Sunday, February 14, 2016

North Eastern Odyssey 2 - Ziro

I seem to have begun the narration of our trip from the tail-end with Kohima. I am going to rectify that and begin from the beginning. :)

We arrived in Guwahati and post a quick lunch we started our drive towards the state border. Our night halt was at Tezpur. We had driven for approx 4 hrs through a quickly darkening landscape though it was barely 5pm. The sun disappears earlier here and rises much earlier than in the rest of the country. This was a bit disorienting at first and took a little getting used to. 

We were travelling during the ten day Durga Pujo festival. All along the route that evening and next to our hotel in Tezpur too, we saw numerous pandals and people dressed for the festivities. The music and prayers lasted until late in the night. 

Durga Pujo pandals along the way. This in Tezpur.

By 6PM. Night fell early here. 

During the next fortnight, we made early starts to take advantage of the daylight as well as to cover the long distances from one destination to another. From Tezpur it's approx 300 Kms to Ziro, our first stop inside Arunachal Pradesh. It took us a little less than 9 hrs to get there, largely due to the deplorable condition of the roads, especially, once we crossed over the state border from Assam into Arunachal Pradesh.

There are many rivers that criss-cross the state, we found ourselves crossing a stream or a river often enough. We passed some of the many dams that dot the state. The need for these dams, though, is hotly debated. And the government plans to build many, many more. If the plans go through, the politicians, bureaucrats, contractors and timber merchants are certainly going to make hay while the sun shines though it's anybody's guess if the people will truly benefit.

Breathtaking views enroute as we climb into the hills

Making the most of a sunny day. Make-shift platforms
like this are used to dry food, clothes or to soak in a little sun.

One of the many dams that dot the state

Ziro was absolutely beautiful. Breathtakingly, wondrously beautiful. We stayed at the Blue Pine Hotel which was clean, comfortable and warm. It was surprisingly large and well maintained for a rather remote place like Ziro where many outsiders don't venture. Then we found out that it hosts bureaucrats who come on official visits. Enough to keep this property in business and well-maintained. Now, there's even a Ziro Festival of Music bringing in more visitors in autumn. 

It was harvest time. The community works together to
make sure everyone's harvest is brought in turn by turn. 

Threshing the paddy immediately. Unlike in other
parts of India where harvesting is completed
before threshing starts

Local market in Ziro. Early mornings are the
best time to see the markets in full flow

Prized larvae that is found near the river beds in autumn.
It is considered such a delicacy that word of this haul had
spread & right before our eyes, it was sold out, in minutes

The older women of the Apatani tribe were tattooed and wore large nose plugs. (They were shy and hesitant to be photographed, so I didn't get too many photos.) It's a tradition that has been banned consensually by the tribe itself. The youngest lady we saw with the tattoos (no nose-plug though) seemed to be in her mid-40s. The legends (1 & 2) around the tradition are many but soon the nose plugs and tattoos will no longer be seen but the stories will survive. 

An elderly Apatani woman with the trademark
nose plugs and tattooed face.

Apatani man off to work in the fields/ forests 

Houses built on stilts with ritualistic
symbols in & around each home.

Babos or ceremonial poles are seen in individual
homes as well as in the central square in the village. 

The houses of the Apatani (like in many other tribes in Arunachal Pradesh) are built on stilts. This allows them to keep livestock below the house as well as keeps the cold from seeping up through the earth. Ziro can get pretty cold in winters, it seems. The construction of babos during the Myoko festival centres around it being a fertility symbol. Myoko is a month long festival held in March and it seems like a thanksgiving for nature's bounties and prayers for a good harvest. 

Shaman's play a huge role in the lives of the Apatani. The tribe are sun-moon worshippers (Dyoni-Polo) though many have converted to Christianity in recent times. They manage to happily co-exist with these two religions in their lives. :) In and around each house we saw symbols to as per the instructions of the local shaman. Depending on what was required - warding off evil or protection of the Gods etc. the symbol would differ. But they were a bit spooky - some with egg shells or feathers on bamboo sticks.

Each home here has a central fireplace
where all the cooking and eating takes place.
The open fireplace is meant to warm the rest of the house too. They have rooms leading off this main area, partitioned by woven bamboo matting which makes it easier for the heat to permeate..

Above the fireplace is space to keep meat which is
allowed to naturally smoke and dry. The longer the meat
is dried the tastier it is & therefore more valuable

At the graveyard, structures are put up
depending on the manner of death, the
gender & the role of the person in the community.

The graveyard was simple but again quite eerie. When we were there, a shaman had just been interred and his grave was covered with a lattice of bamboo sticks adorned with feathers, egg shells and sprinkled with blood from a sacrificial chicken (in the foreground of the photo). There were similar structures all around but the shaman is considered the most important person in the village and therefore had the most impressive grave too. 

We had a great guide who being an Apatani himself was able to take us around the villages, meet the tribes people and even gate-crash a wedding ceremony. The people were warm, friendly and very welcoming. Such a contrast to our busy city lives where strangers are kept at an arm's (and a leg's) distance.  But then I say this each time I meet people far, far away from urbanised life. There's a greater sense of community, belonging and far less cynicism than us city dwellers. 

A wedding feast in progress. We were privileged and very
grateful to have been allowed a glimpse into their rituals.

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