Arunachal!

I grew up listening to tales of the beauty and mystique of the eastern Himalayas, of the seven states and their untouched beauty. But never had I realized that one of these days I will land up in the paradise itself, Arunachal Pradesh. From tropical rain forests to snow-capped peaks, from beautiful waterfalls to huge kiwi plantations, it has it all.

I started out in a plane from Delhi, with my friend Loma, a native of the beautiful place. We landed in Guwahati and an eight hour road trip lay ahead, from Guwahati to Arunachal’s capital city of Itanagar. Most of the eight hours went by looking at beautiful tea plantations upto the horizon. But at the beginning of the last hour, we started our ascent into more of a lush forest and hills. Night had already fallen, and it was one of the clearest skies I had ever seen in my life. There were more stars than a blank sky. Surreal is what it was.

We finally reached Itanagar, which is not very high up; the temperatures there are pretty moderate. But it is beautiful, with rivers and streams cutting the town in parts and trees and vegetation everywhere. A desert man like me was ecstatic. And the best part was, I got to eat brilliant authentic Arunachali cuisine, and we even roasted chicken for ourselves at my friend’s house. I was beginning to realize that this trip was going to be epic. Well, it was way more.

The next morning we started off to the upper eastern Himalayas, namely Tawang. It’s a two day road ride as helicopters are not considered safe. However, we could not leave due to a strike. But if you are in Arunachal you are never out of options. We went fishing instead, and lounged around in the beautiful countryside.

We started off again the next morning with another friend accompanying us, and we were successful. After a few hours we started getting higher up into the Himalayas, with a river twirling next to us throughout.

After a gut wrenching but amazingly beautiful journey with more than some breathtaking views, we reached Dirang valley. There are no words to describe the beauty of this valley, flanked by huge mountains on both sides, lush green and serene where migratory birds come from all over the world. We were greeted with a forest fire in the jungles across our hotel that blazed through the night.

It was in Dirang that I had the most amazing food: mutton momos the size of your palm and chicken you would lick to the last drop. My friend’s aunt was an amazing cook and she made sure we ate more than we needed. We spent the night in Dirang, taking in the views and trying to snap cool pictures with our DSLR, but mostly failing. The next morning we started off to reach new heights (quite literally). The landscape started changing again, with more coniferous trees. Snow-capped mountain peaks were also beginning to come in sight and as someone who had never seen snow, I was excited beyond words. After a rough 6-7 hours we started nearing the top. And that’s when I first saw snow, lying in the shade. I ran out of the car and felt it, and well, I was ecstatic.

We reached Sela Pass, which is the mountain pass to enter into Leh. At an elevation of 4300 m above sea level, this was the highest I had ever been on earth. And yes, it felt amazing. There was snow everywhere and the skies were bluer than any blue I had ever seen. We stopped and had extremely expensive but yummy Maggi and tea, and then started off again.

From Sela pass it’s a fast descent up to the mouth of the river we were riding across the entire time. It originates from a high waterfall, which in itself was beautiful. Once we crossed the river, we started climbing again and nearing our destination, Tawang.

Though I had no idea what to expect, I knew it would be an amazing place. But little did I know that I was not even close to how amazing it would be.

Flanked by snow-capped peaks on all sides, Tawang was a pristine island in itself, with a beautiful monastery as its backdrop. We reached my friend George’s grandfather’s house and were greeted with the same warmth and love that the people of this state are famous for. After drinking butter tea and looking at yaks roaming around the streets, we took off to our hotel.

It was new year’s eve, and it had not snowed in that place yet. As I sat in the balcony of our hotel munching some more brilliant momos, I was praying for snowfall. And well, if you are that close to the heavens, God listens very early.

It started snowing at night, little flakes that would turn into droplets once they reached the ground. It was 31 December so we decided to go to a bar, but it was already 7 pm and everyone had slept off; the town seemed dead. But somehow we found a small little bar, and man, it was more amazing than any bar I have been to in my life. Happy local men danced on Punjabi songs as we drank away tax free liquor. We joined the dance and Ii could not have imagined a better way to start the year.

Next morning, we accompanied our friend’s extended family to a picnic. We all packed lots of food and started off, climbing higher than Tawang. We set ourselves down in a clearing beside the road, with beautiful views of the peaks. And here we had another one of the greatest meals of our lives. Loma ate to the point that he had to be told to stop.
And the people! What do I say, the happiest people I have ever met. Families in cars, singing and dancing. Shouting out and smiling at you. Inviting you to eat with them. Just perfect, heaven.

Later we went higher than we were, saw more snow and threw snow balls and slabs on each other, but it was mostly me getting battered.

The next day was spent sightseeing amid snow flakes. We went to the second largest Buddhist monastery. It was again surreal, with a huge statue of Buddha that was so serene and yet powerful. The martyr’s memorial was a strong reminder of the lives lost to protect this land. We ended the day looking at the falling snow and sipping tea.

The next morning we were greeted with news that a snowstorm was approaching and the Sela pass might get blocked, so we had to leave at the earliest. Within an hour we were on our way back. The storm struck us, and the entire landscape changed: a thick blanket of snow everywhere and the blue skies nowhere to be seen. We somehow made it to the pass and had our well deserved tea and Maggi.

Now what waited for us was a ride back to the plains, but the fog made it impossible. We could not see our own hands but still dragged on and reached Bomdilla, a hill station, by nightfall. We stayed in the forest guesthouse which was very British and very basic, but it had heating and that’s all we cared about.

Another day’s ride and we were back in Itanagar. The trip was coming to an end but I could not have been happier because of what this little trip had been. I had seen some amazing places, met some amazing people and done some amazing things. And I knew these memories would last me a lifetime. As I packed my things to catch a flight back home, I was overwhelmed by what a journey it had been. If I were to chose one thing I loved the most in the trip, I would say all.

Now sitting at the airport waiting for the flight, I am feeling lucky, and still amazed that I came. If you want a feel of the untouched and unseen Himalayas, come to Arunachal. Come to Arunachal for its cold snowy winters and its warm lovely people, its breathtaking views and its equally delicious cuisine. But yes, visit, for it will change your life.

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