Traveller or Tourist?
Writer or Blogger?
Journey or Destination?
These are a few of my favourite conundrums. Well, okay, not favourite. I have (mostly) rested my case on the first two scenarios with an “i-don’t-know” as my answer. For the third though, I have and still continue to favour the Journey over the Destination. And as if I hadn’t demonstrated that enough through all the train-travel, my trip to the northeast ensured I now have some non-train-travel evidence to back my claim!
Thanks to the good folk at ChaloHoppo much of my anxiety had been eased during the planning stage. As a result, my friend and I were able to entrust our entire Tripura planning to them. When it came to Arunachal Pradesh, Nishant (aka ChaloHoppoGuy) was insistent that we go to Mechuka (and I still have that persuasive email).
Mechuka was a name my brain recognised. I can’t say this was equally true for names of most of the other places in the northeast. While I don’t recall The When, I do remember making copious mental notes about heading to Mechuka someday. In fact, I had had a preference for the lesser-known Mechuka over the relatively-popular Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh!
Mechuka, for the uninitiated, is the last village at the Indo-Tibet border along the famed McMohan Line. Border towns have been the core component of this trip.
[Read: Indo-Myanmar Border In Photos]
The blockade situation in Nagaland had thrown most of the earlier plan (aka version 6 of the itinerary) in a tizzy. And when route maps were redrawn and dates reconsidered, we were going to enter Arunachal Pradesh now from Assam (as opposed to Nagaland). For this, our Inner Line Permit to Arunachal Pradesh also had to be re-applied for* – and thankfully, it was a hassle-free process.
[Read: How We Got Rerouted To Assam]
Armed with that, we were all set to embark on a multi-transport journey from Namphakke in Assam to Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh. This was bound to be epic by every stretch of imagination (and any lack thereof).
The Journey I Want To Tell The World About
Micro-journey #1: Taking our leave from our warm abode at the Namphake Monastery, Raviji arranged to have a young boy from the village drop us to the main road on his bike. That day I realised that maintaining your balance with a 60 litre haversack lugged behind you while on a two-wheeler along a bumpy strip is a noteworthy skill.
Impact on purse-strings: 0
Micro-journey #2: It was a Sunday morning. I had my fingers crossed. I was hoping public transport wouldn’t let us down. It didn’t. 30 minutes later, we hopped on to a bus that brought us to the town of Naharkatia. I delighted when the bus stopped right at the shared-taxi stand. Were airport transfers this smooth?
Impact on purse-strings: Rs. 10
Micro-journey #3: Our third mode of transport that morning was a shared-taxi ride on a TATA Winger to reach Dibrugarh. This vehicle is a native only to this region of the country. It easily seats up to 10 people at a time; including people’s luggage. As we were going to be the last of the folks getting off, we were assigned seats at the back. Almost curled up – a position my legs are never a fan of – I distracted myself, much like a kid handed a helium balloon for the first time and kept track of the ‘blue dot’ on my Google Maps.
The driver turned out to be the nicest person. Instead of dropping us off at the stand, he drove a bit into Dibrugarh city and hollered at a taxi to enquire if he was on his way to Bogibheel Ghat – which was our next destination. And just like that, our bags were transferred and doors were opened so we could ready ourselves for the next leg.
Impact on purse-strings: Rs. 50
Micro-journey #4: Our second shared-taxi ride of the day was on a Trax jeep. Once again, we were cooped in with some more folks who were also on their way to catch the ferry to get to the other side of the mighty Brahmaputra. The terrain, on this leg, changes rather dramatically. One moment we’re on the main road and the next, we’re off-roading. By the time, we got off at Bogibheel Ghat, I had enough sand in my hair (and mouth) to may be build a tiny castle!
Impact on purse-strings: Rs. 50
Micro-journey #5: The vibe at the Ghat was pulsating. People were everywhere. A couple of boats buoyed about on the waters. I strode around a bit until I could find us a figure of authority (armed with information) to tell us when the next ferry was due. In retrospect, walking on sand with a 60 litre backpack on is not a great idea! The ferry was in another half an hour. I was constantly doing the math – we had to enter the state of Arunachal Pradesh before sunset because though not officially recognised, the northeast experiences dusk earlier than the Indian Standard Time blinking on my phone would like me believe. So far we were doing good on time.
The ferry ride was a fun experience – only if your idea of fun allows you to be immune to the smell of diesel or whatever mixed oil is used. But I may be over-exaggerating because at some point the breeze began to soothe my senses as I watched sandbars determining the course the ferry would take.
Impact on purse-strings: Rs. 60
Micro-journey #6: On the other side of the ferry ride was chaos – AKA no shared-taxis. We were fortunate to have secured ourselves two seats with the only person who had a vehicle. The journey from Kulajan to Silapather made the aforementioned over exaggeration about being covered in sand from the ride to Bogibeel Ghat seem like child’s play. But once we were done off-roading, the roads only got better. Suddenly being on the other side of the Brahmaputra felt like being in a different place altogether. When it was time to get off, our driver – yet another kind soul – found us our next shared-trip and ensured our bags were transferred by the other driver himself.
Impact on purse-strings: Rs. 60
Micro-journey #7: It was our driver to Ruksin who asked: “What are you carrying in your bags? Explosives?” An awkward laugh later I figured he made that remark because our physicality and gender didn’t necessarily speak to our ability of lugging our backpacks around!
At this point, I would like for it to be known that on this leg of the journey from Silapther I was seated on a green plastic stool that was secured by coir ropes at the base. My public transport tales were only getting more interesting. With this journey we were inching closer to the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border.
Impact on purse-strings: Rs. 90
Micro-journey #8: At Ruksin, I could sense something different in the air. At first I attributed it to the day’s wearing me out, doing things to my head. But once we were in yet another Winger – onward to Pasighat and I was now sitting on a wooden bench inside a vehicle that didn’t have a door (trust me, I’m not making this up) – I locked my arm with my friend’s not only so that I wouldn’t slip out but also to enjoy the crisp air hitting my face. I simultaneously check on my blue-dot friend …when lo and behold, we were right on the border!
Impact on purse-strings: Rs. 40
We entered Pasighat around 4 PM.
We were finally in the fifth sister state of the northeast.
Micro-journey #9: We were still not done. It took our homestay host – that ChaloHoppo had put us in touch and made arrangements with – to have a quick chat with some of the local rickshaw drivers to agree on a reasonable fare for what turned out to be our ninth ride of the day.
Impact on purse-strings: Rs. 75
In nine hours since our journey had begun in Assam, we’d hopped on two, three and four wheelers as well as a ferry to cover a distance of around 250 kilometers.
Total impact on purse-strings: < Rs. 500
The story of the destination is yet to follow!
Adventure does not necessarily have to spell as bungee jumping or paragliding or rappelling all the time. Sometimes you show up and let the road decide what to sign you up on. Agree?
*a detailed post on Inner Line Permits is due in a subsequent post
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