Jul 09 2018
It takes five hours to reach Ziro from Itanagar, the capital of Arunachal Pradesh. The calm, stillness of the valley after being shaken in a loud, reverberating diesel vehicle was particularly striking as we descended in Hong District. Berenice and I, fellow travellers, were introduced in Itanagar while staying at the house of a common friend, Christine. We were there on work. She is a lecturer, and was doing research for a Phd. I'd recently quit a career in the media to start a design business and was decorating bamboo cottages in Itanagar. Cut away from city routine, evenings in Itanagar were passed reading, chatting or on long walks. Getting to know Berenice's work, spending time with Christine and others in her household, made acclimatising to the new culture quite easy. In a matter of just weeks the writings of Verrier Elwin and Mamang Dai , the names and languages of numerous tribes, a new political landscape, and an unfamiliar cuisine had become a part of my current reality. As had waking up at 6 in the morning, to loud speakers blaring religious hymns from the small temple nearby and days getting dark quicker than usual. The latter only because Arunachal, located in the far eastern corner of India, still shares the same time zone as the rest of the country. But that's for another post-- This is about Ziro, the trip to which was was planned on a free weekend in Itanagar and turned out to be a good decision. We lodged in a simple home with Mrinalini and Geeta from the Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust (http://kgnmt.org/) who graciously extended their hospitality when we were looking for a new place to stay, after the one we’d originally booked turned out to be a complete disappointment. Both women were powerful advocates for Gandhi's 'Sarvodaya', a philosophy that emphasises the upliftment of all and had dedicated their lives to serving the local community. The Assamese style home they occupied was basic and utilitarian, but had a sense of peace and charming simplicity to it. And if their lives weren't encouraging enough, we learned that they were almost completely self sufficient, growing their own food, doing their washing and even weaving their own cloth! All of the fabric we saw, worn or ornamental, had been woven by them. Mrinalini introduced us to the Apatani's of Hong village whom we interacted with briefly-- our last night being spent in their traditional bamboo huts, around a fire, over a simple roast fish dinner. As we walked back through paddy fields with torches beneath a sky dazzling with stars, I counted four shooting stars-- which I took to be auspicious. In retrospect, Ziro and Arunachal have been a blessing-- beautiful places with intense experiences, that continue to be a source of endless inspiration.