Monday, December 29, 2008

Old Ziro - a little history

Come 2012 and Old Ziro township will be 60 years old. The neglected and worn out stone at Old Ziro has silently witnessed the changes coming to the place over these decades.

Since the first recorded visit in 1889 of an outsider to the Ziro valley by HM Crowe, a tea planter of Joyhing Tea Estate in Assam, there are records of sporadic similar visit to the area till India attained independence. Though a provisional base was established at Ziro when the now famous anthropologist Furer von Haimendorf was in the area in 1944, the official base was in Kimin at the foothills for a long time. The journey from Kimin to Ziro those days involved several days of perilous journey through pestilential forests. It was on March 24, 1952 that Ziro township was formally established by R. G. Menzies, Political Officer, and divisional headquarters of Subansiri Frontier shifted to Ziro. And on August 15, 1960, the headquarters was shifted to Hapoli.

Today, the part of Ziro called Hapoli is a town whereas Old Ziro still retains the status of a rural area. And true to its status, little has changed over the dedades, except for some concrete building standing like odds men out in the old Old Ziro.

The initial headquarters of the entire Subansiri Frontier Division, comprising of today's Upper Subansiri, Lower Subansiri, Kurung Kumey and Papum Pare districts has an airfield (constructed in 1951 also under the supervision of R. G. Menzies), the office of the Block Development Officer (BDO) and a Community Information Center (CIC) to reckon with.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Apatani Irrigation System

There are many finer practices of irrigation of agricultural fields among the Apatanis. One is the channel within the field to ensure retention of appropriate amounts of water throughout the year. These channels also prevent sudden drainage and subsequent washing away of fertile top soil from the field.

With the increased popularity of psciculture, more innovative methods are being used these days .

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Fencing Plants

It is not for nothing that the Apatanis are known to be good farmers. Gardening has been one of their expertise from time immemorial. Gardens are classified into two categories - balu which are near the houses, usually at the backyard and are the typical kitchen gardens; and yorlu, which are further away from the village. These gardens provided varieties of vegetable, notably beans, pumpkins, chillies, gian haman, potatoes and so on. It also served as the nurseries for millet.

One of the prohibiting factors of any kind of gardening had always been fencing, because cattle or wild animals were always a threat to them. The Apatanis solved this problem by using plants like sankhan melyan and tai belan as fencing materials.

A stroll around any of the several hillocks in the Ziro valley is a pleasure and a walk on a path between two neatly bound natural fencing is sheer ecstasy.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Water Management

A few days back, I met an avid traveler who had just been to Ziro and enthusiastically telling me how beautiful the place is. He had all praise for the agricultural system of the Apatanis. I was happy to meet one more person who appreciates the tribe and its customs. Then he started speaking about the ‘Keley’ river and remarked that the water there should be used for irrigation purpose!

“It is the water of that river which irrigates 90% of the rice paddy you saw,” I told him.

“How can that be?” he was incredulous. “That river bed is lower than the paddy fields.”

I then understood that he just had a glance at the paddy fields and the river, but not really looked at the irrigation system of the Apatanis. It also made me realize how really expert the Apatanis are in maximally utilizing the water resource in the area. The traditional irrigation channels (siigangs) are diverted from the main river at the traditional irrigation projects called bogos made of bamboo and wood.

Moreover, the perfect gradient of the irrigation channels – the siigangs – are something to be given a thought. Neither does the water in any of the siigangs flow too fast to cause damage, nor does it flow too slow to remain stagnant anywhere in its course.

Apart from irrigation, there are other areas of water management that is often not noticed. One is the traditional way of erosion protection using bamboo and wood. This was a laborious affair, as it had to be repaired every year, but it was quite effective. That is the reason the course of the ‘Keley’ river had not changed over all these years.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Heritage Lapang

Lapang and babo are the hallmark of the Apatanis. That made the Myoko festival very special. It is during the Myoko anyangs, which comes every three years, that the babos and lapangs are renewed.

In the days gone by, the lapangs were made out of huge trees. The remains of fallen trees on the ground made best lapangs. Bigger the tree, bigger could the lapangs be made. And prouder were the people of that clan.

Lapang is significant in many ways. One is the tuli - the posts. Each tuli represented a male child. If I have two male children, I would contribute at least three tulis - two for my children and one for myself. It was indeed a brilliant idea to involve everybody in the community works.

In the face of changing village scenario these days, there is one lapang which still retains its original form. The Hibu Lapang in Hong village. Other lapangs today have conrete supporting structures, sawn timber replacing the manually sculptured lapang, or overhead roof to protect the lapang from rain and sun. All these changes have been necessitated by dwindling manpower and decreasing values attached to the traditional institutions.

In this context, therefore, retaining a lapang in its original form speaks a lot. That is why the Hibu Lapang has been declared a Heritage Lapang.

What is still not clear, however, is what exactly a "Heritage Lapang" would mean. Just declaring a structure as having heritage value has little meaning. The Hibu clan who constructs and maintains the lapang need support. The lapangs needs to be promoted and given significance.

Any confusion does not make the significance of Hibu Lapang any less. If you were wondering how an original lapang looks like, visit Hong village.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

View from Paku Akhii Putu

We, as children, used to look up at Paku Akhii Putu and were sure that this was the highest mountain in the world that formed the northernmost boundary of earth. I particularly remember an evening when a wildfire had broke up at the hill and we were watching it burning from our riibii in the village.

Paku Akhii literally means 'pigeon's intestine'. But I wonder if it would better mean 'Pigeon's Breast' as the hill may be likened to a pigeon's breast. I could not find out why the hill got its name.

Whatever the reason for the name, it's a great view from the top. One can see the entire valley except the Hapoli township. The altitude at the top is about 6000 ft and it takes less than an hour to hike up there from Chabo at the foothill. Chabo is about a kilometer from Bopu at Lempia. One has the option of trekking through the rice paddy or the bamboo gardens of Koko. The hike up the hill itself is an experience worth undergoing. The chirping of the birds above and rustling leaves below add spice to the enchanting forests around.

At the top of Paku Akhii Putu, there are lots of trenches dug during 1962 Indo-China War. There is a big tree with magnificent branches underneath of which is said to be a favorite haunt of the deers. Wild fowls also abound here. There is a stream some minutes from the top on the other side. This is where the drinking water supply of Lempia, Ziro and Bulla originate.

Paku Akhii Putu is a perfect spot for overnight camping which is my next plan.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Changing Months, Changing Hues

June, 2007

July, 2007

August, 2007

September, 2007

December, 2007

February, 2008

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Games Children Play

It has been some years since I participated in the Dree festival. When I briefly sneaked into the Dree ground in Itanagar yesterday, pleasant memories came flooding in. There was a lovely display of the game the Apatani children of the yore played. Ah, no, it has not been very long time back. Not very long ago, children still played 'achie taker' - in which they competed with each other counting as many stars as possible. There was then the 'ilyo tatu' game in which they urged their friends to come out in the evening to play. The one displayed here is a combination of many evening games. I sometimes pity today's children who get bored watching televisions or playing video games.

Will those carefree days ever come back to Ziro?

Friday, July 4, 2008

A Happy Dree

Dree is a ritual as well as a true celebration. The ritual is to propitiate the Gods of Agriculture for a good crop during the year and the celebration is the harvesting of the first crop of the year – taku (cucumber). That’s the reason cucumber is traditionally distributed during Dree.

In the days before 1967 when the Dree was centralized at Nenchalya, young men and women took leave from their agricultural tasks during Dree ‘anyo’ period and used to go for leisurely trekking each of them with a taku that they enjoyed together. Till lately, even the participants in the central celebration of the festival could be seen going to the ground with taku.

The other aspect, often not realized by many, is that Dree is not an event complete in itself. It is a part of a series of ritual that start during the preparation of soil in February till the crops are almost ready for harvest in September. First, Kiidi – Mother Earth and Miido – Sky God is propitiated for a fertile soil and favorable weather. It is followed by Metii so that the germinating crops are protected from Pyodu Biinyi – the God of Famine. Then comes Dree to protect the tender plants from pests and Tamu to destroy them (the pests). Yapung – the Rain God is then appeased in September to protect the crops from hailstorms.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ziro, my Zimin Ziro!

As I was driving on the Old Ziro-Hapoli road, I expected some flooding of the rice paddies as it had been raining heavily the night before, but hordes of anglers lining the river rather surprised me. I immediately understood, however. The fishes so hopefully reared in the paddy fields had been flooded out and anybody could try his hand at getting some. Some fields were being flooded but I could not see any broken bunds as in the previous occasions like this as the river banks are all concrete and stone now. The breach this year was in one of the most unexpected places – the bridge over Tabyu kiile on the Rake Lembo.

Ziro was cut off suddenly on June 14. Many friends, who had come from Itanagar and other places were stranded. Some were happy at being stranded at their own homes for a change, but they realized the gravity of the situation soon enough. Many desperately tried to get out of Ziro – some by Pawan Hans which never came to the town except on 14th, and some walked for miles together after driving down some distance. I followd suit on 19th. We were more fortunate as we had to walk only four kilometers.

It was during this walk that I discovered why the services of BSNL at Ziro is so poor. The telephone cable, which was supposed to be underground decorates the Hoj road all along.

I knew that mobile service is not working at Ziro and even the services of the landlines are very poor. I was shocked to see the empty streets of Ziro when I returned on 25th. It was like a ghost town compared to the normal hustle and bustle of the market area. The petrol was costing a hundred rupees and diesel around sixty in the black market. Many vehicles were off-road. Food commodities were getting scarce. Many school hostels were on the verge of closing down. The local students in the hostels were being sent home.

This was not my dream of Zimin Ziro.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Abode of Buru

Inter-tribal conflict was commonplace those days. Once all the tribes surrounding the Ziro valley made a plan to exterminate the inhabitants of the valley. Accordingly on the appointed day, the warriors converged on the valley from all sides. When they reached the ridge, one of them looked down into the valley and found it already flooded.

“The flood has done our job,” he announced.

“Let us return to our villages and celebrate,” the other said.

So, the news went around the ridge and the warriors returned to their villages. The mists in the valley which till today makes the Ziro valley look like a lake had helped avoid a potentially bloody battle!

The place we know today as Ziro valley was the home of many animals including a prehistoric reptile locally called buru. When the Apatanis settled down in the Ziro valley, a conflict ensued. The last of the burus was killed by a talo, now known as myamya not very long ago. When the talo returned home after killing the buru, the owner of the talo was still busy pounding rice powder (yatang) to smear the talo. Enraged at not having been received properly after such heroic feat, the talo cut the child of the owner, who was sleeping in the house, into two. In revenge, the owner threw her pestle – hunyi, at the talo, breaking it. The talo with its wound, is preserved in Kalung village to this day.

Buru had captured the imagination of adventurers around the world. Just before India attained independence, Lord Mountbatten dispatched an expedition to locate the buru under the aegis of London Daily Mail, but the reptile remained hidden in the mists of legends. The expedition is recorded in Ralph Izzard’s “The Hunt for the Buru”. The book recalls in vivid detail the treks through hazardous swamplands filled with snakes and leeches, thumbnail-sized ticks and wild boar.

The video above is from Dusu Katu, 9.5 km from Hari village one of the ridges which gives an excellent view of Hapoli township, Siiro village and Maniipolyang on a clear day. It is, of course, a ‘lake’ in the morning.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Ziro - An Aerial View

Driving up the serpentine road from Kimin, one hardly expects so placid a plateau as Ziro is. Not so long ago, Ziro could be reached after seven days of trekking from Kimin through pestilential forests. Imagine the joy and satisfaction one would have had once they were looking down at the valley from the surrounding hills.

Yonder across the hills is the road to Kurung Kumey district. One can have a good view of Tadu Dobi, the legendary place of romance. The Ziro Putu, the landmark of the whole area stands prominently in the middle of the valley.

New ZPMs of Ziro-I

I was curious about the results of Panchayat election, the counting of which was taking place yesterday. I called a friend and found out the following result for Zilla Parishad Members:
Diibo- Bamin Siri (bt Michi Shalla)
Hari - Hage Shalla Yassung (bt Hage Tara Asha)
Hija - Nada Dumi bt (Dani Dumi)
Kalung-Reru - Nani Tani (bt Subu Kojee, Subu Lento and Kuru Tai)
Hong Nichii - Hibu Uma (bt Punyo Kathe)
Niiti - Tilling Dolley (bt Tilling Tadii)

Monday, June 2, 2008

Those Days!

Daminda is the hallmark of Apatani dances. Though this art form has been modified to a great extent to meet the changing tastes of the audiences, the dance still retains its original charm. This is one of the rare pictures taken during early forties.

Apart from hiirii, there is conspicuous lack of performing arts by male members of the community. The picture shown here looks like an enacted one, may be of ropi ritual.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


It is said that man and mithun were brothers. However, mithun was the lazy one and slept all day long while man toiled in the fields. All attempts to make the mithun work failed.
"You have to work, brother," man told the mithun.
"I don't feel like working. Let me take rest," the mithun said.
"If you don't work," man said, "will you eat grass?"
"I would eat grass rather than work," the lazy mithun retorted.
"In that case," man yelled at the mithun, exasperated, "We cannot live together. Go your own way."

The mithun realised the gravity of the situation, but still did not offer to work. He requested the man to let him live in the village, but man was adamant. "No way. You have to go away," he said.
"Where will I go, my brother?"
"You can go to the jungle as you wanted to eat grass!"
"I love you," the mithun said with tears in his eyes. "I cannot live without seeing you."

Man was touched, but was not ready to live with the mithun unless it worked. Seeing the man unmoved, mithun begged, "I will go to the forest, live there and eat grass. Can you please come to my place sometime to see me?"
"If I do that," the man said, "What will you do for me?"
"I will go to the places you cannot and even die for your cause."
Man agreed to this condition. Till today, he owns the mithun and goes to the jungle with salt to feed his estranged brother. In return, the mithun is sacrificed during festivals like Murung and Subu. They are sacrificed during other rituals as well.

On the occasion of Murung or Subu, the priest chants all day long telling the mithun, "We are sending you as a messenger to the other world where man cannot go. Don't hold me guilty since it was your own words. I am simply fulfilling the wishes you made in the days gone by."

No wonder the Apatanis consider the mithuns sacred and they are sacrificed only during very special occasions.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Higher Secondary School

Ziro Higher Secondary School, Ziro. This is the institute which has produced scores of people of high calibre making their contributions in vaious walks of life throughout the country today. This was the feeder school for the whole of ertwhile Subansiri area comprising of today's Upper Subansiri, Kurung Kumey, Lower Subansiri and Papum Pare. If anybody is maintaining a list of institutions with historic significance, this is one.

Sadly, the school infrastructures are falling apart. The performance of students also have fallen to abysmally low status, though occasional exceptional students have managed to keep up its reputation. The work culture of teachers and attitudes of the studentts need urgent review. On the other hand, the communities which have received so much from the school need to start considering some kind of reciprocal gesture.

The school compound remains magnificent inspite of alleged encroachments by owners of land surrounding it. The compound occupies the best hillock in the whole of Ziro Valley.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Dream Ziro

These are pictures of Circleville, a small unheard of village in Pendleton Country in West Virginia where I am putting up these few days. Walking these streets, my thoughts go back to the Apatani villages and the contrasts cannnot be more striking. It is not to say that one village is better than the other - but it makes one wonder, you know.

The similarity with the Apatani villages is that none of the houses in this village need to be locked when the owner goes out. Since everybody know each other, there is high degree of trust.

Did you notice the electric post? It is wooden. It striked me when I saw these wooden poles in Harrisonburgh near Washington DC in my first visit to US. These poles in the village is less striking, but gives a rural touch to the entire landscape.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Pine Grove

Myolyang, or more specifically, Tajang Myolyang is referred to as Pine Grove. It is known for the richness with which nature presents itself. Along with Ziro Putu, the place is one of the oldest places where the seeds of modernity in Apatani area was sown. The Border Roads Organization had settled down in the serene locale at the outskirts of Ziro. The establishment was much bigger in the sixties and early seventies when it expanded from Lyembe near Lempia village to Ringa near Kiile Pakho. In fact, many of the people had their glimpse of a movie in the Cinema Hall at Lyembe. It is said that most of the establishments was dismantled when the bulk of the manpower was shifted during 1962 Indo-China war.

Today, the Rai houses the residential quarters of the officers and the Officers’ Mess while other facilities like the CSD Canteen, Health Post, accommodations for other officials are at Myolyang. Skeletal remains at Ringa today accommodate some laborers.

The place, however, is one of the most picturesque spots at Ziro area even today. The pine trees and bamboo gardens there are one of the healthiest and most well-maintained in the entire area.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Deputy Commissioner's Bangalow

The Deputy Commissioner's official bangalow at Ziro is located at one of the best sites in the area. Sitting atop a small hill, one can have an excellent view of the Higher Secondary School in the north and the entire Hapoli Bazar and the General Ground in the south.

The bangalow has seen scores of officers who came to occupy this house and rule the Subansiri area. It may be recalled that the present Upper Subansiri, Kurung Kumey and Papum Pare districts have all been carved out of Subansiri district, of which Ziro was the headquarter.

The house has undergone lots of modifications, hosted different types of officers and witnessed rapid changes around it, but still retains the dignity it deserves.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Pengu Miilyobo

The tradition of conflict dates back to time immemorial. When a person with special attributes is defeated in such conflicts, history is made. There was such a person of high status named Pengu Miilyobo who lived in Pengu in the Ziro valley. There were others with similar status like Siilaň Santii, Dilaň Taribo, Asaň Korlaň and Aha Korlaň who made constant plans to eliminate him. Aha Korlaň first tried to demolish Pengu Miilyobo, but could not budge him. After several such attempts it was Asaň Korlaň who finally came with storm, lightning and thunders and destroyed Pengu Miilyobo.

Pengu Miilyobo fell, but his remains can still be seen in various locations in Apatani plateau. The head – adiň and chest – habyaň are at Supyu, about a kilometer north-west of Lempia village. The picture above is the head and the one below is the chest.

Piidiň or the hairknot can be seen at Khogyo at Hong village.

And this is Pengu Miilyobo's breast or anyiň.

The female reproductive organ of Pengu Miilyobo can be seen at the paddy fields of Gano at Bamin village. It is called Gano Pedebo.

Likewise, Gano Yidebo or the male reproductive organ is up in the hills at Gano. (Could this be the original Shiva Linga?)

(Apologies for the picture quality)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Ensuring Sustenance

Spring used to be the time for the children to go around the bamboo gardens and nearby jungles, collecting tree saplings. These saplings were planted in the barren areas. This has been one of the most important traditional forestry practices of the Apatanis. The practice, sadly, is fast disappearing.

However, a groups of schoolchildren are forming themselves into what they call Future Clubs and taking steps to preserve the environment in which we all live. These pictures are of Future Club, Siiro, planting trees in the Siiro School compound.

One only wish people take notice of such constructive initiatives and come forward to lend a helping hand.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Spring in Ziro Valley

Spring is a special season all over the world. It is especially special at Ziro valley. Takuň appu, sembo appu, piita appu. And now other flowers as those of pears and apples. Of the flowers that bloom at this time of the year in the jungle – wow! Sanji appu and neha appu still are the most significant ones (look out for a posting on wild flowers of Ziro).

Spring at Ziro cannot be missed by anybody. Just look at Lempia village while walking up the Laňkhiiň lembo. Red colored sembo appu, white colored piita appu and pink colored takuň appu adorn the village

Everywhere you look, there are colors. Hija village looks very bright from the main road. So do Michi Bamin and Hari villages. Even the sacred groves – the raňtiis are colorful. This is Tajang raňtii.

A view from Sululya at Old Ziro:

Ziro Putu is rimmed with white:

Outskirts of the villages are the best places to enjoy the glory of nature these days. This is Biirii, looking out from Hanoko:

Wondered how the takuň appu looks? Here it is:

Most winter, Ziro valley remains hidden in fog and mist. Though the vegetation remains evergreen, even the landscape wears a cold look. At such backdrop, sudden burst of color with the advent of Myoko piilo has special significance for the local people. One wishes spring comes every month!