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Name : Tomosha Bhattacharjee  [On Nov 09, 2016]

State : AR

Title : Ziro ---the valley of Apatanis

Article :

 Tourists footfall in Ziro is much less than in other parts of Arunachal Pradesh hence this valley has been able to retain its pristine nature unlike the valleys of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Ziro is situated in Lower Subansiri and is a Unesco World Heritage site. This valley is frequented mostly by eco tourists, foreigners and photographers who are drawn by the rich flora and fauna of this valley. Ziro is the home of Apatani tribe who are proud of their rich cultural tradition and safeguard their heritage and culture staunchly.  Ziro is accessible only by road from Gwahati, Itanagar, Tezpur and Lakhimpur, the nearest railhead is North Lakhimpur in Assam. I wanted to spend a few days away from the crowd and noise of Kolkata during the Pujas so I decided to visit this part of AP which is less frequented by tourists.  Tranquility and peace was my desire and I got it in Ziro.

 We took a morning flight to Lilabari   (the airport near Lakhimpur). It took us more than 2and a half hours to reach Lilabari as the flight was routed via Guwahati. From lilabari airport we had to take an auto to reach Lakhimpur Sumo stand to board a Sumo which would take us to Ziro, the distance could have been covered within ten minutes but for the terrible roads.  We had already reserved our seats in the Sumo, we had expected the Sumo to start immediately but the driver was in no hurry to start, there was no other option but to stand there and cool our heels while the driver went on honking for passengers.   Only after the Tata Sumo was filled to capacity did he start, it was already 10.30am. Leaving Lahimpur behind the Sumo sped across rice fields towards the mountains which standing against the horizon seemed to beckon us with open arms. After having crossed the bridge under which flowed the raging Rang Nadi our Sumo reached the winding mountain roads whose condition was deplorable to say the least I guess most of the roads of AP are in the same condition. This most probably is due to the heavy rainfall and frequent landslides, the roads are difficult to maintain.  Ziro is around 5500ft a above sea level the mountain side was dotted with banana and bamboo trees and on the other side flowed the Ranga Nadi river. Our Driver halted briefly at Putin as I got down from the Sumo to stretch my cramped limbs I saw many other vehicles halting at Putin, the road from Itanagar to Ziro converges at this point.   Since it was lunch time most of the passengers got down to have lunch, I decided to skip lunch and ordered for a plate of Maggi with egg. The cost?  Rs 45! Traffic from Putin to Ziro is heavier than from Lakhimpur to Putin. By the time we reached Ziro it was 4.30 in the evening. Ziro welcomed us with a over cast sky, light drizzle and muddy roads. Our driver dropped us at Hapoli, the main town of Ziro. This was not the end of our Journey, from Hapoli we had to take a Tata Maxi for reaching the Home stay we had booked from Kolkata------ the Abasa Home stay in Siro valley which is 3 kms from  Hapoli.   Apart from a couple of non descript hotels other places of Stay in ziro valley are the two resorts – Ziro and Siro resort and of course some home stays in the different villages of Ziro

 We were warmly welcomed by the lady of the house who appeared to be very energetic and sprightly. She showed us to our rooms, the number of rooms here was limited but they were pretty comfortable. Rooms had room heaters and attached bath fitted with geyser. I was dog tired after the long tiring journey, so I had a wash and a change of clothes and then seated myself comfortably on a chair placed in the open space just outside our room.  The sun was about to set in the western sky, the mountains adorned with pine trees stood   silhouetted against the evening sky.  As I waited for a cup of tea I allowed the beauty and the stillness of the surrounding to sink in. It seemed as if I was in a different world altogether. We were soon served with piping hot tea and a plate of crisp pakoras which we gobbled up in no time. Very soon darkness enveloped the valley a complete hush seem to have descended.   Evening sets in   early in this part of A.P and people usually stay indoors after nightfall. Since it wouldn’t have been prudent to venture in the dark in an unknown place we lazed in the verandah and enjoyed the tranquility & peace of surrounding. We were called for early dinner at 7.45 pm, since we were hungry we did not hesitate. The dinner served was traditional fare of rice, boiled vegetables (home grown and organic) chicken in banana stem and for desert we were served with fruit salad which I relished. We hit the bed early and sleep did not take much time to come.

 Apatanis are early risers since many have to go to the rice fields for harvesting the ripened grains, otherwise too at 5.30 the morning I found locals exercising, jogging and brisk walking. People here appeared to be health conscious. We decided to walk to the nearest village to observe the morning life of the locals. All houses had a flower garden, kitchen garden, a small orchard and poultry. Large colorful butter flies flitted from flower to flower. On either of the road were massive rice fields with ripened grains, harvesting season was at its peak. The apatanis only source of income is rice cultivation,  the labour class in this valley is mostly from Assam, who live either in shanties or rented houses. On the way we saw some Kiwi orchards, I did not know kiwi fruits was such a common fruit here. After clicking some photographs of the rice fields and Apatani locals we went back to the home stay for breakfast.  We had bread, butter, kiwi jam and omelet for breakfast. The tariff at this home stay was 1080 per person inclusive of breakfast and dinner. From the owner of the home stay I got to know some important facts about Apatani tribe. This tribe is not nomadic, as per hearsay the Apatanis settled in this valley some Five hundred years ago. Since this valley is rich and fertile they took to rice cultivation, later they realized that the land can be fruitfully used for breeding fish, so fish breeding is done together with rice cultivation. Apatanis are environmentally responsible people who realize the importance of sustainable development hence they have learnt to live in harmony with nature, children are also made aware of the importance of conservation, from an early age they are taught that man needs nature and not vice versa.

 On the third day of our visit we decided to visit the famous villages of Ziro valley. We started at 9 in the morning in a Tata Maxi. The vehicle was hired for Rs 2500 and another Rs1500 had to be shelled out for the guide we hired. Before setting off for the village the guide took us to the famous Shiva Linga which was accidentally discovered by a wood cutter, the linga was huge, measuring 25 ft in length and 22 ft in width.  Many people mostly Non Apatanis had flocked to this place of worship from nearby villages. it was indeed a marvel of nature. Our next destination was the largest village In Ziro The Hong Village.  Sera, our guide, a cheerful Young man had already informed us that we will not be able to the village adults as most of them had gone to work. He was right as we found most of the villages huts shut; very few people could be seen on the streets except some children and a few elderly women. Most of the huts were made of bamboos and had a similar construction pattern. However modernization has set in here too as I could sight some houses made of bricks and cement. We were informed that all villages had electric and water supply. The roads of the village were reasonably well maintained and clean too, as there wasn’t any heaped up garbage in sight. In the middle of the village an elevated bamboo structure resembling stage was constructed. I queried about the reason behind such a construction and was told that all villages had such similar construction. This elevated platform was the meeting place of the village panchayat. Important decisions pertaining to the village welfare and holding of festivals were held on this platform.  I had heard a lot about the  tradition of Apatani women having their face tattooed so when I came across a couple of such elderly women in traditional attire i.e  a Gello (a long Skirt) and wearing nose plugs on their tattooed faces  I immediately requested them for a few snaps and they very willingly obliged. This tradition has been done away with and Modern Apatani women no longer follow this tradition. All Apatani teenagers wear Jeans and top, the gello is worn only by married and middle aged women. It goes without saying that Apatani tribe is progressive and forward looking, and don’t hesitate to do away with such traditional baggage which is deterrent to their progress.

 On our way back from Hong we saw massive rice fields; the farmers including women were threshing the grain manually. The rich yellow colour of the ripe grains swaying in the light breeze would be any photographers delight. The other villages we visited were Tajong, Kaiung, Mudangtage and Hari.   The villages were scattered all around Ziro, they appeared to be similar yet in some ways were markedly different. All houses had in built stove cum heater placed in the drawing cum dining room.  Rice beer the famous local alcohol was brewed almost in all houses. We came across many traditionally attired Apatani women in the villages we visited; locals were busy in their daily chores. I gathered that all villages have home stays for tourists who can get a feel of Apatani life style in these homestays. Apatanis are friendly and great hosts. We then visited two other spots ----the place where Ziro Music Festival is held every year and Kali Pakho 7 kms from old Ziro from where one can get a bird’s eye view of the valley. One fact which struck me about Ziro was the presence of a number of schools not just government but private schools too; it goes without saying that locals give a lot of importance to education.  Another fact about Apatanis which should be mentioned is that nearly 50% of Apatanis have converted to Christianity, the number of churches present in Ziro proved the point. I was curious to know the reason behind such large scale conversion, Sera informed us that the reason was socio economic. Apatanis are Nature worshippers and they have to abide by the traditions and customs religiously this entails a lot of expenditure which some Apatanis find difficult to bear hence many Apatanis are taking to Christianity.

 Apatanis worship the Sun(Donyi) and the Moon( Polo) .  3 major festivals are celebrated in Ziro _ The Murung, Dree and Myoko festival.  Murung is celebrated in January; there is no fixed date for this festival. It is a festival of the individual, if a family is going through a financial crisis or major health related problems then the priest (Shamans) is called for rituals to be followed to celebrate this festival.  The priest sacrifices a hen, the blood of the hen is sprinkled on a cage structure constructed in front of the house. The liver of the hen is then taken out by the priest who talks to the liver and asks about the kind of sacrifice that is to be made to help the family to tide over the dark period and as per the directive received by the priest the sacrifice is performed.  In this festival mostly Mithun (a bovine found in North east) is sacrificed. The cost of a Mithun as mentioned by our guide is Rs 90000. So feeding an entire village with Mithun meat would incur an expenditure of about 4 to 5 lakhs. Now I understood why 50% of Apatanis have converted to Christianity. The Dree is a harvest festival held on 5th & 6th of July every year.  People pray to Dree God to give them a good harvest. In this festival traditional songs and dance are performed and all the locals participate in this celebration. The Myoko festival is a huge crowd puller; it is celebrated for unity among villages and welfare of Apatani society. The celebration organized in March by three villages only lasts for ten days. Pigs, chickens are slaughtered in this festival.  Hunting is common here; the hunting season begins in October and ends in February. Mostly monkeys, deer and bear are hunted.  Monkeys are considered to be evil so they are hunted and preserved till March and after the festival they are kept in front of every hut as bad symbol. My head was reeling with the exhaustive provided by our guide, so we decided to call it a day and return to the home stay. On my way back I realized for the nth time that India is eternal and ever new, the more one delves into this treasure the more is one enriched.

 The next day we explored Hapoli town. It had a good vegetable fruit and fish market. We bought freshly plucked Kiwi neatly packed at dirt cheap price. Hapoli houses all main offices of Ziro, there were several shops selling various types of products, garments etc. I wanted by a Gello but the price tag was discouraging.  Several shops sold locally made handicrafts of bamboo; a special kind of Apatani sword was also being sold. I was rather amazed to see Durga Puja being celebrated in Hapoli . Children thronging the pandals in colorful new clothes were making the most of the celebration. Durga puja being celebrated in the land of Apatanis reinforced the fact that indeed there is unity in India’s diversity.  The next two days of our visit was wasted due to persistent rainfall.  We sat in the verandah and watched the exotic butterflies; Ziro is also famed for some rare species of butterflies.

  One should visit Ziro because of its bio diversity, to study the unique cultural heritage of   the Apatanis to know how ancient culture and modernity can be fused to keep on striding forward.  On our way back from Ziro I saw innocent looking Mituns grazing in the hill slopes and wondered why The Apatani men can’t do away with the tradition of sacrificing such innocent bovines as the women have done away with face tattooing and nose plugging. They look more beautiful now don’t they?  

Author: Tomosha Bhattacharjee