A Solo Backpacker’s Guide to Ziro - The Dialogue Diaries

A Solo Backpacker’s Guide to Ziro – The Dialogues Diaries™

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?

That’s easy.

  • 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!

A Traveler , High on Chai
Textile designer by day, illustrator and photographer by night, a traveler's soul addicted to tea (High on Chai).

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.

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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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39 thoughts on “A Solo Backpacker’s Guide to Ziro – The Dialogues Diaries™

  1. I had read about the Apatanis somewhere a few weeks ago and they had certainly piqued my interest. I am so glad I stumbled upon this. I had no idea there were so many special festivals that I could attend here. The Orange festival sounds really interesting.

    1. Hey, yes there are many more festivals which happens in NE and each one is beautiful in its own way. You should go for orange festival.

  2. Thanks so much for this post. I will actually be traveling to North East India very soon (by motorbike – I can’t wait!) and Ziro was not yet on my radar! So glad I stumbled upon your post. You got me excited to go there!

  3. Ugh this honestly sounds like a dream!!!!! I have been dreaming of a NE India backpacking/hiking trip for years. Ziro sounds like it would be such a wonderful addition to my imaginary trip with the youthful culture and festivals. Love this, and really hope to be here one day soon 🙂

  4. I am so happy that there are so many festivals happening in NE India and travelers are actually going there. I would love to visit Arunachal for the Ziro festival.

  5. After reading this, I can only imagine how stunning Ziro might be. I really love visiting such places where people are good and the environmental vibes are calm. We are planning a trip to Guwhati and it’s great to know that Ziro is reachable from them. I also loved reading about the music, folklore and festivals celebrated there. Ziro is on my list now.

  6. Thank you for the insight on the festival and travel tips! I had not considered traveling here in the past but I may need to add it to my list! Would love to see even more photos of Ziro.

  7. Great post! Good to know a permit is needed to visit. I would love to try the local food, but not sure about those grasshoppers and silkworms!!

  8. Looks like an amazing journey for the backpacking travelers out there! Setting up and sleeping in tents and eating grasshoppers and silkworms sounds like something for the adventurous types out there:)

  9. Endless amount of golden paddy fields against an endless blue sky and very friendly people sounds both beautiful and charming! I’m not a big festival person so I don’t think I would want to visit during the Festival of Music but I would be all about visiting in the spring to see the blossoming orchid fields!

  10. Such an interesting insight! It s always nice to read about travelling experiences from other points of views! I loved the photo of the lake (stunning!) and the Hornbill festival where I want to go too!!!

  11. Looks like a good one. Landscapes, intesting food and a glipse into the local culture. I would love to make i there with my camera!

  12. Wow great guide! I love it that the camp ground included breakfast. Love that this can be done solo – camping is one of the harder activities to try and accomplish solo!

  13. I like it! I love festivals and would like to experience at least one when I go to India. I like suggestions for the places to visit around too.

  14. I had been to Tawang and want to visit all the touristy 11 circuits in Arunachal Pradesh! Fantastic blog post and may be I will be attending it next year!

  15. Love discovering new areas of the world to visit. What an incredible description of this place. I love that it is not touristy and that the people are welcoming. I especially like the idea of home stays where you get to meet locals and learn more about the culture. Thank you for providing the invaluable tips of needed to get permits.

  16. Mechuka Adventure Festival sounds like our kind of party. There seems to be so much cool outdoors stuff going on. See all the indigenous culture is fascinating too. So many stories and so much history.

  17. I have never been backpacking or visited India in general. However, this post on this beautiful festival shows me what I am missing out on. Thanks for sharing!

  18. First of all, I adore the motto Slow Travel, Long Reads – being old(-fashioned), this is exactly what I enjoy. Introducing various perspectives of travelling is very inspiring, too. About Ziro, the Apatani tribeswomen would impress me most, I think.
    Very informative and inspiring post!

  19. There is so much happening in, Ziro, a place in India that I haven’t even heard of! It totally looks right up my alley, I love music festivals and the outdoors. The local people Apatani are lovely and thank you for including a note to respect the local culture. This sounds like a great place to experience many firsts and it is going on my bucket list.

  20. We’ve just got back from a 3 month trip to India, but unfortunately didn’t make it this far East. Now you have given me the perfect excuse to return! the Ziro Festival of Music look awesome, and Spring sounds beautiful when the orchid fields blossom. Thanks for sharing your recommendations.

  21. Ziro is a fantastic destination during festival time. I’m not a spontaneous traveler so a guided tour might be better for me. I’d like to try the drink in the bamboo tumbler and the chicken but not sure I’m adventurous enough for grasshoppers or silkworms! Good to know that permits are essential and that local people are so very helpful towards guests.

  22. Sounds like you had a wonderful journey and experience. I’d never heard of Ziro so all of it was new to me and it sounds like a fascinating place. Love the story behind the tattooing and nose plugs.

  23. Loved detailed guide on Ziro and thanks for sharing it. It is great that this place is not very expensive and we can rent a tent on festival grounds with breakfast included for 500 INR. Also visiting this place during the orange harvest or orange festival must be great as it would look very beautiful with Oranges blossoming everywhere. Taking a sip of wine in traditional handmade Bamboo tumbler sounds interesting and I would not mind in buying those bamboo tumblers back home. It is strange people nowadays tattoo themselves to attract attention and in this tribal community of Ziro people used to tattoo their good looking girls so that they do not abduct. Ziro looks heavenly in all sense.

  24. A great post and one which is opening places in north east India to the world of tourism. I have not traveled as a pback packer but these post makes me more n more interested in doing this. I had not known of Ziro as a leading destination for young travelers and this is very inspiring. The music festivals here is another great experience I am sure and one which would make it attractive to travellers. Thanks for sharing this new destination .

  25. I’ve never been to India but have read a lot about the different regions of India, and Ziro sounds especially different than anything I’ve read! I would also love to visit for the music festival but really I’d love to go anytime. I’ve been to some parts of southern China with lots of minority groups, and the culture I experienced there was so rich and colorful. I imagine it’s similar in Ziro. Loved reading this post and getting educated on a new part of India!

  26. I had never heard of this area of India before but it looks so incredibly rich with culture, beautiful landscapes and amazing people. It is somewhere we would definitely consider visiting when we head over to India in the next year or so. Thanks for a very informative piece.

  27. Sounds like a stunning destination! I often travel with festivals in mind and it sounds like there are plenty going on in Ziro, I especially like the sound of the wine festival. Thanks so much for the tips, definitely adding this to my wishlist for India 🙂

  28. The Ziro Festival of Music in Arunachal Pradesh does sound amazing – I think exploring the culture, the sights and sounds of the indigenous lifestyle of this part of India would be incredible. Plus the magical scenary that you have described would be amazing to explore. The two stages of the festival sounds very intriguing and I am sure would present such a different experience depending on which stage, the sun or the moon. Mechuka Adventure Festival is another one I would love to explore, especially as I am an adrenaline junkie – paragliding would be so much fun to try out here. The view I am sure would be stunning.

  29. I don’t know much about northeast India but Ziro sounds quite incredible. Interesting that kids learn about keeping it clean in school! The festival sounds like a wonderful insight into the local culture. And the slow cooker chicken sounds super tasty – but I must admit I would probably pass on the grasshoppers!

  30. You had me with endless golden paddy fields! Although I’m not a backpacker, I would still love to visit Ziro and just India in general 🙂 Also, congrats on the book! I’ll definitely check it out.

  31. just a query. why would someone head for shillong after visiting ziro..you could just go ahead and cover mechuka. if you ve gone till ziro you would cover more places around it.

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