Ziro Tolerance

Getting from Tawang to Ziro took two days with various stop offs, one leg of the journey involved an overnight sleeper bus. Sleeper buses in Arunachal Pradesh are like the Rat Ride at Light Water Valley, except there’s no photo at the end, just a stinking headache and a sore neck…

Ziro Valley’s landscape is very different to that of Tawang, tracts of lush paddy fields stretch for miles, the sun shines, the sky is clear azure and the birds constantly sing happy songs for happy people. Descending into Ziro is like stepping into God’s back garden…


Hapoli is the main settlement in the valley, but this is little more than a jump off point for the tribal villages. It’s worth calling into the market and seeing if there’s any weird food stuff that tribal people are well known for…

Bananas, chillies, eggplant, jungle rat…

Ziro Valley is where you will find the Apatani tribe. Most well known for the facial tattooing and nose plugging of the women. Apparently Apatani women were considered the most beautiful of all tribeswomen in Ziro Valley, making them prone to kidnappings by horny tribesman from the rival communities, such as the Nishis. The girls were therefore defaced by their own men to discourage them from being snatched up and taken away. You will see women over forty with facial tattoos and the women over sixty with nose plugs or yaping hurlo as well. Surprisingly the average life expectancy is over 80 for a woman, and it’s not uncommon for some to live to 100+


When we walked into the largest Apatani village, Hong, we happened to stumble across all the women crowded around one of the village lapangs, a large wooden structure used for public meetings. The women were waiting to collect their annual pension, one by one they queued up until it was their turn to stamp their thumbprint (most are illiterate) and collect their 2400 rupees, approximately £25 for one year, they don’t get a bus pass either so think twice before complaining about the U.K state pension.

Hong village street

A babo, large wooden staff. One of these is erected outside every house indicating the clan or family

The women waiting for their pension

The Apatani women aren’t that keen on having their photos taken, it wasn’t their choice to get the facial tattoos, they think it makes them ugly and some have even been to Harley Street to get them removed. I just showed them a photo of some Pennywell girls and they felt a lot better about themselves…


The Apatani religion is Donyi-Polo, which focuses on the worship of the Sun and the Moon. Whenever anything bad happens, the Apatanis believe it is caused by evil spirits that have spat their dummies out. The sacrifice of animals is practiced to keep the huffy spirits on side. Mithun, a type of cow unique to Arunachal, is normally sacrificed on big occasions. If you visit during festival times you will see every animal under the sun being put to the sword, you will also hear ‘Sacrifice’ by Elton John being played on repeat, I’ve heard it’s a hit with the Apatanis…

We saw this man walking around with a freshly sacrificed mithun leg, so something extremely bad had happened, such as a death. Or maybe they’d heard I was in town…

Apatani grave (biyu) with the skull of a sacrificed animal

Apatani bloke flexing

We were invited along to the victory bash of Shri Tillong Sambyo, the Hong village congress party minister. Let me tell you one thing about Indian politics, it is as corrupt as Lance Armstong’s drugs tests. This guy only won the election as he showered the public with ‘motivational’ gifts of fresh meat just before voting. The victory party was just another sweetener for the masses, free drink and as much mithun as you can eat. Being the only white people in the vicinity we were treated like royalty, and were practically force fed cup after cup of home brewed rice beer. Home brewed rice beer tastes like a mixture of dry cider and cheap boxed wine, pretty lifting, but does the trick. All day we stayed and watched traditional Apatani dances and numerous very long speeches by the minister, no one listened, just waited for the buffet to open.



We left Ziro all rice beered up and extremely happy to have come face to face with these unique people, it’s also worth noting that this is the first place I’ve visited beginning with a Z, house!

Our Apatani Aunty and Uncle

Categories: India | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Ziro Tolerance

  1. Dave Griffin

    I really have no f’ing idea where u r mon. But sounds great, am still following u

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