MY MOST MEMORABLE BIRTHDAY AT BASCON AKA BASAR CONFLUENCE:
First things first! It was my birthday. It must have been very late in night. We drove through dark and misty serpentine bends on a hilly road to arrive at an unlikely party destination. I do not celebrate my birthdays. Ever since 2007! I find birthdays boring and tedious.
I have even hidden my birth date from Facebook and other social media platforms. I always switch off my mobile on my birthdays. It was quite same when I was in Basar. Although, I did not need to switch off my phone! I did not get any network. It was just what I wanted. But something changed this year. I had the most special birthday celebration of my life.
I along with friends like Sandeepa Chetan, Niranjan, Parnashree, Prakriti and our local hero Karyom danced almost all night on a stage made entirely of bamboo, yes even the attached dustbins on railings. I missed partying with other blogger friends Sandy N Vyjay and Priyam who were sleeping at their accommodation. The bamboo stage was perched on the edge of a hill top.
I was scared that the floor might break open and we might fall in the valley. I was the butt of all jokes as I danced holding on to a pole in one hand and a drink in other. I must have looked funny! But I was not very keen to turn to compost on my birthday. It indeed was a very special birthday.
And just 2 days ago, we celebrated the birthday of my fellow travel blogger friend Parnashree in Basar, around bonfire, in a massive party in a sprawling lawn. We joked that we did the opening ceremony of the BasCon 3 aka Basar Confluence with Parnashree’s birthday and did the closing ceremony with my birthday. The actual opening and closing dates of BasCon 3 matched with our birthdays.
WHAT IS BASCON AKA BASAR CONFLUENCE?
BasCon is a wonderful initiative which gives a platform to the outside world to interact and mingle with the local tribes and races in a safe environment. I had no idea of how people in this remote part of India ate, lived, partied (in a jungle) and spoke.
Few days spent at Basar opened to us the gates to an unknown ‘Shangri La’, we didn’t know existed. So little is known about this region that every single thing about the local lifestyle attracted my attention. During my 2 months long trip to North East India, I had attended 4 festivals!
I found Basar Confluence to be the most authentic, genuinely eco friendly and innocent. The very friendly locals were as excited to meet and talk to us as much as we were keen to interact with them. Almost daily, a curious local would initiate a conversation with me and we ended up chatting for a long time.
As I said before India never fails to surprise me. Even after 10 years of independent travels, I prefer traveling within India due to unparalleled experiences such as this one. In fact, Sandeepa quipped, “It reminds me of my trip to the rainforests of Amazon! (South America)” Who would have thought! There indeed is no other country in the world like Incredible India!
FORMAT OF BASCON AKA BASAR CONFLUENCE ARUNACHAL PRADESH:
BASCON 3 was a 3 days long affair where artists, travelers, music bands, media persons, photographers, writers and locals congregate to understand and enjoy the local culture, food and drinks.
The morning and noon slot was reserved for the local artists to perform. The evening was reserved for both local folk songs/dances and local rock bands (English/Galo/Assamese etc). In the meanwhile, we used to explore the various food stalls or sit on the benches made of bamboo by the riverside or just get a refill of poka aka apong (local rice beer) in our bottomless bamboo tumblers. There is never a dull moment at BASAR CONFLUENCE! You will not find anyone with a bad mood here!
LOCAL DANCE, MUSIC AND CULTURAL SHOW AT BASCON AKA BASAR CONFLUENCE IN ARUNACHAL PRADESH
I had my eyes wide open as the local artists sang and danced on the stage or on the huge ground below the stage. The mega dance for example, had me in splits as the dancers, dressed in their local dresses moved in perfect synchronization. It was a delight to the eyes and ears as they performed flawlessly.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the group from Tawang. Known for the huge Tawang monastery, the artists regaled the audiences with their antics, often with soft humour. What was most exciting were the men in the costume of 2 lions and a cub rolling on the ground, dancing crazily or ramming into the crowds as people panicked or burst into peals of laughter.
The Nyida Parik dance also amazed me. It is usually performed to welcome groom and bride parties at Galo weddings. Thanks to the outrageous costume that they wore or the simple yet dramatic sound and moves which they made through the performance, they made an indelible impact.
ROCK SHOWS AND OTHER STAGE PERFORMANCES AT THE BASCON AKA BASAR CONFLUENCE – OFFBEAT ARUNACHAL PRADESH
The rock bands in the evening were no less scintillating. Other than the local folk songs and dances such the energetic Bihu dance or Manipuri dol dance or enacting of local rituals, customs and even a wedding by Galo tribe, BasCon had something for everyone. The quality of songs and dances by local music bands of North East was par excellence.
Even the very famous Barmer Boys came all the way from Rajasthan to perform. But I enjoy local bands more. Of all the performances, we were particularly mesmerized by David and band. It seems they are already a rage in North East India.
The local audience went berserk with euphoria as they belted out one song after another. Despite having zilch knowledge of the sweet Galo language, we had mastered songs like “Aneg aaiye yidum lohhoo” “Ohh delo” and Dali O Dali. Their stage presence was impeccable. They were a live wire on the stage and had an emotional connect with the audience.
Another singer from Basar Nikom Riba , a bit sober and restrained. His sang melodious songs like Aper Pomer and Tami Nom. This performance too, stayed with us to date. An Indian Idol participant from North East India, Jeli Kayi entertained the audience with his glamourous performance. He introduced us to Tuk dekhi mur gaa keneba keneba lage, which is a very popular Assamese folk song. The audience requested him to sing Bollywood songs which was politely refused by the organizers. This, I think was a good move from the organizers. Not only does it help in protecting the authenticity of the festival but also promotes the local music.
I also enjoyed watching amazing performances by Mojum Riram, Mijum Riram and Omak Kumat.
Some of the other performances included these – Fiddlers Green, Doorik Ete and the traveling band, Jajin by Domin Karbak and group. Some of the local folk performances were – Theatre by Riken Ngomle, Aka Dance, Galo Folk Presentation, Mishing dance, Mega dance, Nyoho Honam etc.
RURAL SPORTS EVENTS GALORE AT BASCON / BASAR CONFLUENCE: OFFBEAT ARUNACHAL PRADESH
What is a festival without some sports? During the day, BasCon hosted many sporting events with participants from different villages. My favourite was Tug-Of-War. It was fun to watch residents from different villages pitted against each other in nail biting matches.
I was rooting for Sago village, Bam Village and Gouri villages (1,2,3) as we spent most of our time in these villages. Apart from Tug-OfWar, many other local sports were being played at the BasCon venue grounds, most of which involved a bamboo pole. It is fun to watch these rural sports. It somehow reminded me of rural Olympics at Kila Raipur, Punjab.
OTHER ACTIVITIES TO DO AT BASCON OR BASAR CONFLUENCE? OFFBEAT THINGS TO DO IN ARUNACHAL PRADESH
You could also visit a local house for an entry fee of Rs. 50. It looked beautiful when lit in the night. There was also a live Galo Museum in the festival ground, a storytelling stall and a section for textile tourism too.
I enjoyed the Agri Tourism promoted near the festival grounds. We were shown how grains are picked and processed from the fields. It was harvesting time and as we drove across Basar, golden fields gave us continuous companionship. We even stopped at a field, we were greeted with a Bollywoody “Tere mere hothon per oz saje geet mitwa” The field workers took us by a pleasant surprise as they sung this apart from the local Galo songs as they collected grain from the fields. One lady even offered all of us free poka in bamboo glasses. It was a special moment!
BASCON IS ECO FRIENDLY AND THEY MEAN IT! – OFFBEAT ARUNACHAL PRADESH
The problem of world’s plastic menace has a solution not in New York or London but in Basar. While most of us are busy doing only lip service when it comes to management of plastic menace, Basar means it every time when they say, ‘BasCon is 100% eco friendly’ Of all the 4 festivals (BasCon, Adventure at Mechuka, Hornbill festival, Orange festival) I attended in North East India within a month, BasCon was the only one which was genuinely eco friendly.
Our bags and belongings were checked as soon as we arrived at the main gate of BasCon. Our plastic water bottles were replaced with bottomless Bamboo tumblers. We carried the tumbler with us all day and refilled it from the water stations employed across the festival ground. No one complained!
Lunch was served to us on a leaf. The dustbin was a huge pit next to a tap meant for hand wash. We could throw our empty plates (leaves) and even the water from the tap drained out to the pit. We were not even allowed to carry any edible which comes in a plastic wrapper such as chips, cookies, namkeens etc. Even the stalls did not sell any such items.
Whatever was sold at the stalls was freshly cooked, local and organic. This did not happen at the other festivals I attended in North East India. And I am afraid, as BasCon grows bigger over the years, it might become one of them.
All the kiosks and food stalls were made up of bamboo sticks and leaves. Including the First Aid booth, souvenir shops and the information desk! Even the bridge to cross the scenic river and the benches by the river were made up of bamboo. Forget plastic, there was no place for even cement at BasCon. The most cute of them all were the small coffee and tea mugs at the stalls.
What we else-where have been doing to tackle Plastic Problem is nothing but a token concern and complete crap, I realized now.
VEGETARIAN AND VEGAN FOOD GUIDE AT BASCON AKA BASAR CONFLUENCE, ARUNACHAL PRADESH
Yes, it gets a bit difficult to find good vegetarian food in the North East India. But that is no excuse for you to drop a little mutton gravy on your rice. I keep hearing that nonsense a lot. (‘That is how I started eating meat’ types) You can still remain a proud vegetarian like me if you care to look around.
I was overjoyed when I saw a North Indian selling fries, sweets and Bread Pakodas (Just Rs. 20) at the stalls. What’s more, they even had masala dosa, cheese maggi etc . It was a little expensive, what with some dishes starting at INR 180! But if there is no option I will go for it. No excuses. Nice Black chanas, OKayish Pani Puri and chips were also available between Rs. 10 to Rs. 50.
Do not even try to find veg momo. It does not exist anywhere in North East India. I do not eat eggs either. On the insistence of a friend, I ate a muffin. I almost threw up. It was too eggy! So avoid baked items, if you do not consume eggs. You can also carry snacks in paper bags. You can be made to feel bad (and rightly so) by the ‘plastic police’ about your zip locked namkeens, so avoid that.
For main dishes, most home-stays and the few hotels have nice vegetarian meal (Rice, Daal, Lai Patta, cabbage, Chana and other curries). We particularly were very fond of 2 shops at the Basar main market (Close to the venue of BasCon). A man from Bihar who had been living in Basar for decades sold amazing samosas every evening. I used to easily binge eat 6-7 piping hot samosas with spicy green chutney every evening with tea. He also sold poori sabzi for breakfast. Another restaurant nearby called, ‘Madras Cafe’, sold Vegan Masala Dosas and Vegan Uttapams at a reasonable price. Though, I am afraid to tell you that you can-not camp outside the restaurant!
BEVERAGES: Coffee and tea are readily available at many stalls. But I recommend you to get happy high on Poka aka Apong. It is the local rice beer. It is sweet, so you might end up drinking it without track. Sip slowly and do not over do it and do not misbehave. Stop when you are Happy High! They do not have cigarettes at the stalls, so if you are a smoker, carry your own pack.
All the dishes I have mentioned above are vegan as well, except the chutney in the Masala Dosa and the milk in coffee and tea.
PICTURESQUE LOCATION OF BASCON AKA BASAR CONFLUENCE: OFFBEAT ARUNACHAL PRADESH
The location of BASAR CONFLUENCE makes it stand out. Picture this! Imagine yourself hanging out with your friends over good music near a serpentine river which separates the golden wheat fields (harvesting time) from a large ground (BasCon venue), surrounded by tall trees on one side and art installations at one of the river bed. In spite of my decade long independent travels, I had never experienced anything like this.
The place looked even more magical by the night as the 2 bridges were lit with decorative lights. The most creative lighting was at the artists’ corner where they had displayed their individual work. The artists stayed in Basar for over a month and produced art inspired by Basar and its people.
The absence of plastic made the venue look a healthy mix of browns and greens. If only we could replicate this model elsewhere in the world! It is not a difficult model to follow. What is difficult is to deal with our hypocrisy, including that of some self proclaimed pseudo environmentalists.
TOP PLACES TO SEE IN AND AROUND BASAR,OFFBEAT ARUNACHAL PRADESH
- Joli- The haunted place. Very scenic trek cum walk on water stream. It is 3.5 kilometers away from BasCon venue.
- Tabom and Tobi Memorial Hall cum Museum and Library (Entry fee Rs. 100): Near Bam Village.
- Visit the lovely villages such as Bam, Gouri 1,2,3. All are great places to immerse in local lifestyle and photo opportunities. Carry some gifts for locals. These are also the places where home-stays are. All the villages are very close to Basar venue. Do go to view point near Bam village also. (Ok, my birthday venue, if you insist!)
- Trek to the marvelous Bat cave and sacred Tamak Hiine. It is 22 kilometers away from the BasCon venue.
- Visit Deke waterfall – 26 kilometers from festival venue.
- Visit Bumchi waterfall – small trek. Beware of leeches. It is 7 kilometers away from BasCon venue.
- Visit the highest waterfall at Nguda Pokcho
- Visit Dimme-Ditte waterfall at Pagi Village. It is 5 kilometers away from BasCon venue.
- Trek to Hiido- Hiidi waterfall. The approach route to Hiido- Hiidi waterfall is via 4 kilometers of walk along the picturesque river banks. It is at the confluence of Hingen and Hipo rivers. It is 38 kilometers away from BasCon venue.
- Trek to the scenic Odi Pudo. I enjoyed this trek. It ends near a helipad. On clear days you can see bird’s eye view of Basar. It is in Sago village. It is 27 kilometers away from BasCon venue.
- Picknick at various places along the Ego river. It is 18-32 kilometers away from BasCon venue.
- Basar is also great for cycling. At ICAR to Laape-Laiho-Ruskin-Renyi. 2 kilometers away from BasCon venue.
- Birdwatching – There are many places in Basar for rewarding birdwatching
- Stalk a Mithun – Mithun aka Gayal is the state animal of Arunachal Pradesh. It is a semi wild bovine commonly found in Arunachal Pradesh. The role of Mithun in the local culture and socio-economic structure is inseparable. You will easily see them grazing in the wild or tied outside a house. Each Mithun has an owner.
- Get Out: Mechuka is 12 hours away via mountainous road but worth it. A visit to Itanagar, Ziro, Kaziranga National Park, Dirang, Along, Majuli can also be clubbed. These are not very close but accessible from Dibrugarh and Guwahati.
WHERE TO STAY IN BASAR FOR BASCON / BASAR CONFLUENCE:
Thanks to Gumin Rego Kilaju (GRK) community, locals have agreed to partially turn into home-stays. GRK is also responsible to sensitize the locals to practice cleanliness. They are also instrumental in banning fishing and hunting in the area.
We stayed in 2 different home stays and a hostel as well. Home-stays will allow you to stay with locals (I recommend), Trainees hostel will allow you to live in a cemented building with a small balcony and cafeteria. The rooms at Trainees hostel are basic. There are no luxury hotels in Basar which is a welcome change!
BEST TIME TO VISIT BASAR, OFFBEAT ARUNACHAL PRADESH:
BasCon aka Basar Confluence was held in the third week of November. We were told that the dates of BasCon are likely to remain same, i.e., 19th to 21st November. Do keep tabs on their website. It was slightly cold so carry woolen. And if you are moving forward to Mechuka from Basar, dress like an Eskimo. It is an year round destination. You will enjoy visiting this place at any time of the year.
HOW TO REACH BASAR, OFFBEAT ARUNACHAL PRADESH:
Road Trip to Basar: I arrived at Basar via Dibrugarh. It passed through mountaineous roads. Widening of roads and construction was going on when I visited. It takes around 6 hours to reach Basar from Dibrugarh. It also includes a picturesque ferry ride over the mighty Brahmaputra Bridge under the Bogibeel bridge. It is the 5th longest bridge in India. Bogibeel Bridge is also the longest rail-cum- bridge in India. When we returned, the sun was setting. I have been told by Parnashree that sun sets in Assam are beyond brilliant. We saw that for ourselves and fell silent. The ferry ride lasted for an hour. You can carry the car on ferry for a fee. Or you can take the quicker route at now operational Bogibeel Bridge, but I found the ferry ride more scenic.
The Bogibeel bridge is opening officially on 25th December, 2018. This will reduce the travel time to Basar by 1.5 hours. Also, Silapathar to Basar will be 3.5 hours upon completion of projects. I will update here as things make progress.
Airport and Railway route to Basar: Nearest airport from Basar is at Dibrugarh and Guwahati. From Guwahati, you can catch an overnight train to Silapathar. From Silapathar, you can hire a txi to reach Basar in 5 hours.
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