January 31, 2019

Hornbill Festival- A Colourful and Vibrant Confluence of Naga Tribes

The renowned Hornbill festival is undoubtedly the most popular tribal festival across North East India. Referred as the ‘Festival of Festivals’, it is a convergence of 17 Naga tribes who come from different parts of the state of Nagaland to showcase their culture and traditions. Though each of these tribes celebrates their separate festivals, Hornbill festival acts as a coming together of their inter tribal culture and heritage. The festival also helps in reviving the traditions and customs of the tribes of Nagaland. The colourful festival has myriad cultural performances, sporting activities and traditional arts on display. This festival also gives an opportunity for visitors to explore Naga cuisine and flavours.

Spread over ten days from 1st to 10th December every year, Hornbill festival has completed its 19th year in 2018. The festival gets its name from Hornbill bird which is found across Nagaland and is also ubiquitous in the folklore of the tribes. Held at Kisama village, 12 Kms from Kohima, this cultural extravaganza has also boosted tourism in Nagaland with travellers, media and festival enthusiasts from world over heading to the state during the festival period.

There are 17 tribes that participate in Hornbill festival and they are Angami, Ao, Chakhesang, Chang, Garo, Khiamniungan, Konyak, Lotha, Phom, Pochury, Kachari, Rengma, Sangtam, Sumi, Yimchungru, Kuki and Zeliang. All these tribes have their Morungs (indigenously designed houses) at the venue and it is here that they spend time to dress up and do their last minute rehearsals.  This is the place one should visit early in the morning as the tribes can be seen in their complete attire and one can also capture some candid frames. They happily pose for you and are glad to break into a conversation. Inside the morungs, one can have a feel of the Naga homes which have a similar setting. All the morungs also serve Naga food and rice beer. Some of them even sell crafts and souvenirs. A walk around these morungs which are next to each other gives quite an insight into each tribe’s attires, dance performances, music and other details.

All the tribes have their various dance and musical performances through the day. Hornbill dance by Ao tribe was an interesting one where they maneuver around like the movement of hornbill bird. Pulling of a log drum which is known as Tongten Senbu was another captivating act by Chang tribe. Kubo-Lichi Kemhou Ketsu by Chakhesang tribe is a performance where they blow the traditional trumpet. Cotton spinning song known as Tefu Kethyu Lu by Rengma tribe is sung by women for their lovers while spinning cotton. Thsakuk Nyingnying by Sangtam tribe is a dance where the movements are like that of a butterfly. Leaphet by Konyak tribe is an indigenous bamboo dance. Chant of the baby sitters by Phom tribe which is known as Nau-u Asho was another interesting performance. War dance by Sumi tribe and Victory dance by Lotha tribe were some of the other dances performed during the hornbill festival. There were also numerous other folk dances, harvest songs and traditional games by all the tribes on all the ten days of the festival.

Apart from the tribes of Nagaland, there were performers from other states such as Manipur, Meghalaya, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha etc. As the sun set, most of the evenings concluded with contemporary music and carols.

While numerous performances at the arena by various tribes keep all the ten days lively, there are a host of other activities that happen simultaneously. These include badminton, angling, horse riding, kids carnival, pineapple eating competition, chilly eating competition, stilt bamboo race, shooting competition, tug of war, fire making competition, strongest & fittest man competition, Miss Nagaland competition, Naga chef competition and many more. The venue also has a craft exhibition centre and an artist’s corner which display magnificent works of various artists. A carnival also happens in the city of Kohima when the main street is lined with stalls selling various things and local Naga cuisine.

Bamboo pavilion has numerous stalls selling a plethora of items such as tribal jewelllery, Naga shawls, artifacts and souvenirs. There are also food stalls which sell cuisines other than Naga food. However, it is well recommended to explore the Morungs to relish authentic Naga delicacies.

Even though Kohima is not far, it is recommended to stay in Kisama village to avoid daily commutation from Kohima. There are many camps near the venue where one can stay. I stayed in a tent arranged by The Holiday Scout and it was a comfortable one. Sleeping bags and breakfast were also provided by them.  

Travel Tips:

  • Make sure to procure inner line permits (ILP) for Nagaland from the Deputy Commissioner’s office at New Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati, Dimapur or Kohima.
  • Visit the Morungs early in the morning before 8 AM for photography as it can get quite crowded as the day progresses.

How to reach Kisama Village:

Kisama village is 12 Kms from Kohima, the closest major town. Dimapur which houses the nearest railway station and airport is 70 Kms away. There are regular shared taxis that ply between Kohima and Dimapur, and the charge is INR 300 per seat. One can also opt for the public bus service.

Food and Accommodation:

Local Naga food is served at all Morungs. Additionally, there are food stalls within the festival premise that serve North Indian and continental cuisines. The Holiday Scout can arrange tents close to the venue. Each of these tents can accommodate 2 or 3 persons. 

P.S.: I was hosted by The Holiday Scout during my stay at Hornbill festival, but opinions are my own.

January 24, 2019

Mechuka: A Valley Flanked by Breathtaking Landscapes

When in Mechuka, all that you would want to do is soak in the beauty of nature. The endless landscapes are an absolute eye soother for any visitor. The engulfing mountains make Mechuka a secluded valley, a delight for the discerning traveller who would like stay disconnected from the modern world. The landscape is so gorgeous that one could gaze at them in oblivion for long.

Located at a height of almost 6000 feet above sea level in the eastern Himalayas, Mechuka is small town in the West Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh. The town is located close to Indo- China border which is 29 Kms away. Though the official name is Menchuka, it is more popularly referred as Mechuka. Mechuka is home to five indigenous tribes and the popular ones are Memba and Adi. The locals are into agriculture and rice cultivation is the major source of income.

Mechuka can easily beguile anyone as one of those remote Scandinavian towns with its breathtaking landscapes. Snow capped mountains, azure rivers, blue skies, rickety bridges, grazing horses, wooden houses, meandering roads and gurgling streams greets visitors in Mechuka. The barren brown hills, scattered thorn bushes and pine forests further accentuate the charm of this gorgeous land. It is an ideal place for a long nature walk or one can trek up an undulating hill side to soak in the surreal beauty of the surroundings.

River Siyom, a major tributary of Brahmaputra river snakes its way through the valley and brings a lot of buoyancy with its turquoise hue. Mechuka is known for its numerous wooden bridges that dangle over river Siyom and other rivulets. The wooden planks are bound together with steel wires or nails. Clinging on to the iron rods that act as railings, it is quite a precarious walk on these bridges as it sways with each step that you take. However, locals have no such qualms and walk across briskly.

While Donyi Poloism and Christianity are evident across Mechuka, Tibetan Buddhism has been a prominent religion over the years. Samten Yongcha monastery, commonly referred as old monastery is believed to be more than 400 years old and follows Mahayana sect of Buddhism. Built over a hillock, the monastery has statues of Guru Padmavasambhava and a few other idols. It is devoid of monks during most days as they arrive only for the festivals. However a caretaker is always present there to tell you stories of this age old monastery. They also have dormitories if anyone would like to stay over. Apart from the serene surroundings and the cold breeze, the place also offers panoramic views of the valley, river Siyom and Mechuka town. It is located 14 Kms away from Mechuka and one can also trek from the base of the hill. Dzogchen Samtan Choeling monastery which is the new monastery is located closer to Mechuka town, but isn’t as impressive as the old one.

A popular attraction in Mechuka is ‘Hanuman face rock’, where a natural formation resembles the face of Hanuman, the Hindu god. Also nearby are a gurudwara and a small waterfall which one can reach after a short walk. The rivulet near the waterfall is an attractive frame for photographers.

The road from Mechuka that runs along the Siyom river crosses over an iron bridge and leads to Dorjiling. Located 12 Kms from Mechuka, the tiny village of Dorjiling is a pretty one with scattered wooden houses, more ice capped mountains, gurgling streams and farm lands. The road that leads to this sparsely populated village too offers lovely vistas. One can casually stroll around this village, enjoy the views, frame photographs, talk to a local farmer and take in a lungful of fresh mountain air. The village also has a small Buddhist monastery amidst a paddy field and it houses a large statue of Buddha.

Adventure at Mechuka is a popular festival that is held here every year in the month of November. There are numerous cultural and musical performances during the festival. Some of the popular bands that played in 2019 were David and The Band, Featherheads etc. The visitors can also enjoy adventure activities such as paragliding, kayaking, hot air balloon, air rifle, mountain biking, zip line, rafting etc. The festival site also has tents where one can stay if booked in advance.

Mechuka town is a small one with a few eateries that serve some delicious Tibetan food and some shops which sell all the basic needs. The town also has one ATM and only BSNL phone network functions here.  The place gets very cold during the winters and temperatures plummet below zero degree. Mechuka is fairly new to tourism and it is slowly adapting to the changes that have come along with it.

Mechuka is not a destination where you can tick off the places to visit or things to do from your list. It’s a place to get close to nature, gaze at the landscapes, go on short trails, interact with locals and enjoy some serene moments.

Travel Tips:

  • Make sure to obtain Inner Line Permits before entering Arunachal Pradesh. It is a mandate for Indian citizens and you can find the details here- Arunachal ILP.
  • If travelling to Mechuka in winters please make sure to carry multiple warm clothing.
  • The locals are friendly, but do respect their traditions and culture.
  • Always ask for permission before taking photographs of people.

How to reach Mechuka:

Mechuka is 187 Kms from Along and 289 Kms from Pasighat. Silapathar in Assam is the closest major rail head (391 Kms via Along and 331 Kms via Likabali). The major airport near Mechuka is at Dibrugarh, 438 Kms away. The easiest means to reach Mechuka is to take shared taxis/ sumo from Pasighat or Along. Public transportation is not very frequent and the journeys are quite long even for short distances due to road conditions.

Food and Accommodation:

Hotels and home stays mostly serve meat preparations. Please check in advance if you are a vegetarian.  There are a few small eateries in the town that serve Tibetan and north Indian fare. There are homestays available in Mechuka and the facilities are basic. Some of the recommended ones are Potala home stay, Grace home stay, Yargyap Chhu home stay, Gayboo's Traditional lodge etc.

P.S.: I was hosted by GRK and Adventure at Mechuka, but opinions are my own.
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