Back in 2017, over a glass of delicious home-brewed rice wine in Nagaland a friend had thrown the words ‘Dambuk Orange Festival’ at me. I was intrigued; Dambuk sounded exotic and the fact that it was an adventure and music festival held in the midst of orange orchards felt too good to be true!
About Dambuk : Dambuk is a small village in Arunachal Pradesh nestled in Lower Dibang Valley district and hosts what must be the most far-flung music festival in entire India.
Fast forward to 2018 – I had only 3 days to spare in mid-December between assignments and my tickets had been booked to Dibrugarh. Only a few weeks ago, I was scheduled to attend a local village festival and was utterly disappointed at not being able to make it for the flight for Dibrugarh. Nevertheless, this time Arunachal Pradesh’s little utopia called Dambuk had sounded too appealing for me to change my plans at the last moment.
Drive from Dibrugarh Airport to Dambuk
There is only one direct flight everyday from Delhi to Dibrugarh (In Assam) and since it was delayed, it meant we reached Dibrugarh at 3 in the afternoon. We were all famished and decided to eat whatever was available at the only restaurant outside Dibrugarh airport. After a hearty round of snacks, we sat in the vehicles that had come to pick us up.
The road in Assam is flanked by Tea estates on both sides, and with the fading sunlight we are treated to a delightful sunset across the green tea gardens. Days in the northeast end quickly and it was pitch dark by 4:40 pm. The train track to Tinsukia ran parallel to the road, life continued as usual at a slow pace in Assam – Arunachal Pradesh. The distance from Dibrugarh Airport to Dambuk was 180 kms and we were supposed to take 4-5 hours to cover it. When the driver stopped to eat something, I quickly rushed to instruct the dhaba guy in making ‘lal cha’ (black tea is referred to as red tea in Assam) just the way I wanted.
We were informed about the Dhola-Sadiya Bridge when we were close to Dhola village. The bridge is India’s longest at 9.2 kms and is built across Lohit river which is a tributary of the Brahmaputra river. The Dhola-Sadiya bridge is also called Dr. Bhupen Hazarika Setu and it connects Dhola Village with Sadiya Town. The Arunachal Pradesh Border is not far from the bridge and we finally enter Arunachal Pradesh.
I was shocked to know that until 2015, the remote town of Dambuk did not even have electricity, and mobile connectivity was a far cry! Instead, like a grand success story, infrastructure had improved and now Dambuk hosts Orange Festival of Adventure and Music to delight thousands of adventure and music lovers.
Slideshow of the dining area and life in Bomjir, near Dambuk
We reached a place called Bomjir at around 8 in the night which was approx. 16 kms before Dambuk and were informed that our stay had been arranged here. Bamboo cottages on stilts were scattered on a wide plain and a river was flowing nearby. The cottages were basic and rustic but served the purpose. It was pretty chilly since it was the middle of December and we were in the countryside in the mountain state of Arunachal Pradesh. Three single beds had been laid out in the bamboo cottage and the bathrooms were nearby.
The dining area was close-by too; it was shaped like a traditional two storey structure with the upper floor serving as a drinking den. Apart from the cottages, Bomjir was also home to the Artists’ Village. Tents had been laid out in a separate area for the performing artists and other participants. It was a pleasant surprise to have sticky rice served in leaves. Food was tasty and after a hearty meal we slept in peace. The beds and linen were clean and the blankets somehow did their job of keeping the December cold at bay.
We woke up the next morning and spotted a basket of oranges near the dining area and were opportunistic enough to take full toll of the oranges at Dambuk! After all we were at the Orange Festival of Adventure & Music (OFAM) and it was a must to taste the juicy oranges. We had breakfast early in the morning but due to some miscommunication we were still in Bomjir rather than being at the festival venue at Dambuk. Thats why I was a little perturbed to know we weren’t staying at the site of Orange Festival of Adventure & Music in Dambuk.
Welcoming the dignitaries at OFAM, Dambuk
We finally reached the festival site in the afternoon and what a spectacular setting it was! The road from Bomjir to Dambuk was in tip-top condition and it hardly took us 20 minutes to reach the festival grounds. The venue for OFAM was surrounded by greenery and the proceedings looked well organised. Parking of vehicles was in a separate area and attendees were supposed to walk to the festival venue. This ensured there was no traffic jam at the festival grounds.
The formal inauguration of OFAM festival had began and Arunachal Pradesh’s Chief Minister Pema Khandu gave a small speech. A breathtaking war dance of the Galo tribe was performed by the locals in the traditional attire. With the setting sun, it was indeed a sight to behold. It was the turn of Festival Director Abu Tayeng to make a speech.
Excerpts from the wonderful and practical information that Abu Tayeng gave :
‘Dambuk is famed for its oranges. Hundreds of acres of orange orchards on the mountain slopes of Dambuk transform the scenery of the region during the harvesting season. This inspired the idea of a festival with an orange theme for music and adventure lovers.’ Abu Tayeng also said that the idea behind the Orange Festival of Adventure & Music is to bring people from around the world to explore the Arunachal Pradesh’s wild natural beauty and experience the local way of life.
And with that, the festival was thrown open. The 4×4 vehicles vroomed and set out for one leg of their race. On the other side of the music stage, around 20 odd food stalls were set up serving different cuisines from Arunachal Pradesh and other parts of the North-east. I’d especially liked the bar – it was a painted ASTC bus (Arunachal State Transport Corporation) and served as a bar! In the middle of the ground at OFAM was a stall put up by the horticulture department for showcasing the oranges and also putting them up for sale.
When we entered inside, a farmer made us taste the sweetest oranges from his orchards and informed us that Dambuk had exported oranges worth more than Rs 50 lakh that year. The performances had also started and the crowd was in high spirits. It was inspiring to know that Dambuk had come a long way from 2015 when the OFAM had its first edition. Apparently that year there was no proper road to Dambuk and one had to cross a river to reach Dambuk. There are serendipitous experiences narrated by the participants of OFAM from that time when even reaching Dambuk was a crazy adventure!!
I had decided to go for the Orange Festival of Adventure & Music in Dambuk chiefly for the reason that Bipul Chettri would be performing! I am a big fan of his soul-stirring Nepali music and when the music line up indicated Bipul Chettri and The Travelling Band’s performance was scheduled for the end, I started ambling around the stalls and tasting the local alcohol!
Experiences at Orange Festival of Adventure & Music, Dambuk
Staying in the Huts at Bomjir
As mentioned earlier, our accommodation huts were at Bomjir, around a half-hour drive away from the festival venue. The view outside the bamboo hut was beautiful, full of stark and natural colours. There was a river flowing by flanked by the mountains in the far distance. Its easy to say this in hindsight that it may have been best to stay closer to the festival venue to document the many activities at OFAM Dambuk, but I think the accommodation and food at Bomjir served the larger purpose.
Buying Tribal Accessories
Outside the festival venue at OFAM Dambuk, there are tiny stalls set up by women selling oranges, accessories, trinkets etc.
Among the many adventure activities at Orange Festival of Adventure & Music in Dambuk – there are off-road racing events like JK Tyre Orange 4X4 Fury, ATV Rides, dirt biking, white water river rafting, zip lining etc. The adventure activities at OFAM Dambuk are organized by National Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports (NIMAS).
It could be called a small glitch in organisation but next day when we were supposed to go for the adventure activities and rafting, nobody seemed to know the exact location. What ensued was a wild goose chase across magical scenery, unknown hamlets near a town by the name of Bizari. It was a little disappointing to have spent around 3 hours without actually reaching the rafting place, but the jolly nature of the group made it a nice experience! After all, whats the fun at an adventure festival without getting lost!
Experimenting with the Local Liquor
The different food stalls have local alcohol ranging from rice beer to kiwi wine, red rice wine, potent kala apong, homemade rice wine. My love for local alcohol is no secret and I had a great time making my acquaintances taste this magic potion! It also helped in breaking the ice and pepping up the audience in the right mood!
Food Stalls at the Festival Grounds
A must experience at OFAM Dambuk is trying the various cuisines from different tribes of Arunachal Pradesh and the Northeast. Chatting with the jolly locals and trying their flavourful dishes is a great idea. Freshly squeezed orange juice is also available, for Rs. 100 per glass and 200 per bottle. One could also buy oranges at the horticulture hut in the festival grounds.
How to Reach Dambuk?
By Air : Dibrugarh is the closest airport and driving to Dambuk takes 4-5 hours from Dibrugarh airport.
By Train : Dibrugarh is the closest major train station to Dambuk.
Where to stay in Dambuk?
There are many camp sites set up and run by locals in close vicinity of the festival grounds. The location is spectacular as most of them are set amidst orange orchards. I enquired at two-three campsites and the prices are reasonable at 800-1000 Rupees per person. There are bonfires at every campsite and a festive atmosphere prevails since music is played at every camp’s dining space that lends it a warm and inviting feel.
Typing this as I listen to Bipul Chettri Songs!
Weather in Dambuk during Orange Festival of Adventure & Music (OFAM)
The dates for OFAM are usually in the middle of December and Dambuk can get quite chilly in the nights or when the clouds roll in. The temperature in Dambuk ranges from 9 degrees to 24 degrees Celsius during OFAM.
Even though I could only experience the OFAM Dambuk in 2018 for 3 days due to paucity of time, I do hope that this blog post serves as a basic guide for Dambuk, Arunachal Pradesh. I also wish that the organisers put more focus on responsible tourism and take care of simple yet important things at the festival so that it is better organised.
Note : I was invited for the Orange Festival of Adventure & Music at Dambuk but the views, opinions and photographs are always mine.
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