My first experience of the boundless Idu Mishmi hospitality left me floored. As my fellow travellers and I journeyed towards Anini, the headquarters of the Dibang valley district of Arunachal Pradesh, which shares a long border with China. My journey, part of a self-drive exploration of east Arunachal Pradesh, was along roads hugging mountains that dropped thousands of feet into a valley.
Soon we were tired and flustered, especially after navigating a treacherous stretch of road. And we were obsessing about a cup of hot tea, which came to fruition when we spotted a tiny establishment where a few people were having tea. Without any enquiry, we ordered some for ourselves. This was promptly conveyed to a lady in charge, and soon we were served not only tea but also a snack, which was a tuber similar to tapioca. We were told the locals collect it from the forest, and we were gently goaded to try it.
When we finished, we were politely informed that the place was not a tea shop but rather a home, and no talk of payment would be entertained My dream of visiting Arunachal Pradesh started a couple of years before my actual visit. I had become acquainted with a young person from Anini, who had painted a vivid picture of the town of hardly 4,000 inhabitants.
A Warm Welcome
As we closed in on the beautiful Mishmi Takin Home Stay, we were reminded of the eastern longitude location of Anini as it turned to pitch dark at 7 pm. The young Timai Mihu proved to be a great host, keen on providing us with the wholistic experience of Anini. The following day, we were escorted to a home where preparations were underway for the Reh Festival. It is the most important festival of the Idu Mishmis, the dominant tribe in Dibang valley. And as it turned out, the lady of the house was the sister of my acquaintance, who had urged me to visit Anini. So, of course, we received a very warm welcome.
Despite the household being very busy preparing for the festival, we were lavishly served food and treated to Mithun meat and rice wine in bamboo containers. I noticed that everything used in the festivities was made from bamboo, and the overall eco-friendly nature of the festivities impressed us in no small measure.
One And All
Though every household aspires to be a host during the Reh festival, few are able to, as it involves expenses. Consequently, two-three households come together to host the Reh in one home. Friends and relatives chip in with contributions, and all the relatives of the family, even the distant ones, have to be invited, along with the local community.
Mithuns and pigs are the main sacrificial animals of the Reh festival. The Mithun, a bovine species, plays a significant role in the Idu Mishmi culture. They are domesticated and represent the prestige and power of a family or community. Mithun gates are a common sight on roads they are installed to prevent animals of one village from crossing over to the next.
Home To Culture
Timai took us on a tour of a traditional Idu Mishmi home, a long, rectangular, wooden structure on stilts. The drawing room, just beyond the entrance, is usually adorned with the skulls of sacrificed Mithuns and other artefacts of the tribe. The other rooms are arranged along a corridor, and to one side, and all of them sport a fireplace in the centre. Idu Mishmis are attached to their culture and all the associated rites and ritual. During their culture-religious occasions and other formal celebrations, they adhere strictly to the dress code, which for the men comprises a coat in tribe colours, a hat, and a hunting knife.
Fun And Games
Anini is one of the last outposts of Indian territory. The road ends abruptly about 40 kilometres from Anini, well short of the border with China. The Mipi circle, and Acheso by the Dri River, in the Dembuen circle are the two absolute last outposts. The drives to both locations are incredibly scenic, and efforts are on to develop agricultural and adventure sports-related tourism in Acheso, and the regions around it, such as Basar, Anini, Mechukha, Dambuk, and Paya near Aalo.
On drives around the region of Mipi and Acheso, we spotted farms with dried shrubs, which our guide, Timai, said were kiwi farms. Apparently, the best kiwis in India are produced here Farming and hunting are the traditional occupations of the Idu Mishmis, and they follow both wet and terrace cultivation of rice, along with seasonal crops of maize, millets, sweet potato, etc. Did you know that the Dambuk region is called the orange bowl of the Northeast
Return To The Festivities
It turned out to be rainy and muggy on the day of our scheduled return from Mipi. Plus, the rumours of landslides en route turned out to be accurate, as we encountered one and were stranded some 50 kilometres from Anini. The legendary hospitality of the locals surfaced again in the form of Yupi Pochha, a village leader of Etalin, who had been alerted to our plight. He guided us over the mudslide and generously put us up in the lone Inspection Bungalow in Etalin.
The landslide brought us luck, as the Reh festival was being celebrated in a home in the village. Yupi escorted us to the extravagant feast, and the welcoming nature of the Idu Mishmis again humbled us. They warmly invited us to witness the sacred Igu dance performed by the shamans and accompanied by ritualistic chanting. Our hosts gently persuaded us to join in on the chanting, but being unused to it, we found it a bit difficult but an engaging experience. Some university professors from Roing, who were also stranded with us and were on a research expedition on shamanism, explained that it is a significant part of the Idu Mishmi culture, which is based on animism. The shamans, or Igu, are highly regarded and hold esteemed positions in the community.
The next day, on our way back, out of Arunachal Pradesh, and onto Tinsukia, in Assam, we were all wondering when we could return to the beautiful land of the Idu Mishmis.
Best time to visit October to March.
Permits Inner Line Permit (ILP) is required. It can be availed online.
Entry fee Yes, for the ILP.
By air There is a chopper service from Itanagar via Roing the nearest airport is Mohanbari, in Assam.
By railway The nearest railway station is Tinsukia, in Assam.
By road The distance between Roing, the headquarters of the Lower Dibang Valley, and Anini is 235 kilometres. There is a taxi available from Roing to Tinsukia.