In the mighty state of Arunachal Pradesh, where the sun’s rays first reach India, where more than 80% of the land is under forest cover, rests the pristine valley of Ziro. This lush valley is home to the Apatanis, a photographer’s muse and a subject of absolute fascination for anthropological and agricultural researchers alike. It has even spiked the interest of UNESCO but is still waiting cold to be declared as a World Heritage Site.
Ziro starts to intrigue you right from its name to the unmistakable facial tattoos and its internationally acclaimed ingenious method of paddy cum fish farming. If you didn’t know these facts yet, then this is probably the time you pause and sigh!
Now, farming practices and anthropology may not interest the casual traveller whose eyes are used to over saturated and photoshopped images of best destinations in the world. So does that mean Ziro’s invitation is limited to researchers and curious backpackers? This article may have the answer to that, and you as a reader will decide.
Lavish green paddy fields cover the valley’s land for the most part of the year and even when harvesting is over, one’s eyes are still treated to the oil painting-like backdrop of the pine trees that occupy the hills around the valley. Barring the roads within Ziro which are as good as non-existent and interrupts your meditative gaze at the beauty on offer, everything else seems to be in a state of artistic trance. Like the blue of the sky, the sun focussing its rays on certain patches of the forest cover with the help of its accomplice the clouds, so that the forest lights up in different hues of green, and to top it all off, the abundance of local brews ranging from plum, peach, kiwi, rice and millet that ensures even teetotallers don’t go back thirsty.
You need to hold steady and not let nature intoxicate you too much, for a walk into the villages of the Apatani people is still pending. This is when you find out how they live, what they eat, who/what do they worship and how is their Hindi so damn good! Walking through a village in Ziro also contributes to your quota of being mesmerised as their homes made of bamboo and pinewood invite you into their black and brown existence. The fascinating aspect of Apatani homes, like many other homes of Northeast Indian tribes, is the centrally located kitchen which is the centre of activity in the house. Every family member, guests and even the pets gather around for a cup of tea or a choice of local brew.Talking about drinking, if you aren’t comfortable eating rice, then you may find it difficult to palpate the locally grown thick rice which acts as a staple meal served three times a day, with generous portions of meat!
As a consequence of their animistic faith, their belief in the Sun and the Moon and other forces of nature, the people of the valley celebrate a lot of festivals and perform ‘pujas’ which revolves around rituals conducted by the priest and animal sacrifices. These festivals have become of interest to the tourist in the last 5 – 7 years like the Murung puja in January, the Myoko festival in March and the Dree festival in July.
Even though Ziro has been the way it is for centuries with a road connectivity established more than 40 years ago, the recent popularity of the Valley can be attributed to a certain music festival called the Ziro music festival started in 2011 after a touring band got hypnotised by the aura of the valley and decided to come back with more bands. This year the festival is scheduled to take place from the 28th of September to the 1st of October, just in time for the paddy fields to turn golden, right before harvesting. If this piece motivates you then visiting the valley during Ziro Festival might be the best journey of your life.