Hornbill Festival Nagaland

The Hornbill Festival is held every year from December 1st to 10th in Nagaland, Northeast India, to showcase the cultural heritage of Nagaland. This is an account of my Hornbill festival Nagaland trip. 


Bangalore to Dimapur Flight

Our flight touches down in Dimapur, and the stewardess announces that the airline has lived up to its promise of landing on time yet again. So the three of us – Smiling Buddha, Deepak and I – are on our annual travel break to see the Hornbill Festival Nagaland. (If you would like to read about our past exploits, please follow these links: Bodhgaya, Varanasi, McLeodganj).

We disembark, collect our bags from the conveyor and head to the exit, hoping to see our college mate and long-time friend Akavi Chophy (now an Executive Engineer in Nagaland) waiting for us outside. He didn’t disappoint – we catch sight of a chubbier Akavi (than from the college days) waving to us. We probably may not have recognized him had we not seen his recent pictures – It’s been 25 years since we parted ways after our Engineering college days.

Glimpses of Nagaland

We are soon on our way to his house in his vehicle. I look around to catch glimpses of life in Nagaland. The Bumpiness of our ride brings my focus to the roads, which, to my surprise, are unpaved. I spot greenery broken in intervals by meat shops, markets and arched entrances to various communities. I spot red Christmas stars hung on most structures and trees. We plan to spend the night at Akavi’s before heading out to Kohima for the Hornbill festival Nagaland.


They call it the ‘Christmas flower’… red, pink and white Poinsettia plants grow in the Xmas season in Nagaland.


Akavi and his sweet family turn out to be perfect hosts; as soon as we step into his nicely kept home, we are welcomed with a traditional Naga shawl. They’ve laid out an elaborate feast, too, one which we polish off with great enthusiasm while recalling fun instances from our college days. Later that evening, we sat around in one of his many balconies. The night is chilly and silent, except for the occasional howls from dogs nearby. We sit around and chat late before retiring under thick warm blankets.

Hornbill Festival Nagaland: The ride to Kohima

Treacherous roads make the drive to Kohima difficult, and we shake, twist and move to the rhythm of the bouncy Bolero on a bumpy road. We see people selling many live rats along the way and numerous roadside stalls selling fruits – especially pineapples. The traffic worsens as we reach Kohima town, and our vehicle inches along. We finally reach Kisama village, where the Hornbill festival is held.

Why is Hornbill Festival celebrated in Nagaland?

The Hornbill Festival is held every year from December 1st to 10th in Nagaland, Northeast India, to showcase the cultural heritage of Nagaland. It is also called the ‘Festival of festivals’ since this is an event where all the 16 tribes of Nagaland (who have their own festivals) come together in Kohima. The first festival was held in 2000. Organized by the State Tourism and Art & Culture Departments, the Hornbill Festival various aspects related to the rich cultural heritage of Nagaland. It is a week-long festival and tourists can enjoy colourful performances, crafts, food, games and ceremonies. Traditional arts, including paintings, wood carvings, and sculptures, are also displayed. The Hornbill festival is now a major event that should be on any photographer/traveller’s plans.  

How to get to The Hornbill festival, Kohima: The nearest airport to Kohima is Dimapur. You can take a flight to Guwahati and then take a connecting flight to Dimapur. There are also direct flights operating to Dimapur from some of the major Indian cities.

Hornbill festival Nagaland
One of the Morungs in Kisama village


One of the tribesmen pose for photographers


Sights from Kohima

It is post-noon, and the village is bustling with activity. A cultural show on the main stage has just come to a close. Each tribe has set up a Morung – a decorated hut where trophies of war and other items are kept. Of course, the tribesmen (and women) are in a jovial mood and are seen interacting with camera-wielding tourists. They pose like experienced models for the tourists – giving each of the photographers their attention. They invite the tourists to be part of their dance. I click some pictures and move from one Morung to another. There are also food stalls set up. We get into one of them and try the local rice beer. There is also a war memorial near the village. We read about the battle of Kohima and the Japanese retreat there.

Wares for sale


Hornbill festival Nagaland
A Naga lady


Hornbill festival Nagaland
Hornbill festival is created for photographers and tourists – the tribes(wo)men are experienced at posing for the cameras (much like seasoned models) – and really enjoy interacting with tourists. Indeed a great platform to showcase the culture and an awesome arena for entertainment.


Here’s a short video I put together using the images I clicked:



After a few days in Nagaland, we drive to Shillong. The trip takes us through parts of Kaziranga into Meghalaya. The well-maintained roads in Meghalaya are a welcome change from the ones we experienced in Nagaland. Shillong is a lovely little hill town, which we explore on foot. Maruti Altos ply as shared taxis and charge Rs 10 per passenger for a ride. The cab driver waits till he gets 2 passengers to sit in front and 4 in the back. If one wants to ride alone, she/he will have to pay for the rest of the empty seats.

The hotel we are booked in – Kaizun Bread & Breakfast – turns out to be a clean and very well maintained place with responsive staff. It is centrally located – near Police Bazaar, which is the main town centre. We hire a taxi for our day trips to the various waterfalls in Cherrapunji from ‘Shillong Tours & Travels’. The driver, Donick, turns out to be a young fellow who speaks impeccable English. (If you ever need a cab in Shillong, do call Donald at 977.432.7132 or email him at syiemiongdonald [at] gmail [dot] com).

Also, check out Dylan’s Café and ML 05 Café if you get a chance – they are awesome.

Check out Dylan’s café – a café that celebrates Bob Dylan’s music and poetry


Also, check out ML 05 Café – another beautiful café with a retro automobiles theme.

We also make day trips to the various waterfalls, a living root bridge, a cave and River Dawki in the next few days.

Nohkalikai falls in Cherrapunji, one of the tallest waterfalls in India. I understand that this looks even more beautiful during the rainy season. However, since I clicked this in December – the dry season over there – the falls’ power is less. So the image doesn’t do justice to the grandeur of the place. The legend behind the name is also interesting – it involves a lady named Ka Likai, her young child and her second husband. It involves murder, cannibalism, affection, food and guilt. Google ‘the legend of Nohkalikai’ to get the full picture.


The clear emerald waters of Dawki river.


Living root bridge in Mawlynnong


Portrait of a lady from Cherrapunji, Meghalaya. She runs a shop selling mementoes and local stuff near Nohkalikai falls.


I hope you enjoyed reading this post. For more pictures and stories about this trip, please check my Instagram feed: https://www.instagram.com/sampathmk/

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