Madhusmita B Khaund
A memorable drive to Ziro valley in Arunachal Pradesh - The abode of the Apatani tribe
Updated: Oct 18, 2020
It is difficult to say where our intuition or gut instinct comes from but it saves us in many situations.
This incident happened few years back. It was before the Bogibeel bridge over Brahmaputra was completed. We i.e. me and hubby were driving to Ziro valley in Arunachal Pradesh from Dibrugarh and had to cross the river along with the vehicle by boat. The crossing was lengthy and it was already sundown by the time we crossed the Assam-Arunachal border. We still had couple of hours of journey ahead. The road was obviously hilly and so speed limit had to be maintained. We had to mostly rely on google maps for direction as milestones were not always visible. The network would be lost frequently and there were stretches of hills without human habitation. We were still trying to make good of the time and reach our destination as early as possible.
Google maps had gone out of reach and now we were driving just by asking any passerby whenever possible. It was mostly pitch dark. We were driving through a stretch where we could not see anything except the road ahead illuminated by the vehicle headlight. Then suddenly I had a gut feeling that this was not right. I asked hubby to slow down and wait for somebody to ask for direction. We reached a half broken bridge over a gushing stream. The silence of the night interrupted only by the sound of gushing water. We stopped there and waited inside the car. He dimmed the headlights and the moonlight was now visible. The water of the hilly stream sparkled and danced in moonlight. Reveling in that enigmatic beauty we almost forgot that we were lost. Then searing through the darkness, a motorbike approached us from the other side. As if waking up from a trance, we started the vehicle again and stopped the rider. He informed us that we had missed the Ziro bound road few kilometres back. We turned the vehicle and got back in track in less than 20 mins. We reached Ziro well in time to have a late dinner in the hotel. The beautiful Ziro valley was waiting to welcome us the next morning.
Ziro valley is famous for three things, not in any particular order they are - Apatani tribal people with nose plugs and face tattoos, Annual Ziro music festival and Rice cultivation.
1. The Apatani tribe : The uniqueness of Apatani tribe is their face tattoos and big nose plug. It is said that Apatani women were the prettiest in the valley and were prone to being kidnapped by men of other nearby tribes. So in order to protect their women the tribe decided to make them wear huge noseplugs and tattoo their faces so that they look less attractive and dangerous. It was a common practice among many tribes worldwide to paint or tattoo their faces to look dangerous as infighting among tribes was prevalent in those days. This practice of the Apatanis is also fading as the new generation is discontinuing to tattoo their faces and wear the heavy noseplugs. This might be the last generation of Apatanis to wear the unique noseplugs. Like other tribes of the state they also believe in sun and the moon as gods known as Donyi Polo and have traditional altar in their homes made of Bamboo and Cane.
2. Ziro Music Festival : The annual Ziro Music Festival is an outdoor music festival held in the month of September. It has become very popular nationally and internationally among the independent music enthusiasts. Activities include the Apatani village walk, hiking , MTB Ride in Apatani, hot Air ballooning etc.
3. Indigenous Rice Cultivation system of the Apatanis : The Apatanis a progressive agricultural community of Arunachal Pradesh have evolved a system of Paddy cum fish cultivation using indigenous techniques. Their system of Aji cultivation, using a combination of paddy and fish together with millet on the bunds separating the fields gives sustained yield year after year and rice is exported after meeting local needs.
In this system, a small pit is dug in each terrace in a series of terraces where paddy is grown. Fish-lings are put in water in these pits. When water supply is sufficient in monsoon season, the whole paddy field is kept under shallow submergence of 5 to 10 cm and fishes come out of the pits and move around the whole submerged area of the terrace field. During water scarcity period, when water remains only in the pits, fishes run back to the pits and grow. In this system, fishes get better nutrition due to manuring of paddy fields and their growth is better due to availability larger surface area during full submergence of paddy fields. Thus, both paddy and fishes are produced together by proper management of rainwater.
The rice fields are dependent upon nutrient wash-out from the hill slopes. The houses and granaries are located on the higher level from the cultivated fields so that household waste substances can easily be drained out to field. These substances serve as good manure, which helps in increasing the yield of paddy. Recycling crop residues and use of organic wastes of the village for sustaining soil fertility is an effective way of restoring soil fertility. Nearby the house and granary sites, the big plots are carefully tended by means of bamboo and pine groves and these bamboo and pinewood protect the soil erosion and landslide.
Best time to visit Ziro is from September to April. The nearest airport with best connectivity is Dibrugarh.
For more info and tours visit - https://www.kazirangatours.com/tribal-trail_assam-arunachal.html
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