The official emblem of the state depicts three most important things that, in a nutshell, tells us a lot about the state:
1) Head of mithun, the state animal
2) Two hornbills, the state bird
And when you are in Arunachal Pradesh, you are sure to see them.
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, to me, was great, even though it did look like a chapter that could have been from an Indiana Jones' movie. It had rained relentlessly and whole mountain side got deposited in what was left of a state highway. This was just few kilometres away from Doimukh, a village in Papum Pare district, not too far away from the state capital Itanagar. In their defense, my parents did warn me about the absence of roads but the trip was made nonetheless and I lived to tell the tale.
The father of all vehicles, the humble yet indestructible Tata Sumo was the only kind of vehicle plying on that kind of road on that kind of 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 long and continuous winding road opposite gorgeous forest, vast sandy river banks and green towering hills. If it is beautiful by day, it is spectacular by night.
No matter where you are in Arunachal, the sights are breathtaking, amazing people still proudly seen in traditional attire complete with a headdress and the occasional dao. It's a hilly state so yes, you will find green young mountains, dense forest 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 normal cattle, these mithuns are solitary in nature, though on rare occasion you may spot a group of two or three maximum.
As a first-timer, I was hopelessly smitten as soon as 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 road where with each slight turn you are welcomed by vast open space with shallow river down below, rocky or sandy banks that divides water from the vast green forest. 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 the future first-timers something to look forward to. Here are few things you, as a traveller, need to look out for when in Arunachal Pradesh.
Places To Visit and Things To Do
Nestled in the foothills of the Himalaya, Arunachal is a visual treat. But if you are in the state for the first time then 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, 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 very popular 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 it's 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, chief attractions are Tawang Monastery, Tawang War Memorial, Giant Buddha Statue, Madhuri Lake and the beautiful Sela Pass.
The Monpa tribe love their thukpas. Here in Arunachal, most local festivals will have a lot of food to eat, 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 definitely an acquired taste. Love bamboo shoot? You are in the right place. Anunachalis love their bamboo shoot and you can expect to find it in a lot of their dishes. Do explore the local farmer's market to learn of different kinds of vegetables procured from the forest.
By Air: Best options are Tezpur and Guwahati as they are the nearest airports.