How A Music Festival In The Middle Of Nowhere Changed A City Brat Into A Camping Girl

Tripoto
27th Sep 2017

Located on what feels like the edge of the world is one of India's most scenic villages, Ziro. Perched 1,500m above sea level, the hills of Ziro are covered with bamboo and pine trees and the land surrounding it is tinged green with the rice fields. It really is one of India's most beautiful gems, with layered paddy fields and azure skies, and deep green forests of the Eastern Himalayas framing the entire valley. Ziro is where you forget what life in cities is like, and you love every minute of it. And in the middle of all this is the best outdoor music festival in India.

Ziro Valley. Credits: Aakanksha Magan

Photo of Ziro by Aakanksha Magan

I decided to explore this beautiful paradise this year and attend the famous Ziro Festival Of Music. This year was the sixth edition of the music festival. Early bird passes started selling in June and that was when I booked myself a trip to Ziro. And what a decision it was! One of the most exhilarating travels of my life, the most self-exploratory journey ever.

Ziro! Credits: Aakanksha Magan

Photo of How A Music Festival In The Middle Of Nowhere Changed A City Brat Into A Camping Girl by Aakanksha Magan

The beginning

Honestly, I never thought I would ever travel for more than 24 hours to attend a music festival. But I did. For Ziro. However, on the journey to the festival, I began questioning my motives. I mean, I hadn't even heard of more than 90% of the bands performing at Ziro. What was I doing here? Why was I even going? And attending a music festival solo – was I crazy? This wasn't my first solo trip, but this was the first time I was going to a fest all alone and I just couldn't process the entire thing.

These were the thoughts with which I started my journey. I even had a moment of panic while getting off my plane in Guwahati and wanted to book one back to Delhi right away, but I somehow managed to move forward and do this crazy thing!

It's a long journey to Ziro, a flight from Delhi to Guwahati, then a train from Guwahati to Naharlagun and then a ratty Sumo over bumpy roads from Naharlagun to Ziro. But I braced all of that and finally reached my destination, more than 24 hours of travelling.

On the way to Ziro. Credits: Aakanksha Magan

Photo of How A Music Festival In The Middle Of Nowhere Changed A City Brat Into A Camping Girl by Aakanksha Magan

It had rained for at least a day every year since the inception of the fest. I was informed by my very badass cab driver, Kamal, that it was considered a good omen if it rained while the music festival was on. And right on cue, I was greeted by light showers as soon as I reached Ziro and that was when this ordinary trip turned into an adventure. The very first 'roadblock' to this entire experience was the entry to the campsite. The campsite was in a picturesque setting, but the way to it was a little treacherous. And since it had rained, by the time I made it to the campsite, the last 100 meters were muddy and slushy and our car got stuck in the muck. So we had to get down, in the rain and muck, and walk to our campsite. However, once I reached there, the look of the entire place took my breath away. The ground was fresh with raindrops and the tree tops were glittering. The beauty of the place was worth every bump I met on the way.

The festival

I reached Ziro on September 28, the first day of the fest. So, after reaching the campsite and changing into some peppy clothes for the fest, I realised that there was a big problem. None of the pretty footwear that I had brought along was suitable for the terrain that the valley had taken after the rain. And that is how I got to know about the special footwear worn throughout Ziro, gumboots! I got myself a pair and was finally prepped to enjoy this fest! Or so I thought. After 15 minutes of wearing the gumboots, I realised they were damn uncomfortable and were already giving me blisters. Honestly, the experience was becoming a downer and making me curse myself! Why did I ever come to this god forsaken place where it was raining, there was no firm ground under my feet, my boots were out to kill my feet and I didn't have any idea of the music I was going to listen to!

But then a few people from the camp were leaving for the festival and I gathered my courage and asked them if I could accompany them. They readily said yes, and we were off. The fest venue was around a kilometre away from the camp and we walked to it.

Can you see the grey clouds looming over us? The way to the fest. Credits: Aakanksha Magan

Photo of How A Music Festival In The Middle Of Nowhere Changed A City Brat Into A Camping Girl by Aakanksha Magan

The festival grounds

The entry to the fest was lined with large bamboo light holders on one end and kiwi plantations on the other. This was the first time in my life that I had seen kiwi fruit plantations and I was pleasantly surprised! Did you know that kiwi was a creeper and not a tree fruit like apples? I didn't! Well, it was inside the fest venue and the first thing that struck me was the use of bamboo! It was everywhere! From the barriers to the chairs, from the stalls made of bamboo to the cutlery and even the stages! Everything was made with bamboo.

This was a glass! The glass I drank rice beer from on all 4f our days of the fest! Credits: Aakanksha Magan

Photo of How A Music Festival In The Middle Of Nowhere Changed A City Brat Into A Camping Girl by Aakanksha Magan

The Ziro festival grounds has two stages, a huge sitting area, some 20 odd stalls and large grounds to move around. The two stages are the Danyii Stage and Pilo Stage. Danyii is the day stage. There are no LCD screens, no huge monitors or anything. There is a humble bamboo stage, with a few instruments, a hillock in the background and a vast spread of paddy fields in the backdrop. People are sitting on the ground, lazily listening to the music being played and enjoying the light breeze that is such a welcome break from someone like me coming from the polluted and hot Delhi!

Danyii Stage, the day stage at Ziro! Credits: Aakanksha Magan

Photo of How A Music Festival In The Middle Of Nowhere Changed A City Brat Into A Camping Girl by Aakanksha Magan

And as the sun sets, the second stage, Pilo comes alive. Made again out of bamboo, this stage is huge and has trippy lights gracing it throughout the performances. The ground near the stage was full of mud but the people who came here for the music didn't care! Everyone was grooving to the amazing music and by the time the headliner act came on, people had stopped being bothered with the consistent rain and the swampy grounds. All that mattered was the music and the energy of the entire place.

Pilo stage during one of the performances! Credits: Aakanksha Magan

Photo of How A Music Festival In The Middle Of Nowhere Changed A City Brat Into A Camping Girl by Aakanksha Magan

Pilo stage during the day. Credits: Aakanksha Magan

Photo of How A Music Festival In The Middle Of Nowhere Changed A City Brat Into A Camping Girl by Aakanksha Magan
Day 1

Day one of the festival taught me that when it came to music, nothing can deter someone from enjoying it. Not bad weather, not uncomfortable shoes and not even the danger of slipping in the mud! Music ruled that day and made me re-learn how a shared love for music can connect you with people in an instant!

The lit-up seating area during evenings. Credits: Aakanksha Magan

Photo of How A Music Festival In The Middle Of Nowhere Changed A City Brat Into A Camping Girl by Aakanksha Magan
Day 2

The second morning I woke up to rain pattering over my tent and I groaned internally. The continuous downpour was not doing anything for my self-confidence. However, I braved the weather and left for the venue once again. The acts today were just amazing! The day stage started with an amazing performance by Dhruv Vishwanath and that set the mood right for the entire day! The evening stage ended with an electrifying performance by Kathmandu Killers and by the end of it I was amazed with the variety of music that Ziro presented me with.

Our campsite on day 2! What is it about football and mud? Is it a match made in heaven? Credits: Aakanksha Magan

Photo of How A Music Festival In The Middle Of Nowhere Changed A City Brat Into A Camping Girl by Aakanksha Magan
Day 3

Day three brought on some amazing music as well, and some different challenges too. By now my gumboots had become instruments of torture and instead of grumbling and cribbing about it, I chose to do something, I cut my boots off at the ankle! Like all I needed was them to protect me from sinking into the mud. So I didn't need them over the legs or anything! That made them a little more wearable and I was ready for day three! The music today was just magical. The day stage had amazing local artists such as Atingkok and Vivek Arora and the evening was lit up with Burudu and Reggae Rajah among others. However, there was one thing that I noticed this day that was very surprising. The artists that had been performing for the last two days were also attending the festival! They were there, just like us, grooving to the music, interacting with fans, even dancing with them and head-banging to crazy music! This was so unlike any other music festival I had ever attended and I was simply awestruck!

Thanks to a few hours of no rainfall, the festival grounds looked something like this on day three. Credits: Aakanksha Magan

Photo of How A Music Festival In The Middle Of Nowhere Changed A City Brat Into A Camping Girl by Aakanksha Magan
Day 4

Day four was when the weather turned around! Today morning I woke up to a bright sun in the sky and I couldn't be happier. However, as soon as I stepped out of my tent, I realised that the ground was still wet and I couldn't actually wear anything but gumboots again. So I wore them, picked out an outfit and went for some groundbreaking music. The day stage had some amazing performances but the closing performance by Barmer Boys lit up the entire venue! They were so full of energy on the stage that you just couldn't keep sitting. Almost everybody present was up and dancing and the vibe of the entire place was so happy and infectious that you couldn't help but smile. The evening stage started with an amazing performance by a young band, Lo! Peninsula and ended with yet another electrifying performance by Sapta!

The foot-tapping, energised performance by Barmer Boys. Credits: Aakanksha Magan

Photo of How A Music Festival In The Middle Of Nowhere Changed A City Brat Into A Camping Girl by Aakanksha Magan

The end

It was day five and the day to go back. And I didn't know whether I was glad or upset. I was definitely glad to be getting rid of those torturous gumboots, but I was sad to leave the stunning beauty of this place behind. I had to leave the campsite by 12 because it was informed that the rains had caused massive landslides on the route and I had to keep enough time in my hands to make it to the train back in time. But things didn't go as planned. I got stuck in one of those landslides, only 30km away from the Naharlagun train station! My luck couldn't have been worse. It took our car four and a half hours to cross a 500m stretch. And even though our cab driver raced through the rest of the way, we missed our train! Fortunately, that train had a few hundred people travelling by it, all from Ziro, most stuck in the same landslide. So, I joined in with a few of them and took a taxi from Naharlagun to Guwahati. And it was another long, arduous 12 hour journey, where I was almost convinced that I would miss my flight back home as well. But God took pity on me and I made it in time and caught the flight back home. And trust me, I have never been happier to see modern plumbing in my life!

The views before everything went downhill! Credits: Aakanksha Magan

Photo of How A Music Festival In The Middle Of Nowhere Changed A City Brat Into A Camping Girl by Aakanksha Magan

Lessons learnt

1. I am more resilient than I thought. I underestimated myself and judged myself too harshly. Yes, I am an entitled city brat with all amenities and facilities at my disposal, as and when I want them. But camping for five days in consistent rain and through slushy grounds taught me that I can live in any conditions and come out smiling.

2. I will never take modern plumbing for granted, ever again. Oh my God, how did our ancestors survive? Every morning, a simple activity that I don't even think about once it's over turned into a treacherous activity. It was like living in the ancient ages, where you had to first wait for a small bucket to fill with water, carry it to a makeshift bathroom, use it. Then wait for it to fill again, carry it to a tiny bathing area and try to take a bath with freezing cold water. I am still surprised I didn't freeze to death.

3. I can survive without social media! Hallelujah! I am often criticised by my friends and family for being way too active on the internet. Well, Ziro had no internet. And I had to learn to experience something without posting constant Instagram stories and snapchatting. And I did! It was bittersweet, to be honest.

4. Life really doesn't need to be complicated. You can enjoy a laid-back life, if you just slow down every once in a while. And since it's generally impossible to do so in cities, I guess travelling to places such as Ziro is necessary as it serves as a cleanser for our souls!

How to reach Ziro

No matter which city you are coming from, to reach Ziro, you first have to reach Guwahati. From there you can either choose to travel by road all the way through or do a combination of train and road travel as I did. Roundtrip fare tickets from Delhi to Guwahati start from Rs. 8,200.

There are three trains from Guwahati to Naharlagun, Guwahati-Naharlagun Shatabdi Express (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays), Kamakhaya-Murkongselek Lachit Express (all days) and Guwahati-Naharlagun Donyi Polo Express (all days). The Donyi Polo is the most popular train, taken by artists and visitors both. It leaves Guwahati at 9.20pm and reaches Naharlagun at 5am in the morning.

After you reach Naharlagun at 5am, you need to take a taxi to Ziro. The most common car is a Sumo traveller. The cars charge around Rs. 4,ooo, one-way. You can find many people at the station looking for transport to Ziro, and can take a cab with them to cut down on the cost. For those who like to be a little more prepared, talk to people in the train and make a group before you reach Naharlagun.

Festival grounds. Credits: Aakanksha Magan

Photo of How A Music Festival In The Middle Of Nowhere Changed A City Brat Into A Camping Girl by Aakanksha Magan

Where to stay in Ziro

So, this is a huge concern for many people planning a trip to this amazing place. There are four main options:

1. Book a camping package with two of the biggest camp venues at Ziro, ChaloHoppo and Kite Manja. They are listed on the official Ziro Festival of Music website, and they provide various kinds of packages. I booked my stay with ChaloHoppo.

2. Pitch your own tent. If you have a tent and are an outdoorsy traveller (totally unlike me), carry your tent and pitch it right behind the festival grounds. You can rent space to pitch your tent for Rs. 3,000. This includes access to loos and a limited supply of electricity for you to charge your phone etc.

3. Homestays in and around Ziro become very popular during festival time. However, it's a little difficult to book them online. You might have to go old school, call up some local travel agents and book them through those guys.

4. Book a hotel in Hapoli, a town around 5km away from the Ziro festival grounds, but it takes around 20 minutes by car and 45 minutes by bicycle to travel from Hapoli to Ziro. One of the best hotels is Sirro Resort. However, don't expect 5-star luxuries. These are just decent accommodations with lots of character, but not too many amenities.

The camp where I put up! Credits: Aakanksha Magan

Photo of How A Music Festival In The Middle Of Nowhere Changed A City Brat Into A Camping Girl by Aakanksha Magan

Important things to keep in mind

1. Indians need an Inner Line Permit (ILP) to travel to Ziro. You can get one online easily here, or at Naharlagun train station or even at Guwahati airport. It costs around Rs. 450 and you need one valid id proof and a passport-sized photograph for it. It is valid for 30 days from the date of issue. Foreigners need a Protected Area Permit, which can be obtained via the same methods as ILP. It costs around Rs. 1,000 and is valid for 10 days from the date of issue.

2. It always rains in Ziro. So carry apt gear such as raincoats, gumboots and jackets as it gets cold at night. Also carry headlamps/torches to navigate easily at night. You can easily get gumboots in Ziro and Hapoli both, for Rs. 450 a pair. However, buy a size bigger and wear thick socks with it. It's more comfortable and will prevent you from developing blisters.

Kiwi creepers can be found everywhere in Ziro. They make the yummiest Kiwi wines in Ziro. Credits: Aakanksha Magan

Photo of How A Music Festival In The Middle Of Nowhere Changed A City Brat Into A Camping Girl by Aakanksha Magan

All stalls here are also made out of bamboo! Credits: Aakanksha Magan

Photo of How A Music Festival In The Middle Of Nowhere Changed A City Brat Into A Camping Girl by Aakanksha Magan

Yup! You get exotic Margaritas as well there! Credits: Aakanksha Magan

Photo of How A Music Festival In The Middle Of Nowhere Changed A City Brat Into A Camping Girl by Aakanksha Magan

The cutest guest at the festival was this loving doggo. Credits: Aakanksha Magan

Photo of How A Music Festival In The Middle Of Nowhere Changed A City Brat Into A Camping Girl by Aakanksha Magan

Barmer Boys killing it on the stage! Credits: Aakanksha Magan

Photo of How A Music Festival In The Middle Of Nowhere Changed A City Brat Into A Camping Girl by Aakanksha Magan

Have you seen skies so blue? Credits: Aakanksha Magan

Photo of How A Music Festival In The Middle Of Nowhere Changed A City Brat Into A Camping Girl by Aakanksha Magan

To end it all, I can say that Ziro is literally the benchmark for outdoor festivals in the country and it is one of the nicest places in India. So, be prepared and head out there next year!

If you wish to experience the surreal experience called Ziro Music Festival, you can book a package right here. 

Have you had an experience that changed your outlook towards life? Or maybe a music festival that helped you discover amazing people and new music? Write all about it here and help other travellers plan their next vacation.

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