The memory lingers to a few many years ago when I and two of my friends had embarked on a long road trip to explore the country’s eastern most edges – a lofty valley hidden deep in the Himalayas and amongst the remotest places on the planet. We started one crisp winter morning from the town of Dibrugarh in the far eastern plains. Driving right till dusk and crossing farmlands, tea estates and a mighty river, we had reached the town of Roing where we spent the night drinking our souls heavy and mentally preparing ourselves to the mountainous journey ahead of us.
We drove again the next day. In the two hours before reaching Mayodia Pass to enter deeper into the valley, there are mesmerizing views of the plains below, crisscrossed by dozens if not hundreds of rivers and streams that flow down from the cloudy mountains of Arunachal Pradesh. After crossing Mayodia Pass, we drove for many hours right till night, finally finding a place to stay at an unknown tiny mountain town in a broken down government run guesthouse. We slept peacefully.
As we couldn’t really see anything the previous night, the morning came as a surprise with delightful views of the valley and a crisp winter sun. We again drove the entire day, crossing through wild remote mountains and nameless tiny villages consisting of a handful of houses to arrive at the mountainous and sparsely populated town of Anini. Most of the townsfolk here belong to the Idu Mishmi tribe. There are a few shops, a few government offices, a guesthouse and a tiny army camp of sorts. The town is surrounded by scenic high grasslands and a magnificent view of snow-capped peaks on all sides. It was soon dusk and we decided on spending the night at the rundown government run guesthouse. The caretaker, as with all government run guesthouses in these forbidden lands, was a charming Nepali fellow of sorts. He got us some great dinner, some decent booze and a cozy fire for the night.
The next day was hectic. We explored the town and got some work done. Our plan was to spend a few days hiking in the pristine Dri Valley, an exploration of sorts for outsiders. The Dri originates in the unseen glaciers of the ‘very very’ remote Kangri Karpo range in the Eastern Himalayas and is the source of the Dibang River which flows down to the plains of Assam where it merges with the Brahmaputra. The Kangri Karpo range is quite a sort of mythical place, at least in my mind. A region consisting of virgin valleys, glaciers and alpine lakes hardly ever seen by any man, where buddhist lores and primeval animist spirits of the tribes come together in a balance of life that seekers have often described as Shangri La, a ‘paradise on earth’.
So we went to the district commissioner’s office to get the required permit to enter this secretive area. Indeed, the Indian government is sensitive when it comes to the entirety of the Himalayan region that border the Republic of China, right from Arunachal Pradesh in the east and all the way to Kashmir. Personally to me, all the borders of the world seem meaningless, so does nationalism or any kind of name calling, privilege or division. In the great eastern literatures and teachings found in Buddhism and Hinduism, I have hugely connected with the concept of the dissolution of ‘I’, like in the fundamental age old Sanskrit saying ‘Aham Brahmasmi’ which means “I am one with the universe” or “The universe is inside of me”.
It took us some time to get the paperwork down at the DCs office. I have found that the pride and ego of bureaucrats and politicians in India propels them to being ignorant to the common person for as long as they can. We are lesser humans than them. Later in the day, we had shifted from the government run guesthouse to a newly opened one which was located a few miles away from the town down in the valley in one of the most picturesque settings I have ever seen. We went back to the town again though. We had to gather food and supplies for the hike. In a local bar, we found our porters, five of the coolest youngsters in town who agreed to portage for us and accompany us as our guides for the hike. Everything had worked out as planned and we spent the evening at the new guesthouse. It was run by a priest of the Idu tribe and we got to learn much from him about their animist culture and customs. We ate a delicious dinner that was prepared for us by the caretaker and his misses.
In the morning, our porters joined us at the guesthouse. They had come in three bikes. Definitely, five of the youngest cool dudes of Anini. We adored them. Like most people in the valley, the youngsters too are from the Idu Mishmi tribe. And in the customary stylish manner of these tribal highlanders, they had come carrying their guns and machetes. It was a small drive until we reached the Dri River from the guesthouse. Passing breathtaking remote scenery, the road continued for another hour up the valley until it ended abruptly at a tiny camp of the border force. This was the last human outpost before about a hundred miles of virgin valley all the way to the glaciers and peaks of the Kangri Karpo from where the Dri emerges. On the valley on the other side of the peaks and passes towards the east flows the Lohit River and further east rises Bairiga – the highest peak of the entire Kangri Karpo range and also fondly known as Ruoni.
We were excited like shit to start our hike. We literally parked our car and bikes in the middle of nowhere and disappeared. It was already midday though so we did not hike much and ended up camping by the Dri near to where the vehicles had been parked. The rest of the day and the night went peacefully, surrounded by virgin forests, the clear fresh waters of the Dri and snowy peaks.
We woke up early the next morning, had some breakfast and started hiking. We walked for about 5 hours. The trail is excellent, crossing through a beautiful forest and follows the Dri upriver. On both sides, the mountain climbs all the way to icy peaks, while the vegetation changes from subtropical forests to temperate and coniferous forests in the middle elevations and finally high altitude scrublands and meadows. It’s a fascinating region for any ardent nature lover – cut off from the world and a haven for wild flora and fauna. With the slaughter of forests down in the plains, even tigers have been documented to take refuge in this mountainous region. We set up camp in the afternoon in a magical location by the river, a tiny pristine sandy beach of our own. To us, it was a luxury vacation of sorts. We were not here for some hard trekking but rather to relax and enjoy the joys of camping. And our ration was well suited for this purpose. We cooked some great lunch, drank the night away by the fire and the river, shared laughter with the Mishmi youths and cooked another great dinner.
We hiked upriver again the next day for another five hours. The valley starts to get thinner and colder. We set up camp at a large and open sandbar. There was driftwood of all shapes and sizes. There was the forest on both sides. We spent two nights here and it marked the end of our hike. An entire day was just spent chilling. We walked around. We collected driftwood. We cooked. We tried fishing in vain as the winter water had driven them all downstream. The campfire kept burning right till late into the nights. The trail we were on continues for another five to six days right till some mystical place on maps marked as Bruini and that’s the only information out there about it. Ahead of Bruini there are two giant alpine lakes that no modern man has even seen. Many rigorous expeditions would be required to reach these forbidden passes, alpine lakes, glaciers and peaks of the Kangri Karpo.
On the fifth day, we hiked long and hard, right from morning to the end of the day and were happy to find our vehicles still parked where we had left them. A forest ranger had appeared out of nowhere. He was not happy though that we entered the valley without his consent and we apologized to him. He said he was the sole ranger looking after three different valleys – a region officially known as the Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary by the Indian forest administration. It’s a massive expanse and I was fascinated that this one man was protecting the entirety of it on his own, with a machete of his own, a shotgun, a bike and an attitude to live and die hard in the forbidden eastern Himalayas.
We spent the evening at the priest’s guesthouse. The next day we drove for around 13 hours; risky driving through the edges and curves of the thin mountain road. We followed the Dibang River all the way down to the plains. We spent the night at Roing. The body was tired and the mind was at ease.
Memory of a secret lofty valley lingers every often every other year.