We enter the Ziro Valley, as arenaceous and lovely as any backcountry is expected to be. The Apatani tribe’s abode in this region in Arunachal Pradesh is all about wilderness at its best.
Ziro Valley, Arunachal Pradesh
It’s a clear sunny day but the air is cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.
One of the unusual, unique, and loveliest landscapes nowhere to be found, this valley looks like a mythical land. In the midst of the untouched wilderness, a flat plain covered in the intricate scheme of rice paddies – the sight makes you gawk. I feel like running around the lush fields and singing, “Yeh Kahan aa Gaye hum…”My crazy Bollywood moment!
“It’s not the greenest green as I saw in the pictures but the brown or rather golden, and saturated”. I verbalize breaking the silence in the cab. “Because it’s February” replies our driver. “September is the time when the valley is awash with impossibly green and yellow patterned paddy fields” adds the driver. “I’m coming back in September for sure” I announce to myself while glancing out of the car window.
When we got an invitation to attend the Nyokum Yullo Festival of the Nyishi Tribe in Yazali, we fit Valley into our itinerary after talking to our host. He not only organized our visit but also arranged a delicious lunch at one of her Apatani friend’s houses. And here we are!
We are in Hija Basti located in the valley. The aura and vibes are authentic here.
Apatani women farming knee-deep in the paddy fields occasionally look up and when I ask for a picture, they shyly look away.
Why Ziro Valley?
Right from its name to its unusual landscape to the people who seem to belong to a different universe, to its innovative paddy cum fish cultivation and its music festival that has put this place on the world map – The valley continues to intrigue people across the world.
This valley is beautiful beyond all reason.
A photographer’s muse, a lush and remote valley distinguished by its unique tribal heritage and culture, It is a tiny, charming town gracefully hidden away in the Lower Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh.
The town is famous for its rolling Pine Hills, sophisticated wetland cultivation, traditional bamboo houses, and intriguing Apatani tribal people. It is one of the most beautiful valleys in India with terraced rice fields, humming rivers, and pretty villages.
Hapoli or New Ziro is the major town in the valley. Hong, Hija, Hari, Bula, Baro, and Siiro are the villages in Old Ziro. Hong is, purportedly, the second-largest village in Asia.
What are must-visit places in Ziro Valley?
This is a place where you can sit back while exploring the fascinating tribal culture and history. Life at this hypnotic village is uncomplicated and calm.
- Meeting the Apatani tribe is an undoubted highlight of a trip to Ziro Valley. Stay with the Apatani family at one of the picture-postcard villages (Hong or Hapoli) of Ziro to know the warmest of people I’ve ever met.
- Trek to KilePakho Ridge offers panoramic views of Ziro plateau on one side and NyimePembu (lofty snow range of Himalayas) on another side, on a clear day of course.
- Pine Groove or Myolyang is a beautiful and scenic pine-clad area ideal to have day picnics.
- Midey is a rustic and beautiful place best known for its tall blue pine trees.
- A photographer’s delight, Ziro Putu Hillock gives a bird’s eye view of the Apatani plateau.
- Trek up to Dolo Mando Hillock to witness the spectacular views of Hapoli on one side and old Ziro on another side.
- The ancient cave temple, at an altitude of 300 ft, Meghna Cave Temple is encircled by dense forest and is worth visiting. The temple is dedicated to Lord Lakulisha who was the 28th incarnation of Lord Shiva. Ancient Sanskrit scriptures carved in stone are the highlight of the temple.
- Just 3 km from Hapoli, Tarin Fish Farm is a beautiful high-altitude fish farm where one can see innovative cultivation practices followed in the Apatani plateau, paddy cum fish cultivation. After sowing the paddy in the wet rice cultivation field, the fish fingerlings are placed in the channels in the rice field for drainage of water (MUGO) at knee-deep which is kept for 2-3 months before harvesting of fish. Two crops of rice Mipya and Emoh and one breed of fish Ngihi are raised together.
Sidheswar Nath Temple and more
- The Shiva Lingam of the Sidheswar Nath Temple at Kardo forest is known to be the largest Shiva linga miraculously discovered by a local while cutting a tree during the holy Shravana month.
- Bamboo Grove is home to one of the largest temperate bamboos – one stem Monopodial Bamboo Plant or Phyllostachys Bambusoides also called Japanese timber bamboo.
- Talley Wildlife Sanctuary is a famous wildlife reserve and biodiversity hotspot of Arunachal Pradesh located at quite an altitude with rivers viz. Pange, Sipu, Karing, and Subansiri flow through the reserve. It comprises a range of subtropical and alpine forests marked by giant silver fir trees, ferns, orchids, bamboo, and rhododendron. A clouded leopard can be spotted here.
- A twin hillock on the way to Talley Valley, Dilopolyang Maniipolyang is a perfect place to enjoy the work of art by Mother Nature.
- Just about a kilometer from Hapoli, Nanakoo Orchid Farm is worth visiting to see the rare orchids and flowers.
Meeting the Warm Apatani Family – A Captivating Story
A visit to the Apatani family gives us a glimpse into the simple, uncomplicated, and placid lives of the Apatani tribe. People untouched by the modern world and its complications… yeah, those kinds. The kinds that touch the hearts.
As we enter the flame-lit hut, our host Danyi H. Mamung gives a welcoming smile. The dark hut flickers in the firelight from the fire hearth in the center of the house. It’s hard to imagine that the sun is shining high above because it’s as dark as pitch inside the house. The ambiance inside the traditional Apatani houses is always dark even during the daytime. “It can get depressing,” I thought to myself.
We all sit around the fire hearth and enjoy a glass of Apong (local beer) with light chitchat. Mamung (In Apatanis the first name comes second) tells us about the Apatani culture and practices while her mom serves us a delicious lunch.
He seems to be concerned about the way old rituals are fading in the wake of conversion to Christianity.
Apatanis believe in the omnipresence of God. And thus, never felt any need to have temples. But given the wave of Baptism, Donyi Polo temples are cropping up to encourage people to follow their own religion.
After lunch, Mamung takes us to meet her grandparents who stay close to her house. Walking through the Apatani village is like unfolding the Apatani tribe’s traditions and rituals. The single-story bamboo houses are elevated from the ground by low stilts in neat rows. The old woman sitting on the patio observing other people and kids of various ages running around and cycling – a laidback village life.
A look of awe creeps into everyone’s faces as an old yet beautiful lady walks towards us holding a little girl’s hand. That little girl is Mamung’s younger sister. And the elderly lady is Mamung’s grandmother.
She smiles as she blesses every one of us with her feeble hands. “I could have spruced up a bit if you would have informed me about your friend’s visit” she complains to Mamung while showing her dirty hands after the day’s fieldwork. She smiles all through as we pose to get pictures with her.
Mamung’s grandfather joins us making this an absolute experience.
It’s time to bid adieu to the wonderful family. Words fall short to convey thanks for the lovely time and great memories.
Who is Apatanis? What are the traditions and practices they follow?
Apatani people are said to have come from Mongolia. But we don’t know why, when, and how. The origin and migration of Apatanis continue to be a mystery. The Apatanis are supposed to have settled down in Talley Valley situated at the south-east of the Ziro Valley for some time before relocating to Ziro.
The name Ziro comes from a clan within the Apatani tribe that was the first to arrive here but no longer lives here.
They call themselves descendants of Abotani – a mythical forefather.
Unlike other tribes who are normally nomadic, Apatanis like to be settled in one place. And practice advanced wetland cultivation in the hilly terrain by carving the hills which is unique to them. They are known for their entrepreneurial skills and economic acumen.
The most fascinating members of the tribe are the oldest women who wear massive nose plugs called Yapping Hurlo, huge pieces of hollowed bamboo called Yaruhukho (earplug) in-ears to attach the earrings, and facial tattoos known as Tiipe.
While women would tattoo a long line from the forehead to the tip of the nose and five vertical lines on the chin joined by a horizontal line, men would get a ‘T’ inked on the chin.
The tradition antedates to the pre-modern era when the men of the other tribes abduct Apatani tribeswomen because of their exceptional beauty. Apatani tribesmen made them look unattractive by tattooing their faces and wearing massive nose plugs. However, some say that women got face tattoos, nose plugs, and stretched earlobes to get good husbands. Most say that these facial adornments were considered the mark of beauty and fashion.
The skin was cut using thorns and ash was mixed in animal fat to fill in the deep blue color. The wounds were not treated for long. So that they get infected making the tattoos larger, darker, and clearer.
Although wearing big nose plugs and getting facial tattoos have been the intrinsic part of their roots, Apatani Youth Association in the mid-1970s chose to ban this tradition as the association finds them old-fashioned and non-progressive practices.
Traditional Bamboo Huts
They live in traditional bamboo huts settled on vertical wooden stilts and form close-knit settlements known as Bastis. They worship nature and believe in being in harmony with nature. And that belief is imitated in their homes too. Apatanis believe that a totem made of bamboo is sacred. And install two types of totems (Aanggya/Babo) outside their houses.
The fire hearths in the center of the house become their kitchen. And also serve as a living room where family members sit, chat and eat together.
Each village has a ritual performing platform called Lapang.
Apatanis worship nature. They follow the animistic, shamanic religion called Donyi-Polo which is centered around the worship of Donyi (the Sun) and Polo (the moon)
They are majorly agriculturists by occupation. The tribe exercises sustainable farming by harvesting fish in the wet fields alongside rice. Apatanis also cultivate a salt called Tapyo unique to them within the fields which increases their food production. Apatani salt is briny, solidified ash made from burnt plant matter. Some are engaged in other occupations like basketry, poultry, hunting, rearing Mithuns, pigs, goats, and fishing.
Apatanis eat Mithun meat, pork, and boiled rice mostly. Bamboo chicken is a local delicacy. Not to forget the local rice beer. I have heard that they eat silkworms if you enjoy wild cuisines.
Read More – Araku Valley Bamboo Chicken
What are the Major Festivals of Ziro Valley?
Myoko is celebrated every year in the month of March to honor the arrival of spring. It’s the time of the year when new paddy is planted in the checkered fields. And the villagers pray for a good crop. The festival is hosted by a different village each year. It strengthens the clan ties too as the festival is the celebration of friendship and harmony. People from nearby villages are invited and guests are offered the local beer and meat. They dance to the tune of traditional songs. For eons, Apatanis and other tribes for that matter have basked in the glory of sacrificial rituals as they consider them as a good omen. They sacrifice pigs during Myoko.
Murung is celebrated every year in the month of January to bring prosperity and success to the family members as well as the members of the community. Mithun and cows are sacrificed and the meat is distributed among villagers. This festival is considered to be the most expensive and time-consuming festival of the Apatani tribe. And sponsoring or hosting this festival remains a goal for Apatani families to enhance their social status.
Dree is celebrated every year on July 5th when Apatanis appease the Tamu, Harniang, Metii, and Danyi Polo Gods collectively called DriWuhi by offering sacrifices of fowls, dogs, pigs, chickens, eggs, Mithuns, and cows to ensure bountiful crops and prosperity to mankind.
Ziro Music Festival
This Music Festival is held every year in September in Hong Village, Ziro. It’s known to be one of the best outdoor music festivals in India. It’s a perfect time to soak in some soulful music and breathtaking vistas.
What’s the Best Time to Visit Ziro Valley?
The climate is lovely all through the year. However, September is the best time for lush green rice fields. If you are a music lover then you must visit it around September to witness the grand Ziro Music Festival.
For culture and festival lovers, January (Murung Festival,) March (Myoko Festival), and July (Dree Festival) are the best months to visit.
During the farming season, you can indulge in paddy fish cultivation, wherein fish are reared in the rice fields.
Ziro Valley Sounds Like a Cool Idea, How do I Get There?
The whole journey to this place is an adventure in itself.
Guwahati in Assam acts as the nodal point that very well connects North-East India via rail and air to the rest of India.
The nearest Airport is the Tezpur Airport in Assam. However, flights to Tezpur are capricious. The best alternative is to fly to Guwahati.
There are three alternatives. One (The fastest way) is to take a flight to Guwahati and then catch Donyi Polo Express (9:20 p.m.) or Shatabdi Express (15:20 p.m.) to Naharlagun (Itanagar.) Take a shared taxi to the valley (3 1/2 hours) from Naharlagun.
Another economic alternative is to opt for a direct train from Delhi to Naharlagun (Naharlagun Arunachal AC SF Express) and then reach the valley by hiring a shared cab from Naharlagun. I’d obviously not recommend this option as it’s time-consuming. The train takes good 38 hours to reach Naharlagun.
Alternative three for road trip lovers is to drive from Guwahati to the valley which takes almost 12 hours. The unique selling point of this alternative is the sight of the beautiful landscapes of North-East India.
Do I Need a Permit to Enter Arunachal Pradesh?
Arunachal Pradesh comes under a restricted zone, so official permission is needed to enter the state. You must get an Inner Line Permit (ILP) if you are an Indian national and a Protected Area Permit (PAP) if you are a foreign national. ILP can be applied online as well as offline. One needs to furnish a passport-size photograph, ID proof, and address proof to obtain the permit. One local reference is also required. Online ILP takes a day but offline ILP takes somewhere between 2-4 hours.
Please note that PAP is usually only granted to foreigners in a group of two or more.
How do I get the permit?
The best and easiest way is to get it online. Apply online to ILP here.
Offline ILP is issued at Arunachal Bhawan in Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati, Shillong, Dibrugarh, Tezpur, North Lakhimpur, Jorhat, and from the office of all the Deputy Commissioners of 16 Districts of the state. Tourist ILP facilitation centers at Naharlagun railway station, Gumto railway station, Guwahati Asom Paryatan Bhawan, and Guwahati LGBI Airport provide ILP on arrival.
The fee for getting ILP online is 100/- while it’s 200/- for offline ILP. ILP on arrival costs 400/-
Foreign nationals can obtain Protected Area Permit (PAP) for the period of 30 days from the Ministry of Home Affairs, New Delhi, All Indian Missions Abroad, FRROs at Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Amritsar, Hyderabad, and Bangalore. Home Commissioner, Government of Arunachal Pradesh, Itanagar. Resident Commissioner of Arunachal Pradesh at Delhi and the Secretary (Tourism) by paying USD 50.
Citizens of Afghanistan, China, Myanmar, Pakistan, and foreign nationals of Pakistani origin need to take approval in advance from the Ministry of Home Affairs to get the PAP.
Where can I stay?
There are many small hotels, resorts, and homestays to choose from. Ziro Valley Resort is a great place to stay.
Essential travel tips
- Carry your ID card with your address on it (preferably an Adhaar card) with you.
- Don’t forget to carry your ILP/PAP.
- It normally rains every season so don’t forget to carry an umbrella or rain gear.
- Carry a light jacket or sweater because nights get a bit colder regardless of the season.
- You can’t miss tasting their local beer (Apong) even if you are a non-drinker like me.
- Be conscious of culturally sensitive concerns.
- Last but not least, though Apatanis open their hearts and doors to the tourists; it’s always a good idea to respect their privacy. And ensure that they are happy and comfortable to have you. Be aware that you are in someone else’s home. They are proud of their cultural heritage. And are more than happy to pose for the pictures. But wouldn’t it be nice to take their permission before you do that?
Anything else I Need to Know?
You are ready to embark on a journey to one of the most beautiful places in India. Just one step away from making some lifetime memories.
This is a guest post by Anjali Chawla
Anjali is a blogger and freelance writer based in Delhi. She left her corporate job to see what life exactly feels like and never looked back. Her 9-year-old daughter is her travel muse and best travel buddy. Anjali loves books, mountains, vibrant doors and windows, blue skies, sunsets, open roads, and cobblestone streets. Undiscovered places & beautiful minds inspire her. Her goal is to travel to all seven continents with her family. Antarctica remains her dream destination. She blogs at Travel Melodies.