The Winds of Menchukha: The Chronicles of a Traveller Without His Luggage

The Winds of Menchukha: The Chronicles of a Traveller Without His Luggage
The beautiful Menchukha Valley Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Even in the absence of sufficient woolens and winter wear, the author finds himself swept off his feet by Menchukha’s rugged, windswept beauty

Saptak Choudhury
December 17 , 2021
09 Min Read

Menchukha blew me away—literally and figuratively. Usually, I would reserve my effusive praises till the end of the article, but I think it is safe to say that Menchukha is fully deserving of such a treatment from the outset.

Along with 12 others, I reached Menchukha on the afternoon of November 30, 2021, after a head- and ear-splitting helicopter ride (always remember to bring your earmuffs when boarding a helicopter!) from Dibrugarh. I was in august company: Sanjay Dutt and his entourage (including long-time friends Rahul Mittra and Bittu-bhai) were also making their way to Menchukha. My closest companions, though, were my guide, Moyir Riba, an assistant professor at the Rajiv Gandhi National University, Itanangar, and Greg and Jeh, two musicians and members of two local Shillong bands, Greg’s Collective and Empirical Tribe.


My first view of Menchukha was all kinds of beautiful. It is a pretty valley carved by the Siyom, a tributary of the Brahmaputra, in the Shi Yomi district of Arunachal Pradesh. As you approach it from the air, you can see the river splitting into two channels which join again. Menchukha’s airstrip, on which we landed, is run by the Indian Air Force and lies on this island. From the airstrip, one can vividly see the olive green and brown mountains and, further beyond, the towering grey-white snow-capped peaks that surround this valley.

Menchukha is windy—Shetlands-like, but not quite as dreary. The winds were extra strong that day, particularly because it was overcast—and my battle-hardened jacket-cum-windcheater and skull cap that usually serve me just fine in Delhi proved quite insufficient to ward off the cold here. Thankfully, Greg, Jeh and I were quickly ushered into SUVs, where stimulating conversations on music, especially on the scene in Shillong, warmed us up somewhat and whetted our appetites. As we made our way up the steep hilly incline en route to the hotel, verdant meadows, homely wooden cottages with red and blue roofs and Tibetan prayer flags fluttering in the wind met my eye wherever I looked.

Red and blue roofs meet the eye wherever one looks in Menchukha. View from the courtyard of The Myst Boutique Hotel

For me, the journey to the hotel painted an intriguing picture of Menchukha. The town seems to be at a peculiar crossroads of antiquity and modernity. “Traditionally, the region was well-known for the spiritual healing powers of the waters of the Siyam. The word Menchukha itself refers to this—men, meaning medicine, chu,meaning the water from streams and rivers, and kha, meaning snow,” explained Moyir on our way to the hotel. However, a realisation of its tourism potential has led to a significant improvement in its infrastructure. It is now well-connected to places such as Aalo, Pasighat and Guwahati by highways, in addition to the border roads that run through the region, since it is roughly 30 km away from the Indo-China border. I also came across a number of grocery shops selling daily necessities and an impressive number of garment shops selling much-needed woollens and winter wear. Still, a number of issues persist. In my short stay, I was able to spot only one State Bank of India branch with an ATM that had quite the queue whenever I crossed it. Even worse is the exceptionally poor state of internet and mobile connectivity. Only BSNL provides cellular services in remote Menchukha, while the region seems to be perpetually trapped in some kind of internet black hole.

Homestays, however, are a most welcome sight in Menchukha. And there can be no surer indication of Menchukha’s burgeoning status as a tourist destination than the fact that today, homestays can be found in nearly every street of the town. “In fact, the number of homestays has increased from just four a decade ago to forty in 2021,” Moyir put in by way of explanation. We were put up in The Myst Boutique Hotel, a cosy three-storey, villa-like building with 13 spacious rooms that opened its doors in February 2021. The staff was very gracious and welcoming—and the room, large and warm. The combination of the two almost lulled me into forgetting that my luggage, packed with all of my woollens and thermals, was yet to make its way from the helicopter to the hotel by the time early evening rolled in.


I hadn’t foreseen this in the slightest, but my luggage (or rather, the lack of it) became the talk of town that evening and night. The first half of the evening saw Moyir and me frantically coordinating with the helicopter personnel in Dibrugarh and Menchukha to locate the missing bag. We also made trips to numerous lodges and homestays, including the government convention centre, to check if it had been misplaced there. It all proved quite fruitless.

Tibetan prayer flags lend an air of calm to Menchukha.

By the time it was 6, the sun had set below the horizon. It was now time to attend the event we had been invited to—an event originally scheduled for 2:30 in the afternoon, which had to be postponed by three-and-a-half hours due to chief minister Pema Khandu’s unforeseen engagements. This was a media/press welcoming campaign for the ‘50 Years Arunachal Pradesh’ celebratory programme starting late January next year with Sanjay Dutt as the brand ambassador. The campaign was launched under open skies in Chupala, a river island 15 minutes away from Menchukha. The temperature had dipped sharply by then, but it was really heartwarming to see the locals who braved the freezing cold to loudly cheer for their beloved Sanju-baba as well as their chief minister. The addresses by the chief minister, Arunachal Pradesh State Assembly Speaker Passang Dorjee Sona, Sanjay Dutt, Rahul Mittra and some other state dignitaries hit the right notes. While the exact nature of the plans for celebrating and promoting tourism in the state were kept secret, they adequately outlined Arunachal Pradesh’s journey from being the North Eastern Frontier Agency (NEFA) to attaining statehood in 1972. The inspirational reason why Sanjay Dutt was chosen to represent the state in its fight against the menace of drugs was duly explained. Dutt himself played up to the crowd by belting out some of his popular filmi dialogues, while also emotionally stating that it’s better to choose life over drugs. Under freezing skies, the energy and warmth displayed during that one-hour programme was infectious indeed.

Also Read: Arunachal Pradesh: Magical Mechuka

Once the event ended, however, the spectre of the missing luggage loomed large over Moyir and me again. Despite Moyir’s undying efforts at coordinating with various personnel, no trace of it had been found. After returning to The Myst Boutique Hotel, I realised that the story had become common knowledge, with every second person extending their heartfelt condolences and reassurances that it would be found. Moyir herself put forth a most convincing argument, albeit one made partly in jest: “A one-day stay in Menchukha is really insufficient to explore its charms and riches. I wish you could stay a day or two more. And if the missing luggage is the instrument that makes this happen, so be it—you should consider it your good fortune.”

A dinner for journalists and media professionals was organised at The Myst Boutique Hotel. By that time, I had become recognisable as 'He Who Had Lost His Luggage'. The dinner was graced by the presence of the Speaker Passang Dorjee Sona and a number of officials of the state tourism department. Even in the lively dinner table conversation, the bogey of the missing bag formed a subtle subtext, and my celebrity credentials were infinitely enhanced when the Speaker himself expressed his regrets over my plight and reassured me that no stone would be left unturned to find the bag.

My two companions—Greg (left) and Jeh (right)

As the dinner winded up, I increasingly started dreading the prospect of freezing to death at night. I needn't have worried. The excellent central heating of The Myst Boutique Hotel and the wonderfully warm blankets provided by the hotel's staff heated me up sufficiently. And while it is true that the scalding water froze up in an instant when I went to bathe before retiring for the night, I had a most restful sleep under the cosy blankets sans my woollens.


The next morning, I woke up to a glorious sunrise that bathed the valley in light—something I had sorely missed the previous day. Along with it came the news that my luggage had been found—in the helicopter itself! Apparently, it hadn't been unloaded in the first place and had flown all the way to Itanagar the previous night and back to Menchukha the next morning.

In the few hours I had before the helicopter took us back to Dibrugarh, I basked in the glory of the spectacular views of the valley from the open courtyard of the hotel. While we could not visit the 400-year-old Samten Yongcha Monastery, a contemporary of the more famous Tawang Monastery, a driver did take Greg, Jeh and me to a newly constructed monastery on the road just above the hotel. While much of it is still under construction, the road does lead to a beautiful viewing spot/platform from where you can have almost a bird's-eye view of the Menchukha valley. I gazed at the greenish-brown mountainside where concrete blocks proudly spell out "Menchukha" much in the style of "Hollywood". "There's a trekking route along that region, and the locals transported the concrete blocks along that trail from the foothills of the mountain," Moyir had explained the day before. It is quite the sight.

A panoramic view of sun-kissed Menchukha from the viewing spot near the new monastery

Back in the helicopter on my way back to Dibrugarh, a bittersweet, wistful mood came over me. I was relieved that my luggage rested safely behind me. But my mind kept going back to Moyir's words—"I wish you could stay a day or two more." At that moment, I couldn't help but wish that the bag had remained lost a few days more.


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