Posted 25 November 2022

Why you must visit the Hornbill Festival to experience Nagaland culturally

There are many destinations in India that serve as an antidote for city dwellers. You can point your feet towards the snow-clad mountains across Himachal and Kashmir, or the wet and cloudy Western Ghats of Maharashtra.

But have you ever been to a place where nature binds your soul so much that you are hooked with thoughts, admiring the beauty of simple things? If not, then come to Nagaland this winter season and witness the culturally affluent Hornbill Festival.

Nagaland, a state in north-eastern India, is well-known for its colourful festivals and diverse food culture. The Hornbill Festival is celebrated every first week of December from 1st to 10th at Khonoma Heritage Village, a few hours away from the capital city, Kohima. This week-long festivity is carried out throughout the month until the bells of the New Year ring.

Kohima to Khonoma Heritage Village's winding roads, towering pine trees, gurgling streams, and dramatic landscapes will accompany you as you drive to experience this once-in-a lifetime festival in the north-east.

But what makes the Hornbill Festival worth experiencing?

Here’s the thing, since Nagaland has around 16 tribes, each tribe has its own language and customs. So to unite everyone and to highlight their culture and tradition, the idea of the Hornbill Festival grew. It is to preserve the tribal customs and maintain the uniqueness and richness of Nagaland’s heritage.

You must be wondering the significance of the hornbill bird in Nagaland, right? To answer your question, the hornbill feather signifies prestige and honour to the Naga people. The feather of the bird is part of the traditional custom of Nagaland tribes. They are often used in their headgear.

Hornbill Festival is organised by the state tourism and art and culture departments and supported by the Union Government of India.

What to expect during the Hornbill Festival?

Every first-time traveller coming to the festival may have their head wrapped around with questions like, "What should I expect?" So, to ease the worry lines in your forehead, we’ve jumbled a few points that you may experience or have to keep in mind during the Hornbill Festival.

1. Free Festival

Hornbill Festival is basically free to enter, except you may be charged for a video camera with a small sum of around INR 70. But that is okay since you get to dive right into the festive mood, try out Naga cuisine, and drink their locally brewed alcohol (rice beer). Since the festival is free to enter, the best seats are occupied on a first-come, first basis.

2. Festival Inclusions

The festival includes many exhibitions of art and culture and pays homage to World War II with displays of the war tanks and weapons used. Besides the colourful display of tribal dances and folk songs, you will see many food stalls selling authentic local delicacies. Various accessory stalls and weaving stalls, among others, may give you butterflies in your stomach. Many competitive sports and eating contests also take place.

3. Live Concerts

The Hornbill Festival is not only about cultural feasts but also about music. Evenings are lit up with fireworks and colourful fairy lights across the arena. Many well-known and up-and-coming artists from across the states of the north-east and mainland India come to perform. If you are a die-hard fan of rock music, make sure not to miss out on their live performances.

4. Packed Accommodations

Everything is fine until you have everything organised and confirmed, such as your hotel and transportation. During the festival season in Nagaland, Kohima will be crowded, and you can expect widespread delays as the roads will be jammed. So, make sure you pre book your hotel in advance and maintain every last-minute detail, like transport from Dimapur to Kohima.  

5. Camping  

That being said, camping is also an option, but make an advance booking and confirm what is included in the tent. Sometimes, you may only be provided with a tent and nothing else. One of the best parts of camping in Nagaland is that the camp sites are close to the Hornbill Festival arena, thus, saving you time from travelling.  

6. Warm Clothes

Nagaland is a hill state, and the mountains around Khonoma are pretty high, thus blocking the warm air to escape, and ultimately bringing in heavy showers. In a few instances, you may see rain pouring from a distance. Being a hill state, it is natural for the days to remain cold and the nights to be chillier, so be prepared and bring warm clothes. The temperature during December in Nagaland can go as low as 5 to 9 degrees C.

7. Hiking Expedition

There are not many activities to do in Kohima except go on a hike to the Dzukou Valley, which borders two states: Nagaland and Manipur. It is a five to six hours hike, depending on your speed. However, the best time to visit the valley is between June and the end of September to witness the beautiful Dzukou lilies that bloom across the valley, creating a fairytale-like atmosphere.

What are the places to visit in Nagaland?

You can't come to Nagaland and not explore the state, right? Some of the best and unmissable places to explore around Nagaland are:

1. Kohima

The capital city of Nagaland is a beautiful place that you are going to be disappointed. The city is placed on a slope on one side of the hill, and at night Kohima glitters like stars on earth.

  • Must see places in and around Kohima: War Cemetery, Intanki Wildlife Sanctuary, Mary Help of Christians Cathedral, Nagaland State Museum, Shilloi Lake, Kisama Heritage Village, Kohima Botanical Garden, and Pulie Badze Wildlife Sanctuary.

2. Mokokchung

A few hours' drive from Kohima, you will reach Mokokchung, a town and a district of the same name that has many villages. It is the best place to unwind and enjoy pre-Christmas celebrations like races and carol events.

  • Must see places in and around Mokokchun: Longkhum Village, Ungma Village, Langpangkong Caves, Dikhu River, Mother Church, Chuchuyinlang Village, and Mopungchuket Village.

3. Mon

The northernmost district and a town by the same name is a stunning destination to visit. It is a place known for the headhunting tribe, the Konyak. The district also borders India and Myanmar. In fact, you can visit Longwa Village, which is located between two countries.

  • Must see places in and around Mon- Local Market, Tenyimi Church, Longwa Village, Veda Peak, Chui Village, Shangnyu Village.

How to reach Nagaland?

Nagaland has an airport and a railway junction at Dimapur that are connected to major cities across mainland India. So, getting to Nagaland won't be a hassle. Except, if you do not book your tickets in advance. Getting a last-minute ticket to Dimapur can be an expensive bargain.

  • Getting around: In Dimapur, you can find cycle-rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, buses and taxis for your travel within and outside the city.
  • Flights to Dimapur: Dimapur airport is the only airport that serves Nagaland. IndiGo operates daily, non-stop flights between Dimapur and Kolkata.
  • By train: Dimapur railway station is also the only railway station in Nagaland, connected To Kolkata and Guwahati.
  • By Bus: Dimapur is connected with neighbouring states through various state transport buses regularly. Even intercity transport is possible, most uses travel overnight and a few minibuses travel.

How to reach Khonoma Heritage Village?

Kohima is becoming a major hub among tourists, and during the Hornbill Festival, if you are planning to reach Khonoma Heritage Village before the rest of the crowd, make sure start early. You can get taxis from Kohima Fire Station road and near Kohima War Cemetery. The average time you may take to reach Khonoma Heritage Village is 45 minutes.

What is the best season to explore Nagaland?

October through June is the best time to explore Nagaland.

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