Hornbill Festival

Naga tribes take the stage in full warrior gear.
Image courtesy: Supriya Sehgal

Come December, a festive air engulfs Nagaland’s capital city Kohima as people assemble for the annual Hornbill Festival (www.hornbillfestival.com; Kohima; 1–7 Dec). Sneakers and Ipods are abandoned by the Nagamese youngsters as they don traditional gear and join their elders to celebrate Nagaland’s biggest annual jamboree. Sixteen main tribes of the state converge at a large amphitheatre at Kisama Heritage Village for a weeklong cultural, dance and sporting bash. Each tribe is assigned a makeshift ‘morung’ (traditional community house); the interiors furnished with artefacts and jewellery of that particular tribe.  They also prepare their traditional delicacies here. Melodious songs and the rhythmic thumping of feet form a constant backdrop to the otherwise quiet region.  A massive bonfire on the last day draws everyone into a final dance which reaches a frenzied crescendo.

Getting there: The closest airport is in Dimapur (74km from Kohima). The drive from the airport takes up to three hours. The same goes for rail connectivity.

Top Tip:

  1. Accommodation becomes pricier and extremely scarce during the Hornbill Festival, so book well in advance.
  2. Traffic is a problem during this time so keep enough time at hand to reach the venue.
  3. A rally organised by the army is one of the key attractions of the festival; try to include this in your plan.
  4. The famous rock show of the Hornbill festival showcases fabulous young talent. If you are fan of rock music, add this to your itinerary.
  5. Take time to walk around the well-maintained war cemetery that houses more than 1400 graves of officers who fought the Battle of Kohima. It is located at the strategic junction of the Dimapur and Imphal roads, the site of intense fighting against the Japanese during a 64-day WWII battle.
  6. Nagaland is officially a dry state – sale and purchase of alcohol is prohibited by law, at least on paper.


With a penchant for travelling ‘ungoogled’, Supriya has willingly got lost a number of times in the most obscure places of India for the last 8 years. She lives on a healthy diet of anecdotes and tea with auto drivers, co-passengers and locals! Supriya currently runs a Bangalore based travel-photography outfit called Photography Onthemove and writes regular features for India and International travel publications. More on www.supriyasehgal.com.