Why Arunachal? Because of its gorgeous pristine landscapes where you’ll end up in homestays, Circuit Houses and Inspection Bungalows. Because it’s a frontier with China, Tibet, Bhutan and Burma. Because you need a permit to go there. And you’ll keep it as a souvenir for years. Because you can get there by river ferry or helicopter. Because it rains for more than half the year but not right now. Because the sun rises at 5am and you will too.
Here are six ways to explore this beautiful state.
Take To The Waterways
The raw rivers of Arunachal go where the roads run out. Get into that raft. Siang, or Upper Brahmaputra, with its rapids (among the largest in the world) rages through sections that are up to 500m in length. The Subansiri, Lohit and Kameng offer even more challenging runs. The uninterrupted stretches of class 3 and 4+ rapids of Subansiri are run in smaller rafts, while Lohit is best tackled in self-contained kayaks. The Kameng—the most recently plumbed stretch of wild waters—seizes the maximum rapid bashings in a single day, occasionally exceeding the mark of 20. Wild elephants on the prowl are a side attraction!
Explore History In War Trails
Arunachal’s hills and jungles bear an unlikely tracery of international conflict. The 1962 India-China war is memorialised in the incongruous beauty of Walong, Kibithoo and Helmet Top in Anjaw and at Sela, Tawang and Bumla. The more distant memory of WWII has left intriguing remnants in the Stilwell Road at Pangsau Pass and the ‘Lake of No Return’ in Changlang, where the Pangsau Pass Winter Festival is an exciting mix of sarkari and tribal fanfare. Real adventurers should set out to visit one of the hundreds of WWII aircraft wrecks (pic above) still being discovered in the eastern districts. The ‘Aluminium Trail’ marks the deadly adventure of flying the notorious ‘Hump’ route to China. If you grew up on Commando comics, these scattered remains of forgotten battles can give you the charge of a quest and all the destination you need.
Immerse In Flower Power
Arunachal’s astonishing floral diversity doesn’t just have the botanists slavering—who’re faced with the happy prospect of discovering new species, like this previously undocumented species of thistle (pic right), photographed in 2005. That’s because it’s the orchid capital of India, home to over half of our nearly 1,150 species, and orchids are popular. Travel the Tezpur-Bhalukpong-Bomdila-Tawang circuit to experience their transient beauty. Tipi, 5km from Bhalukpong, is home to a dazzling orchidarium, where you’ll encounter the Lost Indian Lady’s Slipper and the Blue Vanda. The orchid sanctuary at Sessa, 24km from Tipi, harbours over 200 varieties of sub-tropical orchid.
Woods For The Trees
For forest-lovers, Arunachal is the closest it gets to heaven on earth (or at least India). An astonishing 82 per cent of it is under forest cover, offering a remarkable range of forest types. If you were to make a south-north journey—think of Arunachal as a wall you’ve set out to climb—you’ll journey up no less than six different forest types. First, there’s the plains, the entire longitudinal length of which features tropical semi-evergreen forest. Next, the subtropical forest, again running the length of Arunachal. Then, pockets of pine forest—the Dirang Valley (above left) in Kameng and Mechuka in West Siang are good examples. Now, temperate forests form a thick band across. Finally, the northern edge, bordered prettily by alpine forest. This is one easy themed trip: no planning needed, land up and enjoy.
All Creatures Great And Small
Virtually all of Arunachal is a biodiversity hotspot. Its best-known national park, Namdapha, spread over 1,985 sq km, is also one of the country’s largest. But that isn’t what makes it special. Not only does the park’s wide altitudinal range (200–4,571m) ensure a variety of biomes, its location at an overlap of two eco-zones bestows on Namdapha an extensive diversity of flora and fauna (nearly 100 mammals and 450 bird species). This is also the only reserve in the world that harbours four big cats. Smaller, but also significant, is Mouling National Park. Situated in the Upper Siang district, it’s a good place to spot tigers, leopards, barking deer, red panda and gibbons (like the hoolock gibbon above). For birding, Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary in western Arunachal, is home to about 420 species. Formerly under the protection of the Bugun tribe, the sanctuary is famous for having yielded a new species in 2006 (the Bugun Liocichla). Other reserves of note include the Pakke Tiger Reserve and Kameng Elephant Reserve.
Reach The Far Corners
‘Shangri-la, undiscovered, unspoiled…,’ they say. You’d imagine that merely setting foot in Arunachal is to intrepidly explore the Great Unknown. But beyond Tawang and Ziro, Tezu and Namdapha, lie truly lost worlds. In a distant corner, there’s Vijaynagar, bordered on three sides by Myanmar and accessed by air—or on foot, through hills and forests unknown. There’s Walong and the villages in the vicinity (pic left)—in the extreme east, not far from Dong, where India’s first rays of sunshine fall—where a bitter battle was fought in 1962. Further up, at 6,000ft, in West Siang district, is Mechuka. Snow-capped mountain views, a 400-year-old Buddhist monastery, dramatic landscape and few visitors. Pack your bags, leave your map behind, find your lost world.
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