Seven reasons to visit Hornbill Festival

logo-3.3-with-bgI was at the Hornbill Festival for just two of its 10 days. Yet, I found enough reasons to fall in love with it and want to return. 

The northeast Indian state of Nagaland is known as the land of festivals with all its tribes enthusiastically celebrating their own festivals. To encourage inter-tribal interaction and promote the cultural heritage of the state, the Nagaland government organises the Hornbill Festival every year in the first week of December. 

The mega event is held at Naga Heritage Village, Kisama, about 12km from Kohima. All the tribes of Nagaland take part in this festival. The aim of the festival is to revive and protect the rich culture of Nagaland and display its traditions.

Here are seven reasons to visit Hornbill Festival.

Tribal culture: If you want to know about the lives of the indigenous people of Nagaland and several of its surrounding states, this is the place for you. And let me tell you, even if you are not, you will surely find aspects of different tribal cultures fascinating – some for their outfits, some for their food and some for their dances. The festival, which takes place in the Naga Heritage Village near Kohima, has separate complexes for each of the participating tribes. Each of these complexes has a house built in the style of the tribe concerned. The tribe showcases their lifestyle, music and also serves their food to visitors.

A tribal man sports a colourful earring made of bird features
A tribal man sports a colourful earring made of bird feathers
Care to have some snails?
Care to have some snails?

Food: Ah, the food! If you want to try out authentic tribal food (and drinks), it doesn’t get any better than this. These people are cooking the stuff that they make for themselves regularly at home. Try the various preparations of pork and beef and wash it down with some tasty rice beer.

Hornbill Festival is heaven for adventurous eaters. If you are one, try out the dog meat, a popular part of the local cuisine. And how about some snails? Silkworms? Hornets? They have it all.

Dog meat being sold at the Night Carnival in Kohima
Dog meat on sale at the Night Carnival in Kohima

There’s even better news for foodies because you’re food walk doesn’t end with just a trip around the Naga Heritage Village. After you’ve had your fill of the day here, head to the Night Carnival in Kohima. The range of exotic food you find here will blow your mind away.

Music: Apart from the colourful and very innovative tribal music and dance performances that you see here (including huge drums made from a single tree trunks with several people playing it at the same time), several national and international bands come to perform at Hornbill Festival. A highlight of the music scene during the festival is the national-level rock music competition where bands from across the country take part. Unfortunately, the performances were starting from the third day and I missed witnessing those. However, I like the idea of not experiencing everything at one go. That way, I feel more inspired to return!

Customs: Since Hornbill Festival is all about tribal culture, you will notice some unique traditions here. The most interesting one I noticed was the stone-pulling ceremony, which reminded me a little bit of rath yatra. Dressed in traditional colourful clothes and accessories, hundreds of men come together to pull a huge slab of stone over a considerable distance. Many of the tribes taking part in the Hornbill Festival were head-hunters and the members used to take pride in killing members of other tribes and displaying their skulls on the facade of their houses and wearing miniature heads as pendants.

Interesting events: The Hornbill Festival is packed with colourful performances, crafts, sports, food fairs, games and ceremonies. Traditional arts such as paintings, wood carvings and sculptures are on display. Songs and dance, fashion shows, beauty contest, traditional archery, Naga wrestling and indigenous games are also held. I was lucky to catch a very interesting event. The local King Chilli, famous for being the hottest chilli, is found in these areas. The contest was held for tourists to see who could eat the most number of chillies in 10 seconds. The winner took home Rs 5,000.

History: When you are in Kohima, you should make it a point to visit the Second World War cemetery. The graves and plaques here are of Allied soldiers who died in the Battle of Kohima in 1944 against the Japanese. I found this very interesting because I had the idea that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army was fighting with the Japanese against the British colonialists here. Later, at the Second World War museum at the Naga Hertage Village, there were many more details on the Battle of Kohima. In a very unbiased manner, it mentioned Bose’s role in this battle and what the Japanese were apparently after and what transpired during the battle. I asked my friend, who’s a local, if the local people here were more sympathetic towards the Allied forces. She told me that the locals supported the Allied forces because many local men were part of the Allied army and fought against the Japanese. And when the Japanese came and plundered villages in the area, they received very little sympathy from the locals.

Kohima War Cemetery
A grave at Kohima War Cemetery
The famous Kohima Epitaph at the war cemetery
The famous Kohima Epitaph at the war cemetery

People: During my short stay, I sometimes found the large number of armed personnel everywhere a bit unnerving. Being a disturbed area, this is inevitable. However, all the people I interacted with, including security personnel, were very polite and helpful.


7 thoughts on “Seven reasons to visit Hornbill Festival

  1. I love visiting interesting festivals when I travel. This one certainly has got my interest. I’ll have to add it to my list for when I visit India someday.

    1. It’s a ritual they perform on important occasions. The tribals believe that stones have life and the stone is said to come in the dream of a certain person and then they go and find the one they’re going to pull. I heard some fascinating stories… on one occasion, the stone came in the dream and said it was pregnant. During the pulling, a small portion of it broke off!

Talk to me