Ziro Festival of Music is meetup of music lovers and independent artists organized in the beautiful valley of Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh, India. Its in its fifth year now. It has been attracting audience from all over the country.
I wanted an excuse to see the north east of India, and was itching for uncharted travel. Ziro Festival of Music became a convenient excuse to check out the relatively un explored part of the country.
The road plan :
Ziro is in Arunachal Pradesh state of India. One has to take a train or a bus from Guwahati to reach Ziro. By train, you have to reach a place called Naharlagun or Itanagar from Guwahati, which is an overnight journey. By road it is even longer and more expensive, But there are buses and private / sharing taxis available. Once at Naharlagun, a shared cab takes you through a picturesque but bumpy ride to a place called Hopoli, which is town nearest to Ziro. from Hopoli, one can get a sharing cab for cheap to the festival grounds, which is less than 10km away.
Since you’re already planning a trip to Ziro, it only makes sense to spare a couple of days and see a bit more of north east. I went to Shillong and Cherpunji, before heading to Ziro.
Ziro Festival of Music.(ZFM)
Officially, the music festival lasts three nights and four days. But practically, the festival has started right when you start meeting people in your trip from Guwahati to Naharlagun. The most preferred option is train, and hence Guwahati station and Guwahati-Naharlagun train become the meeting ground for introductions and making festival plans. I could hardly get any sleep thanks to the excitement of making new friends from diverse backgrounds and exchanging stories of other travels and past experiences with ZFM.
So, from what I realized, here are some common ice breakers if you’re traveling alone and share a common destination with travelers around you, ZFM in this case.
- Is it your first time at ZFM ?
- What all did you see in the rest of north east India ?
- What is the kind of music you are looking forward to ?
- What brings you to ZFM of all the places ?
- How do you plan to spend your days while camping in Ziro ?
Festival days :
The music starts pumping right in the morning, with soundchecks waking you up from your post party slumber. But the line up generally starts by noon and goes upto 10pm in the night.
So, the days are free to explore around Ziro, freshen up, chill with friends. It is here that one realizes the art of doing nothing. Noting at all. As city dwellers we are so used to overloading ourselves with unnecessary activities, that we feel guilty and awkward when we have some free time. Free time has become waste of time, though reality could not be further from this fact. So, once at Ziro, cut back on Facebook, and Twitter. Click less selfies and meet more people. Eat the local cuisine, write a poem, hum a tune, jam with your new buddies. That is what the ticket to the fest is for.
Staying at Ziro.
You have a choice between a) staying at the ZFM camp site. b) at a third party camp site very near to ZFM c) Resort near ZFM d) Homestays at Hopoli. Of all the above, I would suggest camping as my favorite option.
We always stay in pakka houses, so for a change its a sweet challenge to live in a tent out of limited means. The view of the rolling hills immediately as you unzip the tent door is unmatched for city dwellers. I at times just sat admiring the view and absorbing the fresh air and sunlight. The down side how ever of camping is the toilet. One has to take the onus of finding a decent place for taking the dump. It is not as scary as it sounds, as many homestays and resorts don;t really mind outsiders using their facility.
ZFM music line up.
ZFM tries to stay away from mainstream artists who have already become hugely popular. The curators are always on a lookout for independent artists that still need a wider audience to establish themselves. So be prepared to hear unheard or vaguely known bands in the line up. I love the fact that such festivals introduce you to a good mix of music from around the world. The kind of music not readily heard on radio or Soundcloud or concerts. We are conventionally fed just popular songs from well established bands and movies, who has time to try new genres ? It is here that this magic happens.
Of the may genres I heard, a few I really liked. Madboy and Akumika were my favorites. They were DJs spinning lounge electronic music, close to deep house genre. Next up were No Strings attached with soft, jazzy tunes to unwind on. Also, Dawda Jobareth and Gramlines stole the show. Then Shye Ben Tzur and Rajasthan Express, by far the most known and anticipated act of the whole fest.
As you see, its more about indie music than commercial titles. So, be prepared to accept a mixed array of performances, some really worthwhile, some ho hum, and rarely utter crap as well.
Officially the show ends at 10pm. But if you collect youngsters from all over the country and add free flowing rice beer and smoking ‘herbs’ to the pot, the scenes in after hours are anybodies guess. Some times, like at Ziro Valley Resort, the after parties were paid, which sucked, frankly. But at other venues like Rider’s club, and many campsites around ZFM everyone was invited. So, don’t miss them, and to do that, you’ll have to keep the beer flowing in slow and steady, unlike me 😉
It’s also a good opportunity to hangout with the locals and get to know them better. No one is distracted by the stage performances. And everyone’s pumped from an evening of merry making. It’s lots of good vibes around.
Apong and ZFM are almost synonyms. Apong is the rice beer of Ziro and ZFM is the music festival of Ziro. They are made for each other, and both greet the attendees warm delight. Apong and other local wines are in free flow in the fest. The popular liquors take a back seat, and rightly so. When in Ziro, drink as the Apatanis do. They make alcohol from not only rice but also Millet, Kiwi, Naspati etc.
The rice beer is way more devious than its benign, milky looks. Trust me on that.
There’s plenty of local cuisine to choose from. Vegetarians might have a little limited menu to choose from. Omnitarians, like me were spoilt for choices. Frogs. Grasshoppers.Ducks.Pork.Mutton.Good old chicken.’Mithun’ a cattle alternative of eastern Himalayas. Before you start grimacing in disgust, let me tell you, I believe adventure should be lived by all humanly senses, so brace up and taste the uncharted; literally.
Food inside the festival grounds is expensive. So, try to fill up from a local eatery outside. It will also introduce you to home made food from locals. Same goes for alcohol.
Ziro has the second largest village in Asia called Hong village. It is home to the Apatani tribe, and is a completely different canvas to explore. They are far more advanced, structured and sorted culturally. Speak to the locals, spend some time strolling in the village. Eat at local eateries. Understand farming practices. Family / social structures. Seek interesting rituals and traditions. For example, their biggest festival happens in July, around harvest season. So, if not for ZFM, July is the time to see Ziro in full deck up.
The folks here are well educated. They’re content, peace loving. Not really bitten by the ‘rat race’ plague. There’s a lot in store here, don’t miss.
Some Do’s and Dont’Donts
Here are some first hand tips, recollected from in between blackouts and travel highs.
- DO count your drinks, or else you’ll miss the fun after the shows.
- DO choose a camping site close to festival grounds.
- DO carry liquid soap, paper soap, tissue paper. Be prepared to plan for nature’s call, it might turn out be a fight.
- DO carry extra clothes, bathing might be impossibly low on priority.
- DO carry enough power-banks, a torch and locks.
- DO carry enough cash. ATMs are far and few.
- DO prepare to loose cellphone network at times for hours. Inform friends and family forehand.
- Don’t offend the locals. Political arguments, racist jokes, being nasty clingy, best avoided.
- Don’t wait last minute for accommodation arrangements.
- Don’t drink and drive, ofcourse.
- Don’t miss the traditional dance, its real cool
And, finally, suddenly, unexpectedly, unwillingly, unfortunately, three days were over. It was time to leave the wonderland and head back to ‘The Matrix’ of urban life. I had planned a solo trip, much against the wishes of family and surprise of friends. But I was glad to tell them, once back, that not one day did I feel left out. Made cool friends, enjoyed great food, had lots of Apong, explored Ziro, plus amazing music.
Ziro Festival of Music. Done.Sorted. Totally worth it.