poor cellular services. Although some people say MPT works slightly better than other operators, the safe bet is to bring all the four SIMs and try each of them. The temperatures drop below 10 degrees at night, so bring as many sweaters and blankets as you may need. Take insect repellents and bug patches, too. In these areas, you may use the cash more so bring a lot of it.
Special thanks to Ma Soe Moe Khaing of Crystal Zone Travels in Mandalay for providing vital information for this guide.