STRETCHING THE  RUPEE  AND GOING THE DISTANCE

 

Backpacking the N/East : 3 months / 4 States and a limited budget!!

 

NORTH EAST JOURNALS – PART 3 of 5

ARUNACHAL PRADESH ” Land of the Dawn Lit mountains” : (14 days)

 

 

PLACES VISITED:

Tinsukia (Assam) – Border town with A/Pradesh. (Necessary for arranging ILPs)

 

Namsai – Tea Gardens, Tengapani and Chowkham – Monastery and Nunnery.

 

Wakro – Brief stop enroute to Parsuram kund.

 

Parsuramkund – Temples on the Bank of River Lohit where Sage Parsuram washed his sins of matricide.

 

Itanagar (Capital City) – Visit local monastery and market areas.

 

Ziro (Hapoli) – Old Ziro, Hong village, Manipoyiang village.

 

Dirang – Sangti Valley, Apple orchards, Hot water springs, Yak research centre.

 

Tawang – Tawang monastery, Sungetsher Lake, War memorial.

 

 

PLACES STAYED IN :

 

Tinsukia (Assam) – Friend’s place at Doom Dooma.

 

Tengapani and Chowkham – Guest house attached to the nunnery on an island

 

Wakro – Inspection Bunglow (Rs.300/- per room)

 

Itanagar  – Friend’s place in Jully Village

 

Ziro (Hapoli) – Hotel Blue Pine Rs.530/- per day)

 

Dirang – Hotel Oak Line (Rs. 750/- per day)

 

Tawang – Stayed at Bomdir, in an army guest house (Jumbo Guest House) (Rs.150/- per day)

 

 

NORTH ARUNACHAL PRADESH

The more difficult the access to a place, the greater is the rewards for a traveler. This holds absolutely true for this state, one of the least explored areas in India.  Especially for the North and central portion, if traveling alone, toss the guide-book and the well planned out itinerary. Be prepared instead for long and arduous journeys (in heavy rains, as in our case), sudden changes in weather, frequent landslides and very poor connectivity between places. Tourist facilities range from very basic to non-existent, mostly the latter. The sarkari circuit houses and inspection bungalows are very pleasant but few and far between.

But also at the same time, be ready to be completely bowled over by the overwhelming friendliness of the locals who go out of their way to help out and are just as eager to meet us and befriend us.

Because of the remoteness, the state of Arunachal has not been overtaken by urban ethos. Yet the fine balance between advancement and keeping in touch with ones roots is nowhere as clearly manifest as in this state. Most of Arunachal Pradesh has primary jungles, deep gorges and villages in really remote places. The changing colors provide a constant reminder of diversity and cheerful spirits. Cane bridges, swaying precariously over roaring white waters are often the only means of moving from one place to another.

 

Arunachal shares borders with Burma/Myanmar in the east,Bhutan in the northwest, and Tibet (part of China) in the north. Due to this reason even Indians are required to obtain permits to enter the state. Foreigners need to apply for a Restricted Area Permit.

 

 

Initially we stayed at a friend’s place at Tinsukia, which lies in Assam at the border with Arunachal. This is where we also got the Inner Line Permits from the Arunachal Tourism Office at Mohanbari.

The permits made are sector specific and are only for 15 days (Extensions can be obtained once inside the state). Hence be careful to the government approved circuits only.

 

Day 1 –

Our plan to visit Namdapha National Park was literally washed out due to incessant rains.
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Instead our friend arranged for us to visit his tea estate at Namsai – the land of the Khampti tribe who are believed to be the descendants of the Tai Ahoms . Khamptis are one of the major tribe inhabitants of the Lohit District . The Khamptis are Buddhists of the Theraveda School. They are the only tribe in Arunachal Pradesh who has their own script
Later visited the beautifully gilded Tengapani monastery (one of the largest monasteries in N/East) and then we stayed in a guest house attached to a nunnery on a river island monastery at nearby Chowkham.

 

The locally renowned World Peace pagoda is also situated here.

Located in the Lohit district, Tengapani monastery also known as ‘The Golden Pagoda was  created by over 300 Myanmarese architects and skilled masons. The Theraveda sect is the original form of Buddhism which the Buddhists here have been following. The construction was done with aid of Myanmar architects and skilled masons. Over 300 of them worked for six years to complete the structure, he added.

 

The Pagoda has installation of 13 crowns atop the stupas with Lord Buddha’s relics from India, Thailand and Myanmar. Within the pagoda is a beautiful gilded statue of Buddha  which is modeled on the Kala Buddha of Nalanda archive. The pagoda was inaugurated on 22nd Feb 2010.

Days 2 and 3 –

Hitched a ride to a small village called Wakro (70 kms. From Namsai)and stayed overnight at the Inspection bunglow (Rs. 300/-) (the only accommodation available, booking done through the circle officer).

 

Wakro (Altitude 2000m) is the homeland of the “Mishmis” one of the Mongoloid tribes of Tibeto-Burman origin. The Kamlang Wildlife Sanctuary headquarters are situated here.

 

Glow Lake is also located in Wakro circle.  It is a beautiful spot with background of snow-clad mountains and rich flora and fauna in and around the lake.  It covers an area of about  8 Sq.Kms. at a height of about 5000′ above sea level.  The nearest road point is near Twam village on Chongkham-Wakro road from where one has to start trekking for the lake.  Owing to absence of proper road, it becomes an adventure trips to the lake. However during our visit we could not go there due to incessant rains and fear of leeches.

 

 

Next day, hitched a ride to Parsuramkund, a holy pilgrimage site for Hindus (visited in the thousands on 14th Jan at Makar Sankranti), where sage Parsuram is said to have washed his sins of matricide in the river Lohit. At the time of our visit it was raining quite heavily and winds were blowing quite strongly. There are a couple of temples and a stairway to the bank of the river. However, we could not go all the way as there was a landslide at the end of the trail.

 

On the way back, managed to hop on a state bus coming down all the way to Tinsukia (Rs. 60/-)

 

Days 4 and 5-

Next stop was Itanagar the capital city. The bus ride from Tinsukia to Itanagar was very memorable because, not being able to get a ticket; I ended up sitting besides the driver’s seat for the entire 16 hours journey. Thanks to our friend’s contacts, we were set up in a huge bungalow of a senior PWD engineer in a small village called Jully, and his son, Tanam was kind enough to drive us around town and to the small Tibetian Buddhist temple, consecrated by the Dalai Lama.

CENTRAL ARUNACHAL PRADESH:

 

Days 6 to 9 –

Next day, got into a shared Sumo, destination Ziro (Central Arunachal). The 5 hour journey was in constant heavy rain, on merciless roads scarred by landslides. We passed quaint villages with exotic names such as Potin, Poosa, Yazali and Yachuli. Highest elevation attained in this section was 5747 feet.

 

Reached Ziro (also known as Hapoli) and checked into Blue Pine (Rs.530/- for a standard double room).

We stayed in Ziro for a good 3 days and explored the following places :

Old Ziro, the quaint old town of Hong – the largest settlement of Aptani tribe and an excellent place to witness the traditional ways of living of this tribe and Manipoyiang, a small scenic hamlet 6 kms. from Ziro.

 

 

Some of the most distinguishing features of this settlement is the facial tattoing and bizarre nose plugs on the women (This was done to dissuade adjoining tribes from abducting the women, famed for their beauty, although due to the peace accords between the tribes, this practice has now been discontinued), the traditional tall ‘babo’ poles and ‘lapang’ meeting platforms, the  compressed layout of the village with all bamboo and wood houses stitched together end on end and their animist belief system believing on the supreme divinity of the Sun and the Moon “Donyi Poloism”.

 

. I even got to witness the praying grounds, which is nothing more than a small stretch of the forest at the edge of the village filled with small bunched bamboo poles dug into the ground and topped with empty egg shells. This is where the local priests chant their prayers and make animal sacrifices.
  Traditionally, Apatanis are agriculturists and have a highly evolved agricultural system. The wet rice cultivation coupled with picsiculture has earned the Apatanis worldwide fame as is their famed blue pine farming. All the valleys has been converted more or less into fine WRC fields with the surrounding hillocks into private pine forests and bamboo grooves thus giving a saucer-shaped appearance to the valley which, to untrained eyes gives the appearance of the terraces. The entire region, the fields, the long unwinding roads through the pristine and super clean villages and the people who inhabit it exudes a feeling of warmth and serenity which I have seldom seen elsewhere.
 Ziro valley is also the place where you are most likely to encounter the ox like “mithun” a bovine family member that’s a cross between the wild gaur and the buffalo.

During our stay here we made a lot of friends and were invited by complete strangers into their homes for a glass of rice wine. There was this lady, Anku, whom we met in the shared rickshaw on the way to Old  Ziro, who was thrilled when we showed her the write-up in Lonely Planet praising the Apatani women for their beauty. She took us to her office in Ziro and introduced us to all her friends. Also we happened to meet another local, Hibu Halle, thanks to whom we were able to enter a few Apatani homes and experience their hospitality first hand. He was overwhelmingly sweet and stayed with us the entire afternoon showing us around the entire Hong village. We ended up befriending his entire family and also his wife’s cousins.

 

Also this beautiful Apatani lady and her daughters who were sowing millet seedlings and invited us in to her house and even taught us a few gardening tricks!!

 

 

WEST ARUNACHAL PRADESH:

 

Days 10 – 14- 
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After Ziro, we headed back to Itanagar by shared sumo (Rs. 250/-, 4.5 hours) and boarded a bus heading to Bomdila (Rs.300/-, 12 Hours, elevation – 7273 feet), the jumping off point to Dirang (40 Kms further up) and Tawang (another 40 kms. beyond Dirang). Took the shared sumo to Dirang (Rs.100/-, 1.5 hours). It is recommended to break journey here to get acclimatized to the altitude before going further on to Tawang. At an altitude of 1497 mtrs, it is a sleepy fortress town, halfway up to Sela pass. Having travelled for over 24 hours since we left Ziro, we decided to stay put for at least 3 days before we would brave the zig zag 5 hour arduous mountain journey to Tawang.

 

 

Stayed at a new guest house – Oak Line (750/- per day). A nice cosy place, which is more of a house turned into a guest house with an open kitchen and common sitting area.

Whilst here we visited the Yak Research Centre (in town), the scenic Sangti valley, 8 kms away, the winter home of the black necked cranes, the hot water springs, known simply as ‘Gram Pani’, 1.5 kms away (however this is a rather sad and run down affair) and the apple orchards atop the adjacent mountain top.

Again most of this exploring was done on foot and by hitching rides!
Next and final destination was Tawang. The 5 hour journey took us past alpine forests, dramatic switchback climbs, glacial waterfalls and lakes and a lot of army posts. The highest point on this section was Sela Pass at 13,700 feet. Beyond this we had a nearly constant view of snow-capped peaks until our descent into Tawang Valley at 3048 mtrs. Once again thanks to another friend of mine whose husband was ex army, we got to stay in an army guest house at Bomdir, 10 Kms. down from main Tawang town.

Out here we visited the Tawang Monastery said to be the 2nd largest Buddhist monastery in the world. It is more like a small township, complete with a three-storied Assembly hall housing the magnificent 27 feet golden Buddha, about 65 residential buildings and a library with a small museum attached. Across the valley there are two ‘Ani Gompas’ (Nunneries) visible from the gate of this monastery. Work is underway to construct a ropeway joining these two places. For now, the only way to get there is by foot in a couple of hours or by vehicle on a road that passes through a military camp and hence requires permit.

 

Also worth visiting is the War memorial in the form of a traditional chorten created to commemorate the sacrifice of the brave soldiers who laid down their lives in the battle at the time of the 1962 Chinese invasion.

 

Later, thanks to another benevolent local (from whom we had hitched a ride in the morning and who later turned out to be a very well to do construction contractor) who offered us his Tata Safari and driver to take me all the way to Sungetser lake, a very rough, bumpy, hazardous but equally breathtaking drive of about 40 Kms. beyond Tawang for a very fair charge of Rs.2500/- (whereas the other Sumo cabs were charging me around Rs.4000/-). On the way we passed three smaller lakes (Bumla Green, PT TSo, and Nagula Lake) and the Jaswant view point.

There were also two check points before we reached Y-junction (Altitude 14,615 feet), at which juncture the road on the left leads to Shungetser lake (10 kms beyond) and right leads to BumLa, the historic pass through which the Dalai Lama escaped into India and also from where the Chinese invaded the country in 1962 and were in Tawang the next day. We also saw a small shrine carved into the mountainside dedicated to Guru Nanak who passed by this place during his third ‘Udasi’ (travels) en route to Tibet.

 

 

During the entire drive the most striking feature was all-pervading army presence and their various bunkers, training fields and outposts. I really salute these jawans and all the army personnel, who are usually stationed out here for months on end, if not years, braving the elements, guarding our borders and taking so much pride in what they consider their sacred duty. I can only imagine being here in the winters where temperatures are always sub-zero. We even passed a signboard stating that this was the highest field firing range in the entire country (at 4200 mtrs.)

 

 

Shungetser lake originally a pasture of a local village was formed by an earthquake that rocked the valley in 1971. The dead trunks of pine trees are remnants of an earlier time when this entire area was a forest. The area is well maintained with a lovely cafeteria with large windows overlooking the lake, a small foot bridge leading to the lake and beautifully landscaped exteriors. The entire view is quite breathtaking and the remoteness and difficulty of getting here adds an element of ethereal beauty.

 

 

 

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The next day, we landed up at the Helipad hopeful of getting a seat on the helicopter going down to Guwahati. We were lucky enough to get a seat due to some cancellations or else we would have to endure a grueling 16 hour drive to the same destination. The cost although a bit high (Rs. 3,000/-) for my budget, nonetheless was value for money as it cut short the journey and I got to fly over Bhutan and observe the landscapes from a bird’s-eye view. The sudden change http://theevolvingbackpacker.com/wp-includes/js/tinymce/plugins/wpeditimage/img/delete.pngfrom mountainous terrain of A/Pradesh and Bhutan to the flat lands of Assam was quite dramatic and best appreciated from the skies.

 

FOR MORE PHOTOS FOLLOW LINK BELOW :

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Arunachal Pradesh (Complete)

 

NOTE (BACKPACKING NORTH EAST INDIA AND BASIC MOUNTAINEERING COURSE) (06.APR.2010 TO 26.JUN.2010):

 

 

MY SEQUENCE OF TRAVEL WAS AS FOLLOWS : DARJEELING – HMI BASIC MOUNTAINEERING COURSE – DARJEELING – ARUNACHAL PRADESH – MEGHALAYA – SIKKIM

 

ALSO CHECK OUT FOLLOWING POSTS AS A CONTINUATION OF MY ENTIRE N.EAST TRAVEL EXPERIENCE  –

 

1) PROLOGUE TO NORTH EAST JOURNALS

 

2) DARJEELING

 

3) MEGHALAYA

 

4) SIKKIM

 

5) HMI, BASIC COURSE

 

Next destination  : Meghalaya (FOLLOW LINK ABOVE)

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