We had hoped to stay in Ziro for a day, and return to Itanagar. We ended up staying for three days, and they weren’t enough. I tried to recall if I had ever seen a picture-postcard-like scene before. I presume the road to Tsoro was the first. Naga had been told that the Tsoro Lake was a beautiful place to visit. But this isn’t a tourist-infested place and we would have to find it by enquiring at every corner of a street – a good omen that this would be a terrific experience.
As we walked away from the market and towards the Tsoro, we found a grave, right in the middle of shops! It would have been surprising even if it was just an ordinary grave, placed as it was in the middle of a fairly busy market. But it had more – an epitaph worth preserving. It declared that that man had been killed for no fault of his and he was waiting up there for his killer to join him. The language was very filmy and it had an air of innocence around it which told us that this was a place quite different from the rest of India. We weren’t wrong.We walked past the taxi-stand, a government school, a private school and a few houses to exit the daily hustle and bustle. Ahead of us, a boy and a girl, in their school uniforms walked hand-in-hand. They pulled out their umbrella as it began to drizzle. We, for our part had to take care of our cameras.
Polite enquiries got us very helpful replies. The locals as well as people from the CRPF were forthright in giving directions. Somehow, we reached a vast expanse of land, uninhabited, but easily the home of gods. The view that day, under the grey clouds, was supernatural. On either side of a narrow path, there was a flowing spread of grass, of varied, vibrant colours. On one side were mountains covered by lush green forests, and on the other, a small stream passed through. Further left of the stream, in the grasslands, two cows grazed quietly. Picture postcard! Our cameras wouldn’t agree that this was a perfect scene. They wished there was more light. It didn’t matter to us as we walked on past one hillock onto a residential area. The closer we got to Tsoro, we realised there might not really be a lake there. However, we did come to a point where some construction was going on, on the side of a stream. A Mithun looked clueless at us and didn’t move an inch to either side, with fear in its eyes. No wonder it was scared to bits, as it normally ends up on dining tables here.
On our way back to the hotel, two school-going kids came up to us. They were curious to know if we were doing a survey there. One of them was well-off and went to the private school, while the other had to make do with the government one. They told us about the natural Shivalinga, some three kilometers from our hotel and also the local museum, which was just few minutes from where we were.
One of the kids promised to meet us at our hotel and take us around the town. We, meanwhile, found the museum on our way back. This was one of the most comprehensive collections of items related to the various tribes of Arunachal: their dress, ornaments, hats, utensils, etc. Maintained very well, this is a must-see. Before leaving, we met Victor, an expert on his state who worked at the museum. He had written books on certain tribes and had studied in Mysore for a significant amount of time. He spoke convincingly about the political and cultural situation in Arunachal Pradesh. As it was raining, he also dropped us to our hotel in his car. In his one year of working in the museum (he had earlier been in Tezu), we were only the second tourists he had met in Ziro.
In the evening, we set out to see the Shivalinga, a natural rock formation that supposedly appeared all of a sudden during an excavation. We were told that it was some 3 km away from the hotel, but after a while of walking, walk became a trek. A narrow path cut through the forest as we enquired and enquired. One old man said, “It is too far for you. It will take three hours. But we Nyishis reach there very quickly,” and went away. Now it was a matter of pride, so we walked on even as the sun began to close shutters. By 4:30 in the evening, after a few pep talks by some firewood gatherers who promised us that it the Shivalinga was very near, we reached it. The rock formation can be construed as anything. Some thought it was a Shivalinga and brought in a sizable interest. However, it isn’t quite the 24ft structure it is supposed to be. We wondered if it was just a coincidence that went conversion to Christianity in these regions were rampant, a Shivalinga appeared out of nowhere in 2003. Conversion in these parts has taken an alarming proportion. Even the educated class is getting converted and the phrase “missionary zeal cannot be more apt. The tribes here worship Donyi-Polo – or the Sun and Moon gods. In Ziro, the first temple for Donyi-Polo is being built, while there are already plenty of churches. The Ramakrishna Mission, across Arunachal, is one organization which is resisting this maniacal evangelism. The nun we met in Assam also confirmed this. Her biggest obstacle, she said, in Arunachal was the Ramakrishna Mission, whose workers wouldn’t allow missionary activity.