A wild wild trip to Eastern Arunachal Pradesh.
The Land of the Dawn-Lit Mountains, Arunachal Pradesh is the largest of the North-eastern states. The state is inhabited by 26 major tribes and over 100 sub-tribes. The major tribes are Adi, Galo, Aka, Apatani, Nyishi, Tagins, Bori, and Bokar. Over 80 per cent of Arunachal Pradesh is covered with thick evergreen forests and it has five major rivers- Kameng, Subansiri, Lohit , Siang and Tirap. Most of the districts in Arunachal are named after a river.
My Journey started from Dibrugarh. Dibrugarh is situated along the mighty Bhramputra and is at the border of Assam and Arunachal. It was the nearest airport to Roing, my next stop after Dibrugarh. The road from Dibrugarh to Roing passes by Tinsukia and goes via the longest bridge of India. You can find details of each place mentioned in the article in the photographs below. It’s a scenic 3 hours drive passing through tea estates and paddy fields.
I reached Roing and stayed at RIWATCH. Here I met Vijay Swami Ji, who has built this place to document all the aspects of tribal life in Arunachal. There is a museum here which showcases artifacts and lifestyle of the tribal. On July 22, 2017, Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju inaugurated the Research Institution of World Ancient, Traditional, Culture & Heritage (RIWATCH) Museum at Roing in Arunachal Pradesh and hoped that it would serve as a place of exchange of cultural values of various tribes of the state and the North East.
Roing is situated in the lower Dibang Valley and Dibang River flows pretty close. Both Idu Mishmi and Adi form the principal indigenous dwellers of Roing. Mehao wild life sanctuary, Sally lake, Mehao lake and Mayudia mountain pass are some of the tourist attractions and remain covered with snow during peak winter. The town is located at the foothill of the Mishmi Hill. Close to Roing is the ancient remains of Vishmaknagar, home of Rukmini, wife of Sri Krishna.
From here we started out journey by road to Anini covering a distance of 223 kms. The road widening work is moving rapidly and so the roads are in a mess. Landslides are frequent. When roads and bridges didn’t exist a 3 hour travel took people nearly a day as river crossings were done by rafts and boats. Reaching Anini was an adventure in itself. The walk to Anini took 16 days. Govt had built shelters every few kms about 16 in total for each night. The road was completed in 91. Now of course a decent road exists and even though it’s a bumpy ride it can be covered in about 10 to 12 hours.
We crossed the Mayudia Pass and stayed at a hotel at 65 kms mark. We had delayed our departure so we had to halt as it was getting pitch dark by 4 45 pm. It was a small dhaba, with great food and cozy stay. Nothing fancy. There was no electricity at this place so we sat in the kitchen around the hearth and ate our dinner. It poured the whole night and we slept through it.
The next day we had a rough journey with multiple stops due to landslides. At 3 pm we were stuck as the whole road was covered with muck and boulders. As we waited other vehicles going to Anini joined us. The people there got together and tried clearing the road but it was in vain. It was here that we wasted 4 hours waiting for a JCB to come and clear the path. Thankfully it hadn’t rained much during the day. finally at around 7 pm we pushed off for Anini. It was only at midnight that we reached the circuit house, exhausted and messy with mud all over us. Luckily for us, out guide had made arrangements. As per our itinerary we were to stay at landing ground, close to Dembuen, but as we got delayed we decided to put up at the circuit house.
Next morning after a lovely breakfast we started for Dembuen. It took us about an hour to reach the guest house. After keeping our stuff there we immediately pushed off for a short hike along the Dri River. The road ends at the ITBP post and the helipad. In Arunachal, you will find helipads at every nook and corner as Indian Air Force sends all the necessary help by helicopters.
From here we hiked for another hour. There was no barren patch anywhere. It was all lush green. We found some amazing berries which are used to make wine. They were really refreshing. The first glimpse of the Dri made me jump with Joy. I had never seen such a pristine and clear river. The bank was wide at places and one could camp here. We decided to skip bath that day and decided to come back again later. Our guide got some fish from the river that was to be cooked at dinner. After spending some time at the banks of the Dri, we returned to the guest house to enjoy the local rice beer and amazing home grown organic vegetables for dinner.
The next day we were to do a longer 5 hours hike to a place called Alombro en route to Mipi, the last village and another dead end. We got of midway as there was another landslide and modified our hike for the day. We went through forest, bamboo groves and swaying hanging bridges over crazy rivers. One bridge was just wires and two bamboos under the feet. At some point I thought I would topple over. The hike was not all that hard. By evening we were at the hut, our shelter for the night. It was an amazing hut with a fire place right in the center. After making a fire we sat around singing and chatting, learning about the tribal way of living. People in these areas hunt and you will find hunters moving on their bikes with a gun slung around their necks. We met a bunch of locals who stayed in the jungle for 13 days looking for medicinal plants. They are tough people, fearless and strong.
We had a thrilling hike for two days as we crossed many hanging bridges and found as many as 10 varieties of mushrooms. Some were poisonous and others considered a delicacy. But it was only a local who could tell the difference. There was a certain fly, called dumdum, similar to mosquitoes or flies, which, the moment they bite, draw blood. Well, that isn’t the scary part. The nightmare starts after that. My legs and hands itched for next 4 days and I scratched like a mad dog. It was probably worse than the leaches.
On the last day of the program we visited Parshuram kund. The place is associated with holy sage Parshuram who on the order from his father cut off his mother’s head. To atone of his sin, he came to bath in the kund and the axe with which he had cut off his mother’s head, fell off, and from there sprang up Lohit River.
It was such a thrilling week. No tourists, no traffic, no pollution, no loud sounds. Clear skies, fresh air, transparent water of the rivers and evergreen forests.
Arunachal is an amazing mix of modern life and old traditional ways. As a state it caught with the modern world at a rapid pace. I’ll recount a story and end my article with it.
There was a certain circle officer of a district. Someone asked him about his early education and how he came to be a circle officer. So this is what he recounted.
My father wanted me and my brother to study at the village school which was far away from our village in the forest. It was in the early 80’s. That was the time when we wore nothing as kids. So we had to start wearing clothes as we were to attend the school. We were surprised. One fine day they finally walked to the village and as they approached it I saw Tyre marks of a truck on the road and said” Father, which is this animal who has 6 legs”. So my father explained to me what a truck was. I was awe struck.
My father then left us to be at the school which was also to be our home as everyday journey from home wasn’t feasible. After a few days, my elder brother started to get uncomfortable and decide that they both will escape and run home. One day he asked me to follow him and climbed the wall that surrounded the building. He tried hard to pull me up, but in vain. So he sent me back and ran away home.
And it was because of that incident that I stayed back at school, started studying, continued to do so and gradually moved up classes with time. My brother never came back to study. If that day I had climbed that wall too, I wouldn’t be a circle officer today.
And what happened to your brother? “Well he is still up there somewhere in the forest, hunting”