As we inch towards International Women’s Day, there couldn’t have been a more fortuitous time for me to pen my recent experience of staying at Bella Tikhak Namshum’s homestay in Arunachal’s Miao. It’s going to be one of my most cherished travel memories for a long time. Being Bella’s guest was one of those experiences that solace seeking and party-loving travellers like me yearn for.
There were the hills, there were those chilly winds and, most importantly, there were some really wonderful people.
The first one to greet us as we arrived was the young and vivacious Shareen Tikhak, Bella’s daughter. She led us inside her palatial home where Bella was waiting to welcome us with some delicious apple pie that her son Sinnong had made. That was all we needed after a long drive from Namsai. For a twelve year old, Sinnong’s culinary talent could give leading bakers a run for their money.
We enjoyed the pie and I didn’t hesitate to request them for another serving. After demolishing my second pie and some hot masala tea, we went off to our room. Bella was kind enough to accompany us to the room and make sure we felt at home. Being from Rajasthan, I chose the bed which had a Rajasthani mirror work bedspread. This was also the right time for our formal introduction. The room was a beautiful blend of modern and traditional and there was enough space for me and Sandipan. In fact, we could have easily accommodated one more person in there.By the time we had freshened up, dusk had already set in and there was a sudden nip in the air. I was actually happy about it as the chilly weather called for a bonfire. Bella’s homestay has a well-manicured lawn surrounded by massive trees. We sat there with our guide and companion Sukiyo to chalk out our plan for the journey ahead.Miao serves as a gateway to the popular Namdapha National Park and also houses the Namdapha Zoo and Wildlife Museum. Shareen joined us with her house help, who set up a bonfire for us. Interestingly, she is doing her masters in entomology since insects have always fascinated her. She has even discovered some rare ones around her house.
Soon Bella came with wine and homemade rice beer. An array of vegetarian and non-vegetarian snacks was served. The night was only going to get better from here on. We were joined by Shareen’s friends Chocha, Ronong and Ongche, who live next door. A masters in agriculture, Chocha found her true calling in baking and runs a popular bakery startup in Miao. Ronong, on the other hand, is studying animation from Bengaluru. I have stayed in the garden city for some time and I knew I'd have a lot to talk with him as the night progressed. Then there was Ongche, who according to Sukiyo, is an extremely social guy, and possibly a future leader of Miao. We all shared a laugh and the party was on.Chocha added zing to the party, playing some cool and hip Arunachali hits on Shareen’s huge speakers. We enjoyed Chorum Mugli’s kala kala song and had some amazing cross cultural conversations in between bites of roasted chicken and fried fish. Mugli is a huge fad in Arunachal and I’d say every music lover who feels that music knows no language, must check out his work on YouTube. Next up in the playlist were a few songs by Tan Mansai and Taba Chake’s Shayad, which I absolutely loved. Shareen even showed me its video, which gave me major videography goals.
Their housecat also came and couldn’t stop meowing. Sandipan joked that she was welcoming us to Miao. Sinnong told us that her name was “small p”, which led me to asking him the meaning of his name. Sinnong, in the local language, stands for the second son. Bella’s first son is a special child and we wished we could have met him. But then, there’s always a next time, right?
Sinnong excitedly showed me his Instagram handle that Shareen had made for him to showcase his baking prowess. I was legit jaw-dropped after seeing the little one’s incredible talent.Just when Shareen was telling me that they had recently hosted actress Radhika Madan, Phupla Singpho, who runs the Namdapha Jungle Camp, joined the party. As I chatted with him, I realised that I had read about him in Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent’s Land of the Dawn-Lit Mountains. He confirmed it and I was so excited that I promised him that we’ll be spending our next night in Miao at his jungle camp.
And then, there was time for dinner. I was a tad too sloshed to remember the names of all the dishes, but enjoyed every bite of that meal. I remember there was fish, there was chicken, there was rice, there was bamboo shoots curry, and there were some crispy chapatis too just for my north Indian desi palate. (I couldn’t have asked for more Bella!)We woke up to the loud sound of swaying trees and a gorgeously clear blue sky the next morning. At the dining table, Bella’s sister-in-law Pinna Kitnal joined us for breakfast. We had omelette, sausages, and fresh fruits. And as if, this wasn’t enough, Bella also served piping hot puris with the evergreen alu-tamatar ki sabzi. I could have easily shed a tear or two out of sheer joy at that moment. I requested her to get it packed for our journey ahead, and Bella happily obliged. In fact, she packed a bunch of fresh bananas from her farm and home-made chilly pickle and garlic chutney too.Apart from running a successful travel company and homestay, Bella also manufactures pickles, jams and a lot more. She is as entrepreneurial as they come. Even after losing her husband eight years ago, Bella has been a true fighter and a tigress of a mother to her kids. She has made sure that they get the best of everything in this world. She sent Shareen to Dehradun for college and Sinnong studies at a boarding school in Darjeeling.
Being the son of a successful businesswoman myself and having lost my father at a very young age, I could easily relate to Bella’s incredible story. This is what I absolutely adore about women. They are the nicest and also the strongest species on the face of this earth. Bella has inspired a lot of women in not only Miao but across Arunachal to start their own little businesses and homestays. Even Pinna has registered for a homestay.Travel is not only about ticking off touristy spots from your long list of things to do and sharing an annoying number of Insta stories. It’s also about meeting fantastic people like Bella and her kids. It’s folks like them that make our journeys so special. I could go on and on about my experience at Bella’s homestay but I would conclude by saying that this was not the last time that I will be staying at Bella’s. I am sure there will be many more wonderful trips to Miao in my life and I hope Bella and her amazing family is a part of each of them.
Thanks for the warmth and incredible hospitality, Bella. Here’s wishing you a very happy Women’s Day!
Where: Tikhak Homestay, Miao
Tariff: Rs 5,000 per room for two persons (Dinner: Rs 1,000 per person)
Facilities: Great internet (even though, you won’t feel like using your phone here much), well-sanitised air conditioned rooms, hot running water, excellent meals and much more