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  • Writer's pictureSaptadeepa Bandopadhyay

Discovering Nagaland - At Hornbill Festival and Kohima Town

Updated: Jul 13, 2020

Note: This blog is part of the Travel blog series 'Discovering Nagaland'. The Introductory blog of this series is about choosing Nagaland as a travel destination and reaching Nagaland. This is the 2nd blog of the series.

We reached Kohima Town after a bumpy road journey from Dimapur. Through the half baked dusty serpentine routes, one can never miss the number of billboards welcoming tourists to the Hornbill Festival and the roadside Christmas decorations reminding you of the onset of December.

Once in Kohima, a stop at the Hornbill Festival was an evening ritual of our group to breathe new life into our tired souls after the day's extensive exploration.

The Hornbill Festival 2019-

(The charm of a December tour to Nagaland)

The open-air auditorium of Hornbill Festival. Do not miss the Hornbill bird figurines on the tree branch!

Nagaland is well-known as the 'land of festivals' and rightly so for the presence of 16 indigenous tribes and many sub-tribes celebrating their festivals around hunting and farming season in the state. The festivities multiply to a larger magnitude when all these tribes come together to celebrate the Hornbill festival (which is also called the 'festival of all festivals') once a year.

Hornbill Festival dates -

Hornbill Festival is celebrated from 1st to 10th of December every year.

When and Why was Hornbill Festival first started -

The spirit of this festival at such a huge scale was first started in the year 2000 by the Nagaland State Tourism and Cultural Board with the pretext of preserving the traditions and cultures of the 16 Naga tribes and to provide a platform for exchange of inter-tribal among all the tribes. Ever since then, the Festival has attracted tourists and locals alike.

The Hornbill festival takes place at the Kisama Heritage village which is located at a distance of 12 kilometers from Kohima. The venue of the festival remains the same every year and the setup for every tribe is maintained through the year. The venue has 16 house-like structures unique to every tribe. These are known as Morungs meaning Youth Hostels or Dormitories in the local dialect.

The Angami Morung
The Angami Tribe Morung at Kisama Heritage village

Entrance of the Angami Morung decoraged with animal skulls

Every Morung is lead by a gate with the name of the tribe and a board describing the traditions, food and dressing unique to the tribe. It was quiet fascinating to go around each Morung and know more about the tribes. The interiors of the Morungs are setup to replicate the living styles of the tribe. Also local delicacies are cooked and served in these Morungs. One can try the local authentic cuisines at the respective Morungs of every tribe. People dress up in colourful attires to represent their tribes.

Men of the Ao tribe singing and dancing before the Closing Ceremony of Hornbill Festival

Angami Men Strike a Pose after their performance

The venue also has an open-air auditorium where many cultural folklores, dances and dramas are performed by each tribal group through the 10-day event. Most of these cultural events are part of the day-time performances. The same auditorium is lit-up by the evening and hone some modern Naga artists showcasing their talents.

We could witness some talented and melodious Naga musicians and singers on the evenings we spent at the Hornbill festival. I loved the energy and the vibe of the place. Though the December air gives chills to the nerves, the warmth of the musical concerts easily negates the thin cold air. Nagaland has many young bands and the local crowd is fond of western music as well as songs sung in local dialects. I never had an idea of the Naga music before but ever since I am back from Nagaland, I often find myself searching for Naga talents on the internet.

The closing ceremony at Hornbill Festival

As the night progresses, you will find people outside every morung, sitting next to a bonfire with rice beers in tall bamboo tumblers and enjoying a plate of local delicacy with some background music.

For the ones like me, who was not so comfortable trying a plate of fried worms or Mithun meat, I found solace in cafes serving burgers or Vegetarian Parathas and Samosas with a warm cup of cappuccino. Thus the venue has some option for every visitor.

Hornbill festival is one of the best known musical festivals of Northeast India and a perfect portrayal of the Naga spirit.

Tip - If you plan to include Hornbill Festival as part of your visit, try to attend either the Opening or the Closing Ceremony of the Event. These ceremonies display the true grandeur of the festival with all the tribes singing and dancing together.

Sidelines of the Hornbill Festival -

Next to the main auditorium was the textile and handicraft exhibition setup which provided a much closer look into the tribal attire and basic necessary belongings possessed by every individual tribe. There were hand woven fabrics, warm shawls, waistcoats, skirts, lungis and the traditional Mechala dress also on display. The colours are a visual treat. Each tribe can be distinguished by the combination of colours they use in their dressing. Red, Black, White and Blue were some of the predominant colours of the clothing.

Earthernware, stoneware and bamboo utensils, woven baskets were also available for sale at these stalls. Other animal figurines, hand carved wooden frames displayed by the artist himself added a charm to the creative galore.

Around the exhibition at Bamboo Pavilion of Kisama Village

Tip: If you are someone who loves to collect souvenirs from your trips, do not miss the gallery of Handicraft stalls at the festival. You will definitely find something to match your taste and budget.

Exploring Kohima Town -

We found ourselves in Kohima after every attraction we visited in Nagaland. Thus crossing Kohima so many times, exploring the town in-between those halts was inevitable.

Peeping into Kohima's History:

The hilly state capital of Kohima finds a significant place in history owing to the 'Battle of Kohima' fought between the British, who then ruled India and the Japanese army, who marched into the British Indian Territory during the Second World War in April,1944. Most Indian men formed the then British army in this battle which marks one of Britain's greatest battles till date. Though the British won the Battle forcing the Japanese army to retrieve their forces, many British and Indian soldiers lost their lives. In the memory of these martyrs is the Kohima War Cemetery which has gravestones of many martyred soldiers. What struck me were the age marked on those gravestones. It will ache your heart to know that most of these soldiers were aged between 19 to 33 years and obviously, as young to not have known much about the significance of this war. As per CWGC, there are 1420 burials and memorial of another 917 Hindu and Sikh soldiers (cremated as per their religious belief) at this Cemetery.

Kohima War Cemetery

Names of soldiers cremated in fire (Kohima War Cemetery)

This place being on a hilltop and the center of Kohima, gives a panaromic view of the surrounding town. The cemetery happened to be the very first site we explored in Kohima.

Locals too frequent the Cemetery for some quiet mornings or evenings around its well manicured lawns and gardens.

A glance at Kohima's local life -

Where best do you think can one explore the locals' lives? Yes, the local market i.e. where they source their basics from!!

So we made sure, not to miss the local market at Kohima for a glimpse into Nagaland's day-to-day lives.

Mao Market in Kohima Town

We visited the Mao Market in Kohima town. The market sits in the middle of the bustling town, very close to the State bus stand and Taxi stand. Anything and everything out of your imagination is available in this market. Locals frequent this market especially for the authentic ingredients required in the preparation of Naga cuisine. The market stretches from the road and upwards in steps and sections. Modern trendy clothes, shoes, jackets are available here at reasonable prices. Another section has variety of vegetables, fruits, spices of both tropical and mountain origins. The Naga chili, known as the hottest of chilies in the world was of our special interest.

An old woman selling leafy vegetables and A man selling the famous Naga Chilies

Other exotic food items include the variety of fishes, insects, worms and meat consumed by the people of Nagaland. Some of these included the silkworms, crabs, tadpoles and snails sold alive. The Mithun meat (a local cattle) preferred over other forms of meat is extensively sold in the butchery section.

Apart from these weird sounding food groups, there were a variety of local grains also available in the market. I could also spot a few tea stalls around the area where people halted for a quick snack break.

While exiting the market I didn't miss the stall displaying beautiful flowering pots and planters. Plants being my absolute favourite.

A stall selling flowers and plants at the Mao Market

If Nagaland is on your bucket-list, I would highly recommend to plan it around the Hornbill festival. Though it may not be possible to visit every tribal village of the state, the Hornbill festival organized by the tourism department is an effort to showcase and preserve the cultures of all Naga tribes through a single platform.

Also Read -

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Hi, I am Saptadeepa, an Indian travel  enthusiast.

My curiosity to explore the unexplored, has led me to some offbeat destinations across India and a few neighbouring South East Asian countries.

Seeking Happiness Diaries is a travel inspired lifestyle blog where I share my adventures, stories, experiences and life lessons  through my journeys.

In leisure, I finds solace in reading books or writing about travel and life experiences on this blog.

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