Musical adventures with the Nexon: Ziro Festival
Ziro, an enchanted village with pine trees and rice fields spread across a valley in the middle of nowhere in Arunachal Pradesh. There are two parts to this story – getting to Ziro and soaking the Ziro experience into my mind, blood and life.
Ziro has an airport and probably there are a few landing strips not too far away. But logistics forced us to land in Guwahati, pick up the Nexon and get to the land of music in about 12 hours. No one told us that those 12 hours would be the most horrid 12 on a stretch for three blokes from Maharashtra. There are quite a few virgin highways in Assam and Arunachal that are a treat to drive on but there is one nightmare of a stretch just off North Lakhimpur that will aim to kill you if you put a foot wrong. From North Lakhimpur, it’s about 120km to Ziro and our schedule forced us to drive through the dark of the night across this monstrosity to get to the music festival.
There’s no logic behind the risk, just a capable car and crazy men to try this, so please don’t try this yourself. The stretch is lined with sheer drops, lots of wildlife, particularly some very angry bison who don’t like the sight of headlights, more broke roads than the Kingfisher man’s bank account and a night sky that doesn’t light up this highway despite a full moon aiming its searchlight.
You probably get the point; there are better roads we’ve driven on. Why were we up to such bad judgement? One line – at the time of going to press. That line kicks the nuts out of the publishing industry. You may have the best of stories but it is no good if it’s beyond the printing deadline. Get to Ziro, enjoy a few hours of the festival and get to your room to write the story, at least that’s what the Ed said.
I’d say the Nexon helped through the night on our way to Ziro as it wafted over potholes and all the pimples the roads presented. The suspension tuning is spot on for bad and no roads and the AMT at least eased off the effort put in changing gears. I’d say the torque helped too because it was all low gear driving through the fog of the night and it required constant braking and acceleration. The fact that the Nexon boasts a class leading 209mm of ground clearance also helped our progress through the night.
The strange music festival
It isn’t about the big names and a fancy stage. It is about the vibe of the place, its audience and the variety of its performers. So there is no specific genre that the festival adheres to or a genre that dominates the last four days of September each year. Ziro is difficult to categorise even when you drive close to the venue. An open air concert in the middle of a village is expected to create quite the ruckus but you don’t get disturbed by the sound even if you stay in a nearby resort. You don’t find objectionable behaviour after an entire night of drinking at the festival and you don’t even see roads littered with waste after a night full of drunken music. The responsible behaviour of a large crowd is a happy sight after fests like Sunburn and overall, the happy mood of performers and audience makes you want to come back.
There’s a wonderful mix of youthful liveliness and maturity here which, coincidentally, links directly back to the Nexon AMT that has transported us from Guwahati in Assam over those horrendous roads of the previous night to Ziro. It is this very balance that makes the Nexon such a lovely car to have on a road trip like this. Over the bad roads it stays pliant and comfortable, keeping us cosy in those lovely seats and yet showing a distinctly happy nature when faced with some well surfaced twisties. You can find these too in some parts. Besides, it would probably be the coolest compact SUV you can find today, especially in this shade of orange and black. I’d thought it would stand out, and it did. People did turn around for a second glance. Admittedly, thanks to its award winning styling and those fabulously large 16-inch alloys, the Nexon made its presence felt among the 6,000 attendees at this year’s Ziro Festival. And not for the lack of distractions, for there were no less than 40 acts spread over four days. Heck, they’d built two separate stages to accommodate all the acts.
As the ink blots the evening sky between cotton candy clouds, life has a new hustle around the fest. People belonging to the East and North East parts of India and quite a few from around the world home in on the valley grounds to feel the energy of this happy festival. The bands in a way are relatively irrelevant. They are usually hand-picked popular performers from across India. However, the relaxed setting is the main draw. You can lounge on the lawns or synchro-jump to the beats in front of the stage. The Ziro fest allows you to enjoy music the way you want to. It offers a variety of food that you wouldn’t even dream of – rice beer in bamboo shoots, an authentic Apatani tribe delicacy of barbecued silk worms (yes, it exists!), burgers and momos, the locals cover it all.
The English-speaking Indian tribe
Situated between mountains on all sides, Ziro Valley is lazy but the tribe isn’t all isolated, uneducated and a bunch of farmers. The host of the fest is from the tribe, many speak fluent English and are exposed to a thoroughly modern way of life. Yet they are much in tune with their roots as you can see from how much the locals care about cleanliness in the valley. It happened to inspire visitors to follow suit, not just at the venue but wherever we travelled around the village.
So much to like about Ziro
The drive is challenging to say the least. If not for the Nexon’s excellent ground clearance and ride, I’d be needing a visit to the chiropractor. The front seats offer just the expected comfort to make you want to go on longer drives and large torque reserve from its 1.5-litre diesel engine takes a lot of load off that convenient and refined AMT gearbox. The roads in Arunachal are constantly winding so dynamics of a vehicle are tested. Despite the high clearance and wide body, it’s surprising to see the Nexon feel so agile here. A welcome surprise indeed on a road trip of this kind. A good road trip is as much about the journey as it is about the destination and boy what a destination Ziro is.
It comes out of nowhere after hours of forests and in a very unassuming way, welcomes you to a festival unlike any other. If anything, I’d give the advice of carrying enough cash for the festival. They didn’t receive the memo from the Centre I’d assume. That lone criticism aside, Ziro is a happy place for music, for performers and music lovers or just guys and gals wanting to have a good time. It’s a place that is high on music over anything else and all the free spirits visiting the valley are the birds that in my opinion are flying the Ziro flag high. Add it to your 2019 calendar, and look for us and a lively youthful orange Nexon when you get here.
Words by Anand Mohan