Clad in colourful and authentic attires, groups of women meandered through the large open ground swaying to the tunes of Galo folk songs. Armed with swords and spears, men brought out their wedding and war dancing skills. More performances, theatre, dances, music and sporting events continued one after the other. The food stalls which were always crowded, offered Galo cuisine and Poka, a local rice beer. The nights despite the chillness turned the crowd hysterical as contemporary musicians played their popular Galo songs. I gaped at all the performances in awe as I was thrown into the middle of a cultural fest which I knew nothing about before landing there. From traditions to language to culture to food, everything was spectacular. I was in Basar, glued to the mind blowing cultural extravaganza- Basar Confluence or BasCon 3.0 (into its 3rd year).
Located deep in the hills of Arunachal Pradesh, Basar is the headquarters of the newly formed Lepa Rada district. Comprising of 26 villages, Basar is home to the Galo tribe who are known to be descendants of Abotani and are one of the most populous tribes in the state of Arunachal Pradesh.
Basar Confluence, commonly referred as BasCon is a community driven festival conducted by the Galo people. The festival was initiated by GRK(Gumin Rego Kilaju) three years ago to showcase the culture and tradition of Galo tribe to the world through ceremonial dances, folk music, rural sports and other unique performances. This festival is also a celebration of various villages of Basar who work together to keep their traditions and culture alive. While the earlier editions had only two villages, the third edition of BasCon had immense support with 32 villages from across Basar and nearby areas joining in to make it a grand success. A few of the villages that participated were Gori (1,2,3), Padi, Bam (1,2,3), Sago, Nyobom, Nyigam, Dari, Piri etc.
Surrounded by hills, greenery and paddy fields, the location for BasCon 3.0 was very much in commune with nature. Adjoining the festival ground was the confluence of Hie and Kidi rivers, which further accentuated the charm of the place. The venue at night was a stunner with decorative lights and a lively crowd.
With community dining areas, bamboo bridges to cross over the rivers, and all facilities such as information centre, toilets, first aid centre, water refilling centres and many more, BasCon maintained high standards and made sure that the visitors enjoyed every minute of the three days of the festival.
BasCon 3.0 started with the flagging off of MTB Arunachal Pradesh where numerous bikers from all over India and a few foreign bikers cycled their way to Mechuka.
What followed post that was unending performances by the Galo tribe. Women from various villages of Basar decked up in colourful attires and adorned with traditional jewellery danced to the tunes of Galo Ponu, a folk presentation. It was easy to discern the villages from the colourful attire each group wore. However, the bright parrot green is the authentic attire colour of the Galo women.
Mega Galo dance was an exceptionally brilliant dance performance by all the women who swayed in synchronization to the tunes of the folk music such as ‘Aneg Aiye Yidum Lohho’. They were so much in sync that the view from the tower behind threw up images of a beautiful melange of colours meandering along the ground.
Nyida Parik broke the colourful rhythm as men with furry head gears made their moves clanging a rod onto metal plates. Their moves were slow as they entered the arena but slowly caught a wonderful rhythm shaking their heads to the tunes. This is a wedding dance which is performed while welcoming the bride and groom.
Hunter's dance followed soon where men decked up with armoury showcased their movements which are performed only during special occasions. While hunting has been banned presently, these dance steps were performed in the old days as a ceremony to protect the hunter from the spirit of the tiger which he had killed. War dances by various groups was an equally invigorating experience as men dressed up as warriors showcased their skills which was a nice blend of fluent dance movements and warfare actions.
Mopin festival celebrated during March or April is a harvest festival and is quite a prominent festival of the Galo tribe. The festival is believed to bring prosperity and blessings to the Galo community. More of an act and less of a dance, the Mopin festival showcase began with the deity being brought from across the river and then placed by the bank with all the paraphernalia. This was followed by songs, hymns and holy rituals by the performers who were dressed in pristine white clothing and had their faces smeared with rice flour.
There were more dance performances such as Adi War dance, Nocte War dance, Lion dance (popular in Tawang) etc. The stage too was set alive with many performers singing the Galo folk songs which ensued one after the other.
When the sun set and the temperature plummeted, the arena slowly turned riveting as more cultural performances enthralled the crowd every night. As popular bands such as Fiddlers Green, Doorik Ete & The Travelling Band, David and the Band, and individual singers like Jeli Kayi, Nikom Riba, Mojum Riram performed, it was only a matter of time before the crowd went hysteric and crooned along with them. Music has no language is quite a true statement as I too sang with the crowd despite no knowledge of Galo. David and the Band was the crowd favourite as he has composed many old Galo folk songs into rock music. His songs ‘Aneg Aiye Yidum Lohho’ and ‘Oohh Delo!’are quite popular. Nikom Riba’s songs are ear soothers and absolutely melodious. His popular ones are ‘Apar Pomar’ and ‘Tami No’. Omak Komut Collective is a fusion band with emphasis on Adi culture and the music is a blend of folk, pop and jazz. Apart from his interesting attire, the ramp walks during his songs was interesting. When a few in the crowd requested Jeli Kayi to sing a bollywood song, the organizers politely refused. That was a wonderful decision as that wouldn’t connect with what BasCon is known for.
Theatre by Riken Ngomle was an insight into the world of Galo and Abotani, the primal ancestor of the tribe. The stories were told in a lighthearted way which kept the audience entertained.
While BasCon festival was focused on showcasing the Galo culture, they also made sure that the culture and art forms of their neighbouring states too were a part of it. Bihu dance from Assam, Mishing Bihu dance from Majuli, Dhol dance from Manipur, Tripura folk presentation etc. were some of the exciting performances to go with the local flavour.
Apart from the cultural events, BasCon also had a demonstration of community fishing (presently fishing is banned in Basar) at Gori 2 village. Men, women and kids were enthusiastically trying to catch hold of the fishes which wriggled through their hands under water. The water of the Si river was first bifurcated and then the sap of the bark of Tanir tree is released into it. This sap makes the fish drowsy and numb, making it difficult to swim. It then becomes easier for the people to catch them. While the kids waded around the low waters to catch the fish with their bare hands, women stood against the flow with a basket that collected whatever tumbled inside. While it was mostly pebbles, a couple of them got fishes. Men were more adventurous in their fishing and waded through the waters with spears to pierce into the fishes. Though I didn’t try my hand at fishing, it was a pleasure to see the locals enjoy this sport, despite the fact that it was purely for demonstration.
BasCon also had some exciting sporting events which was like an inter village traditional sports competition. Some of the popular ones were archery, tug of war, pole climbing, Nyarka Hinnam and Bogw Pognam. In archery, the participants had to target an egg which was placed on a wall. Nyarka Hinnam was all about strength where two competitors had to push each other out of a circle using a bamboo. Bogw Pognam is a traditional sport where the competitor has to swing himself or herself holding on to the thick bamboo cane using all their acrobatic skills. The cane is tied on to a tall pole on one end and the other to a short one on the ground. The biggest cheer from the crowd was for the tug of war where multiple villages participated and displayed their strength.
The festival arena also had a designated place for Artists residency. Six artists from different fields were stationed in Basar for a month and each one was given the freedom to experience Basar and Galo tribe, and express through their mediums such as films, music, designs, photographs, paintings and writings. It was wonderful to know and understand Basar and Galo tribe through these artist's creations.
Agri tourism and textile tourism were some of the other interesting attractions of Basar Confluence. Rice being the main cultivation in Basar and surrounding areas, Agri tourism gave an insight into how rice is cultivated and harvested by the tribe. They also gave a demo of how women work in the fields. Textile tourism gave details about their traditional dresses and jewellery. Visitors can also try the traditional attire and take a photograph with locals at these tourism huts who would gleefully pose with you.
The festival also had a live museum with the display of a typical Galo home. Story telling stall was quite an interesting place where visitors could listen to the age old tales of Galo tribe. The tree house which was well lit up at night was another attraction. The souvenir shop had some nice collection of Galo products to take back home. The venue also had a stall where they had a huge display of items that were of daily usage or found in the homes of locals. Some of the displays were Pete, Piri, Raacv, Roksi, Opoh, Gingi Egin etc.
The food stalls and the large common dining areas were always lively and everything was served in leaves and bamboo hollows. Local cuisine was predominantly available across stalls and it was mostly rice, chicken, eggs, fish etc. However a few stalls also sold caterpillars and rats. I tried the caterpillar and it tastes quite similar to egg yolk. For the vegetarians, the options were limited, but one or two stalls sold pakodas and samosas. When in Basar always have Poka is what I would say. It’s a local rice beer made from fermented rice and is a very smooth drink that keeps you happy high. They are served in bamboo hollows and come with natural stoppers and a handle making it easy to carry around. There are multiple water refilling points where you can refill water in your bamboo hollows. The community fishing area in Gori village too had food stalls to satiate the hungry souls.
A major highlight of Basar Confluence is that it is an eco-friendly and organic festival. No one is allowed to carry plastic bottles, plastic covers or bags inside. Plastic is totally banned inside the premise of the festival. If you are carrying a bottle of water, you need to leave the bottle outside and instead they would give you a bamboo hollow into which you can pour water and refill whenever required. There was no trace of plastic across the venue. Everything from stalls to toilets to benches to bridges were all organic and made from bamboo and leaves. It is definitely a great initiative by GRK, which is the organizing committee to make sure BasCon is devoid of plastic.
The biggest stars of BasCon are the Galo people who are humble, helpful and always smiling spreading their irresistibly pleasant vibe everywhere. Keen to create a conversation, they keep asking about your whereabouts, opinion about the festival and Basar in general. By the time I left Basar, I had surprisingly made numerous friends, learnt a few Galo words such as ‘Alruudo’ (Thank you) and ‘Aldure’ (How are you?), and learnt a couple of lines from a few Galo songs which I hum even now.
One of the appealing things about BasCon is that it is very authentic and has no glimpses of commercialization anywhere. The people of Basar too are well educated about the same and that makes this community driven festival such a huge success. There is great unity among the people and they have put in truck loads of effort to bring the best out of BasCon. A lot of this credit goes to GRK (Gumin Rego Kilaju) which is the organizing committee of Basar Confluence. This is an organization run by government officials who are originally from Basar and belong to Galo tribe. GRK was begun with a dream of providing economic development and social growth for Basar and Galo tribe. The focus has been on education, health, sanitation and other basic necessities. Through BasCon they have brought the communities together and also made sure that the Galo culture is preserved and known to the world as well.
As the world slowly comes to know about this festival I hope the people of Basar and GRK would make sure that Basar Confluence remains in its purest form displaying the culture and traditions of Galo tribe in the coming years.
- BasCon was held from 19th to 21st November 2018 and is highly likely to be held on the same dates in 2019 too.
- Plastic isn’t allowed inside BasCon venue.
- Make sure to procure inner line permits (ILP). ILP can be applied online or one can get it from Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati, Shillong, Tezpur, Dibrugarh or Jorhat from the Deputy Resident Commissioner’s office.
Basar is located in Lepa Rada district of Arunachal Pradesh. The closest airport and rail head are at Dibrugarh, 150 Kms away. The road from Dibrugarh goes via Silapathar and Likhabali to Basar. It is recommended to hire a private vehicle from Dibrugarh to Basar as the public transportation isn’t frequent.
Food and Accommodation:
At BasCon there are numerous stalls which generally sell the local cuisine and poka. Basar town also has a couple of small restaurants. Basar has a few basic hotels and hostels which can be arranged by GRK. It is highly recommended that one stays in a home stay with the locals to have a wonderful experience.
P.S.: I was hosted by BasCon 3.0, but opinions are completely mine.