"You are going to the Northeast, you must go to Mechukha." We were told. 'The Northeast' is seven states of generally bad roads, relentless rain and mountainous terrain, mainly that ensures the travel window is small and closes fast. But when the feeling of carpe diem seizes you, you just need to push that window open, even when the rain is about to start pattering on the panes literally The weather app predicted a 90% chance of rain on the days we were to head into the furthest folds of Arunachal Pradesh, but I took the opportunity on it not being 90% of the time Still, we wouldn't get that helicopter ride to this valley so close to the McMohan Line, which would put us there in hours instead of the winding two-day road trip we would now have to make. Google showed a nine-hour journey. Google is an armchair traveller But being on the road, the journey becomes a wayside destination itself sometimes.
Into The Forested Hills
It is a wet morning when we start from Dibrugarh, crossing the Brahmaputra swollen with all the run-off. The newer and shorter Basar route (still incomplete, as we discover on the way back) is blocked, so we take the Pasighat one. (Arunachal has shiny new blacktop roads or just slushy dirt tracks). There is rarely anything in-between.) Travelling between the river and the hills of Arunachal, which rise abruptly but remain cloaked by low clouds, we cross brightly coloured idols near a stream.
Statues from a festival gone by. A feeling of being abandoned permeates the air, yet they seem at home strangely. Climbing the hills after Pasighat in a misty drizzle, we discover the Brahmaputra keeping company. It is the Siang here, a regular river running down the mountains, not the sea, in the Assam plains. Orange orchards cover the hillsides, now devoid of the small, sweet, and juicy fruit in cane baskets sold in the markets during the season. Giant black and pink pigs dig the roots in a grove. Somewhere we leave the Siang and follow the Siyom River through narrower valleys. The dark tropical forest is multi-tiered and dotted with towering coral trees in full bloom. The flowers were a startling smattering of red high in the canopied jungles.
Aalo Along The Siyom
We travel to the bottom of a narrow valley, which broadens into a bean-shaped bowl to reveal a shallow, pebbly Siyom sinuously creates islands. On one side sits the town of Aalo or Along, where we spend the night. It is the biggest settlement in this region, with eating joints serving Korean food, if you please. We see men wading in the middle of the river through the rain, probably fishing. Our guest house overlooks a dryish rivulet with a couple of ruminating Mithuns. A man paddles upstream in a long wooden canoe in a narrow, fast-flowing channel. He seems to have decided it will take less effort to get into the water and push the canoe up
The Villages In The Valleys
En route, the villages have traditional thatched bamboo houses on stilts, which are by no means small where the topography permits. Wide verandas with benches built into the bamboo railings lining them beckon enticingly. Kaying is a picturesque village nestled amid terrace fields being prepared to be transplanted with iridescent green rice shoots. White flags stained with a red sun flutter on top of some houses, indicating animistic indigenous Donyi Polo religion followers, where the sun and moon are worshipped. Perhaps we cross a church or two and see memorials with figurines by the roadside on steep slopes. On these slopes, the huts are tiny, perched in the air on long stilts. Pigs and ducks waddle on the edge of the road. Rashid, the driver, is extra cautious. He says if he runs over one, we must compensate for a couple of possible generations lost The argumentative Indian in me wonders, "How do I know the animal wouldn't have been part of the next family meal"
A Lush Land
The drive winds through thick evergreen forests with groves of tamed pineapple and bananas growing wild. The banana tree trunks shine like thick, polished mahogany pillars In the middle of nowhere, we cross a big feast with a large congregation. All the men have dahs slung across their shoulders. At the famous Siko Dido waterfall, whose waters wisp in the air beside the road, a grocery store has a dried beehive hanging outside like a Chinese lantern. A young girl walks, dragging a suitcase-sized speaker, belting out some peppy songs. Absolutely surreal The road loops up to Tato village on a shoulder with a commanding view of two valleys. In the 62 War, the Chinese had almost reached this junction. The ongoing road work has left no road here or beyond. Pretty women with bright lipsticks and gumboots work in road construction. We leave the Siyom and go along the Yargyup Chhu, which flows at the valley's bottom. The evergreens give way to rocky mountainsides hiding whispering waterfalls and trumpet trees flowering a taffy pink, alive with the twittering of tiny birds on full volume one moment and, like a mute button being pressed, deathly silent at our approach. Crimson red and big white rhododendrons stand out against the ashy grey sky. Ponies emerge from thickets of towering bamboo to graze on the hillside.
The bone-rattling dirt track we've been intermittently on for some hours curves, and the ranges part into an open golden expanse cradled by bare, gentle hills, the higher reaches shrouded by low clouds. The valley floor has a small town and scattered technicoloured houses, a smattering of conifers, and a meandering silver-grey Yargyup Chhu, seemingly in no hurry to leave. Grazing ponies with shaggy manes and prayer flags being whipped by the wind complete the postcard setting of Mechukha, the 'medicinal water of snow' as the syllables of its name in the local Memba language add up to. The bracing air and beautiful vistas are a tonic for sore travellers.
Via Dibrugarh Reach Dibrugarh by flight or train. Then take a taxi to Aalo (7 hours approx). Next day, head to Mechukha. (7-8 hours). Start early since the traffic halts at two places for a few hours due to widening road work.)
Via Guwahati Reach by flight or train.
Take the Lachit Express to Silapathar. Then a taxi to Aalo. Night halt at Aalo and next day drive to Mechukha. Take the Donyi Polo Express to Naharlagun. Then a taxi from Naharlagun to Itanagar. Then another cab to Aalo. After a night halt, there proceed to Mechukha.
Via Pasighat A helicopter flies twice a week (Monday and Friday) from Naharlagun to Mechukha via Pasighat and Aalo under the UDAAN scheme, but it is weather dependent. The cost is Rs 3,500 approx.
Where to Stay
There are some basic hotels in Mechuka and a Circuit House. The Reyi Homestay is a decent option.
Mechukha is a seasonal chameleon but best avoided during the monsoons.
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