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The Ziro Festival Of Music Experience
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The Ziro Festival Of Music Experience

Picture of Namrata Ganguly
Updated: 13 January 2017
Touted as India’s greatest outdoor music festival, the Ziro Festival of Music 2015 recently concluded against the stunning backdrop of Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh. A whirlwind weekend of music, food, and culture, here’s our wrap-up of the experience.

It’s that #PeacefulEasyZiroFeeling which has the ability to rekindle the flame of fernweh. It’s been a month since Ziro Festival of Music 2015 concluded, but you can’t help but miss it.

One of the first withdrawal symptoms that kicks in is the lack of waking up to resounding music and stepping out of your tent taking in the scenery as you stretch out a sleepy yawn. Somewhere in your peripheral vision, you spot the friendly Apatani Aunties with their baked goods and delicious lal chai which attract sleepy campers like ants to a sugarcube. The second thing you really miss is the delicious local and organic breakfast called Pike Pila, available by the day stage. It’s made of the local rice with a blob of homemade butter, deep fried fish for the crunch, and a semi-dry beef and bamboo stalk accompaniment. As you chomp on this, you wash it down with some Apong/fresh fruit juice/kiwi wine, and you are set to immerse yourself in a day of music!

The music available at ZFM this year was even better than the food and apong – as if the ambiance wasn’t enough to make you happy! From Nush Lewis with her elfish harp playing to Alisha Batth’s raw acoustic set, from the Barmer Boys dropping the bass on the dhol and beat boxing to the kayali to the The Koniac Net moshpit to The Side Effects’ crazy energy… the music stages, called ‘Danyii’ (meaning ‘Sun’) and ‘Piilo’ (meaning ‘Moon’) were experiences in themselves

Integral to the #JourneyOfMyLife experience, is camping at the venue. The campsite takes on a different avatar at night, with scattered groups of new and old friends grooving to various genres of music. If you are lucky, you may be audience to an impromptu acoustic jam session between artists, such as the one that took place on one side of the Shoes On Loose campsite with Gowri Jayakumar and Neel & The Lightbulbs. Huddled together on the hillside, people passed around one acoustic guitar; with the stunning backdrop of the moonlit valley and the mist rolling in, the provocative music went on into the wee hours of the morning before ending with a round of lal chai by the barbeque pit.

Or you may even get a chance to chill out with a relaxed group of people spacing out to an entire 1.5 hour set of chill house music on another side of the campsite, staring out at the ravine thick with clouds, sounds of laughter peppering the quiet every now and then. In Gowri’s words, ‘Ziro [is] a great place to commune with the musical brethren… I hope the festival continues to grow responsibly.’

There was a welcome absence of overdone stages and sponsored fizzy energy drinks/fast food stalls. The Event Architect, Kollol Brahma Dutta, made an extra effort ‘to make [Ziro] as [non] plastic as possible’ and beautifully articulated that one has to ‘think of what the community and the environment is gaining or losing. It’s a very thin line you are walking, and it is important to not to lose balance and harm what has been given to you by the people of the land. Ziro Festival of Music would be nothing without the community. It is because of their involvement that Ziro is sustainable.’

There is, in fact, an Apatani Youth Association (AYA) that was formed in 1974 that very actively looks at responsible tourism and preserving the indigenous heritage while simultaneously providing opportunities. Taku Chatung, current president of AYA, shares that ‘the Apatani Cultural Landscape is an exceptional living testimony of the unique and harmonious relationship between man and nature.’ When Bobby Hano, the Organizer of ZFM, was asked about how it all began, he simply said, ‘I am from Ziro, so when menwhopause stopped by while on a northeast tour, we discussed the possibility of a festival and it just happened.’ It is this very simplicity that makes the Ziro Festival of Music so awesome.

Fun stuff aside, be warned: the ride to the venue and the battle for the toilets are not for the faint-hearted. However, to put things into perspective, there are many brave souls like the president of the Arunachal Bullet Club, Durham Wangham, and Florina Hica, from Romania, who navigate the treacherous, landslide-ridden terrain to attend ZFM on mere bikes.

At ZFM, gumboots are your best friend, preceded by Apong and local wines & food.

Once those are taken care of, you must go for a walk through the paddy fields, hitch a ride with a local to Old Ziro, take a share auto back, have lal chai, spend some alone time by the viewpoint, pet a calf, chill with the super friendly Apatani youth, do the Titanic pose, and breathe in as much fresh, clean air as you can! Your city lung sacs will thank you.