The Arunachal Odyssey - 3 Weeks in India's vastly Diverse & stunningly Beautiful State

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The Arunachal Odyssey - 3 Weeks in India's vastly Diverse & stunningly Beautiful State

The Arunachal Odyssey - 3 Weeks in India's vastly Diverse & stunningly Beautiful State
{ Nuranang Falls, one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the country }

Arunachal Pradesh, India’s frontier state, sharing border with our hyper aggressive neighbour, China, that often claims that a part or whole of it belongs to them, is stunningly beautiful and bewitchingly diverse. With more than 85% of the land under forest cover, it comes as no surprise that Arunachal Pradesh fosters incredibly rich biodiversity and looks like a land where humans forgot to plunder. Home to 26 major tribes and several subtribes, it is also one of the last tribal states to retain much of its ancient animistic religion. Even though Christianity is slowly making inroads into this wild frontier, the tribal culture is largely intact making it an interesting time to visit; It’s a state in flux where the past is fast catching up with the present.

On invitation from Arunachal Pradesh Tourism Department, I spent the past few weeks in what’s turning out to be my favorite state in all of India. From the Himalayan highlands of Tawang to the dense jungles of Siang, it’s been quite a journey. Here’s a quick glimpse of what I saw before I tell you more in detail about how Arunachal consistently delivers when it comes to travel that invigorates your mind, body and soul.

Tawang - The Land of Monpas and countless Lakes
The Arunachal Odyssey - 3 Weeks in India's vastly Diverse & stunningly Beautiful State
Madhuri Lake aka Shungetsar Lake in Tawang

The most famous region of Arunachal thanks to a brilliant stroke of luck and Bollywood, Tawang is the state’s only beacon of tourism as of now. Wild beauty is not unique to Tawang but tourism infrastructure set in place surely is. So it was perhaps a good decision to start our odyssey from this place of comfort before we were thrown into the heady hinterlands of Arunachal.

What started as a mild amusement snowballed into full-blown fascination by the time we were out of Tawang. The thing that intrigued me most was the number of lakes dotting this high-altitude landscape. I learnt much later that Tawang is one of the state’s biodiversity hotspot supporting a wide range of high altitude flora and fauna. On our way to Madhuri Lake (made famous by a prancing Madhuri Dixit in the 90s movie Koyla) and Bum La, the high altitude pass that witnessed the historic crossing of His Holiness the Dalai Lama into India in 1959, we saw countless lakes and ponds of all sizes right by the roadside. It was surreal to be in a landscape blessed with incredible natural beauty yet be marred by human presence in the form of several army settlements because of ever-running high tensions with our volatile neighbour. It seemed we just scraped the surface now but I’d love to come back again for deeper travels.

The Arunachal Odyssey - 3 Weeks in India's vastly Diverse & stunningly Beautiful State
The road to BumLa, a pass on the Indo-China border in Tawang
The Arunachal Odyssey - 3 Weeks in India's vastly Diverse & stunningly Beautiful State
Grandfather-grandson duo of the Monpa tribe in picturesque Shinup village
The Arunachal Odyssey - 3 Weeks in India's vastly Diverse & stunningly Beautiful State
Yellow-roofed Tawang Monastery
Seppa - The Land of Nyishis and unchartered Mountains
The Arunachal Odyssey - 3 Weeks in India's vastly Diverse & stunningly Beautiful State
Dramatic sunset over the hills in East Kameng district

If I have to pick one place that blew my mind on this trip, it’d have to be Seppa. Only because this detour literally came at me out of nowhere and swept me off my feet. I’ve seen a fair bit of Arunachal in my earlier three visits to be vaguely familiar with the lay of the land and the landscapes within. But driving to Seppa from Tawang opened a new region altogether, one where serpentine rivers meander through deep valleys of immeasurable beauty, flanked by mountains covered in unyielding jungles.

A stronghold of Nyishis, the fierce tribe of Arunachal that’s also the largest ehtnic group in the state, East Kameng district is full of sylvan villages and fascinating people living with a rich folklore full of legends of haunted waterfalls and hallowed forests. Seppa is perhaps the only big town in this remote corner, which became our base for visiting few Nyishi villages. Although our visit was rushed and only skin-deep, that thrill of visiting a place about which Google couldn’t throw hits back at us was deeply enthralling. Remote, demanding and difficult to explore on your own; that’s East Kameng for you but it is also a region ripe with phenomenal possibilities for the adventurous.

The Arunachal Odyssey - 3 Weeks in India's vastly Diverse & stunningly Beautiful State
Nyishi men showing the warrior stance, Seppa
The Arunachal Odyssey - 3 Weeks in India's vastly Diverse & stunningly Beautiful State
The family at Welly House, the largest house in the valley
The Arunachal Odyssey - 3 Weeks in India's vastly Diverse & stunningly Beautiful State
Lush greenery of Papu Valley in Seppa
Ziro - The Land of Apatanis and boundless Hopsitality
The Arunachal Odyssey - 3 Weeks in India's vastly Diverse & stunningly Beautiful State
Sunset over Ziro Valley, Arunachal Pradesh

Arriving in Ziro after the wretched cold of Tawang and the bone-breaking roads of Seppa was like the welcome warmth of a burning hearth inside an Apatani home. I have incredibly warm memories of Apatani hospitality from my earlier visit and I was only glad to have returned again. But unlike the festival time where houses are buzzing with friends and family, winter was a quieter time to be in Ziro. Young people were back in their city homes and old dwellers were busy with tending to their farms. Irrespective of the lack of acitivity unlike my earlier visit, I still enjoyed the warm Apatani hospitality in our limited encounters. I’m going to go out on a limb here and proclaim Apatanis are perhaps the warmest and most welcoming tribe in all of Arunachal Pradesh.

Between wandering the villages and hinterlands, the most memorable day in Ziro came in the form of an initially unplanned hike to Pange Valley, an Apatani style picnic with chicken barbeque amidst gorgeous forests of Talle Valley Widlife Sanctuary. 

The Arunachal Odyssey - 3 Weeks in India's vastly Diverse & stunningly Beautiful State
An afternoon amidst Bamboo groves, Ziro
The Arunachal Odyssey - 3 Weeks in India's vastly Diverse & stunningly Beautiful State
Armadillo armour on wall inside an Apatani Home
The Arunachal Odyssey - 3 Weeks in India's vastly Diverse & stunningly Beautiful State
Apatani women, separated by few generations between them
Siang - The Land of Adi Minyong and prettiest Villages
The Arunachal Odyssey - 3 Weeks in India's vastly Diverse & stunningly Beautiful State
Bamboo Bridge over Siang, central Arunachal

After a little over than 2 weeks in Arunachal, after having seen so many different cultures and fascinating landscapes, after having broken down due to exhaustion and sleeplessness, it takes a certain kind of magic to still manage to enthrall you. And that was Boleng to us, an Adi Minyong settlement in Siang distrcit of Arunachal Pradesh.

Situated bang on the banks of a deep blue Siang river, Boleng is a rather large town with a hidden settlement feel to it. We spent our days attending a welcome ceremony put together by an entire village for us, discussing their animistic religion, visiting old Shamans and marveling at the clearest nightskies we had seen on the entire trip so far. For this next proclamation, I do not have to go out on a limb because I am so sure of it - that Adi Minyong villages are the prettiest of all villages in Arunachal Pradesh. Made entirely out of wood, bamboo and other trees, Adi Minyong villages are basically clusters of thatched-roof houses built of raised platforms, delicately perched on mountain slopes with as much grace as supermodels on a ramp.

The Arunachal Odyssey - 3 Weeks in India's vastly Diverse & stunningly Beautiful State
Adi Minyong Tribesmen in their warrior attire
The Arunachal Odyssey - 3 Weeks in India's vastly Diverse & stunningly Beautiful State
Siang River near Boleng village


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N
Neelima Vallangi
Last Updated : Jan 15,2021
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