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 houses
I was amazed to see the traditional houses that were completely built with Bamboo. 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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Monday, 12 September 2016

My Top 5 ‘Petra’ Experiences

Petra has an obvious magic. For me, it’s the soul of Jordan. There is a certain enigma about it. The pink rocks, the caves, the history and the Bedouins make Petra a mysteriously beautiful city. The fact that it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of the World evoke curiosity to visit it and when you do, it just spellbinds you!

When I was about to visit Jordan, all I knew about it was Petra. The sight of Petra Treasury was imprinted in my imagination. I was obviously fascinated by it. But, I had no clue that it would be so unfathomable and full of magic.

I wish I had more time to chew on Petra’s mysteries, but let me share some of my best experiences in Petra –

Visiting Little Petra                     
I found Little Petra absolutely remarkable. As the name suggests, it is a small version of what the main Petra is. However, the magic is not at all little. Yes, even Little Petra is equally evocative and dramatic.

According to Wikipedia, Little Petra is an archaeological site located north of Petra and the town of Wadi Musa in the Ma'an Governorate of Jordan. Like Petra, it is a Nabataean site, with buildings carved into the walls of the sandstone canyons. As its name suggests, it is much smaller, consisting of three wider open areas connected by a 450-metre (1,480 ft) canyon.

The Petra walk by night
My most favourite part of the Petra trip was walking towards the treasury in the dark. The walk leads you to the show called ‘Petra by night’, which is an event to showcase the treasury rocks in the laser light.

The ‘Petra by night’ show didn’t really impress me much, but walking the entire Siq to the Treasury with candles lit throughout the way was definitely thrilling. Though I was with my fellow travellers and bloggers, I deliberately chose to walk alone for some time to take in the aura around. The ‘stillness’ that accompanied me as I marched along the rocks was kind of awe-inspiring.

The Petra Treasury by day
The next day, we walked towards the Petra Treasury in the morning as well, and it was equally mesmerizing. In fact, it fascinated me even more when I saw the rocks and caves in the daylight after having walked amidst them in the night. Perhaps I gasped at each rock that I came across – they were massive!

The feeling of just being…
Petra is a kind of place where you just want to be. It reminded me of Jaisalmer for some reason. I guess the aura of rusticity is quite similar between the two cities. I loved the arid air of Petra.  

Snapping photos
Of course, photography is always a joy for me, but there are places that just drive me crazy. Petra is one of them for sure. If you ever get a chance to visit Petra, make sure you have the best camera, tripod (I didn’t carry one, and I regret it) and a good camera phone, too.
Petra is simply irresistible for a photographer.    

Petra is one of the most fascinating places I have ever been to.

What do you say? What’s the most inspiring place you have ever visited?
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