My memory always served me exactly those places whenever I thought of Arunachal, thanks to the numerous & hackneyed lists that have inundated our virtual world. I knew there had to be more, much more to Arunachal, unexplored and exotic but I just didn't know what that might be. So when I saw images of long bamboo bridges spanning across clear green rivers, mountains covered in lush greenery instead of ugly gashes of development and small villages entirely comprised of thatched roofs houses set high on mountain slopes, I knew I was onto something exotic here.
And Arunachal didn't disappoint, not even a teensy bit! I traveled to this remote corner, mere 29kms from China border, where you'd hardly find any other travellers (notice how I didn't say tourists. Yep, a tourist would never find his way here). I traveled with a responsible tourism company called Kipepeo which places heavy emphasis on local and authentic travel experiences, on a 10 day trip called Magical Mechuka. Here's a glimpse of how Arunachal stole my heart and reinforced my belief that there's no place as exotic as Northeast in India!
My first foray into Northeast was Nagaland. Having heard so much about this area's natural beauty and indigenous people, I had imagined a land full of undisturbed forests and colorful people. The latter didn't disappoint, but the forests I had come to envision didn't exist. Instead of dense impenetrable forests, barren mountain slopes full of ravaged agricultural land welcomed me. Only a year later in Meghalaya, when I totally went off the beaten path, I found those hidden protected forests that I had dreamt of.
But here in Arunachal, the moment we crossed the Assam border at Likabali into West Siang District, it was clear this large state shelters untouched jungles full of creepers and giant trees. Over the next few days, we barely had mobile signal(even bsnl doesn't work fully) and it was nothing but a delight to be in the lap of pristine wilderness. The view like that of the image below was a common sight - lush greenery, winding rivers and endless mountains!
Then there are villages, tiny villages sitting pretty on the mountain slopes surrounded by this dense greenery. The entire villages would only have thatched roof houses built traditionally on stilts. There are no roads to reach these villages, you'd have to hike. The views surrounding them would be breathtaking, needless to say. The village boundaries would be marked by wooden fences complete with dreamcatchers sort of hoops to keep the evil out. In those pretty villages, live such naughty kids playing in the mud and running with the wind.
In the heart of Arunachal Pradesh, we spent few days in and around a little town called Along situated on the banks of a meandering Siom River. Around this town were resplendent hills scattered with picturesque villages of the Adi Minyong Tribe. One afternoon, after hiking to several of their villages we arrived at a field for a traditional lunch of the Adi tribe. Seated on cane stools, we had fish and rice cooked in bamboo hollows, served on banana leaves. The chutney was a mix of ground red chilli and ginger. We drank the local rice wine, Apong, served in the bamboo hollows as seen in the picture below. All of this, while we sat around a the fire (yeah, it gets cold & dark soon in NE) in the middle of a field surrounded by a ring of mountains! This was by far, the most organic and sustainably sourced/cooked meal I ever had.
Oranges grow in abundance in West Siang district. There were orange orchards everywhere and we could practically pluck a fruit from the tree almost anywhere we wanted. Over the 10 days, we ODed on these all-natural, chemical-free, delicious citrus fruit. It's a different kind of high, eating a fruit straight from the orchard. And many of the bridges in remote Arunachal are still old school and incredibly fun! We found ourselves walking on a super shaky bamboo bridge spanning a quarter of a kilometer over Siang River near Along. The walk on this bridge was as adventurous as it was marvellous.
At the end of it, I couldn't help but marvel at the Adi Minyong Tribe's resourceful and sustainable lifestyle that has evolved over centuries perhaps.
One of those travel situations that can happen only when your lucky stars perfectly align happened to us on this trip in Mechuka. We stalked a bride, gate crashed their wedding yet we were welcomed with open arms and warm smiles. They kept serving local Millet Beer and refused to let our cups go empty. The wedding itself was quite fascinating, and we were given full access to the intimate prayers and customs of their traditional wedding.
Earlier that day, while visiting a local village, few of us saw a group of women in traditional attire standing by the roadside to welcome a party. When we inquired, we were told they are the groom's side and are waiting for the bride to arrive. As soon as we heard this, we pestered our local guide to arrange for us to get invited to the wedding. After finding out the bride's location, we rushed towards her village only to encounter the wedding convoy on the way. We chased the wedding party, overtook them and reached the women standing on the roadside hoping to score an invitation. The trick worked, we were invited to be part of their celebrations!
Raging rivers and roaring cascadesIt was an unplanned event and took up most of our day but we were more than happy to be part of a stranger's wedding and get high on the millet beer, talk about authentic local experience!
When you have such dense forests and such deep valleys, raging rivers and roaring cascades are a given! We had the pleasure of following the Siom River from Along all the way up to its source in Mechuka, where it is called Yargyap Chu. The road always snaked along with the river because of which gorgeous views were abound, forcing me to stop several hundred times to take pictures. On the last day, here at Pangin, we sat at the edge of a cliff watching the Siom River(right) meet the mighty Siang River(left) that goes on to become the super mighty Brahmaputra downstream.
The mountain sides along the entire route from Along to Mechuka were lined with several waterfalls, some falling gently in several steps from great heights into the valley below and some gushing through the rock faces only to half disappear into thin air. Either way, it was pleasurable company to have. But the biggest and baddest of all had to be this Siko Dido Falls, few kilometers before Mechuka. What you see in the picture was exactly half of the entire height of the falls, and the mist that rose from the forceful drop was so cold that it was hard for me to take a steady picture even; I was shivering!
Back again on the Bramhaputra
We started our journey into this wild land by crossing over the monster of a river, Bramhaputra. My excitement was hardly contained as I was about to set foot into yet another state of the unexplored Seven Sisters. Rarely do expectations which you have built up in your mind match reality, but that's the thing about Arunachal. It's not a regular place. It's a special place where nature gods still thrive and our only hope is it continues to be so. For such pristine wilderness is hard to come by! As we crossed over Brahmaputra after 10 days to return to reality, the skies turned pensive reflecting my own thoughts - marveling at how exotic northeast truly is yet sad that it would take me ages to explore this enchanted land.