The Apatani valley (or the Apatani plateau as it is also called), bifurcated by the river Kele, is located in Arunachal’s Lower Subansiri District (93°57’E to 94°12’E and 27°30’N to 27°40’N). The headquarters of the Lower Subansiri district are located in Ziro, one of the major townships of the Apatani valley. Ziro is well connected by road with Itanagar, the capital of Arunachal Pradesh, which lies at a distance of about 100 km from it. The town is also well connected by taxi service with other district headquarters within the state. The plateau is bowl-shaped surrounded by high hills and interspersed with paddy fields and bamboo–pine groves. Nearly 52 sq km in area, the valley lies at an altitude of 1524 m with temperatures on the cooler side. Although it doesn’t snow, elderly people of the valley remember water freezing up during winters. This does not happen now. The valley lies between the river valleys of Kamla and Khru on the north and Palin on the south. All these rivers eventually drain into the Subansiri river, a tributary of the Brahmaputra. The villages are situated at the periphery of the circular valley with tropical evergreen, sub-tropical grassland formation, and sub-tropical evergreen forests. The higher altitudes have vegetation like east Indian almond, dhale katus, siriasing, amari, chaplash, kanak champa, sal and hirda, ferns, orchids and araceous species. Red silk cotton tree, screw-pine and the rare species Hyptianthera stricta occur along the banks of the river and along the streams. Apatanis have extensively planted rawami and bamboo in the surrounding hillocks as sources of material for construction of houses and household articles. The occurrence of Himalayan white pine is shrouded in mystery as it does not grow anywhere else in this area. The Apatanis claim that their ancestors brought them from Central Mongolia when they migrated, a place that they believe they originate from. The fauna comprises the tiger, golden cat, large Indian civet, spotted linsang, common palm civet, Himalayan palm civet, jackal, Indian elephant, sambar, barking deer, gaur, Indian wild boar, Assamese macaque and capped langur. The area witnesses copious rainfall throughout the year at an average of 3000 mm.
High precipitation and fertile soils have helped in the growth of luxuriant vegetation. The forest types broadly are of sub-tropical broad-leaved, temperate broad-leaved, and temperate conifer types, depending on altitude. In several places, forests are dense with a profuse growth of epiphytes (mainly orchids and ferns). The hilly terrain in the valley is covered with forests and bamboo-pine groves, while the flat valley is used for paddy cultivation and pisciculture. Approximately 10 per cent of the forests in the Apatani valley are under government control, legally categorised as unclassed state forests (USF). The rest are under the control of family, clan or the community (village). These lands are managed according to traditional rules governing allocation, use and transfer. The community inhabiting the Apatani valley in Arunachal Pradesh is somewhat unique in its traditional wisdom and practices. Furer Heimendorf in his earlier writings in the mid-1940s mentions seven Apatani villages. Recent articles put the number of villages in the valley at around twenty. The population continues to be confined to the central regions of the Apatani plateau around the old Ziro or Hapoli township, former headquarters of the district. Inhabitants of this valley are named variously—Onka Miri, Ankas, Apa Tanang, etc.—collectively called as the Apatani (Apa means regard and Tani means human race). Apatanis, cohabit with other tribal groups called Nishis and Hill Miris; but unlike them, they live in nuclear families. They are divided into a number of clans and each clan lives in a clearly defined part of the village. They worship the sun (Donyi) and the moon (Polo) and there are several fascinating myths attached to their deities and their origin which serves to reinforce their uniqueness as compared to the neighbouring communities. Almost all their festivals are even today connected to nature conservation and community welfare.