Hornbill Festival is an annual event that takes place from the 1st to the 10th of December. The event is predominantly to promote tourism in the state and also showcase all the Naga tribes, their culture, traditions and heritage.
The festival is named after the Indian Hornbill, the large and colorful forest bird which is displayed in the folklore of most of the state’s tribes. Now in its 19th year, they have really done an incredible job. Hornbill festival is for sure become a must visit event for travelers heading towards northeast India.
During the festival, you can get up close and candid with 16 major tribes of Nagaland. Which are :
Angami – Ao – Chakhesang – Chang – Dimasa Kachari – Khiamniungan – Konyak – Kuki – Lotha – Phom – Pochury – Rengma – Sangtam – Sumi – Yimchungru – Zeliang
Each of them have their own traditions, culture, and tribal dress to learn about. You can watch them dancing, singing, play a variety of traditional instruments and even tug of war!. Sample Naga cuisine, their delicacies, drink rice beer, and get cozy by the campfire of Morungs and rock with the locals once the sun goes down!
Hornbill festival is a blend of cultural stories with a cocktail of their similar yet unique sounds, colors, people and textures of all the tribes.
Reaching Kohima and Kisama Heritage village in Nagaland
The festival is held in Kisama Heritage Village which is around 16 km from the main capital of Nagaland, Kohima. You can also read Kohima: Land of culture and heritage like none other.
The closest airport to Kohima is in Dimapur which is around 70 km and is supposed to be 3 to 4-hour drive away but currently, due to the construction of a six-lane highway, the road is in bad condition and can take you up to 6 hrs.
Nagaland had some of the worst roads I’ve ever experienced. Be prepared for dirt tracks, pot-holes for days and winding bends and turns over the Naga hills. So grab an Innova or four-wheel drive. I personally traveled from Imphal to Kohima after seeing the Sangai Festival of Manipur(You can read all about it in the upcoming posts) in a personal vehicle.
After reaching Kohima, you can grab a private or sharing taxi to Kisama village. Keep in mind that during festival times the prices are four times higher, so really
Dates and prices for Hornbill Festival
Hornbill festival in 2019 will be from Sunday 1st December to Tuesday 10th of December.
If you’re staying near the grounds then the price is FREE! If visiting from outside, say if your
It doesn’t really matter when you arrive, as the programmes are almost the same each day. But I’ve heard the first few days with the opening ceremony are the best.
Stay during Hornbill Festival
Be warned that when the festival is in town, hotels and guest houses get booked at lightning speed and months in advance. There aren’t really a lot of options to choose from in Kohima and also, the room rates here will be sky-high . Most of the places that will have room available last minute during the festival will be camping sites. These are adequate for a couple of days if you come prepared with the right equipment!
Now coming to the most exciting part
What is there to do at the festival
You’ll for sure need more than a day to enjoy everything that the festival has to offer. Although the order of events each day is the same; the shows, music and tribes will change daily.
An ideal daily programme for you would be :
- 8 am: Try to reach the Heritage village from where ever you are staying on the campsite or in a hotel in Kohima. A time-saving tip: start early if staying in Kohima . Around 7 am would be perfect to avoid all the traffic that creates bottlenecks and delays in Kohima city.
- 8:30 am: Visit the Morungs to take pictures of the tribes before the crowds.
- 10 – 12 pm: Then head into the arena and watch the wonderful showcases.
- 12 pm: Break for lunch, go to the tribe morungs to have a taste of the Naga cuisine. Every tribe has something different to offer.Then head out to check out all the handicraft stalls put up, to buy or check out some souvenirs or just to admire the beauty of the handmade products and those vibrant colors .
- 2 pm: Head back to the arena for more shows in the afternoon.
- 5 pm: Drink rice beer, have dinner and jam in the evening with locals at the bonfires.
Now coming to all the cool stuff that you can do here, options are many but here are a few that you absolutely cannot miss.
Meet the tribes in the Morung’s of the Kisama heritage village
Each of the 16 tribes has their own Morung (meeting house) built in the area, representing their village and every one of them is unique and different. The best thing to do would be to wander around the traditional village and visit the tribes in their Morungs.
A little background: Every year a different group of people of each tribe
Its where you can actually meet the tribes and the groups that are going to perform during the festival. The best time to interact and photograph the tribes would be around 8:30/ 9 am when they are rehearsing or practicing the performance sequence. It definitely adds a different perspective to the portrait photograph. Ask the tribes if you can take photos while they’re getting ready and practicing. They are really friendly and have no problem posing for some clicks.
Its totally picturesque. It was fascinating to know about the Naga culture and interacting with the tribes, getting to know about their culture and traditions. I could really spend hours just in these Morungs.
And who knows you might just get to dress like them and dance with them, like I did.
Watch an eye-catching showcase of culture at the showground
After the Morungs the real showcase of the Hornbill Festival was the daily performances at the showground. It just wasn’t restricted to Nagaland but also had participation from the neighboring states of northeast and even some from Orissa and Kashmir.
The timings for the performances is the same but the itinerary of the participants changes daily. Each day, the 17 tribes take turns to present parts of their culture to the crowds.
The state of Nagaland is predominantly agricultural and so you will find a lot of dances, performances and traditions are all centered around this.
You’ll watch men going into battle, women singing and dancing, tug of war, contact sports and all sorts of amazing happenings!
Shop for tribal souvenirs
I loved exploring the shops set up here. They were so full of bright colors and the traditional handicrafts. There were works of bamboo- keychains, cups, beer glasses, glasses, pen stands, baskets, More of beaded jewelry- bracelets and necklaces, there were tribal textiles too, furniture, even more modern naga design notebooks, magnets. My favorite were the naga chili sauces, sweet chili (tastes sweet in the beginning but is totally capable of giving the chills) and hot naga chili sauce.
All the crafts and handiwork is brought here from the villages and all the proceeds go towards the families in villages – so splash out!
And thats just not it…
Go visit the galleries of Naga art, film and literature
There are numerous galleries set up in and around the Morungs to showcase Nagaland culture. They have photography and art galleries, information centers which talk you through history and even public services like the Assam Rifles. Make sure you take some time to explore. and get to understand the history of Nagaland.
Drink rice beer with the locals, an absolute must!
Although Nagaland has imposed a (rather lax) alcohol ban it doesn’t mean that there isn’t liquor to be had at the festival! Rice beer is a popular drink to guzzle throughout the day and is relatively cheap. My beer in a bamboo mug cost me around 50 rupees! which is way cheaper than any booze would have been if it were available.
Rice beer is a little bit of a hit or miss in terms of whether you’ll get a tasty one or one with any strength! A tip, just look for the busiest Morung or stall and grab a few beers there.
Rock out with the evening music concert
Once the sun goes down at Hornbill and the place is in darkness you can rock out at the battle of the bands concert that takes place each evening! You can watch from the sidelines but
Where to eat & drink
Every tribe has a kitchen in the Morung and have something different to offer in terms of menu. So just pop at any one and chose or have something at each one.
But just watch out for the dog meat! Yep, you read that right. They sell it everywhere here.
If you are up for it then you can even try some silkworm.
Some helpful travel tips to prepare you for Hornbill Festival
Hornbill Festival is a must visit
- Wifi and phone signal is intermittent – although the main sponsor ‘Jiochat‘
doprovide a free wifi service that’s meant to last you a full day, that so many people trying to use it, the strength can be hit or a miss! The best wifi signal strength you’ll find is when in the showground.
- Be prepared for freezing temperatures – As before, it gets cold for a good part of 15 hours in a typical day. Once the sun goes behind the hills, the arena and campsites are in shadow. You’ll notice the temperatures drop considerably. Add in the strong breeze as Kisama village is on a hilltop. To prepare; bring lots of warm layers or buy some, bring proper camping equipment, or head back to your
guest housewhen you get too cold! Alternatively, get a rice beer jacket and power through!
I absolutely and wholeheartedly was mesmerized and in love with every bit of Hornbill Festival. It definitely was an eyeopener to my mind, and heart to a culture so unfamiliar to my own even though I live in the same country. Make sure you book your ticket to Nagaland in December and enjoy this incredible showcase of culture!
For more information and to keep your eyes peeled for the next years programme the official webpage here.
Want to know more then checkout these posts
- Kohima: A land of culture and heritage like none other
- 15 facts no one will tell you about Hornbill Festival, Nagaland
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