The Sumo started right on dot and soon we were ascending the hills. The road was curvy, rocky and the higher we went worse it became. The rains had made it slushier. The Subansiri River flowing below looked muddy with strong rapids. At a few places there were landslides too. It should have taken about three hours to reach Ziro, but the condition of the road, the slush and our driver getting down to help another Sumo driver whose car had a break down made the entire journey close to five and half hours.Mr. Tam who was hosting us kept calling me to keep a track. At one point I felt I had completely lost it. I just wanted to get down from the Sumo and start walking.But things did not take such a bad turn. We reached Ziro at three thirty in the afternoon and Mr. Tam came to receive us. As we hopped in his car, the first thing we asked him, “How far is your home from the Fest Site”?“Oh! Don’t you people worry! It’s just a kilometer”!That was perhaps the best thing we heard during this back breaking ride!So there we were, in Hong Village. We followed Mr. Tam’s footsteps and finally reached his home. I was super thrilled to realize that I’d be staying the next three days in a stilt house made of bamboo and wood. It was small. But neat and clean. What could more one ask for? It was a typical Apatani home with a huge fire place in the middle of the living room, which they use it to warm water, smoke meat and keep the house warm.Mr. Tam seemed more eager than us. He asked us to freshen up as quickly as we could so that he could drive us to the Fest Site. And like obedient children we exactly did as he told us.There was a sense of euphoria in the site. The party was just about to begin and would get bigger and better. Once we were given our fest blue bands, we were inside. We looked around the stalls, checked the food and other stalls selling memorabilia.The ZFM (Ziro Festival of Music) officially kicked off by seven and the first band Dayglocrazie was a bit disappointing. Not only me, I heard people standing close to me sipping their beers saying the kick off should have been with a peppy band, not with someone who was singing such mushy mushy songs. But after that Yesterdrive and later followed by Omak Komut Collective took matters in their able and responsible hands and they literally set the Fest on fire and sent the audience into a frenzy.And I knew this was the beginning of some serious tripping on good music.The next two days that followed, we saw some of the finest and most talented people performing in front of us, from one in the afternoon till about ten at night.MenWhoPause, Barmer Boys, Takar Nabam, Neel & The Lighbulbs, Tetseo Sisters, Run It’s the Kid, North, Side Effect, Alisha Batth and my favourite Prateek Kuhad were the most awesomest (only if the dictionary permits me to use such a word!).Disappointment came when on the third day of the fest (which was my high point) we saw a huge white chart paper with this written and I quote, “Dualist Inquiry CANCELLED L P.S. He could not make it because he was injured.”I was a sore miffed. Felt like a rejected lover. But then there were too many things that made up for that one disappointment. I was around with friends with whom I could be me and feel good and secure. Then there where the newer set of friends, we talked, laughed, sipped Apong and clicked selfies, exchanged numbers, added each other in Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp too. We devoured on Apong (which is a local wine made from fermented rice and millet seeds). Out of all the Apongs the Apong made by the Adi tribe is the one to die for. Its sweet. It keeps you warm and gives you a happy high. The Adi Apong was served to us in slim bamboo hollows with bamboo leaves used as a cover.The best thing about the ZFM was off course the music. But also it was about people I was with, the ones I connected after years that mattered a lot.It’s a week now that I am back home. But I am still hung over. About everything that is Ziro. The green and golden paddy fields, the sunshine, the clear blue skies, the clouds, the rains, the fog, the slush, the long walks along the paddy fields and pine trees, the music, the happy and unknown faces, the familiar strangers. I came back home full of wonderful memories. I don’t know if I will go to Ziro again. Just feel that the excitement would not be as it was this time.I told my host I can stay in Ziro for the rest of my life happily working in paddy fields, drinking Adi Apong, walking around not having a care about meeting deadlines and con calls!Thank you Ziro Festival of Music, Ziro, Hong Village, Mr. Tam (my host) and most importantly Bobby Hano the organizer!Its truly the “Journey of your Life”!
The Apatanis are a tribe that live in Ziro, in the valley of the Subansiri River in Arunachal Pradesh. My journey to Ziro was not about sightseeing or scenery, even though I wouldn't disagree that I enjoyed these aspects of travel while I was there. My journey was about the people and their culture, about meeting and interacting with a people whose way of life intrigued me. I had been inspired and intrigued by the work of anthropologists like Elwin and Furer-Haimendorf, and other authors like Ralph Izzard and Rabindranath Tagore who had written on the Apatani. I had learnt much from them, but hearing a people's stories and history from the people concerned, from the horse's mouth as they say, has a different charm. In my journey, I also noticed and understood many things that the literature on the Apatanis had not covered, such as the nose ring that elder women wear - the yaping hurlo. For most part, the Apatanis are still predominantly pastoral, and the valley is clearly indicative of that as Ziro is full of rice fields. Though the landscape and scenery are undoubtedly beautiful, Ziro does not have things to 'see' or 'do' in a manner which people expect when they travel. Even though Ziro has now entered the limelight with the launch of the Ziro Music Festival, tourists to Ziro have always been advised to go there during the farming season when fish are introduced into the rice fields or during the Dree Festival or Murung ritual when they carry out animal sacrifice. However, Ziro, because of its people, is culturally rich and because of them there is always something new that is presented to us in every moment we are in Ziro, but it depends on us making the move forward and interacting with the people and their culture.
From here on we traveled in the valley of the Subansiri river, on the National Highway 229. A helpful conversation with two men traveling from Darjeeling, provided us with the name of a person - a Mr. Tatu - who we could get help from in Ziro. Meanwhile, our journey took us through a river valley with low hills with patches of rhododendron on serrated ridges that abruptly ended in the valleys, some as deep as gorges. Far away, the massifs of the eastern Himalayas loomed, piercing the clouds, and easily visible over the rainforest tree, bamboo groves that we saw lower down in the valley.