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. In this Northeast India Travel Guide to Ziro, Nupur Das chronicles her recent visit to Arunachal Pradesh and offers recommendations that only someone who’s ‘been there and and done that’ can come up with.
What stands out for you about North East India?
North East India is truly a paradise unexplored! On my recent tour to this part of the country, I visited Ziro (Arunachal Pradesh) and I am absolutely spellbound by the hospitality, landscapes, and weather!
What’s your favorite destination in North East India?
Ever since I have returned from Arunachal Pradesh, I am unable to take my mind off of the experience I just lived through. Honestly, I was absolutely bowled over. So, I am going to talk about Ziro, one of the most fascinating destinations from Northeast India.
Northeast India Travel Guide to Ziro
Ziro: A Quick Travel Guide
Why visit Ziro?
Picture this: Miles and miles of paddy fields stretched across the Ziro valley with pretty bamboo houses everywhere with a backdrop of the majestic mountains. The views are mesmerizing, to say the least. The valley’s stunning landscape leaves a soothing impression. Importantly, Ziro’s warm, kind and welcoming people would instantly make you feel at home.
When to visit Ziro?
For best vibes, I recommend visiting the Ziro valley during the Ziro Festival of Music (ZFM) typically held in the last week of September. It is also the onset of harvest season when paddy fields turn to gold adding to the valley’s beauty.
How long to stay in Ziro?
You need at least a week in Ziro to soak up all that this magical valley offers. Go fishing Apatani-style, cycle across the Ziro valley and walk around the village, chit-chat with locals, and enjoy local food. Take your time to learn about the Apatani culture and history.
Where to stay when in Ziro?
If you are going to the valley specifically to witness the Ziro Festival of Music, look out for camping sites. We camped for 4 days under starry nights. The site, managed by Chalohoppo, had some breathtaking views. The folks at Chalohoppo did an amazing job hosting us and I am super happy to recommend them. I can easily call it the best trip I have taken so far.
PS: If you are concerned about toilets while camping, worry not. Camping grounds have restrooms made out of bamboo with 24×7 water supply. But, at times, you just might have to fill buckets for use:)
How to get to Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh, your favorite destination?
Unless you are already in Northeast India, the best way to reach Ziro is via Guwahati. First, we took a flight to Guwahati, followed by an overnight train from Guwahati to Naharlagun, and finally jumped in to a Sumo for a scenic 3-hours ascending ride from Naharlagun to Ziro valley.
Please note that instead of an overnight train from Guwahati to Naharlagun, you may also book a faster Shatabdi Express. However, the fast train is available only on certain days of the week.
And once you’re in Ziro, you can explore the valley on foot. In fact, a walk around the valley is totally recommended!
What are some must-try culinary recommendations from North East India?
India’s Northeast is a meat lovers’ paradise. You must try the local delicacies of pork curry or chicken cooked in lots of chilli with rice. And oh, when in Ziro, do not forget to try aphung, the local rice beer!
In certain remote places, the vegetarian menu can be slightly limiting but you do have some very good options otherwise:)
For instance in Guwahati, you must try the traditional Assamese thaali and the local fish fry at the Gam’s Delicacy restaurant. Yummm!
What’s the culture and lifestyle of North East India like?
Ziro’s warm, kind and welcoming people would instantly make you feel at home. I was surprised how little I knew about this region when I found out Arunachal Pradesh has 26 tribes with 40 sub-tribes each with its own dialect!
The Apatani tribe of Ziro is one of the important tribes in the state known for their effective utilization of land, a practice known to attribute to their prosperity. The community follows a unique fish-cum-paddy farming style, one of the most advanced cultivation practices.
What are your recommended travel planning hacks for Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh?
First off, unless you are an Arunachali, you need a visitor’s permit to get to Ziro. Indians require Inner Line Permit (ILP) while foreigners need Protected Area Permits (PAPs). ILPs can be secured online now, and you just need your passport size photograph and a valid ID-cum-address proof. Note by Backpacking Series: For more on the topic, click to read Travel Permits to Northeast India.
Secondly, if you are headed to witness the Ziro Festival of Music, then besides your usual stuff, you must pack a raincoat and gumboots. It usually rains around this time of the year. I should add, we were lucky to dodge the seasonal downpour!
Lastly, carry enough cash on you. The nearest ATM is half an hour drive from the Ziro valley. Thank me later:)
What are your Travel Tips for Visitors to Ziro Festival of Music?
Take the safety measures and precautions which you generally would – don’t venture out alone, etc. I guess it’s the same everywhere. Note by Backpacking Series: For more on the topic of safety in Northeast India, please click to read North East India is Safer Than You Think.
As a first-timer to Ziro, I chose a guided tour ex-Guwahati priced at INR 18,500 per person. The price included transport from Guwahati to Ziro and back, 4 days of camping, breakfast and dinner on all days, festival pass for all days, and the cost of an Inner Line Permit (ILP).
If you have limited time and are going specifically to attend the Ziro Festival of Music, I am happy to recommend you the same. Just swing by www.zirofestival.com and choose a package that suits you!
What’s your new bucket list for North East India?
Here’s a quick one: Dzouko Valley in Nagaland, Mechuka and Tawang in Arunachal Paradesh!
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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