All things Naga are celebrated and showcased at Kohima, the capital of Nagaland during the annual Hornbill Festival. Named after the Great Indian Hornbill, this festival is also called the ‘Festival of Festivals’. A 10-day carnival of art, culture, food, music, adventure and warm Naga hospitality, the Hornbill Festival is growing in stature every year and this is borne by the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the latest edition which saw many high-profile visitors.
Nagaland is an amalgam of diverse tribes known for their martial spirit and rich musical and cultural traditions. The Hornbill Festival was established in the year 2000 by the efforts of prominent citizens in collaboration with the Government of Nagaland as a five-day pan-Naga event to bring together and showcase all the individual festivals on a common platform, promote the cultural heritage of the state, enhance inter-tribe interaction and put Nagaland on the tourist map. Since then, the festival has grown to an annual 10-day extravaganza, beginning on December 1 which is also celebrated as Nagaland Statehood Day.
The festival now has a permanent home at the Kisama Heritage Village located 12 kms from Kohima. It consists of a central open-air amphitheatre where the cultural performances and various contests are held and there are ‘Morungs’ or traditional dormitory huts of the various tribes where each community showcases its own food, music, culture and handicrafts.
Interestingly, each of the 1000-odd villages in the state gets an opportunity to perform at the festival by rotation and villages consider their selection in a particular year a matter of pride.
Visitor participation is encouraged through various entertaining competitions like the Naga-chilli eating contest, pork eating contest, monolith pulling, traditional wrestling, greased and everyone is welcome to sign up. For those looking for something contemporary, there are music concerts at Kohima’s Indira Gandhi Stadium which hosts the Hornbill International Rock Contest. The headliners of this year’s edition were the 70s British rockers, Smokie. Watching these legendary musicians belt out anthems like Living Next Door to Alice was surreal and they still managed to rock on through the evening.
The night carnival on Kohima’s main street was a welcome addition to the nightlife of the town which usually wears a deserted look after sundown during normal times.
A thoughtful addition to Hornbill Festival 2014 was the option to volunteer at the festival and enjoy a home-stay with a local family, a great way to experience Naga culture close-up and actually feel like a part of the event rather than just being a visitor.
No trip to Nagaland is complete without sampling the local fare which mainly consists of rice dishes accompanied by various meats available in curries or roasted, fried, smoked, dried and minced forms!
While here, remember the famous Kohima War Cemetery. This was where the Japanese invasion of India during WW II was stopped and pushed back at the final ‘Battle of the Tennis Court’. This is hallowed ground commemorating the soldiers who gave their lives for the country with the immortal lines engraved in stone, ‘When you go home tell them of us, and say, for your tomorrow we gave our today’.
These words also seem apt as a farewell to this beautiful land and its amazing people. Nagaland Travel Essentials
How to get there: The gateway to Nagaland is the town of Dimapur which has the state’s only airport and railway station. From there, it’s a scenic 2-3 hour taxi ride to Kohima.
Where to stay: Kohima has a number of staying options from budget guesthouses to more expensive luxury hotels like the old-world Hotel Japfu or the smart, new De Oriental Dream. For the more adventurous there is a campsite set up during the Hornbill with tents and sleeping bags on rent.
– Arjun M is an avid biker who loves to travel the world and experience local cultures