Hornbill Festival: Woodstock of North East

Colorful tribes of Nagaland, Hornbill festival 2012

I have extracted this guest post from Kamal Jyoti Deka, who is a friend from school days. Last December he attended the Hornbill Festival in Nagaland, one of the biggest cultural events in North Easter India. The Hornbill Festival 2013 is scheduled between 1st-10th December. In case your are thinking about that, this post will help. Kamal’s photographs from other Travels can be seen in his flickr account. Over to Him…


The Hornbill Festival is an annual, week-long cultural extravaganza held every year in the first week of December in Nagaland. It is named after the Great Indian Hornbill bird abundant in the region. Nagaland, is practically a land of festivals with each of their numerous tribes celebrating their own festivals and to promote the rich cultural heritage, the Govt. Of Nagaland organizes the festival starting on 1st Dec, the Nagaland Formation day.

Fondly known as the “Festival of festivals”, the annual event was conceived as a tourism promotion activity at Kisama, (which is about 10 kms from the capital Kohima). The location is called Naga Heritage Village at Kisama, where one can enjoy the Naga lifestyle and culture, food, music and tradition of each of those 18-20 clans, all at the at same place. Besides the usual showcasing of Naga dance, music, art, ethnic foods, handlooms and handicrafts, many other interesting contests and activities are organized such as,

• King Chilly Eating Contest
• Pork Fat Eating Contest
• Martial art contest
• The Hornbill Rock Festival
• The Hornbill beauty contest
• Hornbill Adventure Rally
• The Kohima Night Bazaar
• World War Peace Rally

When does the Hornbill Festival take place?

Every year from December 1-7 (This year they are planning to run it for 10 days)

Where exactly does the Hornbill Festival Take place?

It takes place at Kisama Heritage Village. Daily performances begin by 9 a.m. each day. One can easily book a taxi (mostly Maruti Van, Alto, Maruti 800 etc. are available on sharing basis) from Kohima to get there. Buy entry tickets at the gate and pass through the security check. It is winter in the North East. One may feel little hot on the bright sunny days on the top of the hill but it is always advisable to carry the jacket/sweater along with since the day ends very soon and by 3 pm the sun disappears behind the hill.

Kisama, hilltop

Things to do at the Hornbill Festival

Basically this colourful festival is a foodie’s paradise, especially the Non-Vegetarian kinds. One can try all kinds of Naga traditional food. Tourists are welcomed warmly to the traditional huts of each tribes, where you can sit with with the elderly people of the tribe and interact with them, (even language is not a barrier, younger generations understand English and can translate for you. Due to my mother tongue, there was no issue with communicating Nagamese (Naga+Assamese). Nagamese is the common lingua franca in Nagaland among different communities who all have their own dialects. One can take part in various contests such as Naga chilli eating, pork eating contest as well. In fact it was an Israeli national who beat the locals in chilli eating contest.

Chakesang Tribe

Naga Chilli

What to see in Kohima apart from the Hornbill Festival?

Apart from the festival itself, the World War II Museum is must visit along with the War Cemetery. It has immortalized the famous “Battle of Kohima”. During the festival, a documentary on the WW-II was also screened and it showed how the Japanese were stopped here at the final frontier.

Kohima War Cemetery

War Memorial, Kohima War Cemetery

Also Read: Other places to see and things to do around Kohima beyond Hornbill Festival.

Where to Stay:

During Hornbill Festival tourists from all over world flock Kohima. So it’s advisable to book hotels well in advance since accommodation is very limited in Kisama. Most of the budget hotels are located in Kohima. However, with the increase in tourist inflow, a lot of guest houses, dorms, youth hostels etc. have been made available by the local people. If someone wishes for a homestay with the locals, that can be easily done too.

Busy traveler!

Food and Drink

Various types of meats roasted, dried and smoked are available in traditional Naga style. Naga cuisine is also incomplete without traditional rice-beer. Naga festivals without rice-beer are unthinkable and in fact unnatural. Like what wine is to the Italian, whisky to the Scotchman, rice-beer is to the Nagas.

Dry pork meat!

Time for feast

Rice beer

Daily performances

The contests mentioned earlier are organized on different days during the week long celebration. Along with that different tribes performs their traditional dace and music and it is a spectacle not to be missed. Performers from other North Eastern states also participate there with gusto. showcasing the incredible ethnic diversity of the region. If you are looking for something contemporary, you have the Rock Contest where many band from across the nation fight it out for top honours.

Khiamniungan Tribe

Mizo tribes from Mizoram

Traditional dance performed by Hajong tribe

Bodo tribes from Assam

Graceful and acrobatic Pung Cholom dance

Yimchungru Tribe

Shopping at the Hornbill Festival

Stalls at the venue sell handmade Naga traditional craft, food items, and stationary. Naga King Chilli pickle is also a must buy if you are into that kind of stuff. Apart from that, you can enjoy the exciting Night Bazar where you can find all kinds of stuff and during the festival they make it the Carnival Night out there.

Face painting, Horn bill Carnival night

Carnival Night !

Made in China!

How to reach from Dimapur to Kohima:

Preferable way for reaching Kohima is to take the train or flight to Dimapur and then take a bus or rent a taxi to Kohima. You can take the Delhi to Dibrugarh Rajdhani Express From Guwahati station or the JanaShatabdi Express. It takes around 4 and a half hours to reach Dimapur. Dimapur is the border district between Assam and Nagaland and also a major commercial hub. It used to be the capital of ancient Dimasa Kachari Kingdom. The Dimapur taxi stand is adjacent to the railway Station. Taxis can be hired with other passengers (shared taxi) or exclusive (full taxi). One way fare from Dimapur Station to Kohima will be about 200/- per person for a shared cab or around 100 Odd on the state transport bus. The bus is more likely to drop you

How to reach Kisama Hornbill Festival Venue from Kohima?

The Dimapur bus generally drops you at old ST bus stand. However, the shared cars to Kisama and other nearby villages are available from Network Travel AOC Bus Stand, which is a few kilometres away. Ask for “Network Stand” or “AOC Bus Stand” and any locla will guide you. You can take local shared cabs or buses to reach it. You will see yellow coloured vehciles waiting there, going towards different villages such as Kisama, Kgwema, Zakhama, Viswema etc.

Jitaditya Narzary

Is a traveller disillusioned by the familiar and fascinated with the unknown... and of course the founder of this blog.

13 thoughts on “Hornbill Festival: Woodstock of North East

  • 2013/09/05 at 4:25 am

    So culturally rich!
    Nice to know about the festival and see all these pictures.

    Chilli eating contest? Whoa! 🙂

  • 2013/10/15 at 8:40 pm

    Hi Jitaditya,
    Couple of questions:
    1.Do you have any contact information of any budget hotel/hostel/guest house/homestay in Kohima and 2. if we carry our own tent,are we allowed to camp for a night or two in Kisama heritage village?

    • 2013/10/16 at 12:42 pm

      Hi Rajarshi,
      Here is what Kamal says in response to your queries…
      1. I stayed at my friends place who was posted in kohima. So sorry that i dont have any contact, but i remember i did contact one guy about dorms availability …i got his no# from internet only, if you search you will get it. and they do advance booking.
      2. Now a days they dont allow you to sleep in the heritage village compound. There were some cases of drug and some other issues u can imagine and they stopped allowing people to stay whole night there….but u can request to stay with the tribes.

  • 2014/11/08 at 7:08 pm

    Excellent writeup and pics. The hornbill festival is photographers delight with the hue of colors. We have also shared our experience in our blog


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