After a tiring 24 hours train journey and a 7 hours Sumo ride across the rough terrains of Arunachal Pradesh what greeted me was an absolute delight. It was after a sharp turn that the vast panorama of Ziro valley finally came in full view. I saw little clusters of villages submerged in vast paddy fields spread across an immense valley. It was magnificent to suddenly find absolutely flat land comfortably settled in the middle of mighty hillocks. I felt excitement as I imagined the intermingling of music, art and culture in the alluring space that the Apatani tribe of Arunachal Pradesh call home. It is no wonder that the Ziro Festival of Music has come to be known as the hilly delight globally. However what got me more stirred was the thought that I was there with the purpose of helping Ziro go zero waste.
The Ziro Festival of Music (ZFM) is an annually held music festival that celebrates music, art and local culture. In the seven years of its existence in the Ziro valley, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the festival has certainly touched the hearts of many who travel from across the world to experience the hilly delight. I was dropped off in the town of Hapoli from where I was taken to Birrii village where the venue sat atop two gentle slopes. The car dissected through the vast flooded fields and I was sure a little bird above us was enjoying the strange view of a red dot gliding through the veins of the paddy land.
The venue is spread atop two small hilltops overlooking the vast green expanse. The patches were sparsely dotted with bamboo sheds, scarecrows and farmers. There were Apatani men climbing and putting together tall bamboo structures everywhere. The work-in-progress scenery looked fascinating against the sun with the skeletal silhouettes of the structures constantly growing and being dressed with more materials. A unit was engaged in setting up a colossal bamboo stage in what looked like a naturally set amphitheatre. I was lost in the imagination of lying down on the grass and watching the night sky as the valley engulfed in the melodies of the festival.
That night I found myself in a wooden cottage amidst many locals celebrating the successes of the day with local drinks and stories. The people inside the room were great storytellers and one after the other we found ourselves deeply engrossed in the stories collected from the various tribes and communities of the Northeast. I began by drinking beer then out of the blue Ojay, a local Apatani, offered me rice beer addressing me in my mother tongue, the Nepali language. Taken aback by his fluency,I accepted the drink out of sheer happiness to find a similarity. From then onwards, I was able to comfortably immerse myself in the endless activity of identifying similarities between the Nepali communities and the Apatani tribe. It filled me with excitement when we realized that we share words, drinks, habits and the tradition of nature and ancestral worship. One thing leading to another and we found ourselves holding large bamboo mugs full of rokshi (locally engineered nepali word in Ziro) or rakshi (in Nepali) which is the local liquor made out of fermented rice. The liquor played the fascinating role of symbolically uniting us in many levels. What followed was a camaraderie of languages, proverbs, liquor tales and folktales. We switched from Hindi to Nepali, Apatani and English in a similar that way we switched from beer to rice beer and rakshi. This night of discovery and amusement was truly reassuring. From time to time, we must remove ourselves from the reality of things, look back at the experiences we have had so far and express them as stories and images. How wonderful it was to find a deep sense of purpose travelling experiences.
I was on top of the bamboo structure that was being built at the kids section when my friend, Talyang, called out to me with urgency pointing at a tiny woman approaching us holding a basket on her back. I climbed down and Talyang insisted that we go to the woman and see what she holds in her basket. The suspense was irresistible and I walked towards the woman with utmost curiosity. A close sight of the woman instantly brought back flashes of images of my grandmother adorned in her bulaki, chepti sun and phuli. The woman stood in front of me adorned with a broad smile, large nose plugs on both nostrils and a deep green tattoo running through her face like a river flowing from her forehead until her lips and finally splitting into three lines till her chin. The woman unloaded her basket and presented her fresh catch of fish that is farmed in the flooded paddy fields. I was filled with fascination to see the ways in which the Apatanis had adapted the practice of fish farming in their paddy fields. The woman offered to sell her catch to me and I politely refused. She loaded the basket on her back and continued to walk her way while observing the activities of the festival preparation around her with curiosity. Yet again I I saw my grandmother in the lady walking away. The image of boju walking away with her doko and hasya. I wondered what the woman felt about the festival and the music. Was she happy about it? Did she like the music? Time and again, Ziro valley whispered to me that living is happiness and so I gazed at the sky and I felt immense value for each life. Up in the sky, the dark clouds had begun its approach towards the valley and it was time to go indoors. How nice it would be to witness the unison of rain and the festival music…
Most of us keep living everyday without concerning ourselves with the purpose. We are engaged in various activities with the purpose of earning. We want to earn as it offers a means of survival. Things that allow us to survive and further add more quality to the survival always come with price tags. But why is survival so important? Is it really necessary that I must be kept alive by all means possible? We truly value our lives. It runs within us- the value of living. I felt a deep sense of purpose in my travel. My purpose was to show ways in which lives can be valued. How tragic it would be to witness 6000 people attend the festival, dump their waste and problems in the middle of Ziro valley. The old woman with the fish.. I wondered if she has thought about this. While festivals are always amusing and fulfilling, it is also a big generator of waste and especially of single-use plastic waste. My purpose in Ziro was to #talktrash and find ways of reducing it. In a place as remote as Ziro valley, the inhabitants of the valley including wildlife is always challenged with the mountain of unmanageable waste in the aftermath. I was relieved to know that the festival has decided to join the zero waste journey. The key message that the zero waste principal conveys is to reduce our waste to a minimum so as to ensure a minimal flow of non recyclable waste to the landfill. I felt extreme delight to know that this year certainly Ziro would drastically reduce waste that is usually sent to a nearby dumpsite. The larger goal is to help the valley become zero waste and set examples for other remote mountainous regions. I was in a journey to help reclaim the untarnished valley of the Apatanis. It is a means of giving value to the paddy fields, adding value to the life of the old fish seller and to make every visitor feel connected to the valley.
Post Contributed by Animesh Gautam