Hornbill festival – a cultural tourist’s definite must
November 18, 2019

Good company, good food, and good music – are my idea of a perfect festival. The ending months of every year always bring me my most awaited festivals – Diwali and Christmas. There is nothing like walking along the ferry-lights decorated streets and feeling the winter chill on your skin.

The travel junkie in me wanted something different this year. The universe granted my wish as I received an invitation to attend the great Hornbill festival from an old friend in Kohima. From the 1st to 10th of December every year, people from all around the world visit the city to witness this cultural extravaganza. Nagaland has always been on my wish list as a travel destination. Its mystical culture and beautiful landscapes always caught my imagination. What could be a more opportune time than this? I immediately headed for the occasion.

Off to Kohima

I could barely contain my excitement during the nearly 5-hour long flight from Delhi to Dimapur. I could not wait to experience the rich cultural heritage of the Nagas. I mentally prepped myself on the layover at Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport, Kolkata.

The 5-hour drive from Dimapur to Kohima blessed me with picturesque sceneries. With endless lush greenery and waterfalls cascading down the mountains, for someone from the plains, the views were absolutely breathtaking. Mother Nature sure is kind!

After a tiring day of travelling, I was ready to call it a day. Although, there are many beautiful hotels and guesthouses available in the city, I chose to stay at my friend’s home. She welcomed me in her family home with open arms, tendering the warm hospitality of the Nagas. Realizing I was famished after my long journey, her mother wasted no time in serving us dinner, which consisted of a traditional Naga thali – rice, dal, veggies and smoked pork cooked with bamboo shoot. We had a quick discussion about the exciting Hornbill festival while we ate.

“When people hear about Hornbill festival, they associate it with music and food. However, for us, it is quite a sacred event as we honor and celebrate the heritage and values of all our 16 tribes. So, be prepared for myriads of cultural activities from each tribe”, she expressed with a tinge of pride in her eyes.

And the celebration begins

We headed towards Kisama Heritage Village, which is just 12 km away from Kohima. With the winter chills pricking my skin, I was glad I had layers of warm clothes on me.
Upon reaching our destination, a grand gateway that read “Window to Nagaland” welcomed us. Nestling between the villages of Kigwema and Phesama, Kisama graced me with not only with its beauty but also hit me with the aroma of mouth-watering tribal dishes. To this day, I can still get a whiff of the appetizing smell every now and then.

From locals to foreigners, traditional costumes to ethnic wears, spicy food to sweets, the diversity, and immensity were astounding. The vibrant display of handloom and handicraft in the souvenir shops were simply mesmerizing. Activities such as folk dance, music, king chilly and pork fats eating competitions complimented with endless arrays of dishes at the food court and freshly brewed rice beer made this festival unique and memorable.

Kohima’s night bazaar waswhere I made many new friends over food, local music, and drinks.

We rocked all night

For the Great Hornbill Rock, earlier known as Hornbill International Rock Contest, we traveled to Dimapur. My nerves were all over the place because I was finally going to feel the hype of the renowned rock show.

From my vantage point, I swayed, jumped, shouted, sang and head-banged to the music played by musicians from all over the country. The animated spotlights beaming from the stage and the vibration of the loud bass were enough to make the crowd go crazy. The vibe was so euphoric that the winter chills were not enough to cool us down.

From Day 1 to Day 10, there was never a dull moment that I encountered. From one fun activity to the other, I surprised myself because I never knew I had it in me to be so active and wild. The festival gave me tons of experiences I never knew I would ever have had.

Like everything in life, all good things end, so did my vacation. Still, on my way back home, the festive bliss followed me and I carried it with a constant smile on my face. It is safe to say that my Decembers are booked for the next few years.