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Exploring Kohima Beyond the Hornbill Festival

The Hornbill Festival, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, is a grand showcase of the vibrant cultural tapestry of Nagaland. Named after the revered Indian Hornbill, this annual festival is held in Kisama Heritage Village (near Kohima town) from December 1st to 10th. The festival unites the state’s sixteen major tribes in a spectacular display of traditional dances, music, crafts, and cuisine. It offers a unique opportunity for visitors to immerse themselves in the rich heritage of Nagaland, making it an experience that one must have at least once in a lifetime.

However, to truly experience the magic and fall in love with this unique North Eastern gem, you must look beyond the festival and its offerings. Explore the serene landscapes, historic sites, and unique cultural practices that aren’t often covered in school history lessons. Along the way, you’ll meet the lovely local people who will make your trip even more special.

The state of Nagaland has much to offer for those with the luxury of time, and a comprehensive guide would cover far more than a single blog post. For those looking for a short getaway to visit the Hornbill Festival while also exploring more of the region, the attractions within the Kohima district alone will keep your curious soul satisfied during your stay.

In this blog, we cover all the experiences that we recommend in and around Kohima. Most of these experiences are ones that you can witness year-round, but clubbing them with the Hornbill Festival goes a long way in adding to the value of your trip. Without further ado, let’s dive in:

1. Rural Angami Cultural Immersions

Weaving

The villages around Kohima, predominantly inhabited by the Angami tribe, offer an authentic cultural experience. Take a day trip to nearby villages like Jakhama and Kigwema to see traditional Angami houses, interact with the locals, and learn about their way of life. You can witness traditional weaving, participate in cooking local dishes, and hear folk tales from the elders. Visitors can also learn about the integrated fishing in the paddy fields that is now being practiced amongst Angami farmers.

Tip: Arrange a homestay for a more immersive experience and try local dishes like smoked pork with bamboo shoots and the fiery Axone chutney.

2. Visit the Kohima War Cemetery

Kohima War Cemetery

The Kohima War Cemetery stands as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made during World War II. This memorial honors the soldiers of the 2nd British Division of the Allied Forces who lost their lives in the Battle of Kohima in 1944. Walking through the cemetery, which houses 1,420 Commonwealth burials, visitors can reflect on the historical significance of the battle that marked a turning point for the Allied forces. The serene environment of the cemetery offers a moment of contemplation and respect for the past.

Tip: Visit during the early morning or late afternoon for a peaceful and contemplative experience.

3. Explore the Local Farmers Market

The local food market in the capital city of Nagaland is a vibrant hub that provides a glimpse into the daily life and culinary diversity of Nagaland. The market is famous for its locally important food items that are not easily found in shops such as local greens, fermented bamboo shoots, snails, edible insects like silkworms and honey bee larvae and an array of meats like dog, frog, and eel. The market bustles with vendors from various tribes and the wide variety of unique foods reflect the rich and diverse culture of the region. A visit to Kohima Market is a must for anyone looking to understand the local lifestyle and culinary practices. So leave your preconceptions about food outside before you enter!

Tip: Visit early in the morning for the freshest produce and the most variety.

4. Visit Khonoma Village

Khonoma Short Escapes cover

Just 20 kilometers west of Kohima, the historic village of Khonoma offers a deep dive into the traditions and sustainable practices of the Angami community. Known as the “First Green Village in Asia,” Khonoma is a model of environmental conservation. With a rich 550-year old history, visitors can learn the oral histories from the village elders – including tales of resistance against British encroachment in the 1800s and how sustainability has been traditionally practiced for decades. Visitors can explore the village’s heritage sites like the Khonoma Fort , learn about community initiatives like the Tragopan Sanctuary , and engage with local farmers practicing sustainable agriculture. The scenic beauty, coupled with the opportunity to enjoy traditional Angami meals with locally sourced ingredients and interact with the villagers, makes Khonoma a unique cultural experience, bound to leave you inspired and enriched.

Tip: Ensure to walk the village with a knowledgeable guide who knows its history for a more enriching experience.

5. Discover the valley of Dzüleke

Dzuleke Short Escapes cover

Nestled about 40 km from Kohima, the picturesque village of Dzuleke is a haven of natural beauty and tranquility. Known for its pristine environment and rare flora and fauna, Dzuleke is also home to the bison and the unique rainbow trout found in its streams. To sample some local delicacies, make friends with the locals and you might be served a scrumptious meal of fresh crabs and aromatic Binni rice. Tourists can also challenge each other to try Bhoot Jalokia, one of the hottest chillies in the world that are found here in abundance. The warm hospitality of the locals will make your visit to Dzuleke an experience that will stay with you for a long time.

Tip: Spend a night in Dzuleke to enjoy the starry skies and the peaceful ambiance of the village.

6. Trek to the Dzükou Valley

For nature enthusiasts, the Dzukou Valley is a must-visit. In December, the valley is often covered in frost, and the streams are frequently frozen, creating a breathtaking winter landscape. Although the trek can be challenging due to icy conditions, the stunning views and serene environment are well worth the effort.

Tip: Prepare adequately with warm clothing and proper gear. Hire a local guide for a safer trekking experience.

6. Kohima Night Bazaar

In Kohima, the Night Bazaar is a vibrant spot where you can indulge in local street food and buy unique handicrafts. The bazaar offers a variety of Naga delicacies such as smoked pork, bamboo shoot dishes, and spicy chutneys. It’s an excellent place to experience the lively nightlife and local flavors of Kohima.

Tip: Try different street foods and buy souvenirs like handcrafted jewelry and traditional Naga shawls.

7. Cafes and Shopping in Kohima

Kohima also has several cafes and bakeries where you can relax and enjoy local and international treats. For shopping, head to the local markets and stores where you can buy traditional Naga attire, jewelry, and crafts, as well as some of the most fashionable clothes at reasonable prices (make sure to negotiate).

Conclusion

While the Hornbill Festival is a major draw, Kohima and its surroundings offer a wealth of experiences that showcase the region’s natural beauty, rich history, and vibrant culture. From rural immersions and historical sites to nature treks and culinary delights, there’s something for every traveler. These experiences are best enjoyed with knowledgeable local guides and experts, and it is advised to always take a local guide. Make sure to explore these attractions to fully appreciate the diverse offerings of this enchanting region.

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