Thursday, May 4, 2017

A glimpse of Arunachal

My introduction to the mysterious region of India’s North East was through a short (relatively-speaking) trek into the wilderness of Arunachal Pradesh. The most northeast I had been within India was to Gangtok and I signed up for this trip without too many expectations.
Our train from Guwahati to Naharlagun
Arriving at Arunachal
Reaching Arunachal itself was time-consuming. First, take a flight to Guwahati in Assam which in itself was a task because regional connectivity in India still sucks. Direct flights from a lot of cities are few and far between, specially from Mumbai, and are therefore expensive. From Guwahati, I took an overnight train to Arunachal’s capital city of Itanagar. The station is however called Naharlagun. From there, you need to call for taxis (Sumo) or look for state transport bus that will take you to your destination.  
There are a couple of check posts once you enter Arunachal. But tourists have no trouble. We weren't even asked to show our permit even once except at the station
Get a permit
To exit the station, you will need to show a permit to enter the state, even for Indian nationals. This, you can get from the Arunachal Pradesh Tourism office in your own city in advance which will cost anything between Rs 60 to Rs 90 depending on the city. But if you can’t, then you pay approximately Rs 450 for a single permit at the airport within 15-20 minutes. Beware though – do not apply for it online. Your application may never get approved!
A typical fence of a local home made of bamboo
Trek through a forest
I had signed up for a short 4-day trek that would take us through a forest in the Talley Valley that resides in the Talley Valley Wildlife Sanctuary. The Talley Valley trail winds up and down mountains, valleys and across rivers. On this trek, you cross the Pangey Valley, Talley Valley and Ziro Valley.

The trek is the easy if you’ve trekked before and a good stepping stone for those who haven’t done overnight treks. That said, it is perfect for those who love nature and enjoy just being surrounded by trees. If you want to experience and get to know the culture of Arunachal Pradesh, its best to skip the trek and just focus on visiting villages and towns like Ziro (famous for its annual music festival) and Hong.

Other spots to see
Of course, other spots are known to be much more beautiful like Tawang and Tuting but getting from one place to another takes a lot of time since the roads are in really bad condition. When we there, there was a sudden strike called on by the transporters to protest against bad roads. Unfortunately, by sheer misfortune of being the farthest state of India, Arunachal largely remains out of our government’s mind.    
We passed through huge rice paddy fields on the last day of our trek 
Arunachal actually has 12 different tourist circuits which makes it easy for you to choose your route. Check the details here. The state’s tourism ministry website has a lot of information on not just stay and places but also on ministry-approved tour operators who can help with ground arrangements.

Whatever you choose to do though, you will not regret it. Keep an open mind and you will realize that even a seemingly casual experience can have an impact and move you in ways that you may not have expected. Whether it is the people (we discussed state politics with an auto driver who seemed frustrated with the situation), the food (vegetarians have fewer choices though), or the culture (we were invited to share food at a local family’s house party held to celebrate the birth of a boy just because we were passing by).
Tall pine trees marked the end of our 4-day trek 


Getting a permit
There are different permits needed to access different districts. So choose the spots you want to visit and apply for those permits accordingly.
Ziro Music Festival
This year, the festival will be held from September 21st to 24th, 2017. It is billed as India's most fun outdoor music festival. So you can plan your trip accordingly.

Getting to Ziro
Ziro town is about 3-4 hours away by road from Naharlagun station. Once there, you may look up a homestay. We stayed at the state-owned Paradise Guest House, which was pretty decent.

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