Festival time,Snowy Tawang & Tribal Motorbike Trip
Trip Start Sep 30, 2011
21Trip End Ongoing
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After 2 weeks of wedding time in Imphal I am returning to Arunachal, the tribal state, as there is so much more to explore. 1 month permit has been arranged. First week is spend with Nama, Neywin and Merwyn in Itanagar being part of the Statehood Day festival: Getting a glimpse of the tribal wear and local dishes. Then off to Tawang for a week to visit the 2nd largest Tibetan monastery, play with snow and live with a great Gompa family. Snowed in at first I make it back to Itanagar to join Merwyn on a short but amazing motorbike road trip in Central Arunachal. Local home stays, tribal customs, great views and of course the 'riding feeling'. Much more to explore, but Indian visa finished, so now back in Nepal, where I will be for the next 3-4 months.
I feel that with every blog that I am writing it becomes more difficult to select the photos to show you, the numbers getting bigger every time…this entry narrowed it down to ‘only’ 187!!! So much has happened again during the last month! After 2 amazing wedding weeks in Imphal and a last hug with
In the next days it is Statehood Day and a special 5 day festival is taking place. The opening day is the most interesting one. I manage to get myself in the middle of the grounds amongst the press, perfect spot for photo taking! Some guy asking me some questions…upon which I find myself in the newspaper 2 days later! Hmmmm did not really say all this…. but agree ;-) I love the tribal parade during which most of the 26 tribes are represented showing their tribal wear! After the official part it’s time to check out the food stalls, where different tribal delicacies are on offer. Nama and Makte take me to their tribal food stall (Niycchi) to try a traditional dish: some type of bird, of course accompanied by Arak (the wedding-rice-wine)…cheers! Later that week we try out other tribal food as well, roasted
Chilling at the house, enjoying Nama’s cooking sprays, watching movies, roaming Itanagar….it’s all good, but I feel itchy to explore some more of this state…so I jump on the bus heading the far west: Tawang district: A must-see-area according to many. After traveling with my own van for such a long time, I am actually a bit rusty in the whole public transport – arranging accommodation thing. But as always things run its course. Enjoying the views from the bus listening to music during the 12 hour ride to Bomdila… arriving in the dark… hooking up with 3 local travelers sharing accommodation (cheaper) and the Sumo (=shared jeep) for the drive to Tawang… eating together…learning about their culture. Unplanned travelling is not so difficult if you can let go of the insecurity and truly know that things always work out! Just try it one day and be surprised about the things you experience…
For me, I am happily enjoying the views going up to Sela pass (it’s cold up there!) and descending on the other side. In Tawang I can live with Dorjee Lamu ( a friend of Nama) and her family, Monpa tribe.
Then it started to snow… a rarity at this time of the year apparently. Within 2 days it covered Tawang! Missing out on the snow in Holland, it is gifted me here. That morning I walk out of the house, being one of the first to make foot prints. Always love this moment! The trees decorated with snow…white
The good thing about this much snow is hardly any cars on the roads…perfect moment to roam around by foot. So later that day me, Dorjee Lamu and friends are off, almost all wearing gum booths (regenlaarzen), gloves and hat: The gum booths party… throwing snow balls, sliding across the road, taking lots of photos, building our own snow man, eating more khopse, drinking more SinChang and Arak while warming our cold feet and hands at the fire. We even get to try some dried yak meat! Dorjee’s sister singing and dancing, helped out by some friends at times…a funny bunch they are!
Nature is giving me all…as the next day the sun is greeting me in full glory. Snowy landscape and a blue sky, wauw! My return to Itanagar looks promising now as snow blocked the Sela pass for days already. And as much as I would like to explore this area more, unfortunately I am limited in my Arunachal time and would prefer to do some other things as well. That evening snowed heavily again and just when I accepted the fact I would be here for some time longer, Dorjee wakes me up and tells me the Sumo back to Bomdila is leaving in 20min. The universe works its ways. The drive up and over the Sela pass is difficult, long and cold (I buy some army socks to keep my toes from freezing), little scary at times when heavy fog sets in. But good company on board and an excellent driver make the drive pleasant somehow. Nima and Dorjee (sister and brother) put me up for the night, even helping me arrange the Sumo early morning and cooking me breakfast! Over and over I let myself be surprised by the hospitality I receive everywhere I travel, grateful to say the least.
Back in Itanagar…back on internet, so lots of Skype with family and friends. Don’t know who invented the Skype thing, but for sure love the person for it! It makes the distance a little less difficult sometimes and it is for free ;-) Merwyn has to finish off a few things before we go on a small road trip together on his Bullet (motorbike). Exploring a small part of Central Arunachal, enjoying the scenery, tribal encounters and of course getting back on the saddle enjoying the ‘riding’ feeling! To all of you bikers out there, you know, the feeling is unique!
We set out a route but no fixed plan luckily as we don’t know how we will feel when we reach a place.
After a rough patch, taking regular chai pio breaks and photo take moments we reach Ziro…just before the rains. We arrange a guesthouse room on the top of the hill, overlooking the area dotted with farming patches in all shades of brown, white and red flower trees and wooden houses against a mountainous background. (Near)Full moon night… him playing with the video camera, me with the photo camera whilst enjoying a glass of whiskey: not a bad first night on the road! Our travel time is short as my visa is running out, but rather feel one place longer then racing through many…and for the both of us this Ziro District is one to linger longer. Taking it day by day we end up spending 4 days going from one village to the next. It is mostly the Apatani tribe living here, scattered over different small villages surrounding district capital Hapoli. Their houses are built in a specific way mostly using only bamboo and wood. In each village you find special platforms (lafong) communally used for eg. bamboo work or drying rice/grains. Typical to this tribe is also the use of the Bobo totem, placed in front of the house to show that there is a son living in the house, 1 for each son. From the front you would not expect the house to be so big inside. When entering one house upon tea invitation, I am surprised to see the houses are very long. As we visit an Apatani village (Hong) on a Sunday, we are invited to be part of a Donyi Polo service. Not a god but the Sun and Moon are worshipped by its followers. I can appreciate that. I now learn that the white flag with the red ‘sun’ which I have seen often outside houses is the Donyi (Sun) Polo (Moon) symbol. The service starts with a personal blessing from the priest, receiving a black rope on my left wrist, followed by singing, preaching, a holy water ‘shower’ and a handful of some white rice powder. There are mostly (older) Apatani women present, giving me the opportunity to observe their unique facial decoration: black tattooing and bamboo nose studs. As amazed I am of them, likewise my dreadlocks are a mystery to them….perfectly captured
For 2 nights we are welcome to stay with this lovely lady in her ashram, little reluctant at first, completely opening up throughout our stay. Sharing food and camp fire moments. Guess we are not the most difficult guests anyways, both of us being very flexible. Ziro district: definitely an area to return to and explore more. Yet, for now, we climb back on the bike to ride some more, giving us great views, smells and local encounters along the way. In Raga once again we are invited into a home for a meal and a place to sleep, Merwyn doing most of the (Hindi) talking all the time, answering questions about me as well. And apparently often people think he is my guide, a woman alone travelling unheard of. Not being the center of attention all the time is nice at times, yet I do prefer to communicate more (in depth) myself, getting me determined to learn more Hindi, now kind of stuck at a basic level.
The last 2 long riding days to Daporijo and Along are if possible even more spectacular….we start to wonder if we make it to before nightfall as we are having more Oh and Ah moments, followed by photo taking stops! A scenic journey it is: Vegetation changing, different tribes living in different areas, using a different house building style, wearing different cloths, using different tools. Only scratching the surface of this tribal life, but beautiful all the same. The following nights we book a hotel room, taking a break from curious local encounters and often the same questions. Room service and TV time instead. With hardly any tv in my life, sometimes it feels relaxed to look at this tiny box full of sound and visuals….just these adds!!
Far too quickly, from my part at least ;-), our ways have to part. He continues his life journey on his bike, me going back to Itanagar to collect my things and start my 2,5 day bus-train-bus-bus trip back to Kathmandu, Nepal. Sad to leave India, yet at the same time happy to go to Nepal again: Both countries are giving me their unique best.
Merwyn thanks so much for taking me along and sharing special moments, we will meet again!
Nama, Neywin, thanks so much for your help and stay at your home.
And Pipi thank you for the perfect last evening in India!
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