Mumbai: Seated in the lush green eastern Himalayan hills, lies the land of brave warriors, where sixteen tribes resides in peace and uniquely represent their culture, tradition and dialect.
Welcome to Nagaland! Bordering Myanmar to east, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur to the north, west and south respectively, the state is home to the erstwhile headhunters.
The diversity among the tribes is vibrant and the culture of each and every tribe is fquite fascinating. During Hornbill festival Nagaland is the best place to visit. Hornbill is also known as ‘festival of festivals’.
The Hornbill festival is named after the state bird which is also respected globally and is an inseparable part of the Naga culture.
Most of the festivals celebrated by the tribal people are limited to their region or tribe, however it’s Hornbill which brings them all together.
Showcasing the rich heritage and culture, the festival is organised every year by the State Tourism and Art & Culture Departments.
Venue: The seven day fest is held at Heritage Village (also known as Khisama) which is located about 12 kilometres from Kohima on the road that was used by the allied forces during the Second World War.
The venue is significant not only because it is a tourist spot, but it is model village resembling the shape of Nagaland in maps.
What is interesting to know about it is that there are tribal houses (murongs) built to represent each tribe pointing the geographical existence of that particular tribe on the actual location in Nagaland.
Hornbill festival gives the people of the state an opportunity to tell the world about their uniqueness. It also keeps their tribes bonded to their culture and history.
Starting from the first of December, the weeklong extravaganza not only showcases the Naga lifestyle but also serves as a platform for the locals to interact with the visitors and gives the tourist a chance to explore.
Naga tribals display their traditional art like paintings, wood carvings, hand woven shawls and artefacts for home decor.
The Hornbill festival starts with the opening address of the Tourism Secretary followed by the war cry.
Nagas as mentioned are warriors and hence each tribe have their way to announce the battle. The atmosphere turns electrifying. All the tribe people look stunning dressed in their traditional dress. They armour themselves with shield in their hands and carry a weapons (sphere or dao) with colourful headgear.
The festival is divided into activities like tribal dances, war tactics, local games, greased pole climbing, Naga chilli eating competition, pork fat eating competition etc.
People can also visit the permanent tribal houses (murongs) built around the venue and can interact with the tribal people, taste their cuisines and even dance with them!
As time flies by and dusk turns chilly, the Hornbill Rock Festival at the Indira Gandhi stadium back in Kohima heats up the winter evenings. It is also considered to be the biggest rock fest held in India where around 20 bands from around India and a few from abroad take part in the fest.
During the festival, the seven nights of Kohima‘s market comes alive with The Kohima Night Bazaar. Everything from traditional food to modern Naga music can be found here; from cultural handicrafts to home decor items.
If you are foodie and love to experiment with food then trying out the local food is a must. The variety served is wide and you can try bizarre food like silkworms, bamboo worms, boiled baby frogs, hornets, dried rats, eel fish and dog meat. There’s a popular joke in Nagaland that goes - “if you see a man walking along with a dog, he could be a vegetarian!”
Usually the last two days are dedicated for North East Cultural Ensemble where other states of North East India showcase their culture and familiarise with tradition and colourful dance forms in turn also promoting tourism.
As every event, Hornbill festival too has a wonderful and a must-not-miss closing ceremony. The day is filled with dance and music where you experience drumbeats and dance steps that race against your heartbeats and rare is the chance where one is not tapping his feet. Not just drums but tribal musical instruments too will cast the joyful magic on you.
As the sun starts to set, huge heap of firewood is gathered in the center and smaller ones in front of every tribe on the ground. With the magical tunes of Naga beats and the final war-cry; all the tribes encircle and dance along the fringe of the festival ground slowly lighting up the fire.
As the sky turns dark, stars appear and beautify the darkness, down here at Khisama the bonfires appear to glorify each tribe not only reminding us how brave they are but pointing out how every tribe is distinctive and yet they stay in harmony.
How to reach:
Air (Dimapur): Since Kohima does not have an airport one has to land in Dimapur, but flights are less and are only available from Guwahati and Kolkata. Guwahati is the nearest domestic airport connected by all major cities in India and Kolkata is the nearest international airport.
Rail: Dimapur is Nagaland’s only city connected by Indian Railways, a shared or a private taxi or state transport bus will take you to Kohima. Dimapur to Kohima is a 3 to 4 hour drive depending upon the road conditions.
Road: It is recommended to keep your base in Guwahati (Assam) since it is very well connected by air, rail and road. A road journey to Kohima is of 350 kms via Dimapur on National Highway 37 and 36 it may take upto 8 to 10 hours depending upon traffic, meal breaks and road condition.