Hornbill Festival – The Cultural Delight of Nagaland!

Breezy autumn evenings pave way for crisp December winters; a phenomenon which announces the arrival of Hornbill Festival in India!! The annual Hornbill festival commemorates the spirit of unity in diversity.

The North East Indian state of Nagaland is abuzz with activity as thousands of people flock here to celebrate Hornbill festival. This festival is named after the Hornbill, a large beaked bird featuring often in Naga folklore.

Hornbill festival celebrations began in the year 2000, in a bid by the Government of Nagaland to unite all tribes of the state. The idea behind this festival was to promote tourism and inter-tribe co-operation.

Where is Hornbill Festival Celebrated?

Hornbill festival is celebrated in Nagaland, one of the jewels of the Indian subcontinent, from 1st to 10th December each year. The events are held at Kisama, a tiny heritage village, located about 10-12 kilometers from Kohima, the state capital. Kisama lies along the Kohima-Imphal national highway.

hornbill-festival-nagaland-hornbill-bird-image
By KalyanvarmaOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Residents of the village begin busying themselves with preparation weeks in advance. An artificial model village is built in Kisama where the festivities take place.

Naga population is subdivided into 16 different tribes. Each tribe gets a chance to showcase its resplendent culture and traditions through the course of Hornbill festival.

The Hornbill festival is marked by cultural events, competitions, tribal dances and many more events which displays the culture of Nagaland. Aptly titled ‘Festival of Festivals,’ this event attracted global attention and a hoard of tourists, soon after its inception. This success prompted authorities to extend the formerly held 7-day long festival to a 10-day extravaganza.

Your interest has surely been piqued by know! Read on to get a glimpse of the festivities to look out for during this unique festival.

Festivities to Watch For During Hornbill Festival:

Hornbill festival is where modern and traditional outlooks merge to become one, as Naga people put their best foot forward. Right from ancient tribal rituals, to the more modern beauty pageants, everything is on display for the duration of this unique festival. Some of the wonderful festivities to watch out for are mentioned below:

1. Naga Chili Eating Competition

In the era where eating contests are grabbing eye balls on social media, people of Nagaland have upped the game already. Bhut Jolokia is one of the hottest chilies known to mankind and is the star of this event. The not-so-palate-friendly Bhut Jolokia (Ghost Pepper) is native to the farm lands of Nagaland. This crop grabs the entire spotlight in the annual Naga Chili Eating competition held during Hornbill festival.

hornbill-festival-chili-eating-competition-nagaland
Image Source: Sanjay Austa – Flickr

Participants have to eat as many of these spicy Ghost Peppers as they can in a stipulated amount of time. There are also specific rules about the number of times one has to chew the chili before ingesting it. The person who manages to eat the maximum number of the hottest chili in the world wins this one of a kind competition. Participation in this event is strictly a matter of choice and management does not take responsibility of any health issue resulting after the competition concludes.

It takes a brave heart (or is it brave stomach or a brave tongue??) to gulp down these chillies. Bizzare as it is, this event is widely popular and is enjoyed during this festival.

2. Cultural Activities

Each tribe in Nagaland gets to showcase their culture in day-long events organized during the Hornbill festival. Ancient sacrificial rituals, war dances and songs are enacted with great flair during various cultural events. Each tribe displays a dance performance that is unique to their own community.

The Annual Naga Wrestling Championship is one of the highlights of this festival. Old school wrestling with a twist of Nagaland’s own culture is displayed by some of the best trained wrestlers of the state. A handsome reward and an unending shower of praises await the winner of this highly anticipated tournament.

Organizers of Hornbill Festival have taken to treating their guests lavishly by allowing them to interact with local population in a rather special manner. Thousands of replicas of tribal huts are erected in Kisama where tribal folk and visitors gather to interact, sing, dance and make merry in the cold evenings of Nagaland winters.

hornbill-festival-cultural-activity-image-nagaland
By Vikramjit KakatiOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Be a spectator, shake a leg with the tribal people, or join them as they sing traditional songs.

What will you be doing during Hornbill festival this year?

3. Beauty Pageant

A state-level beauty pageant in Nagaland is also a part of the Festival. All young girls residing in Nagaland are welcome to participate in this event. There are several rules and regulations which participants must abide by.

After several levels and talent rounds, the girl who casts the best impression upon the judges is crowned Miss. Nagaland. She then goes on to represent her state to battle for the coveted Miss. India title.

The glitz and glamor of Nagaland congregates at the beauty pageant which most obviously steals the spotlight from other events of the day.

Wouldn’t you like to be seated with the who’s who of Nagaland and be part of something as elegant as this?

4. Night Bazaar

‘Bazaar’ is an Indian terminology for a market. The Night Bazaar during Hornbill festival consists rows of stalls selling items of cultural importance to Naga tribes. It is one of the main attractions during Hornbill festival. As the evenings turn darker in Kimasa, local folk bring out several items and trinkets made from beads, animal hide and bones, for sale.

The market place flocks with customers making a beeline to buy some of Nagaland’s best handiworks. With hearts full of joy and bags full of local craft items, people move on to other activities which form an integral part of the annual Hornbill festival. Bamboo Pavilion, managed by the Department of Industries & Commerce, is one of the major attractions of Hornbill festival It is a shopping arena offering local art and craft items.

Naga people welcome local population and tourists very warmly by allowing them to enjoy all the above mentioned activities. The cherry on the cake is a scrumptious full-course Naga meal prepared in enormous quantities to welcome one and all.

People can take their pick from the famous fermented Naga beer, traditional sticky rice, pork curry, andbeef preparations served in the traditional way on tree leaves. Tourists are not only welcome to feast on these delicacies, but they also can watch the food being prepared. Locals are more than willing to give a cooking class to anyone who is interested in learning how to whip up these lip-smacking dishes.

Hornbill festival is an excellent opportunity for tourists to explore the lush green landscapes of one of the most splendid Indian states. The Hornbill festival strikes a chord with most visitors.

Nearby Sightseeing Options:

War Cemetery

Kohima houses a cemetery honoring all soldiers who lost their lives to a fierce battle fought between the Japanese and British army. This site has now turned into one of the most respected war graves.

Two erected memorial crosses, bear a list of all soldiers; British and Indian alike, who laid their lives contributing their bit to the 2nd World War. The now famous tourist destination has seen 2 memorial services till date being held in the honor of all the deceased.

By PP YoonusOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

A lone cherry tree stands at the site where the legendary battle was once fought. This cherry tree has grown out of a branch of the original tree which also lost its life in the course of the fabled battle.

If Kohima is on your travel list, do not miss the opportunity to pay homage and gratitude to those who laid their lives for a better tomorrow.

Kohima Museum

The Nagaland State Museum located in Kohima, attracts a large chunk of tourists from all corners of the world. Stepping inside this museum creates an illusion of having traveled back in time, closer to the Naga ancestors.

Numerous cultural artifacts and ancient belongings like jewelry and clothes of Naga tribes are on display in the Kohima museum for visitors to see.

An arena has been built to display the traditional Naga Morung. These are tribal huts made using wood and decorated in an attractive rustic fashion. Replicas of Morung are on display in the museum. A guided tour is advised for visitors to facilitate acquiring complete and correct information about Naga tribal folk.

Tourists must follow rules and regulations about photography and video shooting within the premises of the museum.

Intanki Wildlife Sanctuary

Intanki or Intangki National Park is the pride of Nagaland. It is nestled amid the greenery of the dense forests of Intanki. A number of exotic animals and birds like hoolock gibbon, sloth bear, monitor lizard, white-breasted kingfisher, reside here and are protected from hunting.

Some sections of Intanki National Park overlook a valley, making it the perfect trekking and camping destination. Visitors flock from all corners of the world to catch a breathtaking glimpse of Mother Nature’s bounty in the form of lush green trees.

The government of Nagaland has developed the sanctuary into a tourist spot to promote preservation of wildlife and nature. Organized tour packages are available to visit Intanki National Park. It is advisable to be accompanied by a tourist guide while visiting this place.

Intanki National Park is every nature lover’s dream! It offers travelers a much needed break into the lap of Mother Nature, away from the hustle and bustle of urban lifestyle.

Dzukou Valley

Tucked cozily between mountain tops close to the Nagaland Manipur border, Dzukou valley is a serene tourist attraction not to miss. An enjoyable trek along a picturesque route takes tourists to this valley. It offers a chance to adventure-enthusiasts to perform activities like rock climbing, rappelling etc. Wisps of clouds and a colorful bed of flowers as far as eyes can see,welcomes tourists, if they visit the valley during July. Unpredictable snowfall sometimes lays a thick blanket of white over the valley during winters.

dzukou-valley-in-nagaland-image
By GuruBidyaOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Taking a local tourist guide along is advisable if visiting the valley during winters.

Many, many more tourist attractions await you with open arms in Nagaland. Make this holiday season the best time of your life by making unforgettable memories in India!

Check out some travel options to reach Nagaland to enjoy the Hornbill festival.

Travel Options:

Considered by many to be a rural place, Nagaland is a stark opposite of the same. A perfect blend of rustic and refined, this Indian state offers all the comforts of modern world while retaining a quaint and serene environ. It is easy to reach Nagaland from any corner of the world, owing to easy connectivity and infrastructural development. Take your pick:

Air Travel

Nagaland houses its only airport in the City of Dimapur. Airlines provide regular flights out of Dimapur to Kolkata and Delhi international airports. Tourists visiting Nagaland can book their flights via either of these two airports.

dimapur-airport-nagaland-for-tourism
By Along lkr – from the parking area, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

After reaching Dimapur airport, there are plenty of travel options available for local sightseeing.

Rail Travel

Dimapur railway station connects Nagaland with the rest of India. A part of the intricate and cast railways network of the country, Dimapur has good connectivity with cities like Guwahati and Kolkata.

Tourists can plan their travel up to any of these cities and take an exciting train journey to reach Nagaland!

Road Travel

Road travel is an unparalleled experience striking a chord with every travel-enthusiast.

Cabs and buses are abundantly available for tourists in Nagaland. You can choose either government-run bus services or private transport services as your mode of transport.

Tourists are advised to carry some identity proof like their passport or PAN card while traveling. Foreign tourists must keep their passport with them at all times even while traveling locally. Initially tourists were required to carry special permits and separate documents to travel to the North Eastern regions of India. Government of India has now relaxed these rules and tourists can visit these regions without any hassles. However, foreign tourists must register with the local Foreigners Registration Officer (FRO) of the area they visit. For the Hornbill festival, domestic tourists are required to obtain the ‘Inner Line permit’ which is issued by local authorities.

So what are you waiting for??? Oh, wait! Do you hear that sound?

Yes, THAT! The landscapes of Nagaland are calling out to you. Better not keep them waiting right?

Pack your bags; book your tickets and rush to be part of this festival that showcases India in a different light!

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