Amidst Indigenous Tribes of the Land
“I think (people) should really travel the world if they can. It’s the most incredible education I’ve ever had. I think it’s phenomenal. I mean just to see the different cultures of people, the different faces, to talk to people and just to learn and see.” – Michael Jackson
Since the last decade, Arunachal Pradesh has been attracting thousands of overseas tourists every year to its distinctive impression of tribal culture. The state takes pride in being the only land under the Sun where travelers can find different tribes with diverse culture, traditions, belief, codes of conduct, tastes and likes within a periphery of every twenty to thirty kilometers. It is a land comprising of 26 major tribes and several sub-tribal communities. Some of these unique tribes are nowhere to be found in the world except in Arunachal Pradesh.
The tribes of Arunachal Pradesh are broadly classified into three cultural groups basing on their socio- religious affinities. The first group consists of Monpas, Sherdukpens, Membas, Khambas, Khamtis and Singpho tribes. The second group comprises of Adis, Akas, Apatanis, Bangnis, Nishis, Mishmis, Mijis, Thongsa tribes. Noctes and Wancho tribes form the third group. Other sub-tribes include Idu, Miju or Kaman, Digaru or Taraon, Galongs, Padams, Minyongs, Tagins, Khowas, Puroiks, Thongs, Gheos, Hill Miris, Sulung, Yabins and Zakrings etc.
“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” – Aldous Huxley
Three years back, it was a lazy afternoon towards the end of November. I was neither in my best mood nor good health. Suddenly my cell phone rang. A voice from the other side dictated me to get ready within hours to go on a tour to Arunachal Pradesh. I packed my bag along with my favourite digi cam, got my Inner Line Permit issued within an hour and departed for Guwahati accordingly.
Next morning, I met my tourist guest Mr. Dean Everett Peckham from USA in Guwahati. I was astonished at my guest’s undauntable spirit who alone came to visit India at an age of 72 years with a little curvature on his back and shaky hands most of the time, yet full of vigour and vitality possessing an adventurous temperament eager to discover the unseen places on earth. After vacationing in North India, he decided to visit North East India especially Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. While meeting him for the first time, an instant thought came to my mind imagining whether I would exist on earth at the age of 72, fit and fine like Dean or my framed garlanded photo would be hung against a wall in my favourite room. Yes, I did feel, Americans are exceptionally enterprising!!!!!
The same day we came to Kaziranga National Park and stayed there for two nights. After Kaziranga, we went to Majuli. The mask culture of Natun Samaguri Satra (monastery) attracted Dean so much so that he wanted to purchase a mask of ten headed Ravana, but unfortunately he could not due to unavailability of stock.
Dean with Sri Sri Pitambar Deva Goswami, xatradhikar of Aauniati Xatra
A mask of ten-headed Ravana on display
Whatsoever, destiny was calling us to the land of rising sun, Arunachal Pradesh. After one night’s stay in Majuli, we departed to Ziro, a picturesque hilly terrain renowned worldwide as the abode of the Apatani tribal people. At a remarkable high altitude of 4921 feet above mean sea level, Ziro soothes the eye of nature lovers with exotic landscapes of pine and bamboo grooves. Unfortunately, I passed a sleepless night at Ziro being unable to breathe due to a blocked nose and fever. Dean wanted me to take rest for the next day long and get well soon. But my conscience did not allow me to sit and sleep idly in my hotel room leaving a 72 year old man to roam alone in the hilly town even though I knew that he would not mind. Dean was exhilarated to witness Apatani lifestyle at Hong Village, the largest village of Apatani plateau. Later we visited Craft Centre, District Museum and the local market.
I felt better next morning after taking medicines from a local pharmacy. We started our drive to Daporijo the same morning to have a glimpse of the lives of Tagin and Hill Miri people. En route we visited another tribal village inhabited by Hill Miris. Daporijo is situated on the right bank of the Subansiri River, a tributary of mighty Brahmaputra. The suspension bridges carved out of bamboo and cane over the Subansiri River beckons a large number of tourists. Tagins, the principal inhabitants of Daporijo are considered to be the refugees of Penji village in Tibet. They are regarded to be the descendants of Abotani. Tagins are the followers of Donyi-Polo, whereas the Naa and Mra (two groups of Tagin) are sincere devotees of Tibetan Buddhism. Tagins celebrate Si-Donyi festival with much enthusiasm to honour both Sun and Earth.
Dean posing for a click with an Apatani woman
A Donyi polo flag and ‘babo’ in front of a house
Dean received a hearty welcome from the landlady of a village guest house. It was the day of Diwali (Deepawali) celebration for Hindus. Dean was delighted to observe fusion of culture as he witnessed some little tribal kids playing with sparklers and some boys of tender age frightening them with sounds made by crackers. We met an armed local villager equipped with all hunting equipments heading towards the forest side. When asked, he let us know that he would spend overnight in the jungle and return home next morning. Wild boar, jungle fowl are some of the best prey they usually hunt for.
The next morning, we visited several Tagin houses and witnessed their lifestyle. Later, we departed to Aalong, a small town located on the south bank of river Siyom at an altitude of 985 feet above mean sea level. We stopped over a Galong tribal village on our way to view the lifestyle of the Galong tribe. In Aalong, the Hanging Bridge on the Siang River made of local cane and bamboo was worth watching. It demonstrates the outstanding skill of the local tribal residents. The bridge is approximately 200 to 230 feet long, connecting the other hill tribes of nearby areas. Fishing in Siang River near the bridge is a preferred activity of the neighbouring people.
I and Dean in a Gallong house
The next morning, we drove to Pasighat, one of the oldest towns of Arunachal Pradesh and the native soil of the Adi tribal people. Pasighat, set on the bank of river Siang is surrounded by snow-covered peaks and rocky mountains. It supports a wide variety of flora and fauna. Adventure sports like trekking and hiking, river rafting, boating and angling on the Siang river call for an exciting trip to this place.
The next morning, we departed to Dibrugarh, the famous “Tea City of India”. We reached Bogibeel ghat in the afternoon and waited for our turn to drive in a machine boat in order to cross the mighty Brahmaputra River. Dibrugarh town is situated on the banks of the river Brahmaputra in upper Assam. The main attraction of Dibrugarh is its abundant tea gardens along with oil and natural gas reserves. After a tiring journey through the rough roads of Himalayan foothills, we took rest for a couple of hours and visited the local market in Dibrugarh town during the evening hours.
Next morning, we started our drive to Kohima via Sibsagar and Jorhat. Dean was very anxious to be a part of the Hornbill festival to be held in Kisama village, Kohima. A Tour Executive from Nagaland was waiting for us at Jorhat town to welcome Dean and guide him further to his destination. We reached Jorhat town in the late morning hours. I bade farewell to Dean with a heavy heart wishing him best luck and good health. Dean looked little gloomy and promised me to keep contact through e-mails for the rest of our lives.
At that juncture, I recollected a famous quote of Robert Frost in my mind — “In three words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on”. Yes, it’s true indeed. Life goes on to experience the unknown.
(External Link – Arunachal Pradesh Tribal Tour).