Arunachal Pradesh – Unexplored land of tribes!

Sharing a border with China, Arunachal Pradesh is at the tip of north-eastern India. You can drive many miles without spotting a soul in this serene and spectacular state with large pockets of unexplored, virgin territory. A drive up to Sela Pass (at an elevation of 13,700 ft), which forms the gateway to the town of Tawang, makes for a breath-taking experience given that it is covered in snow through large parts of the year.

A number of picturesque lakes – 101 as per the local Buddhist community – complete the beautiful yet stark landscape which is devoid of any vegetation in Arunachal Pradesh. The Tawang monastery and a war memorial dedicated to an Indian soldier, Jaswant Singh Rawat, who fought alone against the Chinese during the 1962 Sino-Indian War, are the main attractions here.

In contrast, as one descends the mountain into the plains, the scenery changes dramatically from icy Himalayan highlands to warm tropical plains. The Namdapha National Park, spread over 1985 sq km of dense forest, is home to a mind-boggling array of animal and plant species including four big-cat species (leopard, tiger, clouded leopard and snow leopard). With around 500 recorded species of birds and as many varieties of orchids, Arunachal is truly a haven for nature lovers.

Inhabited by over 26 major tribes and 100 sub-tribes in Arunachal Pradesh, many of whom live a life that’s relatively untouched by modern technology, interacting with locals can be an eye-opening experience. One such notable community is the Apatani tribe, who live in Ziro Valley and can be identified by their incredible facial tattoos. Known for their paddy-cum-pisciculture techniques, the Apatanis’ sustainable form of agriculture has put this lush valley on the global map after it has been proposed for nomination as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2014.

Some of the places we visit in Arunachal Pradesh

Tawang – Recreation in the hills of the gods

It was historically a part of Tibet. The 1914 Simla Accord defined the new boundary between British India and Tibet, where the latter relinquished a part of its territory, including Tawang but it was not recognised by China. The sixth Dalai Lama was born in Tawang. The town and its history are linked with that of the monastery there. The Losar festival of the Tibetan Buddhist is celebrated here with a lot pomp by the Monpa tribe.

As we climbed up from the tropical plains and crossed different types of forest, each time the rhododendrons blooming in the snow managed to thrill us. My Father would yet again bring up the topic – let’s drive all the way to Lhasa – Julie

Ziro – A living culture scape, proposed for a UNESCO heritage site

The Apatani tribe villages are a treasure trove of knowledge on old customs, traditions and life before mainstream religion existed.
Non-nomadic in nature, they practice permanent wetland rice and pisciculture in hilly terrain. Without the use of machinery or animals they have successfully channelled stream water from the forest to create irrigation channels.

The hills and the pine forest around Ziro call for equal attention. Talley valley is now becoming a popular trekking destination and has species of flora that only exist there. The tribe declares time periods when hunting or entering the forests is a taboo. A trek here is must for bird watchers and nature lovers.

Tezu – Bewitching beauty

The small town is a nature lover’s paradise, filled with picturesque lakes, mist-covered valleys and fruit orchards. “I remember visiting orange orchards with my mother and buying a hundred oranges for ten rupees. I must have been eight or nine years old”, adds Julie. The main inhabitants are the Mishmi tribes. Their traditions and customs are mentioned in the Mahabharata, an ancient Indian text were Lord Krishna’s first queen Rukmini was from this tribe.

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