Festival time,Snowy Tawang & Tribal Motorbike Trip

Trip Start Sep 30, 2011
Trip End Oct 16, 2014

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Monday, March 26, 2012

After 2 weeks of wedding time in Imphal I am returning to Arunachal, the tribal state, as there is so much more to explore. 1 month permit has been arranged. First week is spend with Nama, Neywin and Merwyn in Itanagar being part of the Statehood Day festival: Getting a glimpse of the tribal wear and local dishes. Then off to Tawang for a week to visit the 2nd largest Tibetan monastery, play with snow and live with a great Gompa family. Snowed in at first I make it back to Itanagar to join Merwyn on a short but amazing motorbike road trip in Central Arunachal. Local home stays, tribal customs, great views and of course the 'riding feeling'. Much more to explore, but Indian visa finished, so now back in Nepal, where I will be for the next 3-4 months.

I feel that with every blog that I am writing it becomes more difficult to select the photos to show you, the numbers getting bigger every time…this entry narrowed it down to ‘only’ 187!!! So much has happened again during the last month! After 2 amazing wedding weeks in Imphal and a last hug with Bob and Lulu it is time to jump on the plane back towards Arunachal: Travelling back with Nama, Neywin and Merwyn. Loving the car ride from Guwahati to Itanagar (a mere 7 hours) as Neywin blasts his amazing music collection and we manage to re-pack the overloaded car to our advantage ;-)

In the next days it is Statehood Day and a special 5 day festival is taking place. The opening day is the most interesting one. I manage to get myself in the middle of the grounds amongst the press, perfect spot for photo taking! Some guy asking me some questions…upon which I find myself in the newspaper 2 days later! Hmmmm did not really say all this…. but agree ;-) I love the tribal parade during which most of the 26 tribes are represented showing their tribal wear! After the official part it’s time to check out the food stalls, where different tribal delicacies are on offer. Nama and Makte take me to their tribal food stall (Niycchi) to try a traditional dish: some type of bird, of course accompanied by Arak (the wedding-rice-wine)…cheers! Later that week we try out other tribal food as well, roasted meat, bamboo cooked rice, more local rice wine… whilst relaxing at the fire! Why want a dining table and chairs if you can have this!

Chilling at the house, enjoying Nama’s cooking sprays, watching movies, roaming Itanagar….it’s all good, but I feel itchy to explore some more of this state…so I jump on the bus heading the far west: Tawang district: A must-see-area according to many. After traveling with my own van for such a long time, I am actually a bit rusty in the whole public transport – arranging accommodation thing. But as always things run its course. Enjoying the views from the bus listening to music during the 12 hour ride to Bomdila… arriving in the dark… hooking up with 3 local travelers sharing accommodation (cheaper) and the Sumo (=shared jeep) for the drive to Tawang… eating together…learning about their culture. Unplanned travelling is not so difficult if you can let go of the insecurity and truly know that things always work out! Just try it one day and be surprised about the things you experience…

For me, I am happily enjoying the views going up to Sela pass (it’s cold up there!) and descending on the other side. In Tawang I can live with Dorjee Lamu ( a friend of Nama) and her family, Monpa tribe. Sooooo much better than staying in a hotel room. Being able to live in with a local family gives me the opportunity to get a glimpse of their daily lives, enjoy the local food and share cold evenings around the stove. I am especially lucky as it is Losar this time, the Tibetian New Year festival, during which people do special puja’s (blessing ceremonies), prepare special food and spend quality time with their family. Lots of Khapse eating and Sing Chang drinking during my stay ;-) Some of their food I recognize from my time with the Sherpa people in Nepal, like this noodle soup and the ‘tea momo’s’. Tawang district is Buddhist area with the second largest Tibetan monastery of the world. I end up going there several times, just to enjoy the serenity and of course to take photos. The Ani gompa (nunnery) is located on the hill side few hours hike from the house…so I set out at 06.00AM to visit it. The hike more difficult as fog blocks my view. After getting lost in the woods (literally) I find my way back to a nomad’s house, where upon asking for ‘hot water’ I get served 2 cups of fresh yak milk, 2 cups of salty tea and a glass of hot water! Needless to say I was not in danger of dehydration after! With no language in common we still communicated somehow, whilst admiring his nomadic home with the special Tashi Delek (Welcome) sign on the door! Fully recharged and with right directions I have to climb only one hour more uphill to arrive at the gompa, only a slight delay… ahum. The traditional (Losar) welcome: Enter a room upon which the nuns give you a tika, she passes by with a bowl of rice, from which you take a little 3 times (throwing 2x times, eating the last ), little arak is poured in your hand palm, which you drink and khapse is giving to eat. In the Monastery some people were also given the special white scarf after being part of a Tibetan ceremony. Although it was too cold to sit for long, I did enjoy a few hours of seeing the nuns doing their chores, listening to the silence and just merely being aware of the fact that I am sitting in a monastery on a hill in Arunachal in North East India!!

Then it started to snow… a rarity at this time of the year apparently. Within 2 days it covered Tawang! Missing out on the snow in Holland, it is gifted me here. That morning I walk out of the house, being one of the first to make foot prints. Always love this moment! The trees decorated with snow…white layered house roofs, mountain tops standing proud in the fog. That first moment being one with fresh snowy landscape, untouched by people, cars and wind: no words to describe it, other than perhaps Magical!

The good thing about this much snow is hardly any cars on the roads…perfect moment to roam around by foot. So later that day me, Dorjee Lamu and friends are off, almost all wearing gum booths (regenlaarzen), gloves and hat: The gum booths party… throwing snow balls, sliding across the road, taking lots of photos, building our own snow man, eating more khopse, drinking more SinChang and Arak while warming our cold feet and hands at the fire. We even get to try some dried yak meat! Dorjee’s sister singing and dancing, helped out by some friends at times…a funny bunch they are!

Nature is giving me all…as the next day the sun is greeting me in full glory. Snowy landscape and a blue sky, wauw! My return to Itanagar looks promising now as snow blocked the Sela pass for days already. And as much as I would like to explore this area more, unfortunately I am limited in my Arunachal time and would prefer to do some other things as well. That evening snowed heavily again and just when I accepted the fact I would be here for some time longer, Dorjee wakes me up and tells me the Sumo back to Bomdila is leaving in 20min. The universe works its ways. The drive up and over the Sela pass is difficult, long and cold (I buy some army socks to keep my toes from freezing), little scary at times when heavy fog sets in. But good company on board and an excellent driver make the drive pleasant somehow. Nima and Dorjee (sister and brother) put me up for the night, even helping me arrange the Sumo early morning and cooking me breakfast! Over and over I let myself be surprised by the hospitality I receive everywhere I travel, grateful to say the least.

Back in Itanagar…back on internet, so lots of Skype with family and friends. Don’t know who invented the Skype thing, but for sure love the person for it! It makes the distance a little less difficult sometimes and it is for free ;-) Merwyn has to finish off a few things before we go on a small road trip together on his Bullet (motorbike). Exploring a small part of Central Arunachal, enjoying the scenery, tribal encounters and of course getting back on the saddle enjoying the ‘riding’ feeling! To all of you bikers out there, you know, the feeling is unique!

We set out a route but no fixed plan luckily as we don’t know how we will feel when we reach a place. Could well be we like to stay longer, stop before or take a different road. Happy to notice he feels the same. The bullet has the gears and break at opposite sides, so trying out the motorbike with 2 people, extra luggage on a mountain road…not a good idea. After opting to take the bike for spin a local runway…I get to ride the bike on a football field later on! Yoehoe!!! Not riding my own bike for over half a year I almost forgot the freedom feeling, so treasuring this moment! Was even able to kick-start it myself, twice ;-) I am happy with my house-on-wheels, but at moments like this I see myself travel with a motorbike again…

After a rough patch, taking regular chai pio breaks and photo take moments we reach Ziro…just before the rains. We arrange a guesthouse room on the top of the hill, overlooking the area dotted with farming patches in all shades of brown, white and red flower trees and wooden houses against a mountainous background. (Near)Full moon night… him playing with the video camera, me with the photo camera whilst enjoying a glass of whiskey: not a bad first night on the road! Our travel time is short as my visa is running out, but rather feel one place longer then racing through many…and for the both of us this Ziro District is one to linger longer. Taking it day by day we end up spending 4 days going from one village to the next. It is mostly the Apatani tribe living here, scattered over different small villages surrounding district capital Hapoli. Their houses are built in a specific way mostly using only bamboo and wood. In each village you find special platforms (lafong) communally used for eg. bamboo work or drying rice/grains. Typical to this tribe is also the use of the Bobo totem, placed in front of the house to show that there is a son living in the house, 1 for each son. From the front you would not expect the house to be so big inside. When entering one house upon tea invitation, I am surprised to see the houses are very long. As we visit an Apatani village (Hong) on a Sunday, we are invited to be part of a Donyi Polo service. Not a god but the Sun and Moon are worshipped by its followers. I can appreciate that. I now learn that the white flag with the red ‘sun’ which I have seen often outside houses is the Donyi (Sun) Polo (Moon) symbol. The service starts with a personal blessing from the priest, receiving a black  rope on my left wrist, followed by singing, preaching, a holy water ‘shower’ and a handful of some white rice powder. There are mostly (older) Apatani women present, giving me the opportunity to observe their unique facial decoration: black tattooing and bamboo nose studs. As amazed I am of them, likewise my dreadlocks are a mystery to them….perfectly captured  by Merwyn, for now my favorite photo.

For 2 nights we are welcome to stay with this lovely lady in her ashram, little reluctant at first, completely opening up throughout our stay. Sharing food and camp fire moments. Guess we are not the most difficult guests anyways, both of us being very flexible. Ziro district: definitely an area to return to and explore more. Yet, for now, we climb back on the bike to ride some more, giving us great views, smells and local encounters along the way. In Raga once again we are invited into a home for a meal and a place to sleep, Merwyn doing most of the (Hindi) talking all the time, answering questions about me as well. And apparently often people think he is my guide, a woman alone travelling unheard of. Not being the center of attention all the time is nice at times, yet I do prefer to communicate more (in depth) myself, getting me determined to learn more Hindi, now kind of stuck at a basic level.

The last 2 long riding days to Daporijo and Along are if possible even more spectacular….we start to wonder if we make it to before nightfall as we are having more Oh and Ah moments, followed by photo taking stops! A scenic journey it is: Vegetation changing, different tribes living in different areas, using a different house building style, wearing different cloths, using different tools. Only scratching the surface of this tribal life, but beautiful all the same. The following nights we book a hotel room, taking a break from curious local encounters and often the same questions. Room service and TV time instead. With hardly any tv in my life, sometimes it feels relaxed to look at this tiny box full of sound and visuals….just these adds!!

Far too quickly, from my part at least ;-), our ways have to part. He continues his life journey on his bike, me going back to Itanagar to collect my things and start my 2,5 day bus-train-bus-bus trip back to Kathmandu, Nepal. Sad to leave India, yet at the same time happy to go to Nepal again: Both countries are giving me their unique best.

Merwyn thanks so much for taking me along and sharing special moments, we will meet again!
Nama, Neywin, thanks so much for your help and stay at your home.
And Pipi thank you for the perfect last evening in India!­­­

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corrie van leuwen on

wat een mooie foto.s het worden er steeds meer tijd om
een boek van te maken en er een reisverhaal bij te maken
voor toeristen die daar misschien ook heen willen
liefs mama

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