Thursday, October 17, 2019

First timers guide to Ziro Music Festival

One fine day, while browsing through Instagram, I saw a sponsored ad about the Ziro music festival. And in less than a month from that click bait, I found myself travelling for the very first time to North east of India, for my very first camping trip, the very first time I was carrying a back pack, and the very first time I was attending stay on site Music festival.

Ziro, is a village in the valleys of Arunachal Pradesh . To get there one must reach Guwahati, then take an overnight train to Nagarlagun ( train leaves Guwahati at 9 pm and reaches Nagarlagun at around 5 am) and then a 5-6 hour journey along bumpy winding roads through hills and valleys, until you see fields of golden rice fields ready for harvesting.

Bumpy roads, picturesque views . Nagalagun to Ziro

The very first glimpse of Ziro; breathtaking.

The Music festival itself is an open air music festival, with a day stage and a night stage. The day stage begins at 2 in the afternoon, but you have local talents who perform through the morning from 11 am onwards. The night stage begins at 6 pm and goes on till around 10 pm or slightly later.
Once you reach Ziro , you have three stay options of stay . Hotels, of which I noticed the Ziro Palace Inn was the closest , situated a mere 4 minutes from the festival venue. The second is homestays, of which there are few but I met some fun , feisty and enterprising young Arunachali girls and boys, who I hope can change the Homestay scene in years to come. And the third, most popular stay option is camping. In camping too, you can choose to pitch your own tent, the PYOT area is again 5 minutes from the festival venue, you can watch the stage from your tent ! or for newbies like me, you can opt for pre organised camping experience . ours was called Experience destination.
Life is nothing if not a series of adventures.

The first timers guide to backpacking.
Soon after I booked our trip to Ziro, i realised I had never packed a back pack before. I read a lot of blogs on how to pack a back pack, what to pack for a camping trip , how to hoist a backpack on your back, and how to take off a backpack without injuring yourself. I  decided to do some back strengthening exercises for added measure, I mean to carry all that weight on your shoulders ! 
So here's what I learnt . 
1. Along with back exercises, do some core strengthening workout.
2. This particular blog was very helpful on how to pack a back so as to have the centre of gravity right in the centre of the backpack. CLICK HERE
and can I add my two camping essentials - a battery charged power bank , and micellar water ( i didnt need to wash my face for 7 days. micellar water has micelles suspended in soft water, and removes dust, grime, makeup, and keeps skin 90 % hydrated without any facewash or rinsing! save water guys, also if its good enough for the french it's good for you. It doesnt cost much google it)
3. Having been to Ziro, i can attest, carrying a backpack is not a hundred percent necessary. You aren’t really required to hike with your backpack. The journey is from Guwahati airport to Guwahati railway station, then a train journey, then a car journey, and the car drops you almost to your campsite. The walk would be a mere 5 minutes to your tent. and then the bag stays in the tent up until you leave. if you are ok hauling a small suitcase and a small carry bag, for 5-10 min you should be fine . Infact some people were carrying suitcases which were smaller than our backpacks ! 

First timers guide to staying in a tent.
My first thought s when I entered my tent was - Boy am I glad I don't suffer from claustrophobia ! Ours was what is called a three man tent, but there is NO WAY three grown men would be able to be comfortable in there. And in the tent were our backpacks and, as the clothes and other paraphernalia started to unravel, the place got smaller. Here's what I learnt from my first tent experience.
1. It gets fairly dark in a tent. Carry a torch, or better still, carry the battery operated lamp for 360 degree lighting unlike a torch which gives light only in one direction. For more charm carry battery operated string of lights to hang inside your tent. ( especially if you plan to spend quality time in your tent) We just came came to sleep in our tents in the wee hours of the morning, not having cozy cute tents meant we spend more time hanging around the common area and made more friends. 
2. I wouldn't call myself particularly queemish , but , the fact that my backpack had been lying on the floor of the train, under a sleeper class bunker during the journey, and now lay inches away from my face - had me tossing in my sleep. There is no way out of it, your backpack , your muddied shoes , all of it will be within a space smaller than a queen size bed, and shall be shared by another person and their belongings. So, I highly recommend carrying a foldable waterproof shoe bag, in which you can pack up your shoes and keep outside the tent ! Beware of leeches and such, so see that the shoe bag ( even a dustbin bag works ) is closed tightly. For the backpack too you can cover with a sheet, to cordon off the area you sleep from the area that has your belongings. Having all of it hidden behind a clean sheet will make the tent look bigger too. Here's another suggestion - carry a one man tent, which is a really small tent, pitch it near your tent and put ALL your belongings in there ! 
3. Keep your tent dry at all times ! it really rains a lot at Ziro during the music festival time. having foliage or undergrowth around our tent kept the ground really dry around our tent ( unlike other campsites) something like pine needles and bamboo don’t absorb water and keep the area really dry , apparently it’s because they are are taxonomically grass , was what one of the veteran campers explained). Just lay down some foliage around your tent. 

acting all boss babe outside our tent, when in actual, I really dont think I can repeat this 'once in a life time experience'.

First timers guide to Ziro.
The neighbouring villages and town is a treat to walk around. 
We went on a Village walk and it was the most magical day. 
We walked through golden paddy fields, fringed with dark green pines , topped with purple hills in the background and a sky which was a pantone cerulean. And it was all around, 360 degrees , no picture can do it justice, not even Panoramas. And then it started to drizzle, and the clouds came down. Stunningly beautiful ! 
We went to the home of an Apatani tribal woman. I think my happy vibes rubbed off on her and she wanted me to sing with her. We sang Lucky Ali's Oh Sanam , since Lucky Ali would be performing later that evening at the Music festival. 
Don’t forget to visit the weekly market, which happens only on a Saturday , where vendors from neighboring villages come set shop for a day. 
They also have fishing in paddy fields tours but I didn't want to need to have a bath, so avoided that. Also bicycle rides and ATB rides from town . 
They have some beautiful view points and even a lake with Boating nearby. 
The walk through the fields in the rain is surreal

Simple , but so hospitable. The Apatani village woman even gifted me a pumpkin as a gift.

a slight 6 km detour, took us to the lovely sico lake.

Boating at Sico lake.

First timers Guide to Ziro Music Fest
So, there were two things on my mind – What do I wear ? and What do I get to eat ?
So, every one will insist on gum boots, because the rains get fairly mucky (We even made up a muck grading system from 1 t0 10, humour helps when you are slipping and sliding through water logged mud ). So, boots. The most comfortable ones were the Decathlon ones , is what I found out from all ziro goers. I ofcourse spray painted mine , and then stuck stickers on them for added measure. The paint didn’t dry completely, so I stuck some of the foliage from around my tent aswell. You can buy boots at the town near Ziro as well, or an Amazon ( as I did ) but, decathlon ones were the best, according to everyone.
Because the boots keep your feet cozy, you can easily wear shorts /skirts , without feeling cold. Carry a shrug/ jacket for later in the evening.
Here I’d like to add a word about the locals – who are absolute fashionistas. They would beat any Instagramming fashion blogger hollow with their sense of style. Think neon pants with Aubergine crossbacks with matching hair, or Maroon sundress with tan coloured boots, even the girl at the help desk wore a white faux fur lined jacket, and olive green pants. These girls were dancing and jumping heels! Such an inspiration.
Boys, get a nice jacket, a colourful muffler (both to wear and to share ), glow in the dark tees with funky messages (always conversation starters).

We went shopping at the local village market, and bought a local shrug, and kajal. 

Now, the food . First timers guide to eating snails, silkworms, frogs and grasshoppers.
First off, let me tell you, that I am all about bio diversity and conservation of nature, I wear Ahimsa saris which are silk saris made with cultured silkworms treated humanely. And, I would never have frogs in Goa (where it is endangered and Government protected, I have tons of posts on NOT eating Jumping chicken in Goa !), but, when in the North East , do as the North East. Let’s start with snails, escargot is fairly popular the world round, we had the ones freshly caught from the paddy fields, by our own campers, so major foraging points there, also talk about farm to table ! They taste a lot like Tisryo, the mussels I had for the first time in Goa, bit chewy. Next up, silkworms, they were my favourite, they taste like the yolks of hard boiled eggs, not the over boiled crumbly variety, but the really nice flavourful , creamy and yet firm egg yolks. Delish! Frogs then, umm, the variety we had were fried to a crisp, and they honestly tasted like nothing, but texturally were just like potato chips, they should have just sprinkled them with some sour cream and onion flavouring, or even chaat masala. Grasshoppers, and what a joy these were. We were actually asked if we wanted to eat them live! Hilarious! Nervous laughs all around, but what’s life without a little adventure. So, while most of the grasshoppers were deep fried, sprinkled with chatpata masala, and served with a side of an amazing smashed green chilli chutney , some of the grasshoppers were tried while they could still move. As the locals explained, they were not actually fully alive, because it’s not like they could hop off your plate, but they moved their legs around. It sounds like something out of fear factor, it felt like something out of fear factor. I had it, and I couldn’t get myself to chew fast enough, so that I don’t feel moving legs in my mouth.
Ah, moving on. Yes, there is normal food for the less adventurous. There was even a Korean food counter – Mahsitssoya, Khamsamida ! I practiced my Hangul. The roadside stalls and multiple restaurants along the path from camp to festival grounds were a treat aswell.
Apong; the fermented rice wine, served in hollowed bamboo glasses. We had so many, it was almosta water substitute.

sun dried and fried frogs.

nothing like paratha and pickle in the hills. campsite food was excellent . experience destination

BBQ pork, served witha a side of Apong

live and fried grasshoppers


chole bhature , campsite food .

lots and lots of momos


First timers guide to leaving your kid at home.
Up until now, I have always been a mom travel blogger, I travel everywhere with my kid. I believe, every place is child-friendly, they may not be parent friendly! As in, it’s fun for kids everywhere, but it’s us parents who can’t handle kids in certain dangerous places. So, here’s what I did to assuage my mom guilt. I left 7 surprise gifts for him, for the 7 days I wouldn’t be there. Simple gifts, from tiffin snacks, to things he could share with his friends. He also enjoyed painting and decorating my boots, and was very proud when I sent him pictures of me wearing the boots. Also, I tried to take videos which I thought he would enjoy, like camping tent ( thankyou peppa pig), hot air balloon, wriggly worms etc, and sent them whenever there was internet. Do not promise that you will call at a particular time, network is patchy, and you don’t want to break a promise you made. When I returned, his first words when he saw me were “ Mama I got Boo Boo ( hurt ) and showed me the scratch on his feet. “ , I replied with “ mama got Boo Boo too” and showed him my blisters and leech marks on my feet. That thrilled him to bits , if you have boys, they will LOVE it! For the next three days he put bandaid on every blister and leech mark. He never once complained about me not being there. Kids, they really are troopers. So, mama, don’t feel guilty for having the time of your life.

the famous yellow boots. Someone actually asked me if they were Thanos' boots. Infinity boots ?

Now, for the last bit- the MUSIC.
I know you are thinking, 2000 words in, she is writing about a music festival, and no word on the music. It’s because I  wanted to keep the best for the last. I think, the one thing that most influenced me about ziro was that I came back with a whole new playlist of songs I listen to now. There was music everywhere, and all the time. Eclectic bands playing everything from Classical Indian, to indigenious musical instrumentals, to psychedelic trance, to genres I had never heard before, bands from Japan , Korea and Lithuania, and then you had the campers having impromptu gigs into the wee hours of the morning, and then mornings when campers would plug in their playlist on the speakers. May be I was in a particularly receptive state, but the universe seemed to speak to me through the music during this trip. And that’s my one tip, keep an open mind. Listen to every genre. I went back and googled most of the artists, and now follow many of their music on spotify, and we are even dancing for a wedding sangeet to one of the Indie bands I heard at the festival. It completely depends on you, how much you take from an experience, just like in life. I was impressed by all the musicians who sang and played their own musical instruments at the camp, so if you do, carry your harmonica, guitar, mandolin.

Party like the locals !

Seeing my increased interest  in Music, my Instagram algorithm suggested I buy a Kalimba, an African musical instrument. Instagram , had suggested I go for Ziro music festival, I think that was a good suggestion, so I went ahead and bought a Kalimba. It’s on its way!
if you wish to read more ( and there's a lot more  - find my hashtag on insta #foodietrailstonortheast )