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. We travel to Arunachal Pradesh, the land of mountains bathed by the rising sun. We visit tribal people and villages in the nearly inaccessible terrains.

It has always been a meeting place for many communities, cultures, and religions. Here are Southeast Asian populations with colorful traditional costumes, which remained unchanged over time. These fearsome tribes of headhunters are unwilling to adapt to the style of contemporary life. Arunachal Pradesh is the land of Apatani, Galo and Adi Minyong.

The tribal groups present a mixture of somatic traits related to Mongolian and Tibetan-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. They stay between green mountains in the bamboo forests. The mountain terraces are planted with rice kissed by the sun and fed by the long Himalayan tributaries of the Brahmaputra River.



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 travel to the valley of Arunachal Pradesh. Close to Pasighat is the long and spectacular Sissen bridge, made of bamboo. It announces a series of switchbacks down the approach to the plains and the route to Arunachal.

A Masabohi Hut is a muddy port of embarkation for the barge that crosses the Brahmaputra and leads to Bodi Bill Hut. The wait turns into a review of hitherto encountered ethnic groups. They gather on the banks with the intent to trade produces.

We depart for Along on a scenic road along the Syiam River, a tributary of the Brahmaputra. There are no longer Dhabas or restaurants with gastronomic specialties, nor the comfort of Assam. In many small villages, we stop to have a snack, from where we can closely observe the simple rural life of the local people.

While on the other side are the towering Himalayan peaks, we cross several suspension bridges over the whirling tributaries of the upper side of the Brahmaputra. We walk through the gorge on Soangam Bridge, a Tibetan bamboo bridge. In the middle is a luxuriant nature with deep canyons, high mountains with peaks covered with snow. There are thousands of flower species including over 500 rare varieties of orchids.

Along the way, we stop in a village of the Adi tribe at Minyong. In the Adi Minyong territory, the people are of short stature. And as such, they are considered the Asian equivalent of the African pygmies. They are particularly experienced in construction with bamboo material which is used to create several suspension bridges on Siyam and Siang rivers.

The people dress in colorful tribal costumes in primitive thongs made of green fabric. Their hairstyles and jewelry distinguish them from 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. They keep good relations with the people of the plains of Assam, with which it trades.

Like the Nishi, men wear bamboo helmets called Bopar. 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 around the waist as a sort of colored stole. They wear a multi-strand necklace of multicolored vegetable seeds and metallic disk-shaped earrings.

The Hill Miri is dedicated to agriculture, focusing mainly millet and rice crops. They distil great homemade beer. The wine flows abundantly 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.

We cross to the land of Nyishi, whose villages are built on cliffs. Passing the hanging rope bridge, we walk up a steep path. We reach someone as authentic, as Yoizath, with beautiful wooden huts made of rope and straw.



The elders still wear the typical hat-shaped bamboo helmet surmounted by the beak of the hornbill and peacock or hornbill feathers. They have their hair knotted to the forehead, stopped with brass pins. Like the Apatani, they keep a machete (dao) in the shoulder. They also carry a knife (ryukchak) in a bamboo sheath, sometimes covered with a bearskin tape. Their armament also 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. These are 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. Women wear 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 is twisted into a bun just above the nape of the neck. Their animistic faith is shown during Nyokum festival commemorating the ancestors. It is also a thanksgiving festival for the harvest of the field. The religious rituals coincide with the lunar phases and cycles of agriculture.

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

The people believe that the ritual celebration contributes to the welfare and prosperity of the individuals and to the whole village. It moves away evil spirits and attracts 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 form two circles of dancers. The first sing hymns following the canons of tradition, and the other dances to the melodies of the choir. In the afternoon we visit some villages in the surrounding area. We try the thrill of transfer from one village to another on a rope bridge made of bamboo, hanging over the abyss.

We travel from Along to the valley of Mechuka and Miao near 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.

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

They build villages on the hillsides with huts on stilts. They 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 we were the dinner guests of a village.

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

Next day we depart to Ziro, the largest town in the area, located in the Apatani Valley. It 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. They are surrounded by Hamching reliefs and Gilo Domcho. We continue in the northwest to the massive Nyegyi Kangsang, one of the major Himalayan peaks in 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. We visit the tribal villages along the way. Tagins are people with a warrior tradition. They live in pile-dwelling houses to defend themselves from monsoon rains and, above all, from the bears and the tigers. They retain the use of ancient traditional medicine and 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. People 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 will bless the community.

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



Everywhere in the streets fly shamanic piles with fringes and hanging flags. It signifies the animistic faith of the people, who are extremely hospitable and invite outsiders to visit their homes. They offer rice, beer, 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 spontaneous march of people, each with a local palm branch in his hand, moves slowly around some huts. They sing and pray the Miji.

The miji is a collection of religious chants performed by priests who preside at the sacrifices of Mithun's 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. It describes the previous interactions with the spirits or gods. Known locally as wui, its content usually explains the origin of the myths.

Jilan, wearing the traditional ceremonial shaman dress and big earrings lobes continues repeating the prayers with some assistants until the time of the sacrifice of pigs or chickens. The sacrifice of animals is 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 still beating heart.It 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 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. The pigs and mithuns are tied to a pole by the legs, and chickens are 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. They also wear large hard stone necklaces. They sprinkle rice flour and beer over the dozens of pigs lying on the ground, offering cakes and rice beers to all present. Once the main priest of Myoko has finished singing his prayers, assistants select the pigs and other animals. They rip out the beating hearts and bowels while they are still alive.

Other animals are brought into the houses and are sacrificed by the priests. They draw the auspices examining the beating heart, the liver, the bowels, and in the case of chickens, even the egg yolk. Even a small cyst can be considered inauspicious sign, so often another is used for the auspices. Various animal cuts are then cooked and offered to friends and family to spread the blessings. 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. Located in a vast plateau topped by coniferous forests that climb up the mountain slopes, it is the reign of the Apatani tribe. They also wear 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. Therefore they try to appease them by sacrificing chickens, cows, and other domestic animals.

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

The elderly men have their long hair in a high chignon locally called as piiding, using a brass stick. The piiding khotu measures about 30 centimeters and is inserted horizontally. They tattoo the face and carry a long knife behind a bamboo braided sheath. They too, like women, pierce 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 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. They insert blacks wooden discs in the nostrils and use reamers in the nose called hullo yaping, although the custom has been in decline in recent years. It remains only among older women.

There are many legends that can explain these practices. According to one, in the distant past, an Apatani leader had decided to poke the noses to make them less desirable to the neighboring tribes, especially the Nyishi who would kidnap the most beautiful women of the village. In making the perforated leather tattoo, a solution made by mixing the black soot to the pots with boiled rice water is applied to the blood oozing from the nose.

After some time, when the solution dries, Hufi, a mixture of warm oil and pig blood is applied to the wound for a few days. It 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 its oral account records on their migration from the north end of the areas of Subansiri and Siang in Arunachal Pradesh through the rivers Kurung and Kiimey. These oral records are usually presented in the form of short stories, such as miji and migung. The migung is more realistic and is narrated in prose, and the stories narrated in it explain the origins of the Apatani people.

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.

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.

We continue to Roing, where we visit an 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 when 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 she 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 she could weave the cloth as the intertwining of the branches of the trees. She gave everything from 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 to many parts. Some fell into the water and the river brought them to the valley. Anyone who had a part learned to weave looms. The drawings created by Hambrumai were like butterflies. Even today the Mishmi girls weave fabrics drawing butterfly wings.

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

We go now among the breathtaking cliffs of Tirap passing through Wakro, in the Wanchos and Nocte territories. We participate in Khonsa, the celebrations of Chalo Loku Festival. It is an ancient ritual of the local tribes linked to the rural world. On the way, we visit the village of Empong, the home to tribal group of Khampti. There is also a Buddhist temple. The Khampti ethnicity is one of the main groups of the Lohit region. They practice Theravada Buddhist religion. They have their own writing and a social organization centered on the clan structure. They 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. They are 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 there is the so-called Parashuram Kund not far from the town of Tezu. It is the place where, according to legend, Parashuram slaughtered his mother and washed his hands here. A temple in the jungle 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 there are still collections of skulls of slain enemies. The ancient funeral ritual is still practiced here. The Nocte is famous for trading salt after collecting it from remote rivers. Many villages scattered along the Patkai Bum in Myanmar are Hashik. It was known during the British colonial period as Kuwa. They who have always claimed a kinship with Nocte of Laju (Tirap). Their villages are different from those of other Nocte communities. They highlight a cultural similarity with those of Wanchos.

As an example, figures similar to the yeti, here takes different names like the epom, yepam, wild man or more, such as the ban jhankri, buru, nyalmo, bokshi. These 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, are present in hills, rocks, waterfalls, snow-capped peaks, unreachable glaciers, which are considered 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 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 people 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, which at times is interrupted by the sound of temple bells. The hills roar with 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 and the feelings that run. 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, people live inside hostile and inhospitable territories. But here you can meet the icons of Asia. Here you will find a large variety of types of orchids, medicinal plants, ferns, bamboo, shrubs, a large number of wild varieties of the commonly cultivated plants.

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 into 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. The food is 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.