Travel through Dawn lit Mountains and Tribes of Arunachal Pradesh



We have yet another incredible journey with a trip to the most remote areas of the North East India, visiting tribal people and villages in the region so far, nearly inaccessible, which has always been a meeting place for many communities, cultures and religions. Here are Southeast Asian populations, whose costumes remained unchanged over time and are unwilling to adapt to the style of contemporary life with fearsome tribe of headhunters.

Arunachal Pradesh is the land of mountains bathed by the rising sun, because due to its geographical location is the first in India to greet the dawn. Arunachal Pradesh is land of Apatani, Galo and Adi Minyong, tribal groups of Tibeto-Burmese origin with colorful traditional costumes, of which we visit the main villages and where we finish our journey between strangers and tribal groups of the Northeast.

Although belonging geographically to India, they present a mixture of somatic traits related to Mongolian and Tibeto-Burmese strain, with almond eyes and fair complexion. They still live a way of life in close relationship with the natural elements in one of the last havens in Asia, between green mountains full of forests and bamboo, terraces planted with rice kissed by the sun and the long Himalayan tributaries of the Brahmaputra River.

From an ethnic point of view and cultures in the area, we are faced with an equally complex and intriguing scenario. In other words, if we dared a kind of transposition from the plane of biology and anthropology to human sciences, we would find a region also not without considerable surprises.

After our visit to Kaziranga National Park and Majuli we arrive at Dibrugarh in upper Assam, during the evening, we visit a local market.

In the morning, we take the ferry and sail across the mighty Brahmaputra River. We arrive at Pasighat and finally we go in the valley of Arunachal Pradesh. We depart for Along along a scenic road along the Syiam River, a tributary of the Brahmaputra, while on the other side are the towering Himalayan peaks, crossing several suspension bridges over the whirling tributaries of the upper side of the Brahmaputra, as we walk through the gorge on Soangam Bridge, a Tibetan bamboo bridge, in the middle in a luxuriant nature, deep canyons, high mountains with peaks covered with snow, thousands of flower species including over 500 rare varieties of orchids. Surely the scenic point of view is the most spectacular of the entire trip.

Along the way we stop in a village of the Adi tribe at Minyong. We are in the Adi Minyong territory, with the ethnicity of the characters and costumes similar to cousins Adi-galong. They are of small stature, and as such considered the Asian equivalent of the African pygmies.

They wear primitive thongs in green fabric and are particularly experienced in construction with bamboo material which is used to create several suspension bridges on Siyam and Siang rivers. In the faces of the people we encounter ever more apparent ethnic differences that are mixed in this extreme northeastern territory of India with colorful tribal costumes, hairstyles and jewelry distinguish the different ethnic groups.

In the same area also lives the ethnic group of the Hill Miri. It conducts a social and economic life similar to that of the Nishi tribe, who has good relations with the people of the plains of Assam, with which it trades. Always like Nishi, men wear bamboo helmets called bopar, while the hair is instead gathered on the forehead with pins, and use a bearskin flap. The woman's dress is typically a long blouse that is wrapped to the waist as a sort of colored stole, with a multi-strand necklace of multicolored vegetable seeds. The disk-shaped earrings are metal.

The Hill Miri are dedicated to agriculture, focusing mainly millet and rice crops, which distill a great alcohol, fter, very pleasing to the population. The wine flows abundant in special occasions, such as music festivals and dances, which people are very fond of, and especially during the Boori Boot, the main celebration held in February.

They are no longer dhabas or restaurants with gastronomic specialties, nor the comfort of Assam, but many small villages where stopping to have a snack, we can closely observe the simple rural life of the local people. This is the land of Nyishi, whose villages are built on cliffs. Passing the hanging rope bridge, walking up a steep path we reach someone as authentic, as Yoizath, with beautiful wooden huts, rope and straw, home to the last.



The elders still wear the typical hat-shaped bamboo helmet surmounted by the beak of the hornbill and peacock feathers or hornbill, and have their hair knotted forehead, stopped with brass pins. Like the Apatani, they use to keep shoulder a machete (dao) and a knife (ryukchak) in a bamboo sheath, sometimes covered with a bearskin tape. Their armament consists of a lance, a large sword and a bow with poisonous arrows.

They wear cotton dress shirts with blue and red stripes with a cotton wool coat or fixed around the throat and shoulders, often accompanied by strings of beads of various sizes and colors, which indicate the social status of the wearer. Tattoos are not the norm among Nyishi, but women bring particular the very large silver earrings, necklaces with multicolored beads, chains and brass bells, heavy bracelets of various metals.

Generally they wear a cloak that covers the body from the armpits to mid-calf, tied at the waist with a ribbon. The hair is parted in the middle and are twisted into a bun just above the nape of the neck. Their animistic faith is shown more in Nyokum, a festival commemorating the ancestors giving thanks for the harvest of the field, with religious rituals which coincide with the lunar phases and cycles of agriculture.

In the afternoon we reach Along. Today the festivities begin for Mopin Festival. In the evening, we enjoy a meal in a local village, while some of the villagers welcome us with a traditional dance. Next morning provides the views of Along and we go around to watch the festivities of Mopin Festival, an annual event celebrated by the tribes in the Adi Galongs of Along, Basar and Bame.

The people believe that the ritual celebration contributes to the welfare and prosperity of the individuals and to the whole village. So they move away evil spirits and attract the benevolence of the God of Universal Happiness. The villages are full of singing and dancing, rhythmic music and joyful launch of rice powder between one group and another.

The Mopin Festival plays an important role in the scenario of cultural galong. Everyone wear traditional costumes and organize popir dance, led by expert women. There forms two circles of dancers, where the first sing following the canons of tradition, and the other dance, giving rhythm to the melodies of the choir. In the afternoon we visit some villages in the surrounding area and we try the thrill of transfer from one village to another on a rope bridge made of bamboo, hanging over the abyss.

We divert from Along to the valley of Mechuka and Miao to the border with Tibet, a Shangri-La not yet touched by tourism. As everywhere in Arunachal Pradesh, the locals are very friendly and accommodating. The journey continues towards Daporijo through a dense jungle that opens up fantastic views of the snow-capped peaks.

We depart to Daporijo. In the valley of the river Kamla and the neighborhood south of Daporijo, an area covered by dense jungles and bamboo forests, live the Adi Galong. In the afternoon we visit a tribal villages of Adi galong, which are divided into various clans that wear different costumes. They are divided into various clans that wear different costumes. The men wear red jackets, woven bamboo hat with the brim pointed, flat backpack always woven bamboo, and the machete slung in a bamboo sheath. Women exhibit copper and silver jewelry, her hair in two long braids.

They build villages on the hillsides with huts on stilts and cultivate the surrounding land with rice, millet, sweet potatoes, tobacco and pepper. Very special rituals related to marriage, with various types of ceremonies are held, depending on the wealth of the couple. They worship the spirits, good and bad, and worship the sun and moon gods. In the evening, we were greeted by music and dancing, as were dinner guests of a village.

As there is no tourist accommodation in the area, we stay at the house of a village chief who, according to Adi-gallong tradition, offers her home to those who are in transit. We socialize with the family clan, also make friends with the children of the small village, enjoy simple and genuine hospitality around the fire pit at the home center, with a hand in the preparation of dinner.

We depart to Ziro. The largest town in the area is Ziro, located in the Apatani Valley, which takes its name from the neighboring indigenous settlements along the river Kele (Tabyu Kiile). From here depart the paths towards the area of Kurung Kumey to the sweetest Himalayan foothills settlement of Koloriang surrounded by Hamching reliefs and Gilo Domcho, but continuing in north-west leading to the massive Nyegyi Kangsang, one of the major Himalayan peaks still on the border between China and India.



The Tagins and Hill Miris are the most important tribes of the area, today better known as Nyishis. Their costumes abound of silver ornaments and original hairstyles and we visit the tribal villages along the way. Tagins are people with a warrior tradition living in pile-dwelling houses to defend themselves from monsoon rains and, above all, from the bears and the tigers, while retaining the use of ancient traditional medicine, which relies on herbal prevention and treatment of diseases.

In the afternoon we visit a village to see the Apatani Myoko festival. We visit the villages of Hong, Hari, Bamin to immerse ourselves in this great festival of Apatani tribes, who founded this region. This festival is celebrated in March of each year, where they perform rituals that guarantee fertility. Most of the Apatani are still animists. As such, they believe that the gods and goddesses will be placated with the offer and the sacrifice of animals, which will bless the community.

The sacrificial cult, in fact, is one of the most rooted in Apatani culture, and one of its greatest expressions can be observed during the Myoko Festival which is celebrated every year in the spring, although the exact start date is determined by the shaman after consulting the oracles.



Everywhere in the streets fly shamanic piles with fringes and hanging flags, signifying the animistic faith of the people, who are extremely hospitable and invite outsiders to visit their homes, offering rice, alcohol and tea. On the eve of the day of the great sacrifice of pigs on the main day of Myoko in the afternoon begins the opening procession. A long spontaneous march of people, each with a local palm branch in his hand, moves slowly around some huts, one for each family clan, singing and praying the Miji, a collection of religious songs.

Inside the shaman dress with Jilan, the traditional ceremonial dress, and big earrings lobes with some assistants continues repeating the prayers until the time of the sacrifice of pigs or chickens. The sacrifice of animals are an important part of the festival, as well as the rituals performed by the village shaman or priest. The following night, the chosen pig is gutted alive with its heart, still beating, and is examined by the shaman and his assistants to determine whether the future will be favorable for the village.

It is believed that on this day the gods and goddesses will bless the place, wishing a bountiful harvest of rice. Meanwhile, from 2 am until sunrise, in the courtyards of the houses of the rich Apatani are held private parties, with pigs, mithuns, tied to a pole by the legs, and chickens hung upside down at the sacred tree branches. They are sacrificed following the same ritual by the shaman designated by each family group.

Married women dress in elegant ceremonial clothing, light in color and with the family jewels, including large hard stone necklaces sprinkle rice flour and beer over the dozens of pigs lying on the ground, offering cakes and rice liquors to all present. Once the main priest of Myoko has finished singing his prayers, assistants select the pigs and other animals and gut ripping them out of the beating hearts and bowels while they are still alive.

Other animals are brought into the houses and at the same sacrificed by the priests, as they draw the auspices examining the beating heart, the liver, the bowels, and in the case of chickens, even the eggs yolk. Even a small cyst can be considered inauspicious sign, so often another expert is used for the auspices. Various animal cuts are then cooked and offered to friends and family to spread the blessings, while outside older Apatani ladies perform some of their traditional dances.

We have a full day excursion to Ziro and the tribal village of Apatani. We are at the center of one of the most interesting tribal areas of Arunachal Pradesh in a vast plateau topped by coniferous forests that climb up the mountain slopes is the reign of the Apatani tribe with very unique costumes.

The name probably derives from Abotani, the followers of Donyi-Polo, a faith that venerates the Sun (Ayo Danyi) and the Moon (Atoh Piilo). Abotani is revered as the only ancestor of all Apatanis, and of the other tribes in the neighboring regions. When a misfortune happens, the Apatanis believe that it was caused by evil spirits, and therefore they try to appease them by sacrificing chickens, cows and other domestic animals.

Myoko, the festival of friendship and prosperity, is celebrated grandly throughout the month of March every year and Murung in January. The Dree is celebrated in July, with prayers for a good harvest and for the prosperity of all mankind. Pakhu-Itu, Daminda, Pree dancing are the main cultural activities held at the Dree festival.

The Apatani live in houses built on high wooden stilts with bamboo walls and floors. It is a purely agricultural community, still without the use of farm animals or machines, who developed a sophisticated irrigation system of fields. Their social structure is based on classes divided into nobles and slaves.

The elderly men still have their long hair in a high chignon called locally of piiding, using a brass stick or piiding khotu, which measures about 30 centimeters and is inserted horizontally, then tattoo the face and they shoulder a long knife behind a bamboo braided sheath. They too, like women, piercing the earlobes with large pieces of carved bamboo called Yaru Hukho. Above the main holes, they have two or three smaller holes to wear earrings, consisting of brass rings or Ruttiñ Yarangs.



Women also use ritual tattoos with blue lines from the forehead to the tip of the nose and five vertical stripes under the lower lip in the chin, which are called Tiippe and insert blacks wooden discs to the nostrils and use reamers in the nose called hullo yaping, although the custom has been in decline in recent years and remained only among older women.

Among the legends that can explain these practices is one according to which, in the distant past, to avoid the frequent enemy raids of neighboring tribes especially the Nyishi in order to kidnap the most beautiful women of the village, the Apatani leader had decided to poke the noses to make them less desirable. In making the tattoo, the blood oozing from the perforated leather is applied a solution, made by mixing the black soot of the pots with boiled rice water.

After some time, when the solution dries, the wound is applied for a few days in a Hufi, a mixture of warm oil and pig blood, which helps to heal first and then to turn it into a tattoo. The women also cover their braids rolled up into a ball (Dillin) on top of the head, where it can be horizontally inserted a brass skewer (adin akh).

They are good farmers and practice the terrace cultivation. The population is devoted to farming and the rice fields are in the plains, with large irrigated plots as needed, as in terraces on the sides of the hills. The local economy uses the abundant water for an intelligent fish farming system. The village council is known as the Bulyang. There are three categories of Bulyang called Akha Bulyang, Bulma Yapa and Ajang Bulyang.

One of his oral account records on their migration from the north end of the areas of Subansiri and Siang in Arunachal Pradesh, along the rivers Kurung and Kiimey. These oral records are usually presented in the form of short stories, such as miji and migung. These records, on many occasions, are supported by landmarks that still exist in the migratory paths of the Apatanis. In the small village of Yangtze, in the district of Kurung Kumey, for example, stands a stone near which the Apatanis organized a jumping competition on their way to today's habitat. These oral records, therefore, have substance.

The miji is a collection of religious chants performed by priests who preside at the sacrifices of mithuns or domesticated bulls, cows, chickens and pigs during various rituals. A religious song, which can last from ten minutes to twelve hours, accompanies all these rituals, which describe the previous interactions with the spirits or gods. Known locally as wui, its content usually explains the origin of the myths. Already migung is more realistic and is narrated in prose, and the stories narrated in it explain the origins of the Apatani people.

These popular tales include legendary sites, as well as recent events. Both ritual chants and prose narratives speak of Abotani , who is regarded as the original ancestor of the Apatanis and other tribes in the central region of Arunachal Pradesh. These tribes form the Tani group, comprising the Apatani, nyishis, sulungs or puroiks, miris, tagins, addis and mishmi people.

Close to Pasighat, the long and spectacular bridge Sissen, made of bamboo, announces a series of switchbacks down the approach to the plains and the route conclusion in Arunachal. A Masabohi Hut, muddy port of embarkation for the barge crossing the Brahmaputra and leads to Bodi Bill Hut, the wait turns into a review of hitherto encountered ethnic groups, here on the banks gather and mingle intent to their trades.

We continue for Roing, where you visit a Idu Mishmi shaman. Finally we arrive in Tezu to visit the Digaru Mishmi. The people of Mishmi tribe always tells one story. At the beginning of its origins, the man was not wearing any clothes because he could not make a cloth. Until one day the god Matai sought someone to teach weaving and found the young Hambrumai who quickly learned that art.

She was so good that she could do any design with the stuff, so, when he went to the river, she drew perfectly those circles that are created on the surface of the water, and when she went into the forest could weave the cloth as the intertwining of the branches of the trees and gave everything beautiful nature with its flowers and its leaves.

Hambrumai was a beautiful girl, who every man wanted to marry. One day the porcupine Hairum tried to steal the beautiful cloth woven by her, but upon entering the cave where she lived, the small animal struck a rock that fall on the frame and was reduced in many parts. Some fell into the water and the river brought them to the valley. Anyone who had a part learnt to weave looms. The drawings created by Hambrumai were like butterflies. Even today the Mishmi girls weave fabrics drawing butterfly wings.

The Mishmis are a very jovial tribes. Idus, Digarus, Mijus are the three broad categories of Mishmi tribal communities. The Mishmis live on agriculture and trade in timber and still maintaining the ancient traditions, especially that of weaving, where women show great skill in preparing artifacts that have found in their market.

We go now among the breathtaking cliffs of Tirap passing through Wakro, in the territories Wanchos and Nocte, to participate in Khonsa, the celebrations of Chalo Loku Festival, ancient ritual of the local tribes linked to the rural world. On the way we visit the village of Empong, home to tribal group of Khampti and there is also a Buddhist temple. The Khampti ethnicity is one of the main groups of the Lohit region, they are Theravada Buddhist religion, have their own writing, a social organization centered on the clan structure and cultivate mainly rice.

In Wakro is the tribal villages of Mishmi called Kanjan, Pukhuri and Thomba. The tribes of Tibeto-Burmese Mishmi is divided into several distinct subgroups, animists and governed by village councils that have authority over all disputes. The costumes reflect a fine artistic sense and are also very characteristic of their silver jewelry. The use of opium by men and women is widespread.

It is here that we could say the sun rises in India, being the point geographically to the east of the Indian territory. Aside from the slope of Myanmar, on the now degrading Himalayan ridge, Mount Komdi also called Miri Pamdi is one of the most remarkable places.

From a cultural-historical point of view is the so-called Parashuram Kund not far from the town of Tezu, the place where, according to legend, Parashuram, the epic hero, after a great slaughter of the enemy washed his hands to purify his blood here. A temple in the jungle, therefore is a place of pilgrimage today overlooking a steep descent to the river gorge.

The Nocte belong to Northern Naga group along with Tangsa, Tutsa, Wanchos and Lower Konyak. The Nocte live mainly in the district of Tirap. Each village is divided into Sums or clan districts. Each sum has its own morung, a dormitory house for the young warriors. Nocte is divided into lowang, the chief and his clan and the common people.

The shaman holds a significant position in Nocte society. In some villages are still collections of skulls of slain enemies, as well as the ancient funeral ritual is still practiced. The Nocte are famous salt traders, collecting from remote rivers. Many villages scattered along the Patkai Bum in Myanmar are Hashik, known during the British colonial period as Kuwa, who have always claimed a kinship with Nocte of Laju (Tirap). Their villages are different from those of other Nocte communities, highlighting a cultural similarity with those of Wanchos.

As an example, figures similar to the yeti, that here takes different names like the epom, yepam, wild man or more, such as the ban jhankri, buru, nyalmo, bokshi or apparitions, monsters, witches, initiatory spirits, are nothing more than expressions of this subtle world of animated nature that only through the eyes of the local shamans acquire their function and coherent meaning.

These entities in turn in precise religious geography of the region which is formed by hills, rocks, waterfalls, snow-capped peaks, unreachable glaciers are the sacred heights. Each of these mountains is an abode of spirits, deities, protectors of the ancestors of the villages that cling to their slopes. The axial symbolism of each mountain in the Himalayas is at least obvious.

Each of them is a center of the world, a door between the dimensions for those who know how to pass, and the place of origin. Each mountain has its history, its legend, its cosmogonic and cosmological myths. For this reason the Himalayan indigenous peoples have such a close relationship with its mountains. It is a kind of double ancestry, as they are both the place of the creation and the land of the fathers.

The wind roar is steeped in the silence of the high mountain passes, at times interrupted by the sound of temple bells. The deep mantra of the monks, the smell of tea, convulsive tremor of shamans during the possession rites, the smell of the blood of the sacrificial victims and the smile of the people, the grip of frost, the simplicity of a life of nothing amid a relentless and wonderful nature.

Many are the memories, the feelings that run. So much so that sometimes they confuse one another by almost forget the good fortune to have been able to work, crossing it several times, in the most remote regions of the eastern Himalayas of Arunachal Pradesh. A wild and uncontaminated territory that forms the northwestern border with China. Taking into consideration the local flora and fauna, we will observe that this region is one of the most biologically rich areas of the world, a global biodiversity reserves.

Very few places on earth can match the events of his wonderful nature that is expressed through a diverse variety of plants and animals. And besides, the origin of many of the wonders of the eastern Himalayas would seem to be its curious genesis. As the large rocky amphitheater, which forms the roof of Asia, guests fact inside territories often hostile and inhospitable, but here you can meet absolutely unique species, now considered icons of Asia.

The jungles of the eastern Himalayas altitude fact have a floristic diversity really interesting. Apart from trees, here you will find a large variety of types of orchids, medicinal plants, ferns, bamboo, shrubs, a large number of wild varieties of the common cultivated plants, etc. The orchid, being a typical flower of the jungle, has a perfect habitat, so much so that the area there are many government laboratories for the study of this plant, where we produce couplings, junctions and are cataloged species not yet known.

With more than five hundred classified species, orchids could almost be the emblem of the region, with their attractive and unique blooms. In addition to these there are more than fifty species of rhododendron, twenty species of Hedychium , fifteen species of oak, more than sixty different varieties of cane and bamboo, as well as a large number of medicinal and aromatic plants.

Even the floral diversity in the state of Arunachal Pradesh can perhaps be considered second only to regions like Sumatra in Indonesia or some parts of Brazil, Borneo or Papua New Guinea.



Arunachal Pradesh Travel Tips

For entry in Arunachal Pradesh you must obtain a special permit.

This trip requires a great sense of adaptation. The accommodations in a hotel or guesthouse are very low compared to the rest of India. Sometimes the cleanliness leaves to be desired, the food are very limited and there are many hours of journey, on rough roads.

Pasighat is the main eastern city of Arunachal Pradesh. After it, for tourists there are only the valley of Tüting and Namdapha National Park. The main access to Siang territory is the Pasighat town, which although located in the plains is rather close to the Daying Ering Wildlife Sanctuary and Mouling National Park towards the Abor Hills. Further north, following the course of the Brahmaputra rises another of the major Himalayan peaks, of the Namcha Barwa.

This is incredibly rugged and sparsely visited where besides the presence of the local indigenous people, the Tibetan tradition is to find one of the holiest beyul or secret places that guard the terma, the hidden treasures of Buddhist knowledge. The area has remained virtually unexplored. When you consider that part of the terrain is so hidden, and would in fact not even be photographed by satellite, you could then consider the area as one of the last unexplored in the planet, and whose secret is now known only to local mountain populations.

The district Upper Dibang Valley is a picturesque district with its capital in Anini.

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