Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Where To Stay In Ziro Valley?

I have been writing about Ziro valley of Arunachal Pradesh. It’s time I talk about the best places to stay in Ziro. I’d like to mention that though there are quite a few nice home stays in Ziro (there are some in the Apatani villages also), Siiro Resort is perhaps the coziest stay in the valley.

Why I loved my stay at Siiro Resort –

It’s in the midst of nature
The first thing to like about Siiro Resort is that it’s nestled close to the mountains. It gives you a feeling that you are in a remote place, where you can just be with yourself and admire the nature’s beauty.

I personally love such places because I don’t have to rush. I don’t have to look at my watch. I can just be with absolutely nothing on my mind.

It’s peaceful
Yes, all you hear at Siiro is the chirping of birds. It is located away from the market and the buzzing city area, which makes it a peaceful place. If you are someone who likes peace and quiet, Siiro would delight you!

It’s comfortable and cozy
Who wouldn’t like a comfy and cozy stay while away from home? Siiro Resort has nice rooms with clean bathrooms. Most of the rooms have balconies. I enjoyed having my morning tea sitting in the balcony overlooking the mountains.

It’s a good place for morning walks
I like places where I don’t have to think where to go and what to see. Siiro Resort has such beautiful surroundings that you can sight-see on impulse. Although I sleep in, I usually wake up early on my travels to experience the freshness in the air and the warm glow of the sun. I’d say that Siiro was a perfect place for morning walks.

There are some beautiful places nearby
The best part about staying at Siiro Resort is that there are quite a few nice places to visit around it. The Apatani villages are not very far. You can explore the villages, the farmlands and the vineyards on a day tour. In fact, you can create your own itinerary and tell the manager at the resort, and he would take you around (in exchange of a fee, of course). It is always good to explore a place with a local, because that helps you extract the insights of a place better.

The resort staff is hospitable
Besides the perfect setting of the resort, what I liked about Siiro was the hospitality of the staff. They were always available whenever I needed anything. They were polite and courteous. I’d also like to appreciate the manager Tallo, who was nice and friendly.

If you plan to visit Ziro Valley, I’d recommend you to stay at Siiro Resort. However, be aware that there is no WiFi or phone connectivity in the property premises. You’d want to buy a local SIM to stay connected to your people at home.

Practical Information: Siiro Resort is 122.3 km from Lilabari Airport, Lakhimpur Assam. But, due to bad road conditions, it takes longer than usual to reach Ziro.

What places in Arunachal Pradesh would you recommend for a comfy stay?

Note: I was hosted by Siiro Resort. But, as always, all opinions are my own.

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Monday, 24 October 2016

The ‘Apatani’ World Of Ziro (Part Two)

Tallo (a chap from 'Hong' village) introduced the Apatani world to me. He also taught me a few Apatani pleasantries like ayo siido lo (how are you), aya pa ato (welcome) and paya aro pacho (thank you). He admitted (amusingly) to me that though he was an Apatani guy, he wasn't aware that these villages are renowned to be the most organised villages in Asia. 

Also, the Apatani tribe is admired for its nature conservation and exceptional productivity, and UNESCO has proposed the Apatani region to be the world heritage site.

In this post, I’m going to take you to another charming village named ‘Hija’. Although all Apatani villages are quite similar to each other, there are subtle variations for you to notice. 

The iconic nose-plugs - the lady told me that she wore them since birth. 
I was fortunate to visit a Hija house. This 'nose-plugged' old woman was a delight for my lens. I quickly got my camera ready, while Tallo requested her for a photograph. Thankfully, she obliged. I also asked her if those nose-plugs bothered her. To which she replied shyly, "I am wearing them since birth." The cute woman wanted something to eat in exchange of a photo. I wanted to give her money, but she refused. 
An Apatani man in action - Bamboo sticks being cut at a 'Hija' home.
Bamboo seemed to be an integral part of the Apatani world. I guess every house had a stock of bamboo. I was educated by Tallo that there were different kinds of wild bamboo found in the surrounding hills. However, the Apatanis typically like to grow bije – Japanese timber bamboo, which is reliable even during cold winters. Bije and Pinus wallichiana (The blue Pine) are exclusively grown in the Apatani region and nowhere else.
These houses are ancient, yet they are sturdy.
Wooden houses look so charming.
A nice photo bomb - This young chap jumped into my frame!
A duck-party?
The little elements of Hija village
Traditional grinders
Village traditions - Most houses have this egg-shell thing in the front yard, which is meant to guard against the evil.
The Apatani tribe is extremely particular about their crops. They perform seasonal prayers and ceremonies to protect their produce. The rituals go on for days, and no villager is allowed to step out of the village till they are over. 

It's wood all over the place!
A 'Hija' village front yard looks like this
A friendly 'Hija' woman with her kid.
I realized that the Apatani folks were quite reserved. They seemed to be unruffled by the world outside. They apparently don't like to be photographed. I had to cajole them a little bit to be able to snap their photos. 

Ziro's veggie market - the red chillies are a hot favorite of the locals.

I liked the fact that the Apatanis grew a lot of veggies. Although they eat a lot of meat, they include tons of greens in their meals. The local market that I visited in Ziro looked gorgeous with red chillies and lots of leafy veggies.  

The locals seem to relish quite a lot of greens.
A glimpse of the colorful veggie and fruit market in Ziro

Has the ‘Apatani’ world intrigued you?
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Friday, 21 October 2016

The ‘Apatani’ World Of Ziro (Part One)

Ziro looks sublime. My first stop in Arunachal Pradesh! You can linger here for days with no thought of returning home. I’m happy that I got to explore it during the harvest time – it was great to see the rice fields in full flush and the cheery faces of the villagers as they reaped the produce.

Ziro is famed for its Apatani villages – I visited quite a few, such as Hong, Hija, and Dutta. Apatani villages are unique and interesting. Each village has an entry gate, which shows that they are built in an organised fashion (I just wish the state govt. constructed the roads as well).

Let me take you to ‘Hong’ through my pictures and tell you why it intrigued me – 

The Bamboo, Timber and Pinewood houses
I was amazed to see the traditional houses that were built with Bamboo, Timber and Pinewood. The moment I stepped down from my cab to wander through the village, Hong seemed to me an abandoned world. The houses exuded an aura that said nobody lived there. But as I loitered a little bit, a few convivial faces began to appear slowly. 

Their provision of central hearth
I got invited by a village lady in her home, which gave me a chance to know how they lived. Their homes are dimly lit with no noise except for the television. I liked the idea of a central hearth that kept the entire house warm.

The rice fields and the vineyards
As you drive along the villages, there are vivid rice fields all over and also, vineyards – I happened to see a Kiwi vineyard. My guide Tallo, who’s a local of Hong village, told me that they made Kiwi wines.

Farming is Apatani tribe’s primary occupation, so it’s quite obvious to see farmlands in the Ziro valley.

Small veggie gardens are a common sight
I spotted quite a few small veggie gardens at Hong. I particularly liked the bamboo walls festooned with pumpkins. That looked so pretty.

Their festivals and traditions
The Apatani folks practice certain customs to keep evil at bay, such as sacrificing animals. Their priests perform prayer ceremonies in the middle of the village – I saw small hut-like structures where the priests would sit and perform the pujas, while the villagers witnessed it.

The ‘Hong’ faces
I met a sweet Hong woman with her little one wrapped in a cloth around her body. She was all smiles and nice to me, and even her child seemed so keen to be photographed! 

Have you visited a tribal village on your travels? Do you like rural travel?
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Thursday, 13 October 2016

Travelling Solo In Arunachal Pradesh

I’m so, so happy to have got back to my ‘solo travel’ with Arunachal Pradesh! Northeast India had always fascinated me for its culture, people and of course, its natural beauty. I had been thinking about beginning my tryst with the seven-sister states as soon as possible. I’m glad that I began it with Arunachal Pradesh.

To begin with, Arunachal Pradesh is a huge state with different regions, tribes, cultures and landscapes. You need at least a month to explore it deeply. I could do only Ziro and Dirang Valley in my week long trip. But, I’m complacent.

Travelling alone in Arunachal Pradesh was different from my previous solo travels – it was more challenging. I felt lonely and homesick on many occasions. But, it was still epic.

Is it safe to travel solo in Arunachal Pradesh?

Yes, it is. There are no apparent dangers or hitches that should discourage anyone to travel alone in Arunachal. The people are generally nice. In fact, I met some really fabulous people in Arunachal.

So, what should you explore and experience in Arunachal Pradesh –

Different tribes and their cultures
The first thing to get intrigued about Arunachal is its varied cultures that come from its different tribes. I began my voyage with Ziro Valley, where I got introduced to the interesting Apatani tribe – their everyday life, the kind of houses they live in, and the language they speak.

Then I also rubbed shoulders with Monpa folks in West Kameng District of Arunachal. I was amazed to spot pretty monasteries in possibly every corner of their villages.

The people
Yes, it’s a great idea to visit Arunachal just for its people. Although they like to be reserved, they open up slowly and turn out to be gracious people. The fact that they are so much into their roots makes it an enriching affair to interact with them.

I got to meet some lovely locals at a couple of home stays in Arunachal Pradesh –

I met Tenzin in Itanagar (the capital of Arunachal Pradesh). I stayed at his home stay for a couple of nights, and it was an endearing experience in terms of meeting new people in a new place. Being a solo traveller, it comes as a solace when you meet warm people and they welcome you in their world. It was wonderful sharing a meal with them. That’s how I like to travel – I like mingling with the unfamiliar.     

Tenzin House, Itanagar (9862100588)    

The other home stay that I stayed at was Kalden Home Stay (9436877255/9774410104), which was around 10-11 km away from Dirang Valley. Although the home stay needs to have a comfy bathroom, it is a great place to get close to the Monpa folks and their life. The hosts are extremely hospitable and friendly. I think I’ll always cherish my stay with them. 

The villages and the farmlands
Arunachal Pradesh is a complete break from your city life for the kind of rusticity it offers. There are so many fascinating villages in different regions of Arunachal that transport you into another world. Whether it’s the bamboo houses of the Apatani villages, or the love for red chillies and maize in the Monpa villages, each village has something unique to capture your attention.

Also, I loved stopping by at Kiwi vineyards in Ziro and Dirang Valley. I didn’t visit an apple orchard because October is the not the season for apples.

The food
Arunachal Pradesh has a diverse cuisine. I tried various Monpa dishes in Dirang Valley. They like to use a lot of local cheese and butter in their preparations. What I liked was that they eat a lot of greens along with their meat dishes. Besides the local food, it’s a good idea to try their traditional drinks like Arak, Bangchang and Apong.

The challenges of travelling in Arunachal Pradesh

The first and foremost challenge of travelling in Arunachal Pradesh is the condition of the roads, which is extremely bad. My journey from Lilabari airport to Ziro was something that I don’t want to remember. So yes, travelling within the state of Arunachal Pradesh is definitely not cushy.

Private taxis cost INR 7000-8000 for distances like Itanagar to Dirang Valley. The affordable transport option is the shared Sumo, which costs INR 700-800 per head for the same distance. And, if you want a comfy seat (that’s the front seat), it’s advisable to make your booking at least a couple of days in advance.

The Inner Line Permit – You need Inner Line Permit to enter the state of Arunachal Pradesh. If you reside in Delhi or Kolkata, you can easily get it well in advance. The online system is not reliable. In my case, I could get it after I landed in Lilabari. You got to do a little running around, but you will get it.

Have you been to Arunachal Pradesh? What did you like about it?    
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