This One’s For the Travel Books: Discover Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh

Why Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh is the hidden jewel of the northeast you need to discover today.

Published
Lifestyle
5 min read
A bright red house amongst the paddy fields catches the eye. (Photo Courtesy: Kushal Chowdhury)

In March 2015, a friend and I travelled to Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh for a week.

It is situated a 100 kilometres from Lakhimpur, the nearest town with an airport. Ziro remains largely unexplored, since Tawang hordes most of the meagre tourist attention Arunachal Pradesh receives. The only reason I knew of it is because a friend from college lives there and it is he who had convinced us to visit. Through him, we knew vaguely of the Apatanis – the indigenous people of the region – who settled there from Tibet several hundred years ago. They are one of the last remaining followers of animistic religions and celebrate their annual festival of Myoko in the spring, which coincided with our visit.

An Apatani house. The Apatanis are the indigenous people of the region. (Photo Courtesy: Kushal Chowdhury)
An Apatani house. The Apatanis are the indigenous people of the region. (Photo Courtesy: Kushal Chowdhury)

It was a trip built entirely on faith in a friend’s word and curiosity for a place and people of whom so little is known.

Two Towns and the Morning Fog

We reach Ziro in the late afternoon. (The journey itself is filled with several sights and anecdotes, which I will recount on another day.)

Our hotel is near the entrance to town and at an elevation that offers an excellent vantage. Ziro is actually two towns – an old and a new. We are in the new town and the other one is 10 kilometres away.

Walking through a village in the morning fog. (Photo Courtesy: Kushal Chowdhury)
Walking through a village in the morning fog. (Photo Courtesy: Kushal Chowdhury)

A cup of tea later, we wander out for a walk in the remaining sunlight. The town is a scattered cluster of unplanned construction, much of it concrete and cement. The streets are narrow and ill-maintained, and lined with shops and tea stalls, all of which carry garish signage – a mishmash of strong identifiable brand colours that are hideous when grouped together.

Soon, we reach the centre of town. In one corner is an ATM – the only one in Ziro. Dark by-lanes lead into a vegetable and meat market, lit by dim yellow bulbs. Fresh uncut meat and fish are kept on display on rickety stalls, alongside others that sell vegetables.

A picture of Ziro, the old town – viewed at an elevation. (Photo Courtesy: Kushal Chowdhury)
A picture of Ziro, the old town – viewed at an elevation. (Photo Courtesy: Kushal Chowdhury)

During the winters (my friend had once explained to me) they also sell grasshoppers and suchlike.

We walk some more and reach the edge of town, beyond which a narrow highway leads to the tribal villages. Immense pine trees rise on either side, through which we see the colours of the sky at dusk. There is a break in the grove at a certain point and from it we see a landscape of paddy fields and cottages. We return to the hotel, satisfied with the evening’s work.

The church in Ziro. (Photo Courtesy: Kushal Chowdhury)
The church in Ziro. (Photo Courtesy: Kushal Chowdhury)

Of Dreamy Expeditions Amongst the Hills

Over the course of the week, we will spend much of our time on similar expeditions, with no specific destination to reach and no particular sight to see.

Every day, we will choose one from the numerous paths that spread like veins through the endless paddy fields and pine groves and villages.

One path will lead us through the picturesque ‘old’ town and into another pine-grove on the other side. We will smell the fog, forever trapped in the trees. We will walk on and find no end to the forest and turn back when the sky will begin to turn a deeper shade.

Walking through a village. (Photo Courtesy: Kushal Chowdhury)
Walking through a village. (Photo Courtesy: Kushal Chowdhury)

Another will lead us to a fish farm. We will learn that fish farming is a recent enterprise in the region. When the paddy is sown and the fields are submerged in water, the fish too are released into them. The growing of the fish and the lowering of the waters coincide with the crops’ growth, and when the paddy is ready to be harvested, so are the fish.

Among the paddy fields, in gloriously dim light. (Photo Courtesy: Kushal Chowdhury)
Among the paddy fields, in gloriously dim light. (Photo Courtesy: Kushal Chowdhury)

Once in a while, we will stop at a village store and strike up a conversation. We will be told entertaining folklore – such as one about a Shiv-Ling which was discovered in a nearby pine-forest. (Apparently, it was discovered at a spot where a set of trees being cut refused to fall on the side they were leaning towards, choosing instead to defy gravity and fall elsewhere.)

We will discover a café tucked into a hotel on another day, where they serve beer on a balcony that looks out into the landscape. We will spend hours there and return after dark, walking through deserted roads under moonlight. The stars will cover the sky and the trees will bristle and the occasional headlight from a car will trace the roads. We will remain silent throughout.

En route to Hakhe Tari. (Photo Courtesy: Kushal Chowdhury)
En route to Hakhe Tari. (Photo Courtesy: Kushal Chowdhury)

In all this time, never once will we find ourselves bored, nor will the sights ever be less than spellbinding.

There will also, of course, be our day at the Myoko festival, but that deserves a separate post of its own, and I will save it for next time.

(Kushal Chowdhury’s travails through the hills follow in the same enchanting pattern he began this one – but that shall be saved for another post – next week.)

(Kushal is a Bengali, brought up in Ahmedabad, and earning his daily bread in Mumbai. He travels and writes when he finds time away from selling SIM cards. He has also published for The Mint and rediff.com)

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