People who have had the chance to explore North-East India would agree that traveling here on your own is indeed a very empowering and transcendental experience. This part of India is very different than the rest of the country. People hold on to their roots, their culture, and their traditions with commendable adoration. My expedition to the North-east gave me the opportunity to meet with some of the most heartwarming and helpful localities. They made sure that no compromises were made with my comfort during my entire stay here despite the fact that I showed up during the off-season. While commuting to places, the border security forces would come to me straight away and ask for the inner line permit.
It's a friendly suggestion to all my readers that you travel to the northeast soon. It is the perfect getaway destination if you are planning for a soul-refreshing and rejuvenating holiday. Without any further ado, I will narrate my experience there and I sincerely hope to give you a virtual tour of this heavenly place as you read on.
Every year on Diwali, I plan a short vacation for myself. This time it was Arunachal Pradesh. I had to get the ILP (Inner Line Permit for Lower Subansiri District) which I applied for online. It fortunately worked out smoothly for me and I received it in one day. I have read on a few forums that a lot of people had trouble getting it on time. Anyway, the other way of getting the ILP is at the Guwahati (LGBI) Airport or at Naharlagun Railway station in Ziro District.
PS- I am embedding the ILP link
Ziro has got to be one of the prettiest landscapes in all of India. Its verdant valley is nestled at the bottom of Arunachal's magnificent mountains like a mythical kingdom. A layered landscape of rice fields, rivers and picture-postcard villages of the Apatani tribe with their traditional ornamentation of facial tattoos and nose plugs, I was taken aback by the beauty of all this.
The most convenient way to reach Ziro is to commute from Guwahati. From here, it's up to you to travel either to Naharlagun Railway station or North Lakhimpur district. I chose the former one. I prefer trains any day. At the Guwahati Station, I came across a pleasant man named Kari who happened to be from Arunachal Pradesh. He was in his 30's yet he had never ever been away from homeland. When I told him about my travel expeditions of the last 4 years he got so intrigued that he went on to read my blogs right there! During the next couple of hours, we bonded pretty well. It was almost funny and rather strange to have found out that he hadn't commuted in a train before! I helped him find his train compartment. It was about 5 in the morning when we reached. He had proposed to give me a ride as his family had come to receive him. I agreed and he dropped me at the Sumo Stop at Naharlagun. We parted ways and I promised him that I would share my blog about Ziro once I was done writing.
You would be wondering "isn't it advisable to avoid talking to strangers especially when one is traveling solo?" Well, in my case, I always listen to my intuitions and I am totally capable of being responsible while I'm on my own. So that's that.
Day 1 Adventure begins! The time had come to cruise through the beautiful yet the most landslide-prone regions of the district of Arunachal. The view kept getting better and the roads bumpier. The temperature started falling drastically (I was prepared for this). Although the distance from Naharlagun to Ziro is hardly 100 km, it takes about 4 hours to reach there. Hope that gives you an idea about how treacherous the roads are!
I had very carefully chosen my home-stay after much research because Arunachal doesn't have any hostels. I needed the best local experience. My way of choosing the right home-stay (or hostel) is to read a lot of blogs and also reviews of the home-stays.
I had zeroed down on Ngunu Ziro Homestay which is hosted by Punyo Chada. I had to mention his name because he had been an amazing host to me. Also, more importantly, he believes in eco-tourism and has done so much for Ziro for the sake of sustainable tourism. He often goes for treks at Talley Valley with nature lovers.
I reached Naharlagun by about 10 in the morning. In the journey itself, the locals were talking to me, as they had gotten to know me better. They helped me out in locating the homestay. By now I had already gotten used to free rides. Let me tell you that google maps won't be able to help you with locating the homestays and the network is somewhat weak at virgin locations.
Besides my hosts, I was dearly welcomed by Taboh (The dog) and two kittens (I fail to remember their funny names). The weather was very cold. Punyo decided to take me to one of his friend's place Taw- Tibe which was located in a quite isolated region. We reached there after a short hike. His friend has been tending to an organic farm. They both have been associated with an NGO which works for a sustainable living and creating awareness for eco-tourism.
This picture is what Ziro means to me: calm and serene untouched by the chaos of the cities.
While I was here, it was my first interaction with an Apatani woman. She seemed so content with her life, able to do her household chores despite being in her 90's. I was offered green tea and sweet potato. Their life seemed so simple and peaceful. That night I had some locally made kiwi wine, brewed from fresh kiwi right from the vineyard.
Day 2 -This day was sort of ambitious to me. I was gearing up to ride my Firefox bicycle on mountainous terrains. I rode for 8 hours straight, exploring all the villages. I rode the bike on hilly roads for about 30km which was quite a self-commendable thing for me. I was accompanied by Tago who has been handling local's tours of the villages since the last 6 years. I would recommend you staying at this homestay and getting the experience to know about Ziro Villages.
The most common rituals about the experience of these villages are around Myoko festival. While exploring all of them, I was taken to a homestay which takes pride in treasuring the skulls of the animals which have been sacrificed in the rituals till now. I was offered a local rice beer here. At times, I find myself a beer connoisseur who would absolutely never say no to any kind of beer. The beer seemed rather strong and she herself suggested that I drink it with green tea.
Later, I went ahead to hit the Ziro Point which is at old Ziro village. You can get a panoramic view of the entire Ziro landscape from here. It felt fabulous to ride a bike for so long on rocky roads. This is when I lifted the cycle to raise the toast to celebrate this feat.
I wouldn't want to give away every minute detail of the customs and rituals that happen in and around every village. After all, I should leave some of it to you to find out as well.
I went on to visit the remaining three of the villages.
I was back to the home-stay by 5 in the evening. As expected, it was already dark by then. Taboh was nibbling on my jeans because I have been out for so long. I discovered that my hosts were preparing fish for dinner as I happened to be Bengali. In spite of being a bong, I have never been quite a fan of fish. I still had the dinner with as much enthusiasm as possible because I didn't want to put down their effort to make me a dish that I might love. Such sweet and innocent people! I was delighted when I was offered a Kingfisher with a Gulab Jamun after dinner. My short stint at Ziro was about to come to an end. We ended up talking for a little longer. I couldn't sleep that night simply for the reason that I didn't want this trip to come to an end.
The next morning I woke up early because Punyo wanted to take me to his own farm before I left. Taboh accompanied us. Punyo gathered so many kiwi fruits. Ignorant as I was, I later realized that all these kiwi fruits were being plucked for me! It was his way of showing gratitude. The weather seemed a bit gloomy and I was worried about unprecedented landslides. It is very common to be part of such plight here. However, no such thing happened by God's grace. I still had a couple of hours before I boarded my train. Fortunately, I came across a friend who kept me company as we sipped our Kingfishers and offered to drop me off at the station.
So, this is how the Northeast made me feel at home and gave me a reason to come back again soon.
PS- if you are also curious to know about Ziro Music festival which happens in the month of September. I'm sharing the Official website as well.