Fun & Alternate Things to do at the Hornbill Festival – Perhaps India’s Coolest Festival

Our planet has a diverse population with distinct cultures and beliefs. The diversity has led to various traditional events which allow an experience into cultures different from our own. One of the richest ethnic regions in the world is Nagaland which is also home to Asia’s largest church. The state is known for its myriad tribes and rich culture each having its own language and unique traditions. All this makes it a great destination for the Hornbill Festival.

Why Visit the Hornbill Festival?

If you have watched cultural and tribal shows on National Geographic or Discovery and ever wondered what would it be like in person, you need a “Hornbill Festival” experience. The 17 major tribes of Nagaland come alive in this grand annual “Festival of Festivals”.

This one of a kind festival is held to bring all Naga tribes together and celebrate their rich culture and traditions. These tribes come from various villages where one can experience the true essence of Nagaland. There is much to explore and experience in this hidden land tucked far in the North East of India.

The rising admiration of the Hornbill festival is the main reason that puts Nagaland in the tourist map of India. It was no different for me, I was always intrigued by the Naga tribes – their lifestyle, culture and cuisine and Hornbill is the ideal event to witness this.

Naga tribes assemble before the start of the cultural event
Naga tribes assemble before the start of the cultural event

How Did the Festival Get Its Name?

The Hornbill bird is unique and exclusive to Nagaland amongst the North Eastern States of India. Majority of the Naga tribes’ sport Hornbill feathers on their respective tribal traditional head gears.

Most importantly, it was also widely accepted as the appropriate name for the festival to spread awareness to conserve the declining wildlife in the state.

When & Where is the Hornbill Festival?

The festival is typically held every year from the 1st – 10th December. It’s held in Kisama which is 10 kms from Kohima. The events are scheduled from 9 am till 10 pm across different locations in Kohima.

Hornbill Festival Tickets

Tickets for any festival, especially at such a unique and grand stage don’t come as cheap as this – it costs INR 20. If you’re carrying a DSLR camera it would cost an additional INR 30.

Ways to Reach

How to Reach Nagaland?

By Air: All flights to Nagaland are via Kolkata which is connected to all airports in India. However, the frequency of flights from Kolkata to Dimapur, Nagaland is poor.

By Rail: Although your train might not be directly going to Dimapur, one can board a connecting train from Guwahati to Dimapur. Guwahati is well connected to the rest of the country. To travel any place beyond Dimapur, you need to obtain an Inner Line Permit (ILP) which can be applied for on this website.

How to Reach the Venue of the Hornbill Festival?

Dimapur to Kohima: From Dimapur it is a journey of approximately 4 hours to Kohima in poor road conditions. Although bus service is available, take a taxi for a less bumpy ride and you could reach an hour faster.

Nagaland has a reputation for having the worst roads in the country. But there is good news, the government is developing a 4-lane highway, a work-in-progress.

Kohima to Kisama: A taxi is easily available from Kohima to Kisama. The tourist police at the Main Town Center (BOC) are the best I’ve come across in the country who go out of their way to ensure you reach the venue safely.

Nagaland Tourist Police Force
Nagaland Tourist Police Force

Where to Stay During the Hornbill Festival?

All hotels/homestays charge higher than usual during the festival & are booked in advance. It is best to have prior bookings or you would be paying at least three times the original price. Another option is to find accommodation away from Kohima Main Town area, prices will be cheaper but the cost of traveling to the venue will be higher.

I stayed at Melie’s picturesque homestay which is about 15 kms from the venue of the festival. Melie is a gentleman belonging to the Angami tribe who was kind enough to help me shoot a few videos in and around his house and of a traditional Naga kitchen.

Easily available options are campsites – including one at the venue of the festival. Options are aplenty at campsites according to the amenities one is looking for. In case, you plan to pitch your tent, ensure you carry a good sleeping bag, extra warm layers, gloves and other essentials as the temperature is falls to lower single digits in the night.

You can search for hotels/homestays/hostels in Kohima here

Highlights of Hornbill Festival

The festival is now in its 20th year and still growing in popularity with tourists from all over the country and the globe. Various music and other events are planned during the festival. Cultural events have different tribes performing daily.

You would require a couple of days to appreciate what the festival has to offer as there are plenty of memorable moments to be had throughout the festival.

Indulge with the Tribes at the Morungs

For a more personal experience with the tribes, you should spend time at the morungs. Each tribe temporarily builds a morung according to their respective history and culture. The morungs are an ideal place to engage with the tribes to know their lifestyle, rituals, food habits, amongst other things.

The 17 tribes at the festival are Angami, Ao, Chakhesang, Chang, Garo, Kachari, Khiamniungan, Konyak, Kuki, Lotha, Phom, Pochury, Rengma, Sangtam, Sumi, Yimchungru and Zeliang.

For the festival, the morungs are decorated with skulls of mithun (bison) and several artifacts like spears and axes according to their culture. The morung also highlights the importance of the kitchen in the lives of Nagas. The kitchen occupies the main space in the morung and here people gather and share their day to day lives with each other. The morungs are also where the tribes practice their cultural performances for the festival.

At the morung, you can experiment variants of rice beer prepared by the different tribes. Nagaland is a dry state but there is plenty of rice beer to guzzle throughout the day at the festival. Although all morungs serve their own variant of rice beer, not all are as potent. The best way to find out is to look for the busiest morung stall offering rice beer.

The festivities at morungs continue around campfires in the evening. Everyone uses this as an opportunity to dress beautifully, sing, dance, and drum into the night. Naga music has its own charm and rhythm which will sweep you off your feet.

Also do not miss out on listening to powerful tempos when the tribes play the log drum with wooden dumbbells. In ancient times, the log drum was used during war to broadcast the approaching enemy or when opposition forces retreated. 

Cultural Performances

The Heritage Village has a spectacular showcase of cultural performances with tourists cheering as the music numbs the winter’s chill. It is an absolute must to attend these enchanting performances while appreciating the sheer brilliance of Naga tribal beats and characteristic cries of the tribes.

Troupes dressed in their traditional colorful attire perform various themes including – folk dance, war dance, re-enacting battles between head-hunters, rounding off the harvest season, depicting rituals, and demonstrating indigenous games of the tribes.

A young member of the Sumi tribe in action at the cultural performance
A young member of the Sumi tribe enacting the gallant acts of Aqhe Kishi, a brave warrior invading the enemy’s village
One of the many folk dance performances by the Pochury tribe
One of the many folk dance performances by the Pochury tribe
One of the major tribes in Nagaland - The Angamis making their way to the cultural performance - Hornbill Festival 2019
The Angami tribe making their way to the culture show
Cultural performance Hornbill Festival 2019
Cultural performance
The Kachari tribe at the cultural event at Hornbill Festival 2019
The Kachari tribe performing the Chotrolee dance symbolizing women were once great warriors and firmly stood alongside the men in warfare
The famous Ao Prak bamboo dance - Cultural performance Hornbill Festival 2019
The famous Ao Prak bamboo dance

The cultural performances offer a fascinating glimpse into the heart and soul of Nagaland. Traditionally, Naga cultural celebrations are events boasting colorful ethnic costumes and mouth-watering food. Who knew the way to a Naga heart is through their stomach.

Music Festival

The Hornbill Music festival is filled with talent from all across the country. Participants rock out at the battle of the bands’ concert that takes place every evening. The festival also organizes live concerts with scintillating performances by local and foreign artists. For more details, you can refer to the daily Schedule of Events which the festival provides.

Sports & Traditional Games

The festival also hosts sporting events unique to the Naga culture – Archery and Wrestling. Traditional games like Naga King Chili and pork-fat eating competition are a crowd favorite. Bamboo climbing is an event where the climber and the bamboo are both covered in bamboo oil. Contestants practice their skills all year round to participate at this annual festival.

Art & Craft

The festival has a plethora of attractive products to highlight its cultural prowess. The handicrafts exhibition has prized tribal souvenirs on sale. Interested tourists can attend workshops to make bamboo artifacts like bowls and mugs.

Handicraft Workshop - Hornbill festival 2019
Handicraft Workshop

Whether observation or participation is your preferred option, there are heaps of activities to get involved with the community. The Artist’s corner at the festival has artworks on display and for sale. They also have live-sketching and painting exhibitions.

Food

You’d think ticket prices to the festival are negligible (INR 20) and the organizers make up for it in food sales. However, a good meal at the venue, with steamed rice and vegetables/meat would fetch not more than INR 300.

A Naga meal is incomplete without traditionally cooked meat. The staple Naga food made at all homes/restaurants is sticky rice and pork accompanied with delicious beef pickles. Another specialty at the festival is Bamboo Baked Fish along with rice beer at the village.

If you are not looking for a meal but just want to sip on some rice beer, then you must try some herb and chili chutneys with it.

For the vegetarian’s boiled vegetables and roasted millets are prepared everywhere. A hot-selling vegetarian delicacy is boiled Naga beans with spicy chili sauces. Galho, a local version of khichdi is also popular and scrumptious.

A farmer’s market within the arena of the festival supports local farmers.

Attend Opening & Closing Ceremonies

The opening and closing ceremonies are vibrant and captivating. Top dignitaries, ministers & notable personalities grace the event. At the commencement of the ceremony, each tribe is introduced and a brief description of them is given.

Closing Ceremony
Closing Ceremony
The Hornbill Festival Of Nagaland 

2 comments

  1. This one is my fav blog! It was nice reading about this festival I never heard of before. Thanks for an awesome read. On the other hand, I’m fascinated by your photographic skills. Really nice!

  2. Hi Dev,

    Wow! What a read! I’ve bookmarked this already.

    It has been a joy reading your blog on the culture Festival. Educational and very enriching.

    I’m looking forward to reading the plethora of articles that you’ve written on Nagaland.

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