It was tough to say ‘Alruudo’ the last time I uttered that beautiful word as I left the wonderful land of the Galo tribe. Alruudo in Galo means 'Thank you' and I had learnt this word and a few others while interacting with the friendly people of Basar. The fairy land of Basar is a cluster of small villages, home to the Galo tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. Basar was my home for a week and its amiable people were my guides with whom I wandered this surreal land. I stayed in their homes, had meals with them, drank Poka with them, wandered through their meandering muddy roads, interacted with the neighbourhood, played with their kids, listened to their stories and joined them on short trails. The day began with 'Aldurey' (How are you?) and nights ended with 'Alruudo'. They made sure that I was a part of their tribe during my week long trip and that was why it was tough to say 'Alruudo' when I left Basar. Though the prime reason to visit this gorgeous land was to attend the Basar Confluence, Basar and its people won my heart in innumerable ways.
Located in the new Lepa Rada district of Arunachal Pradesh, Basar is a small town comprising of 26 villages. Basar and its surrounding villages are home to the Galo, a central eastern Himalayan tribe. It’s a five hour tough drive through the mountainous terrain of Arunachal to reach Basar from Dibrugarh, which houses the closest airport. Though public transportation from Dibrugarh and Silapathar to Basar was infrequent until now, with the opening of the Bogibeel bridge, there are regular sumos and buses plying on this stretch.
The Galo tribe is believed to be descendants of Abotani, the primal ancestor of Tani tribes. They speak the native language Galo, which is a Tibetan Burman language. However, most of them can converse in Hindi or Assamese. Though they mostly inhabit areas centred near Lepa Rada, West Siang and Lower Siang district, small percentage of Galo people are also found in places such as Itanagar, Dibang valley, Subansiri district etc. Donyi-Polo is the prominent religion, and they worship Sun and Moon. However, Christianity is slowly catching up among the younger generation of the tribe. They are mainly into rice cultivation and have been practicing it for ages. Owning Mithuns (a bovine animal similar to an Indian Gaur) is a sign of prosperity among the people of Galo. They were once hunters but presently the act is banned across Basar and the tribe continues to follow the new age rules.
Galo people are one of the friendliest people I have ever met. Always welcoming with a smile, it was a pleasure staying in their thatched stilt houses. Always keen to crack into a conversation, it was a delight to listen to their stories. I listened to stories of their tribe, Abotani, history, present scenarios, cultures and traditions every day during my stay in Basar.
As the sun sets pretty early across north east India, Basar was no different and the nights ended quite early with the family snuggling into their beds as early as 8 PM. However, when we left Basar for Sago village, it was past 8 PM. After an hour’s drive through the slushy terrain we reached Sago at 9.30PM to find the lovely villagers waiting for us. Sitting around the bonfire inside the house, we introduced ourselves and chatted through the night. They were happy to sing their folk songs as we sipped on Poka, the local rice beer. When the long banter ended, it was almost midnight and we slept around the warmth of the fire. Apart from the fire, it was the friendly gesture of the people of Sago that made the night a warm one. It was also undoubtedly the most memorable night in Basar. The next day a few elders from Sago joined a part of our group that headed to Oodi Puthu, which is a short trek from the village that offers panoramic views of the valley. I instead walked around with Mirik, a jovial guy who was keen to pose for photographs and show me his village.
We walked into one of the houses where a lady was knitting shawls. As we prodded her with questions, Maapi Riram Lindo opened up about her life, details of the Galo shawl she was knitting, jewellery that Galo women wore and much more.
Story telling session at Marjum Bam’s home was quite insightful. He is a senior technician with the government, and lives with his family in the pretty Bam village. He was quite glad to narrate folklore of Galo tribe and their origin.
While we were capturing frames of a paddy field where a few women were working, the owner of the land walked up to us with a smile and a few bamboo hollows of Poka. How often do you see strangers being treated as one’s own in today’s world? There was no end to the amount of love showered on us throughout our stay in Basar.
Basar is a secluded little town up in the eastern Himalayas and cut away from most of the modern facilities. A cluster of 26 small villages make up Basar. Surrounded by green hills, waterfalls, streams and vantage points, one would be closest to nature while in Basar. The open paddy fields and the small thatched houses accentuate the charm of every village. While most of the settlements are close to each other, there are a few such as Sago, Padi etc. which are far from Basar town. Sago village is located in quite a remote area and is an ideal place in Basar if you would like to be close to nature. Most of the villages are covered in lush greenery and you might be tempted to relate them to the forests of Amazon. Bam village is probably the most prettiest of all the villages near Basar town. It also houses a museum and a library. Gori II village is one of the cleanest villages in Basar. Young boys were found cleaning the streets of this village and I was told that they do this regularly. While the villages are devoid of shops and other commercial establishments, Basar town has quite a few shops catering to the requirements of the people.
Raised on stilts and with thatched roofs, the houses in Basar and its surrounding villages have a similar design. All houses have separate entrances for men and women. Inside the house, a large hall occupies a major portion with the kitchen in one corner. There would be one or two chulhas (fire place) around which the whole family sits, talks and eats. There are no separate bedrooms as such and beds are put up in corners of the halls. Toilets and bathrooms are always outside. The inner walls of the halls are mostly adorned with animal trophies, mithun horns and other such interesting show pieces such as warrior attires, machetes etc. While hunting has been banned across Basar, the displays are of those animals which were hunted many years ago. However, even with minimal facilities, it was the stay with the heartwarming locals in their cosy homes that helped me delve into the Galo culture in detail.
Galo women are mostly seen wearing the Galo shawl/ skirt known as Gaale which has a beautiful design on it. They also adorn themselves with attractive jewellery such as Marpo, Lichum, Manpu, Ugi etc. Men have a penchant for their machetes and that is quite visible when they go out to attend functions. While most of the houses have the warfare attires at home, these are brought out only during functions such wedding, community festivals, Mopin or Basar Confluence.
While a majority of the Galo follow Donyi Polo, a minor population follows Christianity. The naming of the children is pretty interesting as their name starts with the last syllable of their father’s name. This is continued generation after generation making it easy to remember their lineage and their forefather's names.
Mithuns are a symbol of prestige, pride and prosperity for this tribe. The more mithuns a person owns, the more is his pride in the society. During marriages, the groom gifts mithuns to the bride (similar to a dowry). The groom needs to give at least two mithuns and I was told that in some cases the groom had given even up to twenty numbers, which also shows how prosperous he is. Mithun is then sacrificed and its meat is served during the marriage feast. Mithuns hold a very significant role in the lives of Galo people.
While hunting was prevalent earlier, Galo people used to hunt every animal except the tiger. They believe that tiger and man come from the same origin and it is a sin to kill a tiger. If a person kills a tiger he has to undergo a penance for a year. Tiger is considered a revered animal even today by them.
Galo tribe follows numerous traditions and their culture is quite unique despite the influence of the modern world in the recent times.
Galo people believe that Abotani introduced rice cultivation and they have continued the same for ages. Along with rice, which is the staple food, they also serve boiled vegetables and chicken. While modern influences have made their impact, there were many instances when rice, vegetables and chicken where prepared in bamboo hollows. They don’t use oil in their preparation, use very little salt and even lesser sugar. Even milk was nonexistent until outsiders arrived. However, they use spices and most of the dishes are either spicy or bland. Pita (rice cake) and lal chai (black tea) is common for breakfast. Options for vegetarians are limited as Galos generally have meat in most of their preparations.
Poka is a local beer made from fermented rice and is prepared in almost all the homes in Basar. It is mostly served in bamboo hollows and every guest is served Poka. With Okho leaves acting as natural stoppers, Poka is a wonderful drink that keeps your spirits high.
While we mostly had meals in the homes of the locals, one meal was absolutely a memorable one for its ambiance and setting. Imagine having lunch at a forest clearing with the tribe and relishing local preparations and endless Poka. It was followed by a small dance performance by them and that was a wonderful way to end a delightful lunch session amidst lush greenery. That was probably one of the most memorable picnic lunches I have ever had.
Apart from the landscapes and greenery, Basar does have a few attractions for the adventurous souls. A short trek of one hour from Padi village leads to a cave full of bats and unsurprisingly it is known as Bat cave. It is a fairly tougher trek to Odi Puthu from Sago village. It is recommended to trek before sunrise to have a view from the top. As the sun rises, one can see clouds floating over the valley. Bumchi waterfall is another attraction near Basar.
Joli is referred as Yapom- the abode of spirits, and is believed to be a haunted place near Basar. One has to trek down a mud slope before wading through the waters to reach this place. It is believed that during the old days, only one tribe could cross this river and when other tribes tried, stones were pelted at them from the hill top. However, there are no such concerns at present and visitors can easily trek through the shallow waters to reach Joli.
Basar would leave you mesmerised with its gorgeous landscapes, lovable people and their unique cultures. It was tough for me to leave Basar and the biggest reason was the love showered by the Galo people. Alruudo!
Basar is located in Lepa Rada district of Arunachal Pradesh. The closest airport is at Dibrugarh, 150 Kms away and the closest rail head is at Silapathar, 95 Kms away. The road from Dibrugarh goes via Silapathar and Likhabali to Basar. It is recommended to hire a private vehicle from Dibrugarh or Silapathar to Basar. With the Bogibeel bridge opening recently, public transportation has got better and there are sumos plying between Silapathar and Basar.
Basar town has a couple of small restaurants which serves the non local flavours. Basar has a few basic hotels and hostels which can be arranged by GRK, an association which overlooks into the well being of Galo tribe. It is highly recommended that one stays in a home stay with the locals to have a complete Galo experience.