The Northeast states lie nestled in the eastern frontiers of India, veiled by mist, mountains and ancient forests. Sharing borders with Tibet, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan, the cluster of eight are a colliding ground for diverse cultures, languages and people. The northeast identity is a unique blend of Tibetan, Burmese, east Indian and other southeast Asian influences. This ethnic diversity is celebrated in the myriad festivals that fill up the cultural calendar of the states. Tribal festivals are primarily pastoral in nature and pay tribute to the elements, in hopes of a good harvest. Live music, colourful dances, traditional costumes and local flavours dominate the festivities and contribute to the gaiety of the celebrations. Each state offers its own unique cultural marvels. Here’s a state-wise breakdown of some of our top choices for a truly spectacular northeast festival tour.
Hornbill Festival is the biggest and most widely celebrated festival in Nagaland. Witness the festivities up, close and personal as ethnic Naga people come together to celebrate their cultural legacy through traditional music, dance, clothes and food. Our tour takes you to the heart of the festival and gives you an intimate insight into the lives of the tribal people. Visit the first Green Village in India, spend a night in tents at a local village and get a true feel of the Nagaland countryside. Trip dates: December
Arunachal Pradesh is steeped in spirituality and ancient history. Being the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama, Arunachal is a sacred place for Buddhist devotees who come on pilgrimage to the many monasteries across the state. Each of these has a fascinating history. Our Tawang tour takes you to some of the most famous monasteries in the region. The tour includes a visit to some of the other attractions like the famous orchid garden in Dirang and a trip to a tribal Monpa village. Best time to visit: Around the year
Ziro valley in Arunachal Pradesh is one of the remotest and most beautiful landscapes in India. The valley is home to the famous Apatani tribe, recognised by their trademark facial tattoos and traditional nose pins. Visit a traditional Apatani village and get a close perspective into the rustic lives of these indigenous people. This pristine valley nestled within the mighty Himalayas is home to an exquisite variety of flora and fauna. Our Ziro tour includes a visit to the Talley Wildlife Sanctuary. In addition to its natural beauty, Ziro Valley is noted for its annual music festival, touted as the largest outdoor music fest in India. Stay in tents and enjoy a diverse range of music in an idyllic setting amidst snow-capped peaks and pristine lakes. Ziro Music Festival is like no other- with performers from across the world flocking to this remote hinterland of Arunachal. Meet lots of interesting people as you set up camp at the festival, swing to the beats of the live music and have an unforgettable experience that you’ll want to relive every year Best time to visit: Around the year/ Last week of September for Ziro Music Fest
Known as the land of festivals, the picturesque hill state of Nagaland is home to a diverse community of ethnic tribes like the Konyak, Angami and Lotha. The annual Hornbill Festival held in the first week of December is celebrated by all tribes who come together to showcase their rich cultural legacy through colourful song and dance. It is held in the Kisama Heritage Village and features a dazzling array of extravagant headgear, warrior log drums and the powerful war cries of the tribes. An intriguing Night Bazaar at the festival is a major draw for tribes and tourists alike with its assortment of tribal arts and crafts and exotic local produce. A Hornbill Festival Tour is a microcosm of the culture of Nagaland, replete with its tribes, music, food and art. Moatsu Mong is another popular festival in Nagaland. It is a 3- day festival held in May where men perform traditional warrior dances while women sing songs in praise of the Ao tribe.
Losar is one of the biggest festivals in Arunachal Pradesh marking the beginning of the Tibetan New Year. This is a 3-day festival held on 1st February every year. Colourful prayer flags adorn rooftops and offerings are made to the high priest or Dharmapala, while a traditional noodle soup called Guthnk with dumplings is served at every household. Although Losar is celebrated across the state, witnessing the celebrations at Tawang Monastery is an unforgettable experience. The Ziro Festival of Music is another popular festival. Held in the remote Ziro Valley in Arunachal, it is touted as the biggest outdoor music festival in India. The 4-day festival held in the last week of September is a Mecca for music lovers and features several genres of music from folk to western rock. You could stay in tents and get a taste of camp life or choose one of the charming home-stay options on a trip to Ziro.
Manipur’s biggest festival Kang Chingba is similar to the Ratha Yatra festival of Orissa. The annual festival celebrated in the month of July celebrates the journey of the Hindu Lord Jagannath as he leaves his abode at the Shri Shri Govindajee Temple in the capital city of Imphal. The deities are carried in a massive chariot called the ‘kang’ that is pulled by devotees who vie for a chance to pull the chariot ropes. The 8-day Kang Festival is celebrated in the month of July. For nature lovers, Manipur’s Sangai Festival is a one of the most attractive northeast festival tours held for 10 days in the last week of November. Through a series of colourful cultural events, the festival celebrates the Brow-Antlered Deer locally known as Sangai, found exclusively in Manipur’s floating Keibul Lamjao National Park.
Nongrem Dance Festival is a vibrant celebration of the Khasi tribe to mark the harvest season. The 5-day festival held in the month of November is observed by offering sacrificial goats to Goddess Ka Blei Synshar. Young men and women dressed in tribal attire celebrate the festival through traditional dance. A tribal festival tour of Meghalaya takes you to the village of Smit, near the capital city of Shillong where the festival is held.
In Assam, the Bohag Bihu festival is celebrated by all communities irrespective of caste, faith or ethnicity. Bihu is celebrated thrice in Assam- Magh Bihu in the month of January, Bohag Bihu in the middle of April and Kati Bihu in October. Bohag Bihu is the biggest festival celebrating the Assamese New Year. Interestingly, this time also coincides with the beginning of the harvest season, an auspicious time for the largely agrarian Assamese community. Women dressed in traditional mekhla chadors participate in synchronised dances during this 10-day festival. Local delicacies like pitha, sweet dumplings made of rice flour and stuffed with coconut and jaggery are passed around as seasonal treats. Ambubachi Mela held at Kamakhya Temple is another popular festival for Hindu devotees. During a three-day period in June devotees and tantric ascetics flock to the shrine to seek the blessings of the Goddess. Ambubachi Mela touted as the Kumbha Mela of the East is a photographer’s paradise and a must-visit on a northeast festival tour.
Losoong is one of the biggest festivals of Sikkim celebrating the New Year. Although originally a festival for the Bhutia community, Losoong is celebrated with great fervour by other tribes as well. The festival is held in December and coincides with the end of the harvest season. Traditional Cham Dance and Black Hat Dance are performed during Losoor while the locally brewed wine Chaang is consumed to further add to festivities.
Kharchi Puja is a festival that was once restricted to royalty. With changing times, the ‘puja’ or worship is open to common people as well. The 10-day festival held in July is observed by worshipping the 14 deities as instructed by Lord Shiva. The event is marked by animal sacrifice and various other offerings believed to appease the Gods followed by vibrant cultural programmes. Kharchi is held at Puran Haveli where a temple dedicated to the fourteen Gods.
Chapchar Kut is the main festival of Mizoram and celebrates the agrarian culture of the state. Held annually in March, the festival is celebrated through traditional song and dance like the distinctive bamboo dance Cheraw. Dancers move to the rhythm of drums and clashing cymbals. Food, art and craft and flower shows are the highlights of this colourful tribal festival tour.