I travelled 72 hours for a 4 day festival.
I've always wanted to go on a solo trip. But for some reason (I'm lazy), I never got down to it. I'm slowly but surely becoming a part of the system. I am the machine.
I wake up early every day, board a train to work, nod my head, smile, grunt at a few people, then board a train back (rinse, repeat).
I'm really good at this... going through the motions of life. So much so that I almost canceled my trip to Arunachal Pradesh. I was supposed to attend the Ziro Music Festival.
Ziro Music Festival (ZMF) is a still somewhat undiscovered music festival that takes place in a village called Ziro, in Arunachal Pradesh. It’s known for an independent showcase of music and crowds from every corner of the country. I had planned to visit last year, but well, my busy (comfortable) lifestyle didn't let me.
I had to break out of my routine… I was going to Ziro.
But how! The festival was 5 days away, and I had zero ideas about how to get there. I just decided to leave and figure out the rest along the way. I boarded my train to Kamkhya Junction from Lokmanya Tilak Terminus at 7:50AM on the 24th of September and that’s when my ‘seat for one please’ journey began.
UNO in the train
The train ride was 49-hour. Sounds too much? It was... but after a while, it really wasn't. I started off mixing and mingling with the other passengers. A little chitchat here and there grew into deep conversations about life. As time passed, we realised we had formed some sort of train group. There we were: laughing, talking, singing, trying different ways to avoid the train food, and the train toilets. We played UNO to fill in the gaps between all of the aforementioned. You could say it helped us with our UNOITY (heh!). We were so comfortable with each other that by the end of day 2, we were singing songs till 4 AM, fellow passengers cursing us.
The train journey turned out to be a good one, except for the times I was busted by cops, and the times when I was almost about to miss my train midway at the smaller railway stops.
The 49-hour long journey turned into a 54-hour one as I got down at Kamakhya Junction at 11:50 AM on 26th September. I bid goodbye to everyone, wore my backpack and was all set to complete another 13-hour bus ride to Ziro. Sounds simple, yes?
The party in the train
From Kamakhya Junction railway station, I changed 1 bicycle rickshaw, 1 local bus and 1 sumo to reach ISBT Guwhati. The intercity rides are well connected and so cheap that it almost feels like you're travelling for free. ISBT Guwhati is like one of those general bus depots you see in every state. From ISBT Guwhati you can go to any place you want in the Northeast. After a wait of 5 hours at the depot, I boarded my bus to Ziro at 4:30 PM.
On the bus, I connected with people who were heading to ZMF. A few of them were organizers of the tent stay; I hadn’t booked a hotel so I knew this had sorted out my stay. 9 hours passed, it was 1:10 AM and we reached the first Arunachal Pradesh permit checkpoint.
Suffice to say I didn't know that an entry to Arunachal Pradesh required an Inner Line Permit (ILP). And I was unceremoniously asked to get off the bus. The fact that I was travelling alone didn't help my cause. To the cops, I was a potential terrorist. Me. Mr. Routine.
I saw the bus disappearing on the road, and with it the dream of being at Ziro.
9 hour bus journey
From 1:20 AM to 6:00 AM, just a day before the festival, I was waiting with my bags on a little bench at the AP checkpoint, hoping for some pity from the cops. I had to then go 'Full-Indian', as soon as the shift changed in the morning. I did some under the table work and hitchhiked to Itangar DC office to my ILP. I reached at 7:00 AM and the office opened at 11:00 AM.
With all this waiting around, I was now a professional 'waiter'. But I was also losing out on time. I had a day to reach Ziro, and it still depended on my getting the ILP.
After a couple of rounds at various cubicles at DC office in Itangar, at 12:00 PM I was told that I’d have to travel to yet another office. Hence proved: Government offices are all the same everywhere. Slipping my backpack on my now weak shoulders, my unbathed skin itching all over, I made my way to the Civil Secretariat office in Itangar. Another round of going from cubicle to cubicle and I left from there with the ILP in hand - proof that I was not going to screw things up in the state.
It was 3:00 PM already and vehicles to Ziro are not that frequent. I had to reach that night. I started chasing private sharing vehicles to Ziro, but I was too late for one, so I got in a local bus and reached Laluk to again find no vehicles.
I was hungry, tired and dirty and wanted a place to crash. I booked a room at a lodge, and slept like a baby... only to wake up to...
BAM BAM BAM.
It was 6:00 AM. The Sumo I had booked was leaving. I sprang up from the bed, packed my bag in the world’s shortest time and ran to the lobby. I loaded my bags in the car and with the excitement of being at Ziro back in my heart, I boarded.
The ZFM experience
After a pleasant 5-hour journey I set foot in Ziro Village on 28th September, the day of the festival. I managed to get myself a room for the night. Changed, ate, and left for the venue. From Hopoli, where my hotel was, the venue was half an hour. I got a sharing vehicle, loaded my camera and was ready to sink into the beauty of people, music, valleys, rains, all at the Ziro Festival of Music.
ZFM is a festival where you come across like minded people: people for whom travel and music play an important role. Unlike other festivals where you get drunk on the free-flowing booze, ZFM lets you get high on the music. The lineup itself makes you believe in the motto of ZFM. The four-day festival, that has two stages, is home to various independent artists and travellers, artists that believe in doing something new and travellers looking to explore something new.
As soon as I set foot at the gate of the venue, I was welcomed with pretty art decorations along my way. Wooden stages and food counters greeted me as I entered the venue. The festival is set on a vast valley, which is home to beautiful landscapes. I toured around and the more I saw, the prettier it got. A lot of people poured in late, the rains made the ground messy, but as soon as the first performance began, I surrendered to the beauty of the place.
The main stage
The lineup included Carolina Norbu on the Danyii Stage and Burudu, Kroashia, and Aloboa Naga and the band on the Pillo stage, which is the main stage.
As the music travelled across the venue after the line of performances, people started getting into the zone. Some placed themselves at the food and drink counters trying out various local food and drinks. For non-vegetarians it is a mecca, for a vegetarian like me I had to survive on rice and Maggi.
The local drinks were the talk of the town, from Kiwi Wine to Millet Wine, from Wheat Beer to Falafel Wine; everyone had a bottle in their hand.
While interacting with the people, I learned that a lot of them were travelling solo from all corners of the country. I met someone who was on a month-long bike ride from Bangalore. He was staying alone in a tent in the BYOT (bring your own tent) section of Ziro. I ended up sharing the tent with him for the rest of the festival.
My home for three days
The next three days saw great performances from Dhruv Vishvanath, Koloma, Sofia Ashraf, The Kathmandu Killers, Khaasi Bloodz, Reggae Rajahs, Rizal and the Rasendra, Barmer Boys and Sapta. Every artist who made their way on the stage created waves.
As I packed my bags and wrapped the tent after the festival was over, I paused for a while and looked over the vast fields. All the things that took me to be here, the cops, the travel, the chase, it was all worth it. I had the time of my life.
If travel if your thing, plan a solo trip atleast once in your life. It will change you.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Ali Basania
Photographs by Ali Basania