Destination: 1 Chapter: 1
Recounting a solo journey to Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh
Yes, it has been 99.9 percent like that. A particular thought that strikes me at some point of time, gradually takes shape into the sheer wanting that; yes! I need to visit this place.
It was through a piece of travel literature written in my mother tongue (Malayalam), that Ziro was introduced to me in a socio-cultural context. Till then for me, Ziro was a place “hidden between the hills” where once in every year, some music festival happened.
One of the major festivals of the Apatanis, the Myoko was described in all its historical and cultural significance and soon before I had finished the four-page travel write-up, I had started to picturize Hong; the one particular village that was mentioned repeatedly. The author’s description of Hong and Ziro along with the folk tale of Abotani, (the forefather of Apatanis) had made me think that Ziro should be that destination which I must visit before ending the two-year long North-eastern life.
To Sarath, (a malayali whom I was destined to make friends with, in the Northeast) I asked about Ziro. He was a PhD scholar in Geography, and it was his fifth year in Shillong. Himself a passionate traveler, his thesis was on the wet-land cultivation in Kuttanad (Kerala). Sarath had not been to Ziro, but knew about the specialty of the rice cultivation there, and told me about the same. He also introduced me to the works of another Keralite travel-photographer (Harshatapan) who had explored Ziro and the apatanis a few years back.
It was from his photographs, notably portraits of the apatani people that I witnessed the practice of having large nose plugs and face tattoos for the first time. Coming to know about the unique body modification practice, I gave it myself a basic research.
“The age-old tradition was observed until the 1970s, when the government imposed a ban on the nose plugs incisions. At present, only the last generation of older women from the Apatani villages have the prominent facial emblems” I read the truth myself.
Somewhat five hundred kilometers away, a unique cultural practice is in the process of fading away from the face of earth. With the best lens in hand being a 50 mm, I had declared portraits as my favorite genre in photography. The interest to witness a unique cultural practice thus was coupled with the enthusiasm to document it.
Further reading on the Apatanis, also gave me the information that their Myoko Festival; an annual celebration of the Apatani tribes happens in the last week of March every year.
It was my last semester and (co-incidentally) the month of March. Holidays were waving hands at me from the calendar in the name of Mahavir Jayanti and Good Friday. It was a habit I formed after joining for my masters at the university in Shillong; whenever there are enough consecutive holidays in the calendar, and if the money saved up in my account allows, I would go for a soul-searching solo journey.
The two years long North-eastern life was nearing an end, and I could carve out the possibility of one last solo trip before heading home. With the same enthusiasm and insecurities that I had for all my solo travels, I started preparing for my journey to Ziro.
A friend with whom I had formed a friendship during my first year in Shillong had made it to the Rajiv Gandhi University in Itanagar and she was the call maker. She guaranteed me a place of stay in her boyfriend’s hostel and the guy, to my great fortunes was from the valley of Ziro and an Apatani himself.
Application for the Inner Line Permit (ILP) was submitted online and surprising me it was granted by the evening. My train bookings were made and I had entered that psychological state of insecurities about my own journey. I have numerous previous instances in my memory and the best way that I have most of the time employed was telling about my insecurities to a friend. Irrespective of everything, ultimately they end up asking me the question;
“Why are you going for it then, if you’re afraid?”
“Life isn’t going to be the same once I reach home and I don’t want to regret for not exploring!” My conscience responded inside me.
[In retrospect, I’m indebted to the same conscience. Because, life isn’t the same here. I’m no more surrounded by pine trees and hills… Instead, it’s concrete jungle all around…]