In this series, we offer you expert advice on how to best navigate and make the most of your favourite arts and culture festivals.
The Ziro Festival of Music offers one of the most unique experiences in the country. The annual four-day event isn’t just one of India’s best-loved music festivals, it offers revellers the chance to listen to some of the finest musical talents from the northeast, relish some local food and drink (rice beer, anyone?) and familiarise themselves with the culture of the local hosts, the Apatani tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. And you get to do it all in the lush green landscapes of Ziro Valley.
But getting to paradise involves at least some amount of effort. Here are our pro tips, based on information from the organisers as well as personal experience, to help you best navigate ZFM and make the most out of your time there.
Travelling to Ziro Valley
Arunachal Pradesh is a protected area. Therefore, Indian citizens who are not residents of the state require a special permit to enter it. Indian tourists need to apply for an Inner Line Permit here. You will need to provide the details of your local contact (your campsite/homestay/hotel manager) while filling out the form. If you are a foreign national, you must apply for a Protected Area Permit directly at the Deputy Resident Commissioner of Arunachal Pradesh’s office in Guwahati or through a travel agent in the city.
The Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport in Guwahati is the closest airport to Ziro Valley. There are regular flights to Guwahati from all other major Indian cities. From there, take a train journey to Naharlagun in Arunachal Pradesh. The two main options are the Donyi Polo Express (15818), which leaves Guwahati at 11:15 PM and takes about seven and a half hours to reach Naharlagun and the GHY NHLN VISTAD (12088), which leaves at 1:45 PM and takes roughly six hours to reach Naharlagun.
The journey from Naharlagun train station to the festival site takes four to six hours in a taxi, for which a single shared seat will cost you around Rs 550 (prices may vary). There are various options for travel within Ziro Valley including autos and shared cabs that provide shuttle service from the nearest town, Hapoli and the villages around it. You can easily hire one to travel to and from the venue. For your journey back to Guwahati from Naharlagun, know that the Donyi Polo Express departs at 7:50 PM and the GHY NHLN VISTAD (12087) at 6:45 AM.
The festival hosts approximately 10,000 attendees, say the organisers who recommend that you book your accommodation well in advance. Though the festival does not offer any accommodation, you can book rooms after browsing the third-party agency packages listed on the festival website, which include camping options.
There are only a handful of hotels in Ziro and they get booked out soon after the festival dates are announced. We suggest a homestay, which is not only relatively affordable but also a way of getting a taste of local life (literally – some homestays include meals). Check out social media groups for the festival to find a few.
Eating at the festival
Ziro gives you the rare opportunity to try the fare of the local tribal community, some of which isn’t for the fainthearted. Vegetarians might want to look away from the rows of fried frogs, grasshoppers and rats. Herbivores will have plenty to choose from, such as thalis and sandwiches, the organisers have assured us. Less adventurous carnivores, meanwhile, will be able to pick from a range of grilled and smoked pork and fish. The bars, meanwhile, serve beer and wine from rice and millets, the appearances of which belie their potency.
Essentials to pack
In Ziro Valley, the weather at the end of September/start of October alternates between nippy nights and rainy days, with temperatures ranging from 22 to 27 degrees Celsius. Note: it has rained during every edition of the festival so far. Rainwear and accessories such as a raincoat or a light waterproof jacket and gumboots are essentials. If you don’t fancy lugging a pair of gumboots, you can buy a pair from the local market for around Rs 600 (prices may vary).
Other items the organisers advise you to carry, given the festival’s somewhat remote location, are a portable charger, a headlamp or torch, insect repellent, medicines and a first-aid kit. This will be the first post-pandemic edition so take along masks, hand sanitiser and your COVID vaccination certificate.
The Ziro Festival of Music will take place in Ziro Valley, Arunachal Pradesh, from 29 September 2022 to 02 October 2022. Get details here.