I have always seen it in movies and on social media, how people travel and trek with their dogs, but I would always only sit and wonder. And then I thought it was time I experienced it firsthand in my trip to Ziro. I was unsure about the authorities of the festival allowing me to take along my pet dog. That was the first issue. The second was the journey – would I be able to travel all the way to Ziro and back, with only a full grown lab for company?
Bracing myself, I decided to write a letter to the authorities seeking permission to travel to the the Ziro Festival of Music (ZFM), a four-day long festival with Juno. I was all ready to be let down, as no visitor to the festival ever travelled with a pet before and there were no guidelines mentioned anywhere until then. When I almost gave up, I received a letter back giving me permission to take Juno, with strict conditions that I would be solely responsible for her behaviour or else I would be asked to leave. That made me was ecstatic and I wasn’t very worried about Juno’s behaviour. She was one of the most well-behaved bitches a human could ever encounter.
The next and a much bigger issue was the journey. Ziro is about 500 km from Guwahati, i.e., approx. 16 hours by road and depending on the weather, the roads could be a big problem. Most roads leading to Arunachal are broken and there are often possibilities of landslides due to heavy rains. Getting there can be physically exhausting, so one has to be fully prepared. I booked a traveller service that was mentioned on the festival’s website and hoping all would be smooth, I set off.
The journey, as expected, was hard and tiring. Broken roads and bumps left me with a sore back and gave Juno quite the shock, but we were finally there. Once we reached our destination, we had to actually walk a few more kilometres before the venue became visible to us. But once we reached, all the soreness left our bodies. Juno went mad seeing the crowd and the crowd welcomed her with all the love!
ZFM is a four-day festival that started in 2012. The festival kicks off every evening and continues until 10pm. The days are left free for visitors to roam around the valley and to get to know the people of Ziro. Over the years, the Arunachal tourism board has done wonders to bring the rest of the country closer to the state and this festival has played a major role in it. It gives people from the other corners of the country to experience the varied beauty, that makes Arunachal. Named a World Heritage Site, Ziro Valley is situated at an altitude of 1500 m above sea level. It is the headquarters to the Lower Subhansiri District and only about a few km from the Hapoli town. Rice cultivation and pisciculture are the main means of livelihood of this place, which is surrounded by vast and unending fields of paddy. Ziro is also known for its terrace paddy fields, where the rare system of poly culture and water management is practiced. Even though the place is surrounded by mountains, Ziro itself is a mostly flat valley of lush green forests, rivulets and elevated patches. The climate is mostly tropical, with temperatures ranging from 16° C to 20°C.
Ziro Valley is mostly home to the Apatani tribe, although a few members of the Memba tribe also dwell. The former is mostly known for its women with tattoos on their faces. According to history, this tribe was involved in many wars with other rival tribes, and as per legends, the beautiful Apatani women were abducted by the rival tribes. To prevent this, their women got tattoos made on their faces, making them visually unappealing.
Today, however, Apatani women are one of the most advanced group of women in Northeast India and they are seen leading in all spheres of life be it community building, entrepreneurship or other vocational skills – such as weaving and basket making. In fact, a large part of the ZFM success can be attributed to these women who offer to help the makers tirelessly to make the festival a success – right from setting up the venue, to setting up stalls, to acting as guides for new visitors, they lead everywhere.
ZFM usually takes place towards end-September. It is only growing with each passing year and today ZFM is easily one of the biggest and the happiest festivals in the country. The lush venue is divided into two big stages – 3 km apart. The sundown stage is the main stage of attraction and hosts artists from different backgrounds from across India and outside. In 2014, ZFM hosted two of the biggest indie music artists in the country – Prateek Kuhad and Imaad Shah (Madboy).
The venue also has many stalls, wherein artisans from various places come and display their craftsmanship. Traditional weaves, looms, local food and beverages are the main items of attraction. This also gives a chance to the local community to add to their means of living, in an otherwise impoverished region. The venue also has attractive installations every year – these installations are huge and are an effort of local villagers who set these up with immense effort.
My experience to this festival will remain an unforgettable one. It gave me a chance to escape the rush of the city life and bond with my dog. I remember just sitting under the clear blue sky, overlooking large fields of paddy and simply just living life at the moment. I spent four days, cut off from the hustle bustle of the city, sampling new food items and soaking in the culture of Ziro.
How to get there:
By train: Trains are available from Guwahati to Naharlagun station, from where cabs are available to Ziro. Visit IRCTC for bookings.
By air: The closest airports are Likabali and Tezpur. Alternatively, one can fly to Guwahati and proceed from there.
By road: Buses run from Guwahati to Arunachal – one can also share travelers or cabs till Ziro. Direct private buses also run between North Lakhimpur and Itanagar. There are two main entry points to Arunachal Pradesh – Bandardewa Gate and Kimin Gate.
Ziro Festival of Music has its own campsite and there are several other camping options. ChaloHoppo is one of them. Home-stays are also available in Ziro.
Other places of attraction:
– Tarin Fish Farm: Situated at a high altitude in the Bulla Village, breeding of high altitude fishes alongside crops is done. Two crops of rice and one particular type of fish, Nghihi are raised together.
– Talley Valley Wildlife Sanctuary: This valley is located at a distance of 30 km from Ziro and is home to many endangered species of flora and fauna – such as the clouded leopard and the pleioblastus simone bamboo tree.
– Kile Pakho: Situated about 10 km from Ziro, the ridge of Kile Pakho gives a perspective view of Ziro on one side and the snow-clad Himalayan mountain range on the other.
– Meghna Cave Temple: This is a 5000-year old structure, situated about 3000 meters above the sea level. These caves are dedicated to Shiva and are one of the earliest examples of tribal conversion to Hinduism.
– Dolo Mando: One of the most famous attractions, Yolo Mando, offers a trekking route to a hillock from where the whole of the Hapoli town and Ziro below become visible.
In loving memory of my best friend, Juno.