A state enveloped in a mystery and inhabited by energetic and cheerful locals who have been vigorously guarding their cultural heritage, Nagaland is where the world-famous cultural festival - Hornbill Festival - is held every year from the 1st of December to the 10th of the same month. The state which comprises of their dancers, warriors, and head-hunters, as well as their mountains, valleys, and forests, is arguably one of the best places in the country. Together, the natural beauty and the cultural heritage form a colorful portrait of the state. It is ironical that a place which is considered as a mysterious state in the country hosts the most popular cultural festival in the country. Thanks to this festival, Nagaland - a state born on the 1st of December, 1963 - has etched its name on the world's tourism map.

Spread over ten eventful days, the Hornbill Festival gives a big platform for the Nagas to showcase their talents and their extremely rich cultural heritage to the world. The honorable president of India, Shri Ram Nath Kovind, being the chief guest on the opening day of the festival gives an idea how huge this festival is. I got to attend the festival, last year, for the first time. It was also my first visit to the gorgeous Northeast Indian state. When I reached the Naga Heritage Complex in Kisama - the main venue for the festival - my excitement level was beyond measure. At the time of leaving, after spending nearly a week at the festival, my happiness level was beyond measure. In between, I had a wonderful time.

Following are the reasons why I absolutely had a blast at the Hornbill Festival - The Festival of Festivals - in 2016:-

The dance

Dance and music for Naga people is not just a form of entertainment, it is a way of life for them. Graced with their genetically flexible body, each Naga tribe has its own scintillating dance form. In spite of being a pretty small state, some of the Naga tribes have a completely different style of dance forms from each other. There were performances by a few other Northeast Indian states as well. Troupes of dancers from Manipur, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Mizoram, and Meghalaya graced the festival with their cultural performances as well.

You Must Attend the Hornbill Festival At Least Once in Your Life

A photographer's delight -

From early morning to late evening, there would be people taking pictures with the DSLR cameras or their mobile phones. During the performances and the events, the photographers - professionals as well as hobbyists - would envelope the area to take stunning shots. The festival is a photographer's delight, as they get a lot of opportunities to capture gorgeous shots. One can never regret for not being able to take a fantastic picture, as the next one can be taken anytime soon. There is a reason why most visitors at the Hornbill Festival are always ready to take a picture.

You Must Attend the Hornbill Festival At Least Once in Your Life

The handmade products -

There are not many places in the country where you can find such wide use of classy handmade products. Naga people make a variety of products which can stand the test of time, longevity, and effectiveness. And there is one thing more to their products - they all look good. From bamboo glasses to Naga shawls, there were enough items on people's shopping list. Two sections of the main venue were dedicated solely to stalls that were selling Naga products - most of which were handmade products. The people on the other side of the stalls were always smiling and answering all the questions raised by the potential customers. Many people were there with the intention of window shopping, but that did not bring their morale down. If you plan to visit Nagaland, do look out for the local handmade products. They are a class apart.

You Must Attend the Hornbill Festival At Least Once in Your Life

The music

The Naga musical instruments include unorthodox equipment such as bamboo mouth organs, bamboo flutes, cup violins, cattle skin drums, and bamboo trumpets. It was a treat for our eyes and our ears to see and listen to the young Nagas who have taken up the gospel and traditional music perform nonchalantly. There was also a rock music event where several music bands from across the country participated. That, however, was not all. On the inaugurating day of the festival, there was a live performance by the famous Tetseo Sisters of Nagaland, who have made a mark across the country with their beautiful rendition of Naga folk songs. On the final day of the festival, there was a live performance by the legendary German band from the 80's - Boney M.

You Must Attend the Hornbill Festival At Least Once in Your Life

The friendly locals -

Nagaland was labeled a dangerous state to travel. Having traveled across the state, I can assure you that that belief is a myth. In fact, it is one of the safer states I have been to in India. Maybe it was because of the festival; the locals were extremely welcoming and showcased excellent hospitality. The people representing their respective tribes were easy to approach for a chat or even just a picture. They never shied away from anyone approaching them and always obliged for a selfie. All this in spite of not able to speak or understand Hindi or English. Hitchhiking, too, is rather simpler in Nagaland than any other state in Northeast India. Even the tribal people from Mon - a district in Northern Nagaland which is famous for their ancestral head-hunters with facial tattoos - did not scare us with their insane history of beheading people.

You Must Attend the Hornbill Festival At Least Once in Your Life

Well dressed people -

Out of all the places in India, I wonder how Bombay became the fashion capital of India. From dressing up in their respective traditional attires to wearing western clothes, Naga people really know how to dress well. Be it the elders or the youngsters, being well dressed seem to be in their genes. Their dress sense is so good that even the visitors failed to match their elegant sense of styling. Even the locals who were not attending the festival and simply going to their place of work or to their institute were gracefully dressed. We really need some fashion tips from the Nagas.

You Must Attend the Hornbill Festival At Least Once in Your Life

The vibrant tribes -

When 16 Naga tribes participate in a cultural fest as big as the Hornbill Festival, entertainment and fun are guaranteed. Dressed in their respective cultural attires, each displayed an excellent character of vigor and determination in every event and competition they participated in. Interacting with them, especially the elderly tribal people were an overwhelming experience. The highlight of the entire festival, like every year, was the competitions between the Naga tribes. From cock fight to javelin throw and from wrestling to the tug of war, the competitions between them were fierce but fair and kept the audiences on the edge of their seats. The Nagas are 'natural born warriors'.

You Must Attend the Hornbill Festival At Least Once in Your Life

The food and beverages -

A series of stalls were installed across the various venues where people had a variety of options to choose from for food and beverages. While rice, chicken, pork, and hot chilli are integral parts of a typical Naga diet, many Naga dishes are made of dog, fish, insects, and worms. The most selling dishes included Smoked Pork Stew, Kongshia lon, Anishi, and Tathu - all of these were a non-vegetarian person's delight. However, even if you are a strict vegetarian (like me), you will not have to worry about the food in a state like Nagaland ... especially during the Hornbill Festival. There were several food stalls that were selling vegetarian foods such as vegetarian sandwiches, vegetarian momo, fermented bamboo shoot, boiled vegetables, and much more. Beverages included a variety of soup, stew, rice beer, and homemade wines.