HOW TO SURVIVE HORNBILL FESTIVAL: A FIELD GUIDE

When I was scouting places to celebrate my birthday, I came across pictures of tribal men and women in colourful costumes dancing around a campfire, set in front of very scenic landscape. That every minute I knew which place I had to book tickets to. Proclaimed as the ‘Festival of Festivals,’ the Hornbill Festival of Nagaland is one of the largest celebrations of the indigenous warrior tribes of India’s far north-east region. The renowned Hornbill Festival which is named after the bird, is a testament of diversity, harmony and solidarity.

Hornbill Festival
Naga Dance

Tourists come together to experience the best of Naga hospitality in a fine blend of culture, colours and communities. The festival is reflected in tribal folklore, dances and songs. I went through so many sites and blogs to understand the magnanimity of the festival and how to decode the happenings at the venue but alas! there was no luck. That I also when I decided I will come back and make a guide book for people wanting to visit Nagaland and attend the famous “Hornbill Festival”

So, folks, if you’re planning to attend the Hornbill festival this year, look no further as this guide gives you details on how to get there, where to stay and what to do.

What is Hornbill Festival?

The tribes of Nagaland celebrate their festivals with gusto and fervor. More than 60% of the population of Nagaland depends on agriculture and therefore most of their festivals revolve round agriculture. They consider their festivals sacred and so participation in these festivals is compulsory. To encourage inter-tribal interaction and to promote cultural heritage of Nagaland, the Government of Nagaland organizes the Hornbill Festival every year in the first week of December.

Hornbill festival, Nagaland

Why should you go to Hornbill Festival?

Hornbill Festival is a perfect place to witness the amalgamation of culture, colours and camaraderie. For visitors it means a closer understanding of the people and culture of Nagaland. Apart from the performances, there are a bunch of activities to look forward to during the festival. Night Bazaar, several food-eating contests – including the pork fat and King Chilly eating competition – the Rock Festival, various stalls, Adventure Rally, sights, sounds, smells and vibes, everything has a sense of frivolity, frolic and merriment. Celebrating culture, joy and ties that bind, the Hornbill Festival isn’t bereft of the element of fun. Each day, each event is peppered with activities, making one eagerly wait for each new day during the festival.

When and Where is the Hornbill Festival?

Hornbill festival happens in Kisama heritage village, 12kms from Kohima, the capital of Nagaland. It is a 10-day festival happening every year from December 1 – December 10.

Hornbill Festival
Rock Concert at Hornbill Festival Ground

Performances begin by 9 a.m. each day. You can easily book a taxi to get there, but do ensure that the vehicle has a pass to park at the venue. The Hornbill Rock Concert will be held in the evenings after sundown. Around 20 bands take part and compete in the concert.

How to get to Kisama Heritage Village?

Hornbill Festival
Kisama Map

Kisama Heritage Village is where all the action happens. This is the official venue for Hornbill festival every year. Kisama is located at a distance of 12kms from Kohima.

Kohima doesn’t have an airport. The nearest one is in Dimapur, with flights to and from Kolkata and Guwahati.

From Dimapur, one could opt to take bus, train or taxi to reach Kohima. It takes one 2.30 hours to reach Kohima from Dimapur town

How to buy tickets for Hornbill Festival?

Entry permits are no longer necessary for foreigners visiting Nagaland. However, foreigners will need to register themselves with the Foreigner’s Registration Office (District Superintendent of Police) within 24 hours of entry into the state. Indian tourists need an Innner Line Permit. This is available from any Nagaland House.

Tickets for the festival could be brought from the venue. You can find a ticketing booth at the entrance of the festival ground

How much do I need for attending the festival?

There is an entry fee for attending the festival. You can get the tickets at the entry booth and one needs to pay INR 20 for Entrance, INR 30 for DSLR camera and INR 50 for video camera.

Hornbill festival
Angami Tribe

Where to stay?

The Hornbill Festival is one of the top tourist draws in Nagaland, so if you’re planning to attend, do book accommodations well in advance.

The best place to stay in Kohima is the Hotel Japfu, Government Tourism hotel. Rooms cost upwards of 3,500 rupees for a double. Advance bookings are imperative. Email: hoteljapfu@yahoo.co.in

Alternatively, there are homestays in Kigwema village within walking distance of the festival venue. Expect to pay 2,500-3,000 rupees per night for a double. Try Lalhou’s Homestay or Greenwood Villa.

Another option is to camp. Kite Manja provides the only campsite inside the festival gate, just 100 meters from the main festival arena. Camping starts from November 30, for those who want to catch the opening ceremony the next morning. Facilities include tents, sleeping bags, eco-toilets, water, common area, phone charging points, and kitchen. It’s the “happiest campsite” with a bonfire, jamming, and other activities. Packages start from 1,365 rupees per person, per day.

Are there any tours to the festival?

Good news is yes, there are multiple tour agencies who could take you on a Hornbill Festival tour to Nagaland.

Kipepeo is running a recommended eight-day tour to the Hornbill Festival. Greener Pastures also conducts an eight day tour to the Hornbill Festival every year. Check out this seven day Nagaland and Hornbill Festival tour offered by The Holiday Scout as well. All are reputable organizations.

Those wanting to photograph the festival may be interested in this photography tour offered by Darter Photography in partnership with local travel company Gypsy Feet.

It includes visits to neighbouring villages of the Angami tribeKaziranga National Park, and Majuli Island.

If you’d like to stay in style (think glamping!), don’t miss the luxurious Ultimate Traveling Camp. They offer itineraries of various durations.

Travel Tips

  • There’s a very handy Information Center next to the festival venue, which provides brochures listing the events at the festival and other attractions in Nagaland. You can download the brochure of 2017 Hornbill Festival here, this will give an idea of what to expect this year.
  • Make sure you bargain at the souvenir shops.
  • If you’re a vegetarian visiting Hornbill Festival grounds, there are very few food stalls that has veg options but Kohima has ample places including Dominos so fret not
  • I would suggest you spend atleast 2-3 full days at the Hornbill festival to completely enjoy the experience.
  • There are 16 Naga tribes and each tribe is unique in character with distinct customs, language and dress. The tribal people would be pleased to show you their culture, their lifestyle, do respect them.

Hornbill Festival is one of a lifetime experience to immerse in the fun, frolic and fiesta of tribal life. So don’t miss it out. You can combine this trip with other states in the north-east. Know the do’s and don’ts before backpacking to Northeast regions as it will help you plan your trip better.

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Nivi Selvaraj
Hey you! I’m Nivi Selvaraj, an Indian backpacker with an insatiable thirst for offbeat experiences from around the world. A travel curious soul who loves the smell of books and gets high on food. I thrive my soul on travel, art and adventures. I believe in responsible travel and support local communities in whatever ways I can. I majorly focus on budget, solo travel with a keen fondness on culturally diverse and immersive experiences. I take you to destinations less travelled, while I narrate unfiltered, raw experiences from the road, delivering it right into your inbox, in a hope that someone, somewhere will be inspired to pack their bags to explore the world! Ride along for an unabated dose of travel tales, tips and tricks. Let’s begin, shall we?
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