After spending an entire month backpacking in Northeast India recently, I couldn’t foresee another trip to Arunachal in December of 2019. Arunachal Pradesh is a mysterious state to me. Neither I have heard a lot about it nor I have visited many places in that region.
But in September, I attended the Ziro Festival that happens in the Ziro district of this state.
10 days in Ziro were more than enough to make me realise how diverse, beautiful and enchanting this state is.
Basar, at first, sounded like one of the many offbeat tourism destinations of Arunachal Pradesh.
BASCON (1st to 4th Dec 2019) became a good excuse to venture into this less-explored region and look at the lifestyle of another interesting tribe closely.
WHERE IS BASAR?
I wondered the same before I was booking my train tickets.
This census town is located at the centre of Arunachal Pradesh (eastern) in Lepa Rada district. It is 150 kilometres away from the Dibrugarh which is in the state of Assam and is a major railway station from the perspective of connectivity.
Blessed with some 32 picturesque villages like Padi, Gori, Bam, Sago, Ego-Yamin, Nyigam, Hoi etc and three rivers, Kidi, Hii and Hiile, Basar is Arunchal’s best-kept secret.
Every morning view from the balcony of the homestay I stayed in.
‘Albe Atoka’ (welcome) to Basar, the offbeat Arunachal Pradesh!
In a sublime setting, with rustic villages and thick jungles, Basar was magical.
WHAT IS BASCON FESTIVAL?
The BASCON festival is a yearly event started and organised by GRK (Gumin Rego Kilaju) Basar. It is an amazing initiative to bring all the 25 major tribes of Arunachal together once a year in Basar and showcase their cultural identity, appreciate their traditional assets and celebrate local tribal food, sports and art.
Bascon 3.0, which happened last year, was organised at the confluence of the two rivers, Hie and Kidi. This year the location was on a massive grassland and the stage was set on a lower ground for viewing.
Every day gorgeous sunsets embraced the massive bamboo stage. A backdrop of hills in the ‘Land of Dawn Lit Mountains’ against the cultural display of tribes used to evoke numerous happy emotions within the spectators.
Similar to this festival, last year I attended Dwijing Festival in Bodoland district of Assam.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE BASCON FESTIVAL, BASAR
As the rising sun hits the golden paddy fields under the overcast sky, the sound of drums and announcements took us near the grand stage of the festival. With tribes rhythmically moving to their vocal sounds and almost no musical instruments, the rustic nature of the state came alive.
The confluence was now set to showcase the tribal heritage to an exuberant audience.
During the day time, we used to witness colourful tribal dance showcase and during the sunset, a musical evening completed our day.
‘Galo Ponu’ is a welcome dance performed by the local women in multicoloured skirts. This was the folk presentation by the Galo tribe on Day 1.
Various performances by music artists like Minam Goi added to the jovial mood.
This is the Minyong tribe performing ghostbuster dance.
War dance ‘Nyida Parik’ is also performed by the Galo tribe at the festival’s starting.
‘Ho Delo’ performance by the Galo tribe was one of my favourite sections from the festival.
The Singpho tribe in their beautiful traditional attire
Yobins of Vijaynagar, Arunachal Pradesh
All the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh were present on the venue to display their respective folk dance and music.
The food stalls at the venue made sure to serve local food along with other cuisines as well.
The musical evenings were graced by local artists and folk singers.
Roaming with Poka in hand all day long, we tried to soak in all the festive vibes we could on all the four days.
Witness the Fun of Traditional Sports
Irr-Upuk Abka Hinam or archery is also a part of traditional sports
This was an event where the competition was about who could climb the bamboo pole the highest.
We all tried our hands at this fun game, Bogw Pognam, where on a flexible bamboo we just to kept hanging and tried to reach the highest end by jumping.
Other sports like the tug of war and some fun activities like piggy-back run were also seen.
Besides sports, art was being given equal importance. I met this speech and hearing impaired artist, Limmy from Basar who drew all these extremely detailed and realistic paintings.
Access to the four-day Festival: INR 150
Fishing fee: INR 100
Bring your own tent (BYOT): INR 700/tent/night (entry, fishing fee and food)
- 1 night – Rs 1949
- 2 nights- Rs 3500
- 3 nights- Rs 5050
- 4 nights- Rs 6600
IS BASCON SUSTAINABLE?
In Galo they say,
‘tumsi nyomara lo, hottum elam go hore lelam go doma rem yobe nyine hage ha rem. Tumsi nyomra irga kama, isi opo kama rem mopin e irga kama. Sile boso gobo golak go goka kichin gatugo ao go kama rem nyiram re.’
‘O human! What worth is human life when forests without flora and fauna, rivers without fish’
BASCON is the only Indian festival till now where I have witnessed zero consumption of single-use plastic.
It is a 100 per cent organic and sustainable festival where from food stalls to the food servings themselves, everything is made out of plant-based materials.
At the entrance of the festival venue, some volunteers were keeping an eye on the people for collecting any single-use plastic being taken inside.
From bridges to benches, from dustbins to food stalls etc, everything was made out of bamboo.
The snacks (fried pork and fish, chickpea and corn) that we had with poka in bamboo hollows and my lunch that was served on an ekkum leaf.
Undoubtedly, the sustainability of the BASCON festival and the hospitality of the Galo tribe has set a benchmark for the tribal festivals that keep happening in India. Each year it takes the level of eco-tourism a notch higher.
Though the sort of agriculture Galo practice isn’t sustainable. Slash and burn (jhum) method of agriculture is practised here which depletes and rips the land off its minerals and fertility. I hope to see a change in the coming years with more awareness from GRK.
THE GALO TRIBE
The ever-smiling Galo people of Basar will wait for you to greet them. They wouldn’t expect you to know their greeting but once you say ‘Aldu re’ (how are you?), their faces will have the longest smile. Expect an ‘Aldu aldu’ (very well) in return and an invitation for some rice cake and tea (pitha and laalcha).
The Galo tribe is a central eastern Himalayan tribe who are known as the descendants of Abo Tani (progenitor of the Tani tribes of the state of Arunachal Pradesh). Under Tani, tribes like Apatani, the Nyishi, the Adi, the Galos and Tagin come.
The majority are the followers of Donyi-Polo, they worship the sun and the moon.
The women of this tribe are mostly seen dressed in a ‘gale’, a long skirt draped around the waist, ‘beke’ which is self-woven and goes around the bosom. Men wear a self-woven silk t-shirt called ‘Galuk’ on the top.
The tribe interestingly name their offspring.
The last syllable of the father’s name is used as the first syllable of the child’s name.
For example, if a father’s name is Marto then child’s name will be Tilo. It can go on like this, loma, matzo, zoli etc. This unique method of nomenclature helps them in remembering their forefather and history. This is required since the tribe doesn’t have a written script of their own.
Poka (local rice wine) is the staple drink of the tribe. It is made by fermenting rice and mixing roasted husk with yeast later. The mixture is then stored in a cane basket and is covered tightly to let it ferment over a month. During the serving time, warm water is poured over the mixture and the filtered water comes out as a sweet smoky wine.
The confluence is a great opportunity to savour this unique drink with the locals themselves.
Mopin, the harvest festival, is their major festival and is held in March–April.
PLACES TO SEE IN BASAR AND THINGS TO EXPERIENCE IN BASAR
Fishing with the Locals in Ego Valley
Fishing plays a very important role in the dietary habits of the people from Northeast India. The community fishing at Ego valley in Basar was a golden chance for us to witness traditional and sustainable methods of fishing.
The method of fishing that is followed in Basar is called ‘Rilen monam’. Here the locals intoxicate the fishes using herbs and tree barks. The tree bark is collected from the jungle, set into the river at a higher point and is beaten repeatedly by the Galo men. The medicine from the bark slowly gets dissolved with the river water making the fishes’ flow and activity slower.
The two fish catching equipment, raju and idar
At the lower end of the river, other men wait anxiously in the water to catch them with their bare hands and the women with their bamboo baskets (Raju) on their backs, try to catch them too.
Here also, GRK plays a massively important role in environmental conservation. It has made a stop to all the false methods of fishing that led to the decline of aquatic life. They have taken initiatives to sensitize the masses about the same and annually get the rivers cleaned.
A visit to the EB Project and a Hike to the EB Hill
In 2008, one of the villages in Basar, Soi, started facing acute water shortage especially for agricultural purposes. A local man, Egam Basar, decided to do something about it. He started by making a rain water harvesting pit on top of a nearby hill to direct the flow of potable water to farms and the village.
Egam Basar, Officer of the State Horticulture Research & Development Institute
After a few years of the project’s initiation, the result has now started to appear in the form of a solved water shortage problem and a newly formed biodiversity hotspot which is now known as the EB Hill.
The 1-hour hike to the hilltop will take you through the dense forest trail and a beautiful green cover.
An orchid park is also being developed by nurturing all the orchid species found in Arunachal Pradesh.
This nail-less Bamboo-Thatch structure has been erected to set an example of sustainable living and construction in Basar.
Venture into the Unknown at Jolli, The Haunted Place
This deep gorge where the Hie river passes, is a world in its own. With long roots hanging from above, unknown caverns and unverified stories of Yapoms, Jolli near the Sago village was my favourite experience from Basar.
We started hiking down from the road towards the jungle on a slippery narrow trail. Soon we reached an open part which we crossed barefoot by trying to save ourselves from slipping or getting hurt by the pebbles in the river.
We then crossed the waist-deep river, getting enchanted by the creepy vines and deep caves alongside. And in the end, we could cherish the presence of a gushing waterfall.
As per the locals, the place is known to be the home to Yapoms (yeti-like spirits).
Some old stories as narrated by the villagers describe Yapoms to be throwing stones on the people who come to Jolli. Nothing of that sort happened to us but a huge dried banana leaf did make a fall from above. Yet the stories and the cold water was enough to give us goosebumps.
As per legends, it is said the yapoms of Jolli consider the Ango people of Gori village as their relatives and thus never harm them in particular.
Hike to Odii Putu for hilltop view of Basar during sunrise
Visit the Bat Cave (Tapen Penru) in Padi Village
Hike to Bumchi waterfall
Hike to Dimme-Dite Waterfall in Pagi Village
Hike to the sacred mountain of Nguda Pokcho
Take a village walk
A typical Galo home is made up of wood, bamboo, wild cane and leaves, all sustainable materials taken from the forests. The villagers help each other during the construction of the houses thus keeping the society closely knit.
In a quest to drink milk tea at a local’s place we ventured into Gori III village and started looking for potential hosts. Luckily a young man invited all of us at his place over a cup of tea. Owner of the house showed up with his traditional sword (Dao) and a cane hat called ‘Bolup’. It is said that the hat is to be worn only by the senior men.
Outside their houses, people will be seen separating the husk from rice grains using this indigenous method called ‘chepar’.
The interior of the house is usually adorned with Mithun horns on one wall. Mithun is an extremely important animal for the Galo people. The groom’s family sacrifices these for the bride’s family.
A fireplace (immik) in a new cemented house and the same in a traditional bamboo house.
All the houses have a traditional fireplace in the centre of the room. All kind of meat, pork, mithun meat, chicken and fishes, are hung above the fireplace to cook for days and upto weeks.
These tribal houses have these two separate staircases. The other staircase is supposed to be used by women during their periods. The customs to separate women during their period were at their worst during earlier times. Nowadays they are less strict and more accommodating.
The Gam Bur/Gaon Burah (village head in red jacket) from one of the Gori villages.
Migo Bam who was chased by Yapom for many months.
We were also fortunate to meet someone from the village who was haunted by Yapom. I am not sure how exactly true his tales are but they are fascinating to listen to.
NYIBO (priest) from one of the villages. They are the communicator between Donyi-polo and the people.
One fine evening at Degge’s house.
Degge was given the responsibility of taking us around Basar for all four days. Like every other Galo, his hospitality was at par. He later invited us over for a cup of tea and rice cakes.
Trek to Hiido-Hiidi waterfall, located at the confluence of Hingen and Hipo rivers
Witness the people of Basar harvest the green-to-golden-turned paddy fields.
PLACES TO STAY IN BASAR
Basar is a place which is now seeing tourism slowly. One can find a few homestays where Galo tribe offers the best of their hospitality.
We stayed at a homestay in Hoi village. A small family of husband-wife, two children and a grandmother. We used to have small talks every night and morning by the fireplace. The fresh poka used to be served with our vegetarian dinner.
Helpdesk: +91 9402707020
Circuit House and the ICAR Guest House are also some of the stay options.
Homestay: INR 1500/night including breakfast, Lunch Dinner (subject to change as per the facilities)
HOW TO REACH BASAR, ARUNACHAL PRADESH?
Travel in Northeast parts of India isn’t as difficult now as it used to be in its initial years of tourism development. The long ride to the most underrated destinations of India is worth a little hassle.
The picturesque party point, where we danced, sang and drank poka with the locals. A bamboo glass full of Poka was for just INR 300, wonderful.
The nearest airports are Dibrugarh and Guwahati in Assam state. Then Dibrugarh is 150 km from Basar. And from Guwahati, an overnight train from Silapathar can be taken. From here, Basar is 5-hours away. Shared taxis and personal vehicles are available at the airport for Basar.
I took a three-day-long journey on a train (Brahmaputra mail) from Delhi to Dibrugarh. From there, we followed the Bogibeel route via Silapathar.
Basar is accessible via road from Silapathar. Regular bus services and passenger vehicles ply from Silapathar for Basar. We were taken in cars from Dibrugarh railway station. We crossed via Bogibeel bridge, 5th longest bridge in India and the journey was scenic.
To avail a taxi from Dibrugarh, you may contact Aayat Tours and Travels (9859468178), Dibrugarh.
From Silapathar, a public bus departs at 8 pm and reaches Aalo in the morning by 8 am. From here Basar is 6 hours away.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
- Don’t expect a lot of luxury and urban facilities. Basar is raw, organic and untouched.
- People of Northeast India have a non-vegetarian diet mainly. They indulge in kinds of meat daily. For vegetarians, survival isn’t difficult as it sounds to be. Tasty boiled leafy vegetables served with lentils and organic rice tastes delightful.
- Basar and BASCON, both are a Plastic free zone. The only pile of trash you will see will be of leaves which are used as plates while serving food and bamboo glasses to serve water and poka. Kindly do not leave any single used plastic item to be dumped there.
- You will get faint Airtel and Jio signals around the villages of Basar and at the festival venue. Else, the entry point of the Basar town is the last point where you will get strong network connectivity.
- Make sure to apply for Inner Line Permit before entering into the state of Arunachal Pradesh. You can apply for it here.
- Carry hiking shoes and woollens (if you plan to go to post-October). You would require good shoes to cross the forests of Basar.
- During peak monsoons, the highway to Basar is not accessible. If it is, it is dangerous with a constant risk of landslides and roadblocks.
‘Alrudo’ (thank you) Basar for all the good memories with and without the magic of Poka.
There is so much yet to discover about your hidden jungles and serene mountain tops.
Hope to back again for this part of offbeat Arunachal Pradesh.