East Himalaya

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Alternative Arunachal Part 01 (Dree, the indigenous festival of monsoons, rice and changing people)

The application is there with the UNESCO office for recognization of the area with large valleys of rice surrounded by mountains of Bamboo and Pine Sacred Groves as World Heritage Site. The Japanese experts say that the indigenous variety of rice is the highest density known globally. This grows in the Apatani Valley as wet cultivation, with fishes (mainly carps) growing in the water of the rice valleys helping them to grow faster and the bamboo and pine leaves and pine needles of the adjoining hills make the natural compost, fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides for the fields. The communities believe that the secret of this best rice crop of the world is in the sacred groves, where the souls of the ancestors live and are free from human interference. This should not give an idea that the Dree Festival is all about Rice and Fish, which is certainly the daily market, but the festival for me is more of the delicious Dog and Mithun dry meat with lots of black Apong.
This was not that of a very planned or well thought journey to Arunachal Pradesh. Casually I happened to reach Dibrugarh by Rajdhani Express from Siliguri, after an overnight journey was picked up early morning by Prashanta, the community leader who runs the Dihing River Camp with Help Tourism. Next day, on the 3rd of July, 2013, we ferried over through Bogibeel Ghat, where a 5kms long bridge on 42 pillars is expected to complete by 2015. All these ferries in the Himalaya are a lifetime experience with landscape and people in focus. Sometimes when I see these bridges being built, I feel sad for an endangered Indian ferry culture, which supports thousands of families and brings together diverse communities through their skills. The cost of these bridges could have probably subsidised the ferry culture for the next 02 decades.

Sorry, I often get carried away with the traditional culture of the rivers which keep people connected to them because of their day to day use. The entry was through the bordering Assam town of Shilapathar and finally driving through the Ego River Valley landscape, where Help Tourism hosts their guests in community camp sites, I reached the Along area for overnight rest. While I was entering through the Leikabil check-post, the Incharge asked me if I was there for the Dree Festival. I suddenly remembered about this main festival of Central Arunachal Pradesh and I left early morning the next day driving through the Subanshiri River Valley reached Ziro late in the evening on 4th July.
First, I must tell you all about the good things that can happen, I met the Ambassadors of Northeast at the Dree Festival at Ziro. Arif Siddique, the famous photographer for representing India’s Northeast through his lively and typically Northeast photographs, Lou Majaw for his globally famous musical voice from Northeast, Tagge Kanno for his understanding of the NGO movement of Northeast at the global level and Asit Biswas the main story builder for National Geographic and BBC Wildlife filming in Northeast were at the festival and we all got together to an extended celebration in the evening.
Though the images will do most of the explanation, but to talk about Dree, it is a festival of borrowing and lending of food grains to balance stock at home and compensated after the harvest. The present fixed day celebration of 5th July was started in 1967 in the Apatani valley of Ziro. Though the festival is more about the Apatani tribe, but it remains incomplete without the participation of the Nyishis and Galongs. The priests and GaoBurrhas in warrior and traditional dresses complete the ceremonies of chicken, egg and mithun sacrifice. The main headgear of the Apatanis, which has been inherited generation after generation has a typical comb whose origin is lost and may be found out through the picture enclosed. This headgear is taken out, prayed and displayed only during the Dree Festival. The fusion of tradition and modern fashion comes with a fine line and the elegance of this balanced fusion is reflected in the entire festival. It is sometimes hard to believe at places like the Apatani valley, which is supposed to be remote can display so much of modern lifestyle too.

As I fly out of the valley with the setting sun in the western sky, I believe that one day I would be flying out further East to the neighbouring countries singing the success of India’s Look East Policy. An opportunity to find the origin of the hair-pin in the Apatani headgear, passed on from one generation to the other since time unknown.


  1. What a trip. I would love to visit this less explored part of the universe. Many thanks for sharing such an exquisite travel experience.

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  3. Raj - Your love for the Stilwell is growing by the day...

  4. Dear Suddho, as you remind me of the Stilwell Road, you take me back to the days there, let me try and make the next post on the area, if I can catch hold of the pictures.