To the far East, In the Land of Rising Sun - Arunachal Pradesh

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Quick! What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you think Arunachal?
Is it Tawang? It is Madhuri Lake/Jung Falls? Or is it Sela Pass? (Tell me in the comments)

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.

Arunachal Pradesh
Arunachal - Land of Rising Sun
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!

Those exotic forests and the endless mountains!

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!

Arunachal Pradesh
Endless mountains and dense forests of Arunachal
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.

Arunachal Pradesh
Children goofing around in an Adi Minyong Village
Arunachal, is blessed!

100 % Natural and Organic Living

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. 

Arunachal Pradesh
Apong, a local rice wine that tastes sweet and is delicious. Served in Bamboo hollows.
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.

ALT
“ALT”
Orange orchards are everywhere in West Siang District. (Left) The 250m wide hanging bamboo bridge connecting Pangin village to Along side over Siang River.(Right)
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. 


Gate-crashing a local wedding and getting drunk on local liquor

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.

Arunachal Pradesh
Welcome party, groom's side. That's Millet beer in the tray.
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!

Arunachal Pradesh
Wedding ritual of the Memba Tribe of Mechuka
It 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!


Raging rivers and roaring cascades

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.

Arunachal Pradesh
Where Siom meets Siang, at Pangin in West Siang District
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!

Arunachal Pradesh
Siko Dido Waterfalls!
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.

Arunachal Pradesh
Crossing the Brahmaputra on a stormy day

So why do I recommend Kipepeo?
Firstly, I support the company's ideology - sustainable tourism and community development by involvement. Plus, I like it that Kipepeo works in an ignored part of the country that has so much potential, northeast! Over the 10 days we spent in Arunachal, we always had a local guide with us which worked well for both of us. Especially in a place as remote as Arunachal, this was a game-changer. We gatecrashed local wedding, learnt about spies sent to Tibet and had our fill of Apong and warm Adi hospitality - none of this would've been possible without the local connections. 

Secondly, Piran, the founder of Kipepeo has been working and traveling extensively in North East since his early volunteering experience here that gave birth to the idea of this company. He knows the place very well and if not, he has enough contacts who can help him with such offbeat/exploratory visits. 

Have a look at the 2015 Calendar and you'll be spoilt for choices! No really, go have a look. 
Join their Facebook page for heads-up on future events. 

Note: This trip was sponsored by Kipepeo but as always, opinions are mine!

More Adventures from Northeast:
MeghalayaGoing Offbeat in Meghalaya & Learning Interesting Things
NagalandKonyaks - The tattooed Headhunters of Nagaland

The Epic Indian Landscapes 2015 Calendar Sale is still on, extended it due to the excellent response(Dear readers, Thank you for this!). Take a look and order your copy if you like what you see! :) 

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19 comments

  1. Words and pictures tells thousand stories. superb way of expressing an expression.
    The landscapes, narration made me to have a virtual tour to this majestic place at zero cost.

    Great writeup.. I liked it

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    1. Thank you, glad you enjoyed going through this post. :)

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  2. A great read and pictures are lovely.

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  3. Let me answer you first, Neelima. Its Kibhitu in Arunachal, the eastern most east of India where sun rises first. Mechuka is another great not much explored place in Arunachal. Tawang is more popular with the tourists. Great post with fabulous photographs. :-)

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    1. Wow, very fascinating! Thanks for the great tip, Kibhitu on my must-explore list now. :)

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  4. Wonderful! You've left me speechless.

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  5. Memorable experiences which would never fade from your memory. The best part about Arunachal is, it is far far away from civilization.

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    1. Oh it's so far away, like another world altogether! :)

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  6. Another good post, Neelima.

    I went through the Kipopeo site. Don't you think that the pricing is bit high?

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    1. I know what you mean about the pricing, but in places as remote as NE, it really helps to have a knowledgeable person with excellent local resources guiding you and that comes at an extra premium. For instance, getting us invited to the wedding and the 100% organic lunch with Adi tribe wouldn't have been possible on my own. At times, when sightseeing just won't cut it or doing something really specialized like rafting the Siang, I'd highly recommend going with companies such as Kipepeo.

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  7. Cheers on the wonderful article Neelima! Your writing makes me go swaying in the air right to Arunachal! Your pics of the spellbinding sunrise, dense greenery and the thatched huts are awesome! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed this Aarushi, Arunachal is absolutely stunning! I'm kicking myself for not getting there earlier but I guess better late than never. :)

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  8. Arunachal! Beautiful Arunachal! I love the rice wine in the bamboo stalks! :)

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  9. Hi Neelima,

    In which month did you do this trip ? Is it as lush green all throughout the year ?

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