A First-Timer's Guide To Arunachal Pradesh

This northeastern-most state of India is our very own land of the rising sun
Beautiful landscape of Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh
Beautiful landscape of Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh

My first brush with Arunachal Pradesh happened in 2006 when my parents got posted in a tiny, deep-in-a-forest kind of location called Hoz, right next to the roaring Ranganadi River (meaning red river because of the colour of the water). The first meeting with Arunachal Pradesh was great, even though it looked like a chapter that could have been from an Indiana Jones movie. It had rained relentlessly, and the whole mountainside was deposited in a state highway. This was just a few kilometres from Doimukh, a village in Papum Pare district, not too far away from the state capital Itanagar. In their defence, my parents did warn me about the absence of roads, but the trip was made nonetheless, and I lived to tell the tale.

The humble yet indestructible Tata Sumo was the only vehicle plying on that kind of road in that weather condition. It was a legitimate case of unintentional offroading, forced to drive over boulders that acted as roads. That was truly back-breaking, but it was back then. Fast forward to the present, and you will see a long, continuous winding road opposite a gorgeous forest, vast sandy river banks and towering green hills. If it is beautiful by day, it is spectacular by night.

No matter where you are in Arunachal, the sights are breathtaking, and amazing people are still proudly seen in traditional attire, complete with a headdress and the occasional dao. It's a hilly state, so you will find young green mountains and dense forests with orchids of many kinds and colours. The weather is pleasant no matter which part of Arunachal you are at, and be ready to get your heart stolen by adorable mithuns casually lounging by the roadside. Not our regular cattle, these mithuns are solitary, though, on a rare occasion, you may spot a group of two or three maximum.

As a first-timer, I was hopelessly smitten when the fresh cold wind hit my face. As you drive down from Assam, you may experience tiredness and even boredom, but as soon as you cross the state border, things change rapidly and for good. The scenery suddenly changes from Assam plains to winding roads, where you are welcomed by vast open space with a shallow river down below and rocky or sandy banks that divide water from the vast green forest with each slight turn. A smattering of a hut or three suddenly breaks the scenery. You might as well stick your head out of the vehicle the whole time because you will not want to miss a thing. I have seen my share of Arunachal and have experienced the lovely food, people, and culture up close and personal. It is only fair to give future first-timers something to look forward to. Here are a few things you, as a traveller, must look out for when in Arunachal Pradesh.

Places To Visit and Things To Do

Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, Arunachal is a visual treat. But if you are in the state for the first time, start with Itanagar, the capital city. Here you can visit Ganga Lake, one of the most visited sites in the capital city. Boating is big here. Gompa Buddhist Temple in the city is another place one should visit. Check the thangka paintings on display and gorgeous murals and enjoy the peaceful and quiet temple grounds. Jawaharlal Nehru State Museum is perfect for those looking for a touch of local handicraft.

Ziro Valley is a must-visit. Every late September, the valley turns into a tourist magnet, all thanks to the famous Ziro Music Festival. But it's not just the music here. Ziro is picture-perfect. Home to the Apatani tribe, Ziro is also famous for its beautiful landscape with rolling hillocks and houses on stilts. Tawang in winter is a snow-covered winter wonderland and, in summer, a green haven dotted with babbling brooks. Here, the chief attractions are Tawang Monastery, Tawang War Memorial, Giant Buddha Statue, Madhuri Lake and the beautiful Sela Pass.

Namdapha National Park should be on every wildlife enthusiast's list, for the park has more than 1000 floral species and more than 1400 faunal species and is a great place for birdwatching. Pakke Tiger Reserve in East Kameng District is a destination with impressive wildlife. Here in Pakke, to save the hornbills, there is a hornbill nest adoption programme that one can be a part of. A visitor can do the jungle safari with a local guide and personally visit those nests that are under the care of the local wildlife warriors.

What To Eat

The Monpa tribe love their thukpas. Here in Arunachal, most local festivals will have a lot of food, especially meat and apong, the local beer made of fermented rice or millet. Lukter is dried meat with chilli flakes and will be a mistake if not tried. Pehak, a chutney of fermented beans, is a local favourite but is an acquired taste. Love bamboo shoots You are in the right place. Anunachalis love their bamboo shoot, and you can expect to find it in many of their dishes. Explore the local farmer's market to learn about different kinds of vegetables from the forest.

How To Reach

By Air&nbspBest options are Tezpur and Guwahati as they are the nearest airports.

By Road&nbspFrom Guwahati, comfortable Volvo buses are available for all major parts of Arunachal.

By Train&nbspThere is a direct Rajdhani train service from Delhi to Naharlagun in Itanagar. The nearest Railhead is Nagarlagun.

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