India has so many hidden treasures that its diverse beauty continues to amaze me. There is so much to explore and so little time! We know so less about our country and North East India is even less explored. Last year (2018), we decided to take the route less taken and went on a journey to the far East in Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh.
Ziro Valley hosts one of India’s largest musical outdoor festivals – Ziro Festival of Music (ZFM), in September each year. It is a 4 days musical dream set amidst the perfect backdrop in the lush green valley overlooking the never-ending paddy fields. Ziro is not so popular yet and that’s part of the serene beauty. But if you are planning to visit Ziro, there are not many details online. Hence, sharing the tips and tricks from our journey to help plan your travel smoothly because Ziro is here again from 26 – 29 Sep 2019!
1. What music to expect at ZFM
Never knew we had so much musical talent in the country! We were smitten by the music amidst the beautiful valley. Most of the music is rock and local language music. Be prepared for the type of music and don’t expect any popular music. You would hear amazing local bands. It is a must visit for all music and nature lovers who are ready to take the long journey, not afraid of the hardships, and just want a detox from the regular life. One of our favorite bands this year was from Kerala – Oorali.
2. How to reach Ziro
There is no easy or direct way to reach Ziro. It is a long journey but it is worth it. It takes around ~24 hours from Delhi (including flight, train, taxi, and layover time) You need ILP (Inner Line Permit) to enter Ziro. You can apply online, please note it is not instant and takes 2-3 days. We chose Guwahati office and selected all the districts. You can also apply it at the railway station for an instant one. The last station to get ILP is Naharlagun but you would have to face the queues and it takes 1-2 hours.
- Flight to Guwahati (~2 hours from Delhi)
- Train from Guwahati to Naharlagun (Donyi Polo is a night train takes around 7 hours)
- Taxi from Naharlagun to Ziro (5-6 hours depending on road conditions and stop-overs)
On the way back, take a day train from Naharlagun to Guwahati instead of a night train (Shatabdi takes around 6 hours and is very comfortable with amazing views of lakes, tea gardens, and lush green mountains throughout the train journey). You can also see the mighty Brahmaputra, whose width will shock you! It is a bit difficult to find a taxi back from Hapoli to Naharlagun (book in advance).
3. Where to stay in Ziro
Campsite is the most preferred and common accommodation during the Ziro Festival of Music (ZFM). You can walk from the campsites to the venue. You can chill and enjoy with the camp people at almost all the campsites. There are a few homestays and hotels as well nearby. For campsite, there are 2 options – either stay at the event itself or stay at private camps, within 1-2 km walking from the event.
3.1 Ziro – Staying at the event official campsite
- Enjoy live music full day without going anywhere from your own tent (bands start practising early morning)
- No need to travel anywhere after the event ends at night (no need to worry about drunk friends 😉 )
- One of the cheapest and closest options
- The campsite has no shade and it might get really hot inside the tent if it is sunny in the morning
- There are no separate washrooms for people staying there and have to share with the full crowd. Hence, gets messy!
- The major shocker for us was that they dismantled the toilets early morning after the last day of the event and we, as campers, were troubled.
- Only BYOT (Bring your own tent) option available. So, you’ll have to carry your own tent, mattress, and sleeping bags
- No separate food options available at the campsite (only the event food stalls)
3.2 Ziro – Staying at private camps
Some of the most preferred and best camps known to me in Ziro are – Chalohoppo, Kite Manjha, and Encamp. The most famous after party campsite is Urban Jungle (awesome all night parties with super friendly locals, must go at least 1 night). Sharing a few pros and cons (depends on which camp you choose).
- Most of the campsites are located near the jungle area. Hence, provides shade and pleasant weather.
- Full 3-course meal options available
- Apart from BYOT, they also have options for renting tents, sleeping bags etc.
- Great after parties at night
- Might have to walk a lot to the event
- Won’t be able to enjoy full day music
- Generally, expensive than the event site
3.3 Layover at Naharlagun
If you have layover time in Naharlagun and are looking for accommodation options, then stay at a hotel close to the railway station in the main market. We stayed at Hotel Tosum. Naharlagun also has good eating joints. We explored a cool cafe with relaxing seating Coffee Tribe (just opposite to our hotel). They even had a stall at ZFM.
4. What to explore around Ziro
Ziro is a beautiful place and you shouldn’t miss out on exploring the natural beauty in the day. The day starts early and it gets dark around 5 pm in early evening. Sharing a few places to explore on foot:
- Hong Village – picturesque old village
- Forest trail – lush green pine trees
- Paddy fields – walk through the paddy, chat with the farmers, and even try your hand at harvesting
If you have more time, take a taxi ride to Shivling, Hapoli (new town), and Old Ziro.
The cherry on the top is the cheerful, friendly, and amazing people of Arunachal. Don’t hesitate to share stories with them.
5. Where and What to eat/ drink in Ziro
5.1 Inside the main event
There are a lot of food stalls inside the main event. But they are more of appetizers than full meals. And are pretty expensive (~INR 300 per dish) and not filling. Hence, good for event time but not for meals.
5.2 Outside the main event
There are various places for good fillings meals, walking distance from the event. There is one just outside the venue as well. And one really good one near Artist city.
You can also go to Hapoli to buy cheaper drinks and food. Outside drinks are not “officially” allowed inside the event.
5.3 What to eat and drink
- For non-veggies, try the local delicacies of the Apatani tribe such as silkworms, honey bee larvae, and frogs. Be adventurous and go for it!
- For veggies, some good options are veg chow, rolls, and all time favourite Maggi.
- For dessert lovers – definitely try the coffee cupcakes and brownies.
- For drinks – try their local brewed beer and wines. Rice & millet beer; peach, plum, pineapple, & kiwi wines. Definitely try them in the bamboo tumbler at the event.
5.4 Around Ziro
- Tuborg’s factory is located nearby in Nirjuli village. Hence, it’s pretty cheap around Arunachal (~INR 50 for a beer can). You can buy a few cans for the road journey or to drink at your campsite.
- Stopover at Putyn on way from Naharlagun to Ziro for good lunch. Also, gorge on yum juicy fresh-cut pineapple.
- If you have a long layover at Naharlagun, go to the main market for good food and cafes.
- If you have a long layover at Guwahati, go to Uzan Bazar for good cafes near the railway station.
6. Anything Else
Weather is unpredictable – be prepared for rain (you can buy cheap gumboots from Hapoli), sun, and winters, all. Consider it as a camping hiking trip and carry comfortable shoes. Last but not least, Ziro is so beautiful because it is untouched. So, please keep it the same way. Enjoy the rawness of village life and don’t be demanding. Don’t litter and treat it as your own home. There are many other hidden treasures to explore in the North East! Do share your stories as well and make friends for life!
I know planning for Ziro is a bit difficult. Hence, please feel free to ask any query that you have and get ready for ZFM from 26 – 29 Sep 2019!