Music festivals in India are fast catching on, with people making crazy long road trips, pitching tents, and travelling to places near and far. One of the better known ones is Ziro, in Arunachal Pradesh, and we had two very different sets of travelers send in two very different accounts of their Ziro experience. Duo one wrote an account that paints some rather vivid pictures, while our second festival goer captured his experience through a camera lens; pictures that need no words. Introducing, Mr. Lester & Mr. Bangs {stage names for our wandering contributors}, and photographer Shiv Ahuja.

“I’m flying high over Tupelo, Mississippi…with America’s hottest band…and we’re all about to die.”

Wait…fuck that. That’s not how this happened.

I’m high as a kite over Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh…at India’s hottest outdoor music festival and I’m about to piss in a 20 foot shovel pit. And I think I see the silhouette of a bullfrog at the bottom of the pit screaming away at the sound of my piss hitting him square in the nose. Yeah…that’s closer to the truth. Hold on you GirlyMan…don’t be running away just yet, because what you need to understand is that we came prepared. We came on a mission. We came with fucking brownies. “Normally, I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol and insanity to anyone, but sheeyit…they’ve always worked for me.”* And Ziro was all of the above.

Patient Ziro

We promise, no more stupid puns. Let us begin.

Ziro Time to Lose

Haha. Let us begin… again.

So after we land in Guwahati’s LGB airport and ponder the injustice of excluding trannies from an airport, we decide to make our presence felt. 19 minutes later, we’re greeted by our Assamese driver Vishal. Vishal speaks English and Hindi fairly efficiently. But after 4 beers and some Calcutta black in our lungs, we don’t seem to notice that Vishal understands everything we’re saying. But fuck it. We’re too busy looking at this landscape. A landscape populated by emerald green. A color that two city boys have probably never seen or smelt or felt or rolled around in. We’re too busy putting the windows down and letting this emerald breeze seep into our hair and our cheeks and also reminding one another not to hog the drugs. Which reminds me. Pass me that shit.

These two city boys have know each other since Michael Jackson was black, and needed an escape from the normality that they’re trying to build. From the scene in Delhi that tries a little too hard, and the tests of patience that come up incessantly while working as a perpetual outsider, opportunities for music fests came and went, but none seemed to fit the experience we were looking for. Not that we knew what we were looking for, just something that would rip us out of whatever we’re knee deep in every day – a different state of mind and time.

A word to the wise, the concept of time becomes harder to grasp when the blood stream is full of THC. But in our defense, a 17 hour car ride would seem endless even to the most chaste amongst us. So since time was on our side, we decided to put our collective IQ to answering the most pressing question at hand. How do we ration our drugs? 12 brownies + 9 doobs. 84 hrs. The math was pretty complicated. 12 minutes later we had given up and destroyed half our stash and instead we decided to place our faith in divine providence and focus our addled minds on what our eyes were perceiving. Plus it was a goddamn music festival. We could pretend to be nice and piggyback on other peoples’ stash. No shame in it.

Back to the journey. We finally reached the Inner Line Permit checkpoint and my backside was sore. Now the ILP could classify as one the greatest feats of the bureaucratic machine that is our Army. One dude + One lame ass barrier. If I was a commando of the Peoples Army and all I wanted to do was cross into the forbidden ILP zone, I would immediately be guillotined by divine forces for aiming really really low. Anyways…onwards. Night time had arrived. And that’s when the fog first appeared. We’re Delhi boys so we really don’t give a fuck about fog. But Vishal immediately crapped his pants and it took an excessive amount of time completing the fag end of the journey. Nevertheless, the fog must be given credit for making everything look mad cool. Floating in a cloud. Hendrix in the valley. Neurons firing randomly. Good times.

So we get to Ziro. Make our way to campsite. Eat some grub. Interact with the other early arrivals and the locals, who seem to be very quick to defend their sense of identity. This is a recurring theme, which we realize as the weekend goes on. But first, it’s time to pass out.

The next morning we’re up by 6am. Wake and bake. And we’re greeted by the most awesome sight. Blue Sky. Peaks on the horizon. Mist in the air. Paddy Fields over yonder. A lonesome cow. And Keb Mo on the airwaves. We mingle with our fellow men and women, try to be social, and realize that the skills we learnt don’t really work here. We need to be real people. Maybe not the real us, but real somebodies. The re-baptism to Himveer and Xavier is quick, and we proceed to build real fake lives that can actually connect with people because god knows our reality can’t {doesn’t want to}. And, after all, we’re looking for a bakra to make friendship with so we can hit him on the back of the head and steal his drugs. We find our man. Smoke his stash and we move on. We’re fucking stoner bedouins. Nothing can stop us. Except the Inner Permit Line.

The lay of the land had been discovered, and we had found enough tea, eggs, maggie and conversations about Steppenwolf to get ourselves comfortable. It was now time to perform an important task. Figure out the pooping situation. The words shovel and pit when used together don’t really incite a lot of joy in the mind. Maybe we’re just spoiled brats who don’t like to place our asses over a pit and defecate. But after a while, the need to shit overpowers the need to do anything else. We man up first. And the deed is done {one at a time, for the most part}. But there is a fuck up. Apparently the little hand spade lying next to the pit wasn’t for protection against intruders while pooping, but was placed strategically so one could use it to dig some earth and throw it over the structure that one had just created. But to our great satisfaction, we soon hear murmurings around the campsite about the vile creatures who were not covering their poop with earth and at the first opportunity, we blame someone else with the conviction and zeal of a Jehovah’s witness. Everyone believes us.

At this point, we’re done with bamboo bathroom tub baths. We’re in the good graces of our campsite hosts, and the morning brownies are inspiring us to plant two chairs at the intersection of food and people. As the fuzz comes in {sound check/ THC}, there’s a depth of lives that we’re introduced to. The BBQ man is an Assamese film director who’s got a movie release coming. His pursuit of his lovely wife, a model in a past life, making sure the breakfast Maggie is badass. The gent instructing us in peeling garlic makes the guitar orgasm, multiple times. The elderly, quiet, toothless gentleman who walked up from nearby reminds us of what Bob Dylan sounded like when he first sang Boots of Spanish Leather. As soon as it’s all sinking in, as surreal as it is, the skies open up and wash it away.

We can’t spend the entire weekend on our thrones, with a stellar view and music in the distance, spaced out, giggling and farting like school kids. It’s a fucking rock concert. So we roll another and head to the fest. Bands come and go. Nothing really spectacular. We heard Q and he was pretty Qish. Shair + Func sucked ass. Peter Cat should immediately replace its lead singer with a Rubiks Cube. Just as we’re thinking of heading back to the slow roasted pork and beer, an isolated trumpet note makes it a music festival. Yes. Truly. Because we are now face to face with Don Bhatt + Passenger Revelator. And these sounds are fucking magnificent. The machine gun drums. The atmospheric samples. The XX-ish duo, with a guitar virtuoso. And that trumpet. Man that trumpet. We’re silent, rapt in attention, and only looking at each other to say- Dude, Sweet. Asleep by 10. While scampering around for toilet paper at 3 in the morning, there’s a different concert going on, much closer to the tents and toilets. The semi-pros are out around fires, the guitars and cajons accompanying haunting voices. Songs we know, songs we don’t. It is truly the greatest squat poop experience that one could ever ask for.

The 2.5 days we’re there seem much longer – we’re already regulars at the breakfast place. Deep secrets have been shared with Himveer and Xavier, monosyllabic interviews have been wrapped up. The blur comes to an end. We dig into the life of a visual designer with bionic tattoos to bum a joint for the road, and without goodbyes, disappear.


‘Ziro’ By Shiv Ahuja 

Last year, Anup and Randeep asked me if I’d like to accompany Menwhopause to Ziro, a small region in the Lower Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh for a music festival they were organizing. Without any expectations or research, a two-day train and 15 hour car ride later, I was at Ziro. The same night at a local drinking hole, a few mugs of the local rice beer and I was out cold, only to realize I was being photographed by my new Apatani friends with my hair tied up in the traditional tribal style and bamboo-ash tattoos on my face. I was the tallest man they had ever seen and they now took it upon themselves to make me feel at home. Anup’s words came back to me, “Its as much about them understanding us as it is about us understanding them”. I feel like there’s a story unfolding at Ziro and i’m quite excited to be able to document it.

Here are some photographs taken over 2 editions of the festival. This is a work in progress.

Photographs and Music by Shiv Ahuja


*Introduction quote: Cameron Crowe; from Almost Famous.

2nd quote: Hunter Thompson; from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

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