Over the last one month, I have written a little over ten stories about my recent sojourn across eastern Arunachal Pradesh. Writing these has only strengthened my bond with Namsai and its people. With each narrative, it's like I am still travelling through those picturesque landscapes, that I never left them.
As my little hoard of Namsai stories nears its end, I can’t help but feel nostalgic. I don't want it to be over, I'll feel like a part of me is being taken away. This particular travel assignment has been very special for me, thanks to the incredible and rare experiences that I have been so fortunate to be a part of.
One of these was the private Reh Festival celebration at an Idu Mishmi village near Roing that we attended. That's what my last story will be about.
This was on the last leg of our trip. The journey from Namsai to Roing was memorable as we took a small detour to the newly built Riwatch Museum. We were spending the night at the Mishmi Hill Jungle Camp in Roing. We had no fixed itinerary for the last stretch since we had time constraints. That evening, we were in two minds. We could either go to Mayudya, witness the season’s last remains of snow or we could visit a nearby village and meet people from the Idu Mishmi community and get a taste of their lifestyle. The choice was a tough one. On one hand, the scenic vistas of Mayudya and the promise of spotting a variety of birds beckoned and on the other hand, it was about keeping it less hectic and enjoying the simple charms of a tribal village.
We were trying to make a decision when one of the staff members at our jungle camp came to our cottage to inform us that a family in a nearby village would be hosting the Reh festival at their home. There would be festivities, there would be shamans chanting mantras, there would be great food and, most importantly, copious amounts of apong or the local rice beer would be served. So, without giving it a second thought, I and my photographer Sandipan decided that we would be attending the festival. Mayudya and its stunning natural beauty would have to wait for another time.
The next morning, Iho Mitapo, who runs an adventure tourism company, was kind enough to come with us on our host’s request, and take us to the festival. Iho has been at the forefront of the evolving adventure tourism scene in Roing and its upper reaches. He has led several rafting expeditions and continues to be an important part of the tourism ecosystem in Roing.
We arrived at the village, excited to be a part of the festivities. The village has only six houses and a miniscule population of 30 people. Our hosts Rajetta Mepo and Runa Pulu welcomed us with a cup of hot tea. Their house was surrounded by a large open ground, where men, women and kids, dressed in traditional attire were busy enjoying the celebrations and rituals.
At the entrance of their house, a large platform had been raised, where Idu men adorning attractive hats were slaughtering sacrificial mithuns and pigs. In another corner, women were brewing fresh rice beer, which was being served in cool, reusable bamboo mugs. Inside their house, Gora Mimi, the head shaman sat around a fire chanting mantras, with two other shamans, for the wellbeing of the hosts and guests. Elderly women sipped their morning tea as they watched the rituals progress.In the ground outside, a group of women sat in a circle plucking ahona leaves, which they had collected from the jungle. They would use it to prepare a fish-based dish called ahona ashumri. Another group boiled rice in large vessels called sifu to make several dishes like anunu and eka-ri. Some women were cooking a rice dish called anunu in a cane basket when another came to sprinkle bamboo shoots on it.
At the opposite end, super-fit men with sculpted calves and veined arms prepared a dish called shakhi puhin using bamboo pipes. They were also making a dish called shata from the meat of the slaughtered mithuns in a huge black vessel called sandifu. Every dish was being cooked on wood fire, which is why the Idu Mishmis start collecting logs of woods from the forests a month in advance. All men wore attractive jackets of different colours. The red and black jackets are called atoma, the black and white ones are called atondre and the pink and green are called anutubu. Most men also wore hats called apotolo and the elderly men wore war hats called apotolozuhi. All men also carried different swords called anyeche, iyunta and ambrepra.
Just when I looked overwhelmed by the festivities, Thusi Pulu, who had arrived from Koronu village offered me rice beer. It was only 9am but I didn’t want to appear rude by refusing his generous offering.
I was enjoying my drink sitting in a corner and observing all the action when Mukesh Lingi from Denlo came to greet me. He sat down and explained in detail the intricacies of the Reh festival.
One of the most popular festivals of Arunachal Pradesh, Reh is celebrated by the Idu Mishmis to seek blessings from the almighty. It used to be more of a family festival celebrated by affluent families till the 60s and later turned into a community festival. The one we were attending was a family Reh festival. Relatives of the hosts had come from all over the Lower Dibang Valley district. The aim of the festival is to reunite with family members and strengthen relationships. At the end of the festival, the hosts also give presents to their guests and pack the remaining food for them to take home.
By then, the rice beer had done its bit and I was on cloud nine. I sipped some more, and soon, our hostess Runa served some pork rice packed in banana leaves. I sat there smiling and enjoying my meal and falling in love with travelling all over again. Kotige Mena, who must have been in his early sixties, saw me and came to greet me with another mug of rice beer.
When I told him that I hailed from Rajasthan’s Kota, his face lit up with delight. He told me that both his daughters had studied in Kota for their medical and engineering exam preparations. In fact, he too had been to my hometown - several times - and was well-acquainted with it. That moment will remain a part of my memories forever. I could have never imagined that I would meet someone who knows my hometown and has even been there in that far-off land of the dawn-lit mountains. This is why I love travelling. You never know what surprises await you.
Like all good things, the day too came to an end. We said our goodbyes to our lovely hosts, and to Iho. I took a bamboo mug with me as a souvenir. Runa even gave me two plastic bottles of that fresh rice beer for our way back.
I left thinking that some day, soon, I will be making my way back to this place.
Meanwhile, these experiences and memories will only grow sweeter with time.