September! I think is my favorite month. The land is fresh and fertile, spoiled by the summer rains. Throughout Northeast India, the farms and the jungles look lush, the rivers and streams remain bountiful. It was on one such fine September day that I joined a group of seven seniors who had come from Southern India on their weeklong quest to explore the easternmost reaches of the country, the far Eastern Himalayan range that makes up the landmass of Eastern Arunachal Pradesh.
They had landed at Dibrugarh Airport in Assam in the afternoon and as soon as they touched ground, we were off in two vehicles to the small town of Miao in Arunachal Pradesh. The 5 hours drive was mostly comfortable. We had arrived late in the night and Mr. Phupla Singhpo, the owner of Namdapha Jungle Camp, was kind to give us the directions to his lovely property situated by the riverbank of the Noa-Dihing River and consisting of cozy cottages built from local resources. Mr. Singpho belongs to the Singpho tribe and so do most of the people in and around Miao. It had been a few years since the last time I saw Mr. Singhpo and we were both happy to catch up on each other’s life and its goings. There was so much to talk about. The world had changed from the last time we met.
We were up early the next morning. The plan was to enter the national park which lies ahead of Miao, that great expanse of untouched forests that makes up Namdapha National Park, one of the country’s largest and remotest jungles that lie inhabited mostly by the bewildering diversity of wild animals and birds, and sparsely by small villages of the Lisu tribespeople. We were to visit Deban where the forest administration is based, an hour’s drive away from Miao. The road turned rough as soon as we crossed the national park check-post and somewhere on the way to Deban it got impossible for the vehicle to carry on. We walked the remaining stretch and reached Deban by mid-day.
Some parts of life get etched in our memories. I still remember this day vividly for the amount of butterflies I saw, hundreds or even thousands of them, of all shapes and colors. At Deban, the guests relaxed and enjoyed the breathtaking scenery and the tranquil nature of the area. We had a simple lunch cooked by the caretaker of the forest lodge. I flew my drone for a while and was able to catch some good shots. Later in the afternoon, we left back for Miao. The evening was pleasant. I conversed with our guests and drank some whisky over steamed pork dumplings.
The next morning, we left Miao on our way to Wakro located at the foothills where the Kamlang River emerges from the mountains. On our way, we stopped at Namsai where there is a beautiful pagoda and temples of the Theravada sect of Buddhism. The Khampti tribe who reside in this region are ardent followers of the dharma. Later, we had this delicious lunch by a quaint riverside cafe and I joined the guests as we swam under the hot afternoon sun in a small river stream, fresh out of the mountains. Sweet loving September! We eventually reached Wakro by dusk and our hosts were happily waiting to accommodate us for the night. The Wakro region along with the entire valley of the Kamlang and Lohit rivers right till the border with Tibet and Burma are mostly occupied by the Miju Mishmi tribespeople. Their animist culture and life is as mysterious as these mountains!
The next day turned out to be long and did not match the itinerary I had planned for the guests. The roads had deteriorated in the rainy summer months. It was a very beautiful but tiresome 10 hour drive up the valley as we followed the Lohit River upstream to the mountainous settlement of Wallong. The river enters India from Tibet in this area, a Tibet which now lies occupied by China. Somewhere on the way before the road enters deeper into the valley, you get to see an awe-inspiring view of the Lohit River and hundreds of its tributaries crisscrossing the landscape. It was late and dark by the time we checked into our homestay for the night. There was no time as such to sleep or rest much. We were at Wallong only for a night and the next day we had to drive back to the plains as per the itinerary. As such, there was no time to see Wallong. We decided we would hike to this place from where you can see the first sunlight that touches the land that is India. At 3 AM twilight, we all woke up, drove 30 mins to this village called Dong. In the darkness we hiked up the steep mountainside until we reached a beautiful open grassland right on time for sunrise. The atmosphere was thrilling and yet there was a calm in the freshness of the early morning mountain air. The landscape was mesmerizing all around us and somewhere deep down the valley from where we were standing we could hear the water of the Lohit River making loud roars. And for a few brief minutes on this cloudy morning we got to see the first rays of the sun touch the peak opposite us. We were the first people in the entire country of a billion people on this very day to welcome the sun. Well, we accomplished our mission and we hiked down and returned to Wallong for a hefty breakfast and then a long drive following the Lohit downstream on its course to the plains.
Sometime late in the evening we reached Roing at the feet of the Mishmi Hills where the Dibang River emerges from the mountains. We had our accommodation booked at this beautiful cliffside property located in the middle of an orange orchard and the next morning when we woke up our eyes were treated to a majestic view of mist covering the foothills and a panoramic view of the plains below us. We could hear the sound of birds and gibbons from the jungle all around us. It was peaceful. After breakfast, we set about exploring. The region is inhabited by the charming Idu Mishmi tribespeople who are animists and have a beautiful culture, traditions and attires. We first went to this museum run by RIWATCH which is an NGO involved in preserving the indigenous knowledge of Arunachal Pradesh. The museum is located in a laid back campus surrounded by a lot of greenery, where they have various buildings such as a library, a research centre and accommodation facilities for their guests and researchers. The museum is one of a kind and houses many ancient artefacts that showcase the fascinating lifestyle and knowledge that resides within the many indigenous tribal communities of Arunachal Pradesh. We spent a few hours at RIWATCH and they even took us on a short walk to introduce us to their planting activities that cover different types of fruits, vegetables and plants of all kinds.
We later visited Idu Mishmi households where the guests got a rare glimpse into the ongoings of Idu families. From learning about their simple and sustainable ways of living, to checking out their traditional cloths and getting to converse with them. The rest of the day and the night was spent at the foothills, relaxing and finding meaning and closure to everything we had witnessed so far during the trip. Before we left for Dibrugarh the next day, we made a short visit to Sally Lake nearby. It is amongst my favorite places on the entire planet I would say; a small quaint lake hidden in the foothills where hardly any people come and there is an abundance of quietness, where I have fond memories with loved and dear ones. Later that day, we crossed the Bhupen Hazarika Setu which is the longest bridge in India.
The guests departed that evening by train for the second leg of their journey to Guwahati from where they would spend another week exploring the high mountains of Western Arunachal Pradesh next to the Kingdom of Bhutan. I bid them a warm goodbye and was happy to be back at my house. It took me a few days to fully comprehend the extent of this weeklong trip. A journey where we drove more than a thousand miles, crossed dozens of Himalayan rivers, explored breathtaking landscapes and got to meet simple loving folk from so many different indigenous communities.