First the sad part – I was distraught at not having been able to make it for Basar Confluence or BasCon 3.0 in 2018. Especially after coordinating with Doni and discussing the logistics for the trip to Basar, continuing onward for Mechuka Adventure Festival and possibly to Namdapha National Park.
Now for the Happy part : I finally made it to Basar for Basar Confluence or BasCon 4.0 from 1-4 December 2019. I was contacted by Karyom Basar in advance and he had sent an invite for the festival. Hence there was no confusion as my dates were already blocked before any other assignment elsewhere could be discussed!
Where is Basar?
Basar is a small town and headquarters of the newly formed Leparada district of Arunachal Pradesh. Arunachal Pradesh is the biggest state in Northeast India in terms of area and Basar lies in the central part of the state. Basar is located amidst an evergreen rainforest. The indigenous tribe of Basar is Galo; Galo tribe is one among the 26 major tribes of Arunachal Pradesh.
It was shocking to know that before the Bogibeel bridge was built, people would cross (that part of the road) the river Brahmaputra on boat or ferry. In that case, one cab would drop you to one side of the Brahmaputra river and another cab would be waiting on the other side of the river after the boat crossing is done. Some ferries are big enough to accommodate two-wheelers and cars as well. The boat crossing would take around 1 hr 30 mins.
However, since Bogibeel bridge has been thrown open for vehicular traffic in end of December 2018, travel time has reduced considerably. It now takes hardly 10 minutes to cross the Brahmaputra river via the 4.94 km long Bogibeel bridge. Bogibeel bridge is the 2nd longest road-cum-rail bridge in Asia.
Dibrugarh to Basar – The Journey
We were on one of the direct flights from Delhi to Dibrugarh (Only Indigo and Vistara operate direct flights from Delhi to Dibrugarh). I had read somewhere that it would only take around 4 hours from Dibrugarh to Basar, for a distance of 150 kms. I took that with a pinch of salt. Regular visitors to the Northeast would know exactly what I mean!
The roads in Northeast India have become better over the years, but travel still takes time and one can expect to cover 25 km/hr as an average speed. Thus, even though we had left from Dibrugarh Airport by 1:30 pm, numerous breaks meant our Scorpio only rolled into Basar at 9:30 pm.
There were two SUV’s waiting for us at Dibrugarh Airport; our Scorpio was the one to leave early since we deemed it was better to try and seek an experience on the road rather than waiting at the airport. The highway in Assam was a breeze; views from Bogibeel bridge were nice and expansive and as we were crossing Silapathar I noticed the stilt houses that reminded me of the Mising tribe in Majuli.
I was instantly in a reverie and dreamt about the Poro (Apong or rice beer) that was served in a very authentic way by the Mising tribe (Also spelled as Mishing Tribe). Everyone in our vehicle got excited as I asked the driver to stop outside a house that looked like a Mising tribal’s home. Alas, the family wasn’t there but a passerby informed the driver (in Assamese) that we could find the Apong hardly 100m from there at another Mising tribal’s home! And thus started our Basar Confluence trip 🙂
Poro (Rice beer) at a Mising Household
When our car stopped, I jumped out and shouted ‘hello, hello’ for attention. A tiny girl was scribbling a painting in the notebook, her mom came to my rescue and asked me what was I looking for? I asked her if Apong (or Poro) would be available here. She confirmed yes and said it was Rs. 40 per bottle. We quickly polished off a litre of the happy liquid (light black in colour); I was glad to have made everyone taste this simple cultural delight of the Mising tribe in Assam.
We thanked the lady profusely, in return she made a tamul (betel nut and paan) for me and I gleefully accepted it! It was nice to be treated like a local in this faraway land. For most city-folk, every interaction is a transaction involving money. My travels across the years have gone farther and farther away from that reasoning; for me ‘Every interaction is an opportunity to share some happiness and love by making a nice conversation.’
It was time for us to continue our journey to Basar. While some of us had eaten in the flight (thanks Vistara for good food), others were hungry and wanted to make a lunch stop. We stopped somewhere around Silapathar which the driver said was a recommended place to eat. The aloo pithika was delicious and we loved eating the freshly made chapatis. It took us almost an hour for us to get done with lunch. In the meanwhile, the drivers had communicated that the other car was also about to reach the same spot as they also had to make a lunch break.
Reaching Basar in the Dark
It gave me a chance to drink some red tea (lal cha), as I really relish it after a hearty meal. In fact I am fond of lal cha so much that I have the tea leaves from Assam to make it at home! We sat outside and chatted and relaxed when suddenly from nowhere, hailstones started pouring down. First the hailstones were small and then they got bigger in size. They might have been as big as mid-size lemons. I almost as much thought that the glasses of the vehicles might be in trouble if it continued pouring hailstones!
Thankfully nothing untoward happened and after a while we scampered towards the cars. There was more than half the distance left to cover and it was already past 4 pm. The sun sets really early in these parts, especially in the winters and we saw beautiful evening colours around 4:30 pm and it got dark by 4:45 ish. Our permits were also checked at a check-post after entering Arunachal Pradesh and if all of us had not noticed a slight sliver of the crescent moon at 5 pm, it might have been considered a joke to have been in darkness at that time.
We rejoiced breathing in the fresh, aromatic air made rich in oxygen by the bountiful mountainous jungle surrounding us. Recent rains had resulted in a pitiful state of the roads and we laughed that rally enthusiasts need not go anywhere for adventure! It felt quite cold as the night went on. Most roads in the Northeast are in a constant phase of widening and ongoing construction but the work never seems to get completed. This is not to berate the authorities but the make the reader aware of the general sense of corruption that exists across this region.
Basar Confluence 2019 or BasCon 4.0
As we finally rolled into Basar at 9:30 pm, Karyom Basar and other locals were already waiting for us and quickly took us to our respective homestays. I was delighted to be staying in a local’s home instead of a hotel. It was nice and comfortable and had the added warmth of a family. Even though it was very late in the night, the family quickly made dinner for us and we finally slept after what felt like forever on the road!
Mist floated effortlessly in the green and yellow paddy fields dotted with pretty wooden huts, and it was only the chill in the air that confirmed the fact that I was awake, and not dreaming!
After a long night’s sleep, it was a surreal sight at 8 in the morning. It was foggy and cloudy and the sun seemed to have no plans to greet us, at least that day. I was lucky that my room had a balcony with an open view of the fields of Basar. The family allowed us to use the kitchen and I was glad to make masala chai since ginger and bay leaf were available in the homestay!
Nyomar Nyodu, our homestay owner declared that the performances at the Indigenous Celebration of Galo Tribe at Todak Basar Stadium were about to start and we should rush! This was another location where traditional dances are held on the same day as Basar Confluence and it served as a nice precursor to BasCon.
An interesting fact – Almost everyone’s surname in Basar is Basar!
When someone offered to drop us to the grounds, we preferred to walk. The landscape was lush green with plentiful rain around. Young girls and boys played football; Northeast India has always been leading the way in terms of female empowerment (Some states here are a matrilineal society, e.g., Meghalaya).
First tryst with Poka – The Magic Potion
It must have been around 11 am when we entered the ground where the Indigenous Celebration of Galo Tribes was being held and immediately met school kids dressed up in traditional Galo attire. As we sat and were enjoying the local dances, someone thrust a glass of dark coloured liquid ‘Poka‘ in our hands. Poka is rice beer/wine made after a process of fermentation and it is widely understood in entire Arunachal Pradesh that Galo tribe makes the best Kala Apong (aka Poka). It is a little sweet in taste and in my opinion, Poka is delicious.
Process of Making Poka : Husk of the locally grown rice is roasted and is mixed with ash. This mix and yeast begin the process of fermentation. It is kept in a bamboo-cane basket, and stored in outer covering of wild leaves for more than 2 weeks. The final product, ‘poka‘ is filtered like a funnel after hot water is poured over the fermented mix and the result is delicious sweet and slightly potent brew – poka collected beneath the bamboo basket.
After this wonderful start to the Basar experience, we rushed to the venue of Basar Confluence after a call from Karyom who said that BasCon 4.0 was about to start. We hitched a ride and quickly reached Basar Confluence parking. Thats the thing about festivals and people in small towns, everyone is super helpful and ready to help. The guy who dropped us was a local and he had come to Basar (from Itanagar) only to attend BasCon 4.0 (Thanks Mie). It was heartening to hear this.
Basar Confluence already was living true to its promise of being a proper local festival organised by the locals, for the locals.
At the entrance, it was captivating to notice the really cute direction mascots for BasCon 4.0. The mascots were designed by the extremely talented Jene Hai from Basar. The entrance registration hut was made from bamboo and entry was a smooth process. Taking plastic of any kind inside the festival venue was forbidden. The locals had set up some stalls outside their homes; selling oranges, tea, coffee, chicken, pork and rice pancakes. Since it was the orange harvesting season, the oranges were sweet and of really good quality. Price of the oranges at these stalls sold by the locals was 10 Rupees for 4 pieces.
It was fun to walk with the local performers who asked us ‘Aldure?’, which means ‘How are you?’ in Galo language. To which we were told to reply ‘Alruudo‘ which means Thank you in Galo. We were a bit jumbled with these confusing words but had a great time using them with locals over the course of the 4 day festival. Or hang on, wait … (Have I just confused both these words as they might be only one?) Blame it on the poka, you see!
Once inside Basar Confluence venue, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the entire festival was eco-friendly and that everything was made from bamboo.
Basar Confluence – Eco-friendly & Plastic Free Festival
The welcome absence of plastic was one of the defining features of Basar Confluence Festival. The futuristic locals and organising committee GRK (more on GRK later) have used the locally found abundant bamboo in all the constructions of Basar Confluence Festival. Right from the main stage to the food stalls, the official BasCon photo setup, benches, bridges and stairs (in short everything) had been made of bamboo.
The seating enclosure for the invitees & VIP Guests was also constructed wholly of bamboo. And hold on… yes, the toilets were also entirely made of bamboo and huge leaves. Not to leave the dustbins behind, which were also (yes, you guessed it!) made from bamboo.
The venue of Basar Confluence was nothing short of a mythical paradise; set in a natural hillock amidst lush paddy fields. Even though we were long into the winter in December, the shade of green would’t give away this fact. The sun was in a constant battle with the clouds and whenever it managed to peek out of the dense cloud cover, the colours were a treat to the eyes. I couldn’t wait to experience the tribal life of the Galos during the four-day cultural spectacle of Basar Confluence to immerse deeper into the art, culture, and music of Arunachal Pradesh.
The Main Stage at BasCon 4.0 was set up in a sort of depression in the open air festival venue so that maximum number of people can witness the performances. It was a brilliant move by the organisers that ensured that at any point of time the visitors can have a glimpse of the stage to enjoy the traditional dances and performances while enjoying Poka. A limited seating space would have resulted in everyone scrambling to get the best views or missing out on the entire performance altogether.
In a move that could be called a masterstroke in chess, huge bamboos were spread out across the terrain and people could sit and watch the performances happening on the main stage from everywhere! Indigenous and brilliant.
Traditional Attire of Galo(s) and other Tribes at BasCon 4.0
Most of the festival attendees were curious locals; they were excited and pleased that their traditions, culture and heritage were being preserved and appreciated. They were especially happy to see visitors from far off places (like us) were having a great time celebrating Basar Confluence. Their eyes sang with happiness when they saw us with bamboo tumblers filled with poka in our hands and when we told that we loved it!
Men were dressed smartly in their traditional costumes and donned a bamboo hat which was intricate and cost as much as INR 15000 when I saw it at one of the stalls selling traditional bamboo products. Women were dressed in their traditional and colourful finery as everyone sported a ‘Ghale‘, which is an embroidered skirt. The locals and other visitors from Arunachal Pradesh were having a jolly good time roaming around the food stalls and meeting their relatives over poka and authentic local delicacies.
Experiencing Basar Confluence
Karyom took us around the festival venue on the first day; and handed all of us a complimentary glass of poka! A glass here in the Galo country of Basar means a huge bamboo tumbler with a capacity of 1 litre. It was to be just the start of a long affair with these bamboo glasses. Plus they also had a cute sling so you could carry it on your fingers or hang them on your shoulders as a style statement! I loved them so much that they now serve as bamboo planters at home!!
At Basar Confluence, food stalls serve their delicacies in Toro leaf (looks similar to banana leaf) and the cutlery is in the form of bamboo plates and spoons. The food & souvenir stalls itself are made from bamboo and the roof is made from thatched leaves. It is like being back to nature and the way we might be able to keep earth in its natural form.
The Food stalls’ chief offerings were roasted chicken, pork, fish and mithun in different methods of preparation. The vegetarian dishes on offer included noodles, rice, puri-sabji, mushrooms, sweet potato and steamed rice cakes.
Sustainable, Rural & Environment-Friendly Festival
I have long maintained that the only way forward is local and Basar Confluence is a shining case of the same. To ensure that visitors to the festival do not have to resort to buying / carrying plastic bottles for water, the stalls have put filter water dispensers and people can drink water from there. Almost every local carries their own bamboo tumbler in Basar! These are the little things that matter, and by making such small changes Basar Confluence is setting a great example for other traditional festivals held across entire India.
Why should you attend Basar Confluence ?
Among the events held during 4 days of festivities at Basar Confluence are – Folk songs and dances, traditional music, festival & folk presentations, community sports like archery and tug of war, live guitar performances, traditional fishing, hiking and trekking, nature trails, adventure sports, hot air balloon rides, exhibition on biodiversity conservation, selfie points and the in-demand latibule (a hidden place!), enjoy the cool breeze at the treehouse with a vantage view of Basar Confluence.
For shopping there are stalls selling traditional bamboo products, textile and weaving stalls, colourful and metallic jewellery, nature trails, ladies selling oranges, organic tea from Along, stalls selling rice pancakes, paintings and art, bamboo exhibition stall, Agri tourism, ATV rides, fruits like kiwi, pineapple, starfruit, and a multitude of food stalls from various tribes and areas of Arunachal Pradesh. I must mention that the prices at the food stalls at Basar Confluence is very reasonable as compared to other festivals like Ziro Festival of Music and Hornbill Festival in Nagaland.
Another interesting place to visit was the EB Project Hill. Stalls – ITBP Sweet Gallery. Bamboo baskets and poka glasses for sale, Khamti Stall handicrafts, textiles and jackets, bracelets at Nocte tribe stall.
Top Memories of Basar Confluence
Stunning colours in the evening overlooking the golden rice fields in the mellow winter sun; coupled with the joy of witnessing authentic tribal performances in this incredible setting!
On one of the days, there was a dedicated Agri Tourism section setup amidst the paddy fields where women were harvesting the crop and men were husking it. It was nice to hear the harvest songs of the Galo Tribe of Basar.
The Textile Stall was located in a separate section of Basar Confluence. Since I have a habit of wandering around everywhere, perhaps I got lucky to explore this live demonstration where women were weaving ‘ghale‘ and fabrics using the traditional weaving methods. A brief conversation ensued and resulted in me buying a set of 6 woven table mats in gorgeous Arunachal design!
Rice cooked in a special hollow bamboo at Khamti Tribe Stall. First the sticky rice is soaked overnight in water. Then the rice is stuffed in a tender bamboo hollow and roasted over an open fire. The final dish is eaten by scraping the edges of the bamboo and the rice comes out in form of a cooked bamboo imbibing the delicious flavours. We were served this dish called ‘Khau-laam rice‘ with spicy aloo pithika, and the very friendly staff also gave us complimentary two steamed jaggery rice and peanut cakes as dessert!
Feeling the breeze at the treehouse at BasCon 4.0, and the beautiful location of the Soi Tree House. It felt very adventurous to climb up to the top of the treehouse and chat up with the locals and indulge in singing and dancing with them, overlooking the festivities and goings on at Basar Confluence over a bamboo tumbler of poka.
Visit to Joli. Joli is a mysterious place that is known to be haunted and sacred at the same time. It is around 4 kilometers away from BasCon venue and involves a very scenic walk through a stream. It is interesting to hear the locals’ spine-chilling narration of their experiences at Joli. The legend of Joli is that – ‘Yapoms are spirits who are the main inhabitants of the forests. In the old times the spirits would throw pebbles at locals who were passing through their area.’ We went to Joli and had a great time revelling in the pristine beauty of nature. The water level keeps increasing as one keeps walking and is around the thigh level, when you come across a waterfall in the stream in the end.
Undoubtedly, Poka in Basar is among the best local alcohol(s) I’ve ever tasted. It tastes sweet and there are two qualities of Poka on offer at Basar Confluence Festival. Poka Class I and Poka Class II are priced at 300 and 200 Rupees respectively. They might seem a bit overpriced but once you drink a bamboo tumbler you realise the quality is worth the price. We tried cheap poka elsewhere but it wasn’t worth it.
Don’t get misled by its sweet taste, poka is quite capable of getting one high. So drink slowly and enjoy the high without getting drunk! Another positive thing about poka is that it doesn’t give a strong hangover. Hence, even if you get drunk you don’t have much to worry about since the locals will give you a ride back to your homestay (as I did on 2-3 days of the festival, when hitching rides to get back to the homestay!)
Witnessing some unique sports & competitions like fastest bamboo pole climbing, swinging on a rope attached to a pole, archery competition which was super fun, the fiercely contested Tug of War among the different villages of Basar, and the funny competition where men had to run with their wives on the shoulder! It gave us so much joy to cheer wildly for the competitions with the locals.
The fishing venue setup in Ego Valley was perfect in every sense. From the weather being nice and sunny, to a wide and expansive landscape with the Ego river flowing. The best part was that families from all the nearby villages had decided to turn up. A picnic-like atmosphere prevailed; a bamboo bridge had been constructed to go to the other side of the river where we witnessed traditional fishing that is no longer practised.
In the old times – A tree bark was released in water which numbs the fish for some time, making them easier to catch. This method is not used anymore because the tree bark is difficult to find these days. Elsewhere families were fishing with their hands and bamboo baskets and it was unreal to see them catch fishes so easily. There were food stalls also at the fishing venue and it was nice to see the Basar Confluence method of bamboo construction being practised here as well.
Ego Valley was around 1 hour away (27 kms) from Basar and on the drive there were small stalls selling fresh pineapples. I immediately jumped out and picked a yummy pineapple for only 20 Rupees! It was tasty beyond words. I tried the bananas too at another stall. The fresh fruits in the Northeast are too good to be true!
Paintings, portraits and art on canvas made by a very talented young artist who was hearing and speech impaired. His eyes shined with happiness when we communicated through hand gestures and told him his work was exemplary! This stall was in a separate enclosure of Basar Confluence right at the entrance of the festival. A portrait of an Apatani lady made by him hangs proudly in my room at home!
Adventure sports, hot air balloon ride, ATV rides, the lights installed in all the seating areas and entire festival ground (except the stage) were warm lights and gave a pleasing feel to the eyes. I was especially in awe of the bamboo lampshades and even wondered asking Karyom if I could carry back these simple lampshades that made even the mundane yellow bulbs look so beautiful!
Among the Galo performances – Galo Ponu which is a welcome dance performed by the women. Nyoho Honam was the (Galo valour dance) Nyida Parik Galo ceremonial wedding dance. Erap Chanam – Galo ritual dance. Galo Mopin performance, Ho Delo performance from Galos and also Galo Folk ballads. Apart from that, there were other tribal performances and Folk presentations from tribes across Arunachal Pradesh –
Sherdukpen Tribe from Shergaon in West Kameng District, Bamboo dance of Nocte Tribe from Patkai Hills of Tirap district, Tai-Khamti (Tai-Khampti) from Namsai, Singpho Tribe from Changlang District, Apatani Tribe from Ziro Valley, Mishmi Tribe from Dibang Valley in Lohit & Anjaw Districts, Tagin Tribe from Daporijo in Upper Subansiri District, Nyishi Tribe from East Kameng District, Yobin Tribe from Changlang district, Miji Tribe from West Kameng District, Adi Tribe from West Kameng District, Memba Tribe from Mechuka in Upper Siang District. (In addition, I also spotted a few men donning Monpa hats (Monpa Tribe is from Tawang), ITBP performance was the icing on the cake.
Places to see in Basar & Around
Villages Walks to villages Gori-1 & Gori-2 that are close to the venue of Basar Confluence 4.0. The locals will make you feel welcome and village walks are a great way to immerse yourself in getting to know Galo lifestyle in a better way. The villages are pretty with colourful flowers and greenery. Almost all the old houses are built on an elevated structure (like stilts) and are made of bamboo.
Trek through a dense jungle to Bat Cave (Tapen Penru) in Padi village around 20 kms from Basar.
Deke waterfall (20 kms), Bumchi Waterfall (7 kms), Dime Diite waterfall (5 kms) at Pagi Village.
Odii Putu viewpoint is located close to Sago village and has a fabulous view of Basar. It is around 15 kms away from Basar and reaching here requires a stiff ascending hike of around 2 hours. According to the locals, the sunrise that we see from Odii Putu viewpoint is the first sunrise of the country!
EB Project Hill (3 Kms from Basar) – A unique project of biodiversity conservation through rainwater harvesting. It is the brainchild of Egam Basar and is located near Soi village and involves a hike through a dense jungle.
Joli – As mentioned above.
How to reach Basar?