Itanagar is one of the most picturesque capital cities in India. This was a jack-in-the-box as like any other capital city we expected it to be bustling with commercial activity. Luckily, we got a hotel right next to the bus-stop. The Blue Pine is one of the best here along with the Arun Subansiri. Blue Pine, also, is inexpensive. At Rs. 340 a day, we got a very decent room. The most famous landmark in this town, at least for outsiders, is the Ita Fort; a brick-layered structure which gave the city its name.
There was also a government museum which was supposedly very good. However, with sunset following our arrival, there was not much scope for visiting such places.After more than a week in travel, we needed to recharge our wallets and in the evening we headed up the main road and found this Sunday to be very quiet. Shopkeepers had taken the day off and there wasn’t a lot of traffic on the roads as well. We found almost all the major ATMs here and retired for the night. And of course, we booked our tickets at a Tata Sumo booking counter for the following morning, for Ziro, a town 130km east of Itanagar.
The journey started at 6 in the morning. There are apparently two routes to Ziro – a long one and a short one. The long one is what buses take, whenever they decide to take, that is. The shorter road is not exactly a road, as we were to find out. It was built by the BRO long time back to facilitate their other operations in the region. Now, it had become a haven for these Tata Sumo drivers. In fact, to correct a more basic flaw it isn’t Tata Sumo that is popular here, but a closer cousin called the Tata Spacio. After this trip, I began to grow a pet hate for either of them.Itanagar comes under Papum Pare district – a rare occurrence where a capital city itself is not a district. Ziro comes under the Lower Subansiri district. Like it is in other places of Arunachal, districts are generally named after rivers. Tribes here are basically of the Abu Tani descent. Nyishi or Nishi and Apathani are more prevalent here. Nyishi are predominant in Itanagar, while Ziro has a significant population of Apathanis. The most interesting aspect of Arunachal is that these different tribes have languages far dissimilar to each other’s and hence have to converse amongst themselves in Hindi.
We were joined in the car by a couple of Nyishis. One of them became friendly and began to talk about his tribe. Apparently, Nyishis either work as cheap labour or, as our co-passenger, harbour hopes of entering politics. Their level of education is not as high as that of the Apathanis or the Monpas of Kameng. Even though we were told that Nyishis were less friendly than others, we found them affable enough.
Most tribes in these areas carry a sword around their hips. They don’t use it for any martial art purposes but apart from serving tradition, it helps in cutting bamboo. Older Apathani women have a distinct appearance. They wear circular nose plugs and tattoo their faces. Tagins and Hill Miris are the other tribes in the Subasiri area.I had just begun to enjoy this ride when after about an hour of mountain driving, I felt dizzy. After years of travel on plains (even long distances in Tata Sumos), this was the first time I felt sick. Gradually, the nausea built up. My head was spinning, resultantly, the gut wrenched and I began to cramp. This was the first real attack of dizziness I had had on a tour and Ziro couldn’t come quick enough. For the last hour of the trip, my condition worsened, but keen not to look haggard, I took a requested for a window seat gasped for breath. That didn’t help as I felt dehydrated. My stomach constricted, my fingers involuntarily moved, cramped, eyes appeared to retract into a shell as I feared a black out. The milestones on the side of the road became my best friend as I counted down the distance. Every reduction made me feel better, but in the time between two milestones, my guts seemed to push upward until my throat grew congested. When it read “Ziro, 10”, I threw up, and luckily, on the side of the road. Pride had taken a royal beating, but I thought 10 km was a lot of time to hold on. If only I had known that it was 10 km to the old Ziro. I realized a minute later that had I kept the nausea at bay for another 200 metres, I’d have been home and dry.
Beginning at Ziro
It was to be a trend that continued throughout the rest of the tour. Whenever travel was hard, it was worth the troubles. At Ziro, we lodged at the Blue Pine, again. And like at Itanagar, it was a terrific place. Costlier, at Rs.470 a day, this was the best hotel in Ziro. It was important to narrow down the cause of the sickness, and I felt it was a combination of a lot of issues. I realized that not having traveled on such terrain before – in a Tata Spacio-like vehicle – I should have had something at the odd looking eatery on the roadside where the driver had stopped. I slept the rest of the afternoon and Naga, meanwhile, went on a walk. He didn’t return for quite some time. Just as I was beginning to think of ways to report missing persons, he came jumping, pleased as punch.
He had been to a tribal village some 7 km from the town market. It was called the Hong village. He had met a young man there whose etiquettes particularly impressed him. Apparently, that fellow had been trained in eco-tourism and he showed Naga the way his mates were preparing for a festival. So stunned was he by this civilized tribe that Naga bought a muffler for Rs.300. He had also tasted the local drink, Apang. What interested me was that the Hong village had been mentioned in the brochure of our hotel, which also had mentioned a tribal tour website. I soon realized that that village must have been one of those which come under package tours. Visitors are brought to Ziro, lodged at Blue Pine and are showed the Hong village where the tribes display their traditional routines. This eased my envy a bit. I’d have been devastated had Naga met tribes who didn’t expect tourists!