Sunday, 20 October 2013

The star of the hills!

The trigger for me to purchase a two-wheeler about three years back for my field work in Upper Siang district in Arunachal was an interesting one. After being ridden about 20,000 km in the hills, this two- wheeler was sold today to a friend from Bomdo village. Three years back, I had landed in Pasighat from Bangalore with all my bags packed and hoped to catch the State Transport mini bus from Pasighat to Tuting which would pass through the Bomdo village, my drop point. I knew that at least once in three days, the bus would undertake the arduous journey till Tuting covering about 400 km which forms the breadth of the Arunachal Pradesh State in that region.

I waited for two days and then learnt that the bus engine had seized on the way and that it will take a few months to get the bus repaired. The alternative was to take a Sumo to Yingkiong on the other side of the Siang river, stay there and then walk the last 35 km (the walk) or get a top-of-the-sumo ride till Bomdo. I wasn't in the mood. I figured the best thing to do was to buy a two wheeler and ride it up to the Bomdo village. It was a brilliant decision since buying a two wheeler is usually a mere three step process: figure out the budget, select the model and pay for it! Except I was in Pasighat where several more steps were involved.

The Pasighat ATM scene deserves a special mention. At that time, three years back there were two ATMs, one was permanently dysfunctional and the other had timings governed by sheer randomness. Therefore, if at all it was open the queue would be remarkably long. And on the wall to the side of the machine, its written male 2: 1 female. Takes a while to decipher that it means the women have a separate queue and after two men withdraw their money which can take anytime between a minute and infinity, a woman can withdraw money which can take again between a minute and infinity. But the ATM on the whole has a very pleasant atmosphere; pin numbers are shared, jokes are cracked about no money being in the account but one still being unable to withdraw any money, about even the fact that the atm is open and that the machine is functioning. Once, in Yingkiong, a local in anger that his money was not being withdrawn had forced in a bamboo piece into the atm slot maiming the machine for at least two weeks before it got repaired! Overall, money withdrawal at most ATMs in small towns is a pleasurable group activity and the only people who are in a hurry are the ones trying to buy a two wheeler to reach their field site. It took me three days to withdraw the amount required for the purchase since there are also limits to the amounts one can withdraw in a day.

Earlier I had visited a TVS showroom to look at the bike models and had selected the only one I could afford; the Star City; the highlights of this bike were awesome mileage, is quite affordable and runs like a charm in the city. Wait a minute, 'only city?!' I wondered. Well I had no choice; I could afford it and the nearest petrol bunk to the bomdo village was 40 km away, so Star City it was! On the third day of my withdrawal symptom at the ATM, I purchased the bike and headed off the next morning on the 220 km ride to Bomdo.

The bike ran quite smooth, alas it had no clue that it would never see a city in the plains again. Once a friend from the neighbouring Ramsing village chuckled 'your bike must have had a bad dream the day before you bought it!' This bike has travelled twice to Tuting and once further on to Gelling the last village on the Indo-Tibet frontier, to Pango village, north of Bomdo and innumerable times between Bomdo and Yingkiong. Some of these travels you will find here in the blog. Anyways, now the bad dream of the bike continues since I sold it to a local there and the rides in the hills will continue for several more years, although I do think the Star City does enjoy more these rides than in the plains! Almost everyone in the village wanted to buy my bike and there were parallel biddings going on. But my friends from Bomdo convinced me to sell it for a low price to Nyomrang, a bachelor, for whom they thought the bike would help immensely to find and impress a right bride! Here are some pictures of the Star of the hills...

This was from Pango village, notice the two male Takin horns that were given to my field assistant by his cousin, Star city, definitely male!

This time we were stuck in front of a small landslide, we pushed the bike through this and got away!

There were spots around the village where me and the bike could bathe together!

Friday, 11 October 2013

...and friending the fern

This post follows from the previous post 'gilding the lily', do read it if you haven't already...

The Adis from Bomdo village seldom clear an interesting plant from their shifting cultivation fields since it is believed that the plant retains moisture in the fields. Locally called Asi Gebinyé (the one that brings water), Helminthostachys zeylanica has been reported as a medicinal plant from other sites. The fronds are reported to cure acute back pain caused by sciatica, and are also used as a laxative, intoxicant and painkiller whereas the rhizomes are used in treating dysentry, sciatica and malaria. However, the Adis retain the plant as they believe it helps their agricultural production by retaining soil moisture in the site and are oblivious to the medicinal uses of the plant!

The fern species Helminthostachys zeylanica (Image sourced from Wikipedia)

This year, the rains in Upper Siang district were relatively poor and the Bomdo villagers were concerned about their crop harvest. Then, about five weeks ago, a group of villagers went deep into the forest and cut a particular plant, locally called 'Alu layan' which is believed to cause rain. For almost a month after that it rained continuously!

To me this worldview of a remote farming community within which different plants are used based on the community's knowledge or belief systems tailored to the local needs is very interesting and I hope to document many more such adaptations. There is the Aconitum ferrox plant, locally called 'Omo' traditionally used as poison for their arrows used for hunting, there is the tree, the bark of which is used as fish poison, a palm as well as a tree fern, the pith of which was traditionally consumed during times of food scarcity, lots more to write about and you will soon find information about these here in the blog.