Of all the places on my Holiday Scout tour, I have to say I was looking forward to meeting the Apatani tribe in Ziro Valley the most. It’s probably the top tourist place in Arunachal Pradesh, and is close to becoming a UNESCO Heritage Site, but it still receives very few visitors and you’ll most likely only see a handful while you are there.
There isn’t so much a “guide to Ziro Valley” because its so small.
You are WAY better off to go with a tour group like we did, or you might find that the tribals go inside when you come by. They don’t mind their photos taken if they feel like they can trust you (and maybe if they get some chewing tobacco in return). It was great to have Sange there who has been meeting these people for years, therefore making sure we were invited into so many homes we couldn’t possibly have another cup of tea without buzzing!
Arunachal has dozens of different tribes and throughout the state there are over 50 languages spoken. Apatani is one, and these tribals are known for their nose plugs and facial tattoos. We were told they did this to look “less appealing” to other tribes who were coming in and stealing the women.
Over time, Christian Missionaries have come in and put a stop to some of the practices. While Arunachal didn’t have cannibalism (that I know of), it’s neighbor, Nagaland did. They were head-hunters. Some things the Apatani did including the nose plugs have been stopped by the government as they promote tribal differences, and inevitably warfare.
The hardest region of India to control is the Northeast because of the tribes and their tribal laws. As we drove into Ziro there was a big sign “Welcome to Ziro Valley! Jesus loves you!”. There were churches, and many men like this one wore a cross. But I didn’t get it in the photo. It was there, promise. haha.
The missionaries were Baptist and many Apatani have converted to Christianity from Sun and Moon worshipping which is called Donyi-Polo. The religion is still alive and well, but the problem is the youngsters aren’t becoming Shamans anymore and it’s harder to follow the religion now and actually simply, easier, to just be a Christian since there are so many churches.
Below are places where animal sacrifices have happened.
alters from a recent sacrifice
The kids here, and in many other parts of the state speak a little Korean because they love K-pop music! They dress Western and have motorbikes. The boys have very “Korean” haircuts as my guide. Big Mohawks and crazy color dyes added in. The teenage girls were wearing the same style skinny jeans as me!
There was no lacking in puppies! For some reason, there were so many adorable dogs everywhere we looked. I think I must have held at least 20 and seen about 30! Let me show you what it was like inside one of the homes below, and then I’ll explain a little bit about it.
a lady on her front porch drying rice
He’s kept these Mithun horns from after sacrifices
the houses are made from bamboo and you can see the edges of the stove here
Each house has a huge stove in the middle, they will sleep just near it to keep warm. You can see below, what the smoke does to the bamboo above which isn’t good for their health. It’s carbon.
We also saw a TV in a house we went to for lunch. I loved that they kept the Styrofoam from the packing in the box.
We visited two villages: Hong and Hari, and they were really similar. We went to the craft center and the emporium but I’m sharing about that in another post. We also spent some time at the Museum which was amazing. It showed all the different tribes in Arunachal Pradesh and what they eat, drink, how they dress, dance, and pray… and compared them all. There were artifacts and also a whole section just on clothing.
We stayed for lunch one day which was an interesting mixture of chicken and egg cooked inside a stock of bamboo. It was actually nice with some chili on it but to be honest I didn’t eat much because I was afraid I would get sick. I usually don’t care and eat street food all the time, but I just felt like being careful. The veggies of the side were in a sauce made from water from the well, so I didn’t eat them at all as I wasn’t sure if they boiled it first.
I saw a couple of guys walking home as the sun started to set and I ran out to ask them if they’d been out working and to find out about them. They said they’d been hunting…
… then he pulled out what he was hunting from his pocket and I was hoping they didn’t invite me to dinner! RATS!
this is what rat looks like in the markets
During the day we also saw a traditional dance, from the women only, and it was SO unique. It’s something I’ll never forget and I’m going to try to make a video to show it to you. The women on the side chanted and sang and the women dancing repeated everything back then eventually made us come dance with them.
We stayed at Ziro Valley Resort which according to Tripadvisor is #3 of 4 of Bed and Breakfasts in Ziro. There are ZERO hotels. I loved this resort. The food was delicious, the french fries especially- who would think you could do something to make french fries even better!? The scenery was great and luckily, the type of heater they gave you here could be kept on all night unlike the ones in Tawang. There was also an amazing dog who just chilled with us in our room, making it really homey. We stayed two nights.
Definitely stay through the evening so you can see the amazing sunset in this valley! Some people there do offer their homes up as a homestay, and although a great cultural experience, you will most likely be okay to head to a hotel to shower and such after being there all day.
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Great read from Rachel again.
Fantastic photos and stories from a region I have read very little about. Thanks for sharing – looking forward to reading more of your posts! Cheers –
ugh we want to go there so bad. we are really starting to rethink our 3 month india trip, but we are not ready to let it go just yet. I think the pollution, harassment, and possibility of getting sick is really whats making us question it. Maybe we will do Sri Lanka instead…In any case, thank you for your blog. Lots of good stuff and one of the main reasons we DO want to travel india.
It’s a lot to think about! glad that the blog can help you decide.
Loved it! I grew up in India, but have never visited the Northeast. You don’t read much about it, so I’ve always been curious. Thanks for all of the information!
Happy to give info about this place- I didn’t know much about it at all before going.
It’s so interesting to see how the older generation have the traditional nose plugs and the younger generation have Korean hair cuts and skinny jeans. Things change in such a short space of time- it’s crazy!
Yeah it’s totally bizarre .. they always say things are “east meets west” but this is just east meets new east!
Hi Rachel, lovely article ! I’m planning a visit to Ziro in September and incidentally also came across the Ziro Festival of Music (to be held in Sept). Would you be aware of logistics for reaching to Ziro from Guwahati/Naharalagun (any cab contacts would help)? Also, is vegetarian food generally available there (as some of my friends are vegetarians). Thanks in advance !
I was on a tour so don’t have cab contacts. I also didn’t come here straight from Guwahati so I don’t know the logistics for that. There was veggie food there. I hope you have fun!
Hong is my home village… I hope u loved it visiting there.
It was lovely. Thank you for your hospitality.