Great Himalayan Drive Day 27: Meeting the Apatanis tribals in Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh

Two members of the Apatani tribe in Hong Village of Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh heading out for work in the morning
Two members of the Apatani tribe in Hong Village of Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh heading out for work in the morning

Change is all around us. And it is permeating even the remote and lesser developed regions of the world. If you are going to Arunachal Pradesh and expecting its ethnic population to be walking the streets in their traditional tribal dresses and accessories, be prepared to be disappointed.

Most of them are dressed in casual clothes, functional and comfortable. While you may expect to see more of traditional dressing in the interiors (poorly connected by roads), or at their festivals, the village of Hong in Ziro Valley still has some ‘sights’ to offer. It is home to the Apatani tribe. Many of the older women still wear nose plugs and men tie their hair in a knot. Many have tattoos on their faces. [View more images on Facebook even if you are not a member]

The younger lot are different. No tattoos or nose plugs for them. Girls go to beauty parlours. Kids sing songs from the latest Akshay Kumar – Katrina Kaif Bollywood flicks, and beat their bottoms 3 Idiots style. Toddlers have crèches.

What is still unchanged are their homes. They continue to live in houses made the traditional way – on bamboo stilts, with a central fire serving as a kitchen and to keep warm, with few rooms. Pigs stay in the space between the ground and the house floor levels. Bathrooms are just outside the main residential block. And everyone has symbols to keep the spirits away. And their festivals and ceremonies are still as they always were.

This trip was sponsored by and



  1. Brings back some childhood memories Ajay…..Dad was posted in Itanagar when we were kids & I remember visiting Ziro, still have memories of the Apatani tribe & also the fire in the centre of their homes! Enjoy seeing your travel pictures, can see you’re having a great time!!All the best! When do you get back?

    Wow, what a difference? These tribes have really progressed at least in this area, I’m sure in others as well!!

  2. Is the village in India or in other country? It seems a long long time ago…So different from the Indians…. The village looks like in Thailand. The old woman (amongst the photos on Facebook) looks horrible. why the women made the nose like that?

    • It is in India only Yanping. It may look like in Thailand because of the rice fields and popularity of bamboo. It is a traditional nose plug that they wear… no one knows the reason. A lot of Indians still live the way like their ancestors did

  3. hey ajay…nice pics…as far as i knw the reason behind the nose plugs of the apatani woman is that they had to wear this nose plugs so that they can protect themselves frm other tribal men…

  4. Dear Ajai,

    I have travelled in tribal areas of Karnataka, Andamans, Maharashtra, and Chhattisgarh so far. (I have travelled other states also, but not in the tribal areas).

    In Andamans, it was a place called Jarwa reserve forest. Here, we can see the tribals in their traditional dress, i.e tree leaves etc all around. Few of them were wearing regular bermudas, which were thrown at them by the passing tourists. We will be passing this forest on NH223 (- the only highway outside the mainland). Here we come across these Jarwa tribal people. We are not supposed to stop our vehicles or take their photos. Infact they are 2000 years behind us!!. (I was able to take few photos from the moving bus).

    I also had been to BRT WLS in Karnataka. Here I have seen Soligas, a tribal community. I had attended one of their festival in the dense ever-green forest also. They were dressed like us.

    When touring Bastar region in Chhattisgarh, I saw a true tribal man with lot of tree leaves as dress in his body. But before I could take a photo, he ran away. And the guide advised me not to venture into such things as it is a naxal infected area.

    Otherwise, generally speaking, we cannot see the tribals in their traditional outfits any more, in this age of information techonology.

  5. @ yakang takhe, it is advisable that hearsay is avoided while disseminating information on such sensitive matter as one’s culture and tradition. rnrnThe notion that Apatani women wore tattoos, nose plug, etc. to escape from prying eyes of other tribesmen is gross mis-assumption. It all started with the mention of the same on some outside writer’s book. The same was verified by some Apatani scholars/researchers by consulting the knowledgeable elderly people of the society and also the nyibus (i.e. Apatani priests – the custodian and storehouse of Apatani culture & tradition), etc.rnrnIt was found that there is not an iota of truth in the above statement (@ yakang takhe), or else how does one reasons behind male Apatanis’ tattoos on lower chin?! I don’t exactly remember the reason now…but may be it was to differentiate between human and animals in the eyes of deities in ancient times…may be…just may be…the details was enumerated in some book (forgot the book’s name again) written by the renowned Apatani writer, Takhe Kani.

  6. Thanks for this insight Tanii. You are right – one has to be careful. And be very clear what the source of information is and whether its reliability is confirmed or not. This way the reader can decide what to believe and what not.

  7. Hi Ajay,rnrnThis is only to correct some factual thing about the picture above and Ziro. The picture is of my mother (Mudang Yakang, wife of Mudang Laling, a senior politician of Arunachal Pradesh, he even contested MP in 1980) and uncle (Mudang Pai, a prominent priest or nyibu of Apatani). They are just at the entry point of Mudang Tage Village of Ziro and not of Hong Village. Lol… you were lucky enough to get a shot from them, my mum usually doesn’t allow even me to take a picture of her. Anyway I’ve downloaded this one.rnrnBest wishes…

  8. the couple looks so cute, why should one shy away from one’s identity. yes, they are very much of India,apatani tribe is one of the most educated tribes of arunachal pradesh. piercing nose is practiced no more there,it has been banned long time back. if you want to check the reality please do visit the place, you will be surpreised to know that modernity has penetrated not only in other parts of india but it has touched this part of India too…may be not in terms of infrastraucture but in ways of living,

  9. HEY Ajay nice to see you appreciating the apatani tribe as i had also visited ziro 1 years back. it is just so nice & fresh.i must say the mountains look soooooooooooo beautiful.


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