Sharing a border with China, Arunachal Pradesh is at the tip of northeastern India. You can drive many miles without spotting a soul here. Inhabited by over 26 major tribes and 100 sub-tribes, many of whom live a life that is relatively untouched by modern technology, interacting with locals is an unconventional experience.
The Monpa tribe lives in the western part of this state and the most popular destination here is Tawang, once a part of Tibet. Their religion is Buddhist and the monasteries are worth a visit, especially the female ones or nunneries called Ani Gompas. Tsangyang Gyatso, the VI Dalai Lama was born near Tawang.
Namdapha National Park, spread over 1985 sq kms 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). In contrast, Sela Pass (at an elevation of 13,700 ft) is snowed under for large parts of the year.
The roads in this state are in poor condition due to landslides during the monsoon months and there are long rides between destinations. Inner line permit is required to visit this state and an experienced guide to accompany is recommended. Accommodation ranges from very basic to 3 star in only a few places. A trip to this state is not for the fainthearted!
It is the first town after climbing up from the plains of Assam en route to Tawang. Decent basic accommodation is available. The craft center and the ethnographic museum is recommended for those interested in history and lifestyle of the tribes. The local products in the market are very interesting to see, various types of mushrooms fresh or dried, handwoven bags, kettles and spoons based on traditional designs. As in most Indian villages a small group of children playing among the older traditional attired women make for a sharp composition and photo opportunity.
Dirang rests approximately halfway between Bomdila and Tawang. Dirang Dzong, an old stone fort located near the banks of the Dirang River, is over 185 years old. The tribal village consists of stunning stone architecture that are more than 500 years old. New Dirang is 5kms and is a bustling commercial centre. Another 5kms away is the isolated Nyingmapa Monastery, which follows the Nyingmapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism; its walls are covered with detailed artworks.
Travel further away from Dirang and you will reach the relatively lesser known but gorgeous Sangti Valley. Dotted with pristine forests, it is filled with apple orchards, kiwi farms, rare orchids and migratory birds such as the black-necked crane that flies from China. Once a hidden gem but now on the tourist map, Sangti valley is gradually growing in popularity and poses as an alternative to other well-known hill stations. The riverfront now has basic tented accommodation.
Tawang 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 6th 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 Buddhists is celebrated here with a lot of pomp by the Monpa tribe. The monastery here is the largest Buddist monastery in the country and the Ani gompas (nunneries) are a lesson in dedication and hardship. We recommend a visit. Trekking, picnics to explore nearby villages and visits to the local market and craft center are an enriching experience.
“As we climbed up from the tropical plains and crossed different types of forests, 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
The Apatani tribe villages are a treasure trove of knowledge on old customs, traditions and life before mainstream religion existed. They live in the 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 was nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014.
Non-nomadic in nature, they have successfully channelled stream water from the forest to create irrigation channels without the use of machinery or animals.
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 a must for bird watchers and nature lovers.
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.
Pasighat, located in the East Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh, is frequently referred to as the gateway to the state. It is also the oldest town of Arunachal Pradesh. Pasighat is an ideal spot for those who are looking for a quiet retreat in nature’s lap as well as for those keen on water sports. The Siang and the Brahmaputra provide great options for rafting. Mountain cliffs, hanging bridges, scenic trails through forests and by the riverbanks make for a stunning landscape. The locals mostly depend on agriculture for their occupation, hence rice fields compose a large part of the scenery.
Stop by the river banks or atop the rocky stretches of the hills for an impromptu picnic. Or simply soak in the pristinity.
The name ‘Mechuka’ means medicinal water of snow. It is an obscure hamlet situated in the West Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh. About 29kms from the Indo-Tibetan border, the place is isolated and can be accessed from Pashighat, rightly earning itself the name ‘forbidden valley’. But once you set foot, it will be hard to not be overwhelmed by its magical beauty.
Mechuka, surrounded by mountain peaks and undulating hills, full of meadows and pine forests, seems straight out of the pages of mystical fables. Wild horses running free in the vast grasslands is a common – and ethereal – sight. Monasteries, bamboo bridges, low-lying clouds and the Siang River are some of its features. People from the local Memba, Adi, Bokar and Libo tribes will welcome you for a home-cooked meal in their traditional huts, accompanied by freshly brewed ‘sen chang’ (rice beer), local wine and butter tea.