UDAY K CHAKRABORTY is mesmerised with the hypnotic mountainous roads and scenic surroundings of the hilly Indian state
“It’s another world. Another universe.” As we drove down the snaking mountain road towards Bomdila in Arunachal Pradesh, past strangely- built tribal huts on stilts and curiously attired tribal women, I read again the lines from a poem that an Afgan mullah, accompanying an invading Mughal army in Assam, had composed some 350 years ago. “Its land is not like our land, its sky is not like our sky,” wrote Mullah Darvish of Herat, after visiting the fringes of what is today Arunachal Pradesh. “….its roads are frightful like the path leading to the nook of Death….. Its forests are full of violence like the hearts of the ignorant. Its rivers are beyond limit and estimate like the mind of the wise,”
Today, of course, Arunachal’s roads are, well, passable and its forests though deep and dense, are quite calm and safe. But its “otherness” remains; Arunachal still seems so uncannily different from other hilly states of India, so enchantingly mysterious. It indeed is one of the most pristine and picturesque land on this earth.
Arunachal Pradesh is where the river Siang changes hue every moment, eventually gushing into the mighty Brahmaputra. Then there are also other turbulent rivers rushing through deep gorges, numerous fast flowing streams and brooks cascading merrily over stones and pebbles, generating their own melodies. Here rugged roads snake through primeval jungles; mountains merge into mist, gurgling rivulets join fast flowing rivers, rainforests, orchids and rare Himalayan fauna and tribal legends abound.
In fact, its geographical sprawl over three climatic zones adds to the variety of flora, fauna and civilizations that one comes across. Days here are brilliantly fresh and sunny but frequently enveloped by heavy mist and clouds. And, after nightfall, it’s the blissful silence which prevails during the long nights of the Himalayas. During our entire stay we would often feel as if the forces of the universe had played their parts well. Everything is there as it was meant to be in this land of dawn-lit mountain, promising irresistible natural charm.
Rivers, Valleys and Towns
Arunachal Pradesh can be divided into five major areas on the basis of the rivers that crisscross its land. Mountain ranges run north-south and divide the State onto five river valleys: The Kameng, the Subansiri, the Siang, called the Tsangpo in Tibet, which becomes the mighty Brahmaputra after it is joined by the Dibang, and the Lohit in the plains of Assam. While the higher ridges and towns of Western Himalayas like Bomdila, Dirang and Tawang get most of the visitors because of whole range attractions, followed by the Apatani plateau around Zero, in Lower Subansiri district.
Other plateaus and valleys also have their individual beauty. More lately travelers are discovering the fabled beauty of Lower Dibang Valley, Menchuka Valley in Upper Siang district or Kibithu, the scenic easternmost town of the North-East, which can be reached from Tezu, situated at the entrance of the Lohit river valley. Itanagar, State’s capital, is situated at foothills, where one can observe different tribal people at the same place.
A must for wildlife enthusiasts is the Namdhapa National Park located in the eastern corner of Arunachal. This vast park spans a wide altitude range from 200 m to 4500m. As a result, this dense rain forest is home to animal species natural to all three climatic zones. Namdhapa is teeming with wild life of wide varieties – elephants, Malayan sambar, barking deer, hoolock, panda etc and of course the four cats – tiger, leopard, snow leopard and clouded leopard.
Incidentally, in Arunachal you don’t have to visit any reserve forest to watch animals. They are everywhere as a part of the general scene. One rare animal you would notice virtually everywhere during your journeys is the mithun – a huge, strange and dark cow-like animal (cross between the wild gaur and buffalo). They are of great religious, social and economic value to the tribesmen. If you are very lucky you might also have a glimpse of that beautiful bird – the hornbill, with their colourful cover and long beaks. In lower hills, elephants would also be a very normal sight. At night, occasional sighting of various cats including leopards crossing the roads do not surprise the locals!
Visiting Arunachal is a trip where the journey is as fascinating as the destination. The drive through the picturesque and largely untouched West Arunachal Hills is spectacular and can leave anyone breathless. A typical road journey passes through miles and miles sprawling tea gardens of Assam, snaking through the hypnotic mountain roads of Arunachal Pradesh and moving through a wide kaleidoscope of sceneries including rain forests, numerous waterfalls and diverse flora and fauna.
During our various trips we regularly stopped for lunch late in the afternoon, somewhere in nameless and forgotten Himalayan villages. But we felt safe and wished these lands remain forever unknown and unmapped. With dusk approaching, the entire landscape soon disappeared behind a blanket of grey fog, and then it was a dark, cloudy and moonless night where if not for the car’s headlights, all that could be seen was pitch blackness.
Amidst its natural splendours, add the charm of Arunachal’s colourful and diverse tribal people, and the combination makes your adventure even more unforgettable. With nature and people in their fresh and unspoilt forms, in Arunachal Pradesh you finally understand what the words like exotic, remoteness and natural splendour are supposed to mean.
How to Reach: Nearest airports are Tejpur, Dibrugarh and Lilabari. Jeeps and SUVs (including shared Sumos) are only means of local transport.
Where to Stay: Government tourist bungalows or local hotels.
(Photos: Uday K Chakraborty)