Friday, August 28, 2009


Travelling the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh is not an easy issue.
This State is situated in the Himalayan Hills. There are few cities and reaching any of them takes a long time. The most common means of transport are jeeps called “Sumo”. They are normal jeeps but they stuff at least 10 people in each of them, so during the journey you lose the sense of time, space and...of your body.
But the landscape over there is amazing, take a look!

Friday, August 14, 2009


Far away from the cities, in the middle of the pre Himalayan hills, connecting the villages can be quite complicated. The river Siang, coming from the Tibetan Plateu, forms a deep gorge which divides the state of Arunachal Pradesh. Crossing this river is almost impossible.
Far away from the “cement civilisation” men have learned from spiders how to get over this problem, weaving bridges with bamboo.
One of this is situated about 30 km north of the city of Pasighat. Going there by jeep from the city can take 3 hours but it's worth visiting this hanging 250 meters long roller coaster.
The structure is entirely made of bamboo, apart from some metal cable, which do not transmit reliance. The floor creaks and squeaks, the entire structures swings and balances under your steps.
Below, between the bamboo weaving of the floor, some 30 meters down, the rivers flows loudly, leaving you breathless.

Monday, June 1, 2009


Situated in the Northeast part of Assam, Dibrugarth is a quite busy city: apart from being the seat of one of the most prestigious Medical College of India, it is the headquarters of the homonimous District. It is also called “tea city” because it is surrounded by tea gardens where the majority of Assam tea is produced.
Nowadays Dibrugarth lies on the Brahmaputra's bank, but it has not always being the like this.
Before 1950 the river Dibru, which gave the name to the city, used to flow nearby the centre. It was one of the tributary of the Brahmaputra and their confluence was 18 km from Dibrugarth.
On the 15 August 1950 a earthquake with a magnitude 8.6 devastated the area and caused a sudden movement of the Brahmaputra, which begone to flow in the place were before there was Dibrugarth. ¾ of the buildings were washed away with their inhabitants.
After the disaster the Brahmaputra had found its new watercourse and the city had to adapt to the new situation. A barrier was built to protect the centre and the Medical School.

Today the big river with its 10 km of width, is still there, reminding to everybody his power and its unpredictable nature.
We have been there during the dry season and there was a strange atmosphere: from the centre a gentle slope of few metres lead us to the top of the barrier. The river was there, wide and smooth, as it was always been in that exact place, as if that was ITS place.
The element out of place were humans: a thin barrier separates the water from the buildings which are down the water level. On the barrier the poorest had built their own slum: a stripe of straw-coloured bamboo huts separated the green of the water from the grey of the city.

On the bank of the barrier the life sprang out: workers, dhabas (which are small restaurants with food and tea, really common in all India), rickshaw, children and so on: an unbelievable activity!

Later that day, people who live in the centre told us that during the rainy season the river reaches the border of the barrier and sometimes it inundates Dibrugarh.

The question is: where do slum's people go when, during the rainy season his Majesty the River, demands his land?

Friday, May 15, 2009


The traditional religion of Arunachal Pradesh is called Donyi Polo.
It means “sun and moon”, in fact the main divinities are the Sun and the Moon which are considered the eyes of gods and nothing can be hidden to them.
People in Arunachal worship also other divinities such as the ancestral spirits. Often each God is linked to a specific aspect of daily life such as agriculture.
Despite the fact that Donyi Polo is deep rutted in local culture, there is a growing preoccupation amongst some members of the society because other religions are spreading into Arunachal Pradesh.
Apart from the Hindus, coming from the neighbouring Assam, there are also many Muslins belonging mostly to the community of Bangladeshi immigrants. Least but not last, a lot of local people are converting to Christian faith and the number of Missions has increased in the last years.
The worry is that the new religions with their rituals, rules and customs will destroy the heritage not only of the Donyi Polo, but also other tribal traditions.

People who still believe in Donyi Polo practice a lot of rituals. For example they build totems as a homage to Gods. There are different kind of totems. Some represent the number of children living in the house, other are very high and their function is to connect the earth to the sky, and men to Gods.
Some rituals are very complicated and long. For example we have assisted to a harvest festival.
All the people were convened in one house, sharing food and wine. Almost everything was derived from rice, including alcohol.
Inside the house a wizard was constantly singing a singsong, holding in his hand some little chicken.

After few time the action moved into an open field, in the middle of the rice field. Here there was a hut. In front of the hut there were some totems and the main offer waiting for being blessed by the wizard: a bull.

The man kept singing his obsessive song, while started killing the little chicken.

At the same time other men rounded the bull and finally, at a wizard's signal, one of them axed the bull. In an eye blink the bull was killed and slaughtered.

The offer was made, the Gods were happy, now it was the time to go back to the house and keep on celebrating.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


For long time Arunachal Predesh has been defined as “tribal area” and until 1994 it was impossible for strangers to enter. Today a special permit is still required also for Indian people and it is only since the 1st January 2009 that is possible for stranger to travel here without a guide.
We have been there in February so we were one of the first backpacker and people were surprised because we did not have any guide. Often they offer to help us and show the beauty of their land.

In Arunachal Pradesh coexist more than 20 different tribes. Each tribe has its own habits and costumes. We have seen some of them. One of the most interesting is the Apatani tribe and we have been near Ziro in the village of Hong to see them.

The villages are build almost completely with bamboo and straw, houses are higher than the soil in order to prevent inundation during the rainy season. The villages are rounded by rice fields and bamboo forests.

People are nice, and looked at us with curiosity, because apparently strangers are not so common in this zone. But this feeling was mutual, especially because Apatani woman use to have unusual features: their noses are pierced and they have tatoos on their faces.

According to the legend, this habit comes from ancient times when Apatani women were the most beautiful of the region. In order to avoid other tribes men to marry them, Apatani women start to tatoo and pierce their faces to appear less attractive. Nowadays only old women can be seen wearing these features because the community decided to ban this practice in the late '70, endorsing people who refused to respect the ban.
But other traditions keep alive in the villages. We have been lucky because we had the opportunity to assist to a tribal religious ceremony...but this will be the topic of the next entry.

Friday, April 3, 2009


On the border of the Meghalayan plateau, just before a big drop into the flat Bangladesh, there is the world’s rainest place: Cherrapunjee. The avarege rainfall in this area is 11,43 m per year, but the record is 22,98 m, reached in 1861. Despite this fact, the tribal name of this place is Sohra which Kashi language maens “without fruit, unfertile”. It could sound like a joke, but once you take the road to reach the village, you understand that Khasi don’t have a strange sense of humor: the landscape around Cherrapunjee seems the perfect scenary for a Western movie.
The road runs through a desert plateau, interrupted only by groups of monolytes, placed there by tribal people as an offer to the gods for a newborn baby.

From time to time a deep canyon marks the border of the highland. The cut in the earth is clear and chuckhole is so amazing that during the dry season is difficult to imagine how that place should be during the rainy season, when all the rain that falls in the area finds its way to the sea by jumping down those high cliffs. A luxury of vegetation can be spotted finally on the bottom of the canyon, several meters below.

Life in this place can be defined at least as peculiar: 5 months of almost uniterrupted heavy rain take turn to 7 months of an harsh dry season. Khasi people had found a way to dominate such a difficult nature. Maybe the most interesting example of this adaptation are the “living root bridges”. As their name suggests, these bridges are made by the roots of a special tree, forced to follow wires until they form the structure of a bridge. This process lasts at least 25 years but they require costant maintenance. Due to the desert highland, these bridges can be found only on the bottom of the canyons. In order to reach them, you have to follow a steep footpath in the deep forest. I leave to your judgement if it is worth it! Enjoy the short film.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cyclone shelter in Bangladesh

Nearly two months ago we were travelling through the south of Bangladesh. In the region named Khulna one can arrange a cruise to the Sundarbans, the famous mangrove swamp. Coming back to those moments, we recall the spotting of a cyclone shelter in the village at the entry point to the reserve. This spot, at the shore of a main channel of the delta that feeds part of the Sundarbans was visited by us for some moments, just the time to get an entry permission and board two officials.
We were walking into that village, leaving the water behind, surrounded by all the kids that at that time were off school, when we saw a cyclone shelter among some other rudimentary constructions, a few huts, and a public school, with a metal plate that told us that it was constructed with Australian funds. This was of the same kind we have seen about a year ago in Orissa, India, where cyclones cause destruction from time to time. Essentially we were in the same lands, although in different countries.
A cyclone shelter is basically a solid building, an elevated construction that provides security from the winds and upcoming water. The foundations are such that dissipate energy from upcoming flood waves from the sea or from riverine floods, with a semi pyramidal shape. Above it, at some meters from the ground, one or more spacious rooms are to provide shelter to a number of people. Then, above it, an open rooftop dominates the landscape.
These buildings are designed to cover a certain amount of population, therefore, in a region like this it is not difficult to find more than one. Indeed, when a cyclone shows up, the time to reach the shelter may be crucial.
Education of the population, or better said, letting people know how and when to use the shelter is a major issue. Seminars and explicative paintings around the shelter cover that function, so that people know how to proceed at the time all hear the hand-syren calling people in.
Nevertheless, speaking with people all this time, we got to know how the perception of a cyclone may differ from us. In this region strong wings and floods are frequent, if not seasonal, and not always hold a destructive force. Some people, used to these events, show reluctant to abandon all to go sheltered, completely unknowing the power that the cyclone might have. Not long ago a huge one showed up, just one year before our trip, one day of October. Many people did not hear the alarms, some misheared them, and many died.
From there we continued deep into the forest.


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