“So, which north-eastern state of India is your favourite?”
This has got to be the most frequently asked question I have had to face upon my return from what is going down in the tomes as the most rewarding trip of my life.
The one where I travelled through the seven sister states of northeast India over a period of 7 weeks
The one where I ticked off #29in29
My answer? “Arunachal Pradesh”
After Ladakh, there had been only one place I would keep experiencing a deep longing for Arunachal Pradesh.
But prior to February 2017, I barely knew a thing about the state.
Of its places, I had only heard about Tawang.
Of its flora and fauna, I had only known about hornbills.
With such vague and sketchy bits of random information, it baffles me that I was overawed enough to want to visit the state.
A year later, here I am, reminiscing the days I spent, feeling completely at home with myself in a state so far away from the city (~ 3600 kilometres away) I have grown-up in and called home.
An unfamiliar familiarity with Arunachal Pradesh
We had made our way from Namphake in Assam to Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh after an adventuresome journey that included nine modes of transport, right from bi-pedal to two, three and four wheelers as well as a ferry to cover a distance of 250 kilometres in nine hours.
I would have expected myself to be brain-dead and incapable of processing much of what was transpiring around me at that time. And yet, while still on our journey, I felt something shift inside of me. The wind outside my door-less shared-taxi suddenly felt calmer. I looked at the blue dot on my Google Maps – we were right on the border of Arunachal Pradesh.
10 days later, while making our way out of the state via Roing in Arunachal Pradesh – on a slightly less adventuresome journey – I recall sitting by the window of a bus, en route to Sadiya and suddenly sensing a strange sense of heaviness descend upon me. This time Google Maps informed me that we had crossed over into Assam!
Walking to and then through the market of Pasighat from our homestay without feeling like a spectacle of sorts, allowed me the kind of freedom I long to taste wherever I am.
But not being reduced to a spectacle did not mean no one would engage with us. In fact, it was the contrary. Just like in Manipur’s Imphal, folks wanted to know where we were from, when did we arrive, what was our experience so far, what were we liking… and sometimes, almost apologizing for not being as “modernized” as the cities.
I still don’t think I do a good job of convincing them that the cities aren’t as deserving of the pedestal we have placed them on.
It was the unique packaging of orange-coloured sweet limes that caught our attention. These, unlike our peeled-then-styrofoamed-fruits in the cities, came in cane bags. Were it not for the quantity of the sweet limes, we’d definitely have picked one for ourselves. But I was willing to settle for at least a photograph and this is what ensued:
Me (after purchasing a smaller quantity of orange coloured sweet limes): Can I take a picture of you’ll?
She: Yes, of course!
(to a friend in her group)
Hey you at the back look into the lens; she’s taking our photograph.
(on being shown what was clicked)
It’s looking so good. Get it printed in tomorrow’s newspaper, okay?
The simplest things do take the biggest places in our hearts.
If we let them, that is…
P.S.: Contrary to some of our preconceived notions, everyone speaks very fluent Hindi in Arunachal Pradesh. You know why? Because every tribe has a distinct language of their own and Hindi (taught in schools) is the least common denominator.
The Road to Mechuka is paved with…
From Pasighat, after another night’s stopover in Along, we reached Mechuka following a nine-hour journey by a shared-taxi. And before I wax eloquence on the beauty that is Mechuka, I would like to make it known that while the road journeys in Arunachal Pradesh aren’t the smoothest (read: comfortable), they guarantee (perhaps for those exact reasons) the most scenic and jaw-dropping-gorgeous picturesque vistas I have encountered.
Yes, every place has its own beauty and charm.
And the road to Mechuka is paved with a charm that switches very dramatically (you have to experience it to believe me) from ‘tropical-ish’ with wild plantain trees all around you to ‘artic-like’ with tall pines and cedars… from rain-forest like groves to barren and snow-capped peaks…All during the same day’s journey!
P.S.: I did forget all about my dislodged lower-back and disjointed neck.
Celebrating with the Membas
Our entry into Mechuka took off on a wobbly foot though.
Mobile networks are worse than patchy – except for BSNL, and we were unable to get through our homestay host. The local folks helped overcome that barrier once they identified who we were looking for.
As it turned out, we had arrived in Mechuka two days prior to Losar – the Tibetan New Year celebrated by all but specifically the Memba tribe who follow Buddhism. All around us, folks were busy touching up and even rebuilding their homes. This included our host too.
We were certain we couldn’t live in a house that was under construction – especially since it was still quite cold. And even though almost every second house is a homestay in Mechuka, not all of them were operational as it was still the off-season.
Luckily for us, an alternative abode was found – and a warm one at that.
Over the next three days of our stay, our hosts enthralled us just as much as they took care of us like one of their own, ensuring we were well taken care of – even as they were swamped with relatives, other guests including dignitaries from within the government (some of who came up and chatted with us) who had come to Mechuka specifically for Losar. During those two days of the festivities, the tiny village of Mechuka showcased to us what true revelry looked like! Nothing could dampen anyone’s spirits – not even the rains (which lasted the exact duration of the festivities).
Before the final adieu
Naturally, leaving Mechuka didn’t come easily. Of course, I more than welcomed not having to live under five layers of thick clothing.
On the other side, Dambuk awaited us. And the journey, as expected, offered some of the most comforting sights. Driving over dry river-beds is the closest I’ll ever be to experiencing what it could be like on the surface of the moon. Arunachal Pradesh was expanding the breadth of my imagination in the most unimaginable of ways.
Our abode was designed much like the dwellings in Arunachal Pradesh – on stilts – that creaked with every footstep. My inner child didn’t mind that one bit. I got chatty with a local from whom I learnt that these homes built from bamboo and wood, last a minimum of five years without requiring even the slightest of repairs. Being located right next to a river, heightened the experience even as collapsing sandbars added to not just the audio but also left me thinking of just how fragile these places are.
Later the next day, we climbed on to a tree-house to watch Mithun or Gayal – the state animal of Arunachal Pradesh that belongs to the bovine species. This seemingly intimidating creature (owing to its size) is actually rather harmless.
Rafting, that felt a lot like sailing – because the waters weren’t choppy and the rapids, quite pleasant – was converted into an opportunity to dip our feet into the glacial melt while our toes slowly but surely lost the sense of touch.
A year later, I think a part of me is still somewhere in Arunachal Pradesh
A year later, I’m sniggering at how I still haven’t been to Tawang nor have I seen a hornbill – the two foremost of associations I’d had with the state!
P.S.: To be honest, Arunachal Pradesh is my most favourite of all the states in India, not just the north-east!
My entire journey through Arunachal Pradesh (much like Tripura and Meghalaya) wouldn’t have been possible without the guidance (where to stay/how to travel internally/ etcetera etcetera) and constant stand-by support from the folks at ChaloHoppo.
No, this is not a sponsored post.
Neither was my trip.
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