India’s North East is opening up to host an increasing number of travelers. The Dialogue Diaries™, an interview platform by Backpacking Series, is delighted to feature early explorers who have ventured inside the region. Arunachal Pradesh, the eastern most state of India is attracting an unprecedented number of travelers every year. Rahul Kumar from High on Chai drums up a solo backpacker’s guide to Ziro. Read on!
Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh – A Quick Intro by Backpacking Series
Arunachal Pradesh, the eastern most state of India, is attracting an unprecedented number of travelers every year. Ziro, home of the proud Apatanis and the popular Ziro Festival of Music, is a leading destination for young travelers. If you enjoy exploring indigenous lifestyle, culture, food, and a high-altitude, high-decibel music fest, you’ve more than one reason to put Ziro on the top of your bucket list.
What’s your favorite destination in North East India?
I will talk about Ziro. Trust me, when I say this, you have never seen something like this – stunning scenery with endless golden paddy fields with endless blue sky. This home of the Apatani Tribe is simply amazing.
I found roads cleaner too. In fact, Swach Bharat (Clean India) is in children’s school curriculum! Chances are, you will never want to return! Just go!
What stands out for you about North East India?
My urge to attend Ziro Festival of Music made me backpack solo all the way from Bengaluru to Ziro – an unplanned and adventurous journey, to say the least. What was really astonishing for me, when I checked Ziro was the way I and many like me were treated. I believe Northeast India truly understands the slogan of ‘atithi devo bhava’ (or guest is god). Every single person we met made us feel at home. Instantly.
What is it like to witness the Ziro Festival of Music?
It is a one-off experience. The event starts about 3 in the afternoon. There are two stages – sun and moon stages. The Sun stage hosts all the daylight performance whereas the Moon stage is for late evening events.
You could enjoy bands from all over the world (including from Kerala and Bengaluru), playing all kinds of music – jazz, folk rock, progressive, etc. Since its an open venue, you could take a snack break or chit chat with fellow travelers with soothing beats in the background.
How would you guide a fellow traveler to Ziro?
A Solo Backpacker’s Guide to Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh
Their is no rule for traveling. For instance, I like to backpack and travel spontaneously. But, if you are a planner type of personality, simply go for a guided tour all the way. You wont go wrong either way. People are just so helpful that they will make sure you face no problem; even if its 3 In morning.
When and for how long to visit Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh?
I believe you may visit at any time of the year. Ziro is perfect. Very peaceful and calm. If I have to recommend specific times, I’d say you must visit Ziro during the harvest and Orange Festivals. Then in the spring season, the blossoming orchid fields give you a feeling of being part of a Miyazaki’s manga art creation! Generally speaking, plan your travels between September and April.
As for the duration, I will say the more you stay, the more you can explore places around Ziro! However, if you are coming for Ziro Festival of Music (last week of September), then you must plan at least 5 days.
Do you need special permits to visit Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh?
Yes and big yes! Please get your permit for Arunachal Pradesh sorted on priority. In fact, that’s first thing to keep in mind. Note by Backpacking Series: Indians may secure Inner Line Permits (ILPs) online, while foreigners need a Protected Area Permit (PAP). Please refer to travel tips below.
How to get to Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh?
To get to Ziro, unless you are in the Northeast itself, you need to travel via Guwahati. So, first thing is to get to Guwahati Railway Station.
If you fly in here, you can easily get a bus from the airport to Guwahati railway station for like INR 100. This one hour bus ride can help you plan your next move! For the onward journey, there are a few options.
- Direct Private Taxi: From Guwahati Railway Station, you can book a private taxi to Ziro. This can cost you anywhere between INR 7k to 10k.
- Train + Cab: The second option is you catch a train from Guwahati to Itanagar / Naharlaghun Railway Station in Arunachal Pradesh. From there you can continue on a Sumo shared cab / private taxi to Ziro. Please note that you’d need to get your train reservation sorted in advance.
- Bus + Cab: The third option is to walk over to the bus terminal right next to Guwahati railway station and hop on to a bus to Itanagar. From itanagar bus station you can easily get Sumo shared cabs / private taxis to Ziro.
Where to sleep in Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh?
If you want to experience the local lifestyle, go for a homestay. But, if you travel randomly like me, and are going to witness the Ziro Festival of Music, just carry your tent. If you are planning multiple stops enroute, it’s even better. Just make sure to seek permission from the landowner or camp site operator before you doze off under the stars.
I just showed up in Ziro without any arrangements and paid INR 500 per night to pitch a tent on the periphery of festival camping grounds. The cost included breakfast!
PS: I use a 2 Man Arpenaz tent (bought from Decathlon). It costs about INR 2000 and weighs approximately 2 Kgs. (see representative image above)
What are some must-try culinary recommendations from Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh?
During Ziro Festival of Music, you will come across a blend of all north eastern delicacies at the venue. You must try the local brew (wine / beer) served in an traditional bamboo tumbler. The drink gives a perfect blend of taste and a sort of sweet buzz!
As for food, you must try the local chicken preparation – slow-cooked and served piping hot. If you want to test your wild side, try snacking on grasshoppers and silkworms.
What’s the culture and lifestyle of Ziro like?
The most obvious observation, when in Ziro, one that you wont miss noticing – beautiful tattooed Apatani tribeswomen wearing peculiar nose plugs.
There is a folklore – it is said that, given the beauty of Apatani women, they used to be abducted by men of neighboring tribes. In order to stop this and protect the women, the elders decided to start tattooing the faces of the women and inserting nose plugs from a very young age to make them look, less appealing! Note by Backpacking Series: While this is a popular explanation, you might meet tatted men too with peculiar ear pieces. Thus indicating the use of tattoos as part of a cultural identity. However, these days, youngsters may not prefer to continue the traditional practice.
Other than that, during the harvest celebrations, you are likely to see women wearing traditional clothing and perform the traditional Daminda dance form.
What are your travel tips for visitors to Ziro?
- Travel Permits: Get this out of your travel planning tasks right away. Note by Backpacking Series – Click the following link to read more on the topic of permits for Northeast India.
- Cellular Network: Please carry a Vodafone SIM card – the only reliable network I found in Ziro!
- Rainy Day Prep: Do carry your raincoat and gum boots because it can get little messy otherwise in the wet season, especially during the Ziro Festival of Music.
- Respect Local Culture: You are likely to witness many firsts in Ziro. Be respectful of local lifestyle. Make lot of friends, do not hesitate to communicate, but do not force anything either.
Lastly, leave everything behind and be in the moment. I’d say that’s the best way to do Ziro or any travel for that matter!
What’s your new bucket list for North East India?
From Ziro, you could go to Shillong and Cherrapunji and then further to Darjeeling. You can cover Elephant Falls with accessible trails to Umiam Lake viewpoint for amazing views. Also not just the destination but the road itself you will love it.
What’s on your festival circuit of North East India and why?
- Hornbill Festival: This annual celebration in Nagaland, held from 1 – 10 December, could be my next destination. I guess there’s a good reason why Hornbill Festival is called the ‘Festival of Festivals’ and I’d like to witness it!
- Mechuka Adventure Festival, Mechuka: This one’s for adrenaline junkies. This fest is known for activities such as paragliding, mountain biking, treks, rafting, and rappelling.
- Orange Festival of Adventure & Music (OFAM), Dambuk: This one pitches itself as India’s first fest that combines adventure sports and music gigs on one platform!
Think North East India
For those who do not know, North East India comprises of eight states – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura. The Himalayas and its waters define the region’s terrain, climate, rich biodiversity, and the peculiar indigenous lifestyles her people follow.
That North East India is bound by Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibet to the north, Bangladesh to the south and west, and Myanmar to the east hints at the eclectic mix of cultural, ethnic, and linguistic diversity. This is where elements of Asia come together to do what they do best – cast a spell.
The region’s innate charms have remained under-explored. Travelers, who figure out how to backpack in North East India, find gems such as Dzükou Valley all to themselves. Importantly, the hospitable people of the region make sure that visitors take back the choicest of memories.
Meanwhile, pick up a copy of Backpacking North East India: A Curious Journey. It covers over two dozen places and attempts to answer the question – what is it like to travel in the region? Give it a read and make your own choices.
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