Where the mountain air smells of oranges, the slopes boast of hundreds of acres of orange orchards, the ambiance breathes out adventure, the river bed draws path for adrenaline pumping motorsports and the evenings are made up of electrifying music, it’s got to be one of the days from the Orange festival at Dambuk in the state of Arunachal Pradesh. This is one-of-its-kind festival of India that recognizes the amazing produce of its region and promotes orange growing, through adventure sports, musical gigs and tribal flair.
I had no inkling that Arunachal had a beautiful quaint village, renowned for world-class oranges until I travelled there. It isn’t easy to fathom or find such places where orange orchards are converted into camp sites with tents of all shapes and sizes pitched under the fruit laden trees. With azure sky and pristine landscape, these citrus fruits, in bold orange color, hanging on those skinny trees make for a delightful sight. Dambuk gets a bountiful harvest every year. Festival or no festival, it is special and enlightens one with deeper meanings of travel. I thoroughly enjoyed being in the land of oranges, plucking them at will and eating half a dozen in one go.
The Road to Bomzir and Dambuk
While Orange Festival of adventure and Music (OFAM) is a beautiful claim to fame, Dambuk is also known for being one of the least populated districts of India. Nestled in the Lower Dibang Valley district, the road journey to this part of North East has been challenging for dog-years. In the past, it was only accessible in the summers when people made way through boats. To travel there, one has to pass through the state of Assam, where the sprawling and rich tea estates never fail to impress. The off-roading adventure begins right after as you start from Dibrugarh Airport (the closest airport) towards the land of the oranges.
This leg of the journey has been known as tedious for its patchy roads, isolating monsoosn and forests but now with the coming up of better roads in some parts and Dr Bhupen Hazarika Setu (Dhola-Sadiya Bridge), reaching Dambuk wasn’t neck breaking for me. This four hours of ride is indeed bumpy but it could never dampen a traveler’s spirit.
Patience pays off well when you reach the newly inaugurated bridge, Dr Bhupen Hazarika Setu. Its local and popular name has to do with the two important places that it connects, Dhola village with that of Sadiya town. After the smooth run over the bridge, there comes a place called Bomzir where I stayed and the orange orchards (festival ground) were not very far away from there.
It was already dark when I reached my humble hut and I was too tired to explore my surroundings. I am sure I used three blankets to put me to sleep and then the morning was worth waking up early. A stunning and unspoiled landscape came alive before my eyes. My hut had one of the prettiest views of the Dibang River (also called Sikang by the locals) and my eco-friendly camp had a lovely campus. After the breakfast, I had access to bucketful of oranges which I ate leisurely on a pretty sunny but cold day. Believe me or not, Dambuk indeed produces some of the most juicy and organic oranges of the country.
In the afternoon, I was driven to the venue of the festival. The little hillock that hosts the four-day event called for a walk from the main gate. The path was very engaging and it helped me negotiate some juicy oranges with the orchard and camp site owners. The landscape was unseen and I was met with many endearing sights. Till 2015, Dambuk did not even have electricity and thus it has definitely come a long way in hosting a four day long annual festival which promises high octane music, offbeat sports and the local tribal cuisine. And everything that happens at the off-roading challenges on the river-bed is gut-wrenching.
How did Dambuk discover its fascination for Oranges?
What is the story of the oranges and how did the farmers of Dambuk start growing oranges? The story goes that Mr. Pankeng Pertin, a local farmer from the Adi tribe discovered it by chance. During one of the agricultural season, he incurred a loss in his rice crop and experimented with the idea of growing oranges in his orchard. The borrowed seed flourished. In no time, he guided other farmers too and together they all worked for eight to ten years. The soil and the weather of the region was favorable for the fruit but the region had other problems.
The orchard owners took it as a positive sign and kept working on it. The focus and dedication paid off and these blue-green hills were cradled with orange gardens, farms and orchards soon. The first seeds of oranges were sown some thirty five years ago but now the kind of produce that Dambuk gets, the locals can literally eat the fruit for breakfast, lunch and dinner but the best gets exported to Middle Eastern countries and other states of India. Most of the farmers solely depend on it as a main source of income to support their family.
Orange Festival of Adventure and Music
After having attended the fifth season of the festival, I am appreciative of the idea of indulging in the local way of life and culture over some mind-boggling music. The naïve and rugged format of the show is adorable and addictive. The stunning remote location, theme of the festival, great weather, orange orchards, adventure activities and musical bands, everything calling in together made for a lethal combination. There was a massive stage, around thirty stalls of local food and drinks and no seating arrangements. Everyone was free to sit on the ground or dance to the music. The energy was palpable, the atmosphere was electric and the unpretentiousness was comforting but the spunk in the crowd was missing. It was a place for excitement of music lovers, adventure and off-roading enthusiasts and it definitely deserved more niche audience.
The festival is still evolving. So far it has been strongly helmed by the tourism board and sponsoring brands, but the real kick will come when it starts benefiting the local tribal communities economically. I totally love the fact that it makes a great platform podium for the authentic bands of the region. The line-up of musicians was amazing and most of them gave their best. I would definitely give full marks for the conceptualization of the festival but I would want to see it shine in the future years by working on its loose ends without losing its authenticity. OFAM is promising and it must brace up to rock the map of the global music scene.
The adventure sports was safely handled by the team of National Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports (NIMAS), a Ministry of Defence run institute. Some of the adventure activities that were offered were ziplining, river-rafting, scuba diving, parasailing and para motoring.
River Rafting on Dibang River
Arunachal is synonymous to adventure and you can’t return without indulging into one. And if you are there to attend an adventure festival, it would be a crime. I signed up for river rafting and it consumed me for the whole day. No wonder the experience was so surreal that it has to be the highlight of my trip. We drove for hours on the river bed to reach the starting point of the run (Pathar Camp) and this drive exposed me to the phenomenal beauty of Dibang Valley and Arunachal. There were many moments when I was nature-struck. To conquer this tricky terrain, you need to have an access to 4*4 vehicle and a skilled driver. We were in safe hands of a team of NIMAS.
When it comes to water, you really don’t know what to expect but we were aware that we would be crossing five rapids, of which two were of level 2 and others were lesser. The inflatable raft covered 8 kilometers on the Dibang River and we survived the hurdles with great team effort. Adventure tourism is synonymous to Arunachal Pradesh and this festival serves the purpose to promote it well.
Dambuk is indeed special and can be visited in any time of the year for an offbeat holiday. The festival also makes a great time to experience cultural exchange, local fun and insane music in the lap of nature in its pristine form.
Things of Interest
Dambuk is derived from the local words – MIDAM (Meaning generous people) and AUK (Meaning new place of habitat). This pristine village is home to an intriguing tribe of people called the Adi tribe who are known for their ferocity and bravery.
Dr Bhupen Hazarika Setu leads to Dambuk and is approximately 9.2 km in length and the longest river bridge in India, over Lohit River, a major tributary of the Brahmaputra in Tinsukia.
Some of the bands that enthralled the audience this time were Thundermother from Sweden, IRON Maidens and Blue Grass Journey from USA, Lydie Hendrikje from Germany, Bipul Chetri and the travelling band, Kathmandu killers, The Reasonabilists, Fiddler’s Green, Thanu, Bombay Basement and more.
Published in Mail Today on 13th January