Arunachal Pradesh Travelogue: From Guwahati to Dirang

 Arunachal Pradesh was on my bucket list for a long time. I had been discussing with Kaustuv Khaund, a fellow foodie and travel connoisseur based out of Guwahati regarding travelling to the hills. As per him, Arunachal Pradesh had to be covered through multiple trips, and the best place to start was the western region, where one can travel through the hills up to the Indo-Tibet border. So after a lot of deliberations, we drew up an itinerary for about eight days aiming to visit the border districts of Tawang. We were a team of four (two families) from Hyderabad. Kaustuv had made all the arrangements and offered that he will personally take us around during the trip.

Sela Pass, between Dirang & Tawang

So, on an appointed day in March, we were at Gopinath Bardoloi Airport in Guwahati, Assam. The idea was to move straight out of the city and proceed towards Arunachal Pradesh along the lower bank of Brahmaputra River. It takes two to three days to reach the interiors of the state, so the itinerary was designed in such a way that we have multiple stops, which would help us to acclimatize for the high altitudes too.

Misa Polo Club

Our first-night break was to be at a homestay inside Nameri National Park, about 250 km from Guwahati. We had started from Guwahati in the afternoon, and at dusk, we took a quick stopover at Misa Polo Club, a club catering to tea planters in a section of lower Assam. The club located inside a tea garden had a vintage look with rich d├ęcor, and the tea served there was superior quality Assam tea.  We came to know that the club bungalows are also available for a night stay, but that part for us was already sorted. 

Our huts at Nameri (top) and Along, the Local Rice Beer

Soon we took a left turn from the highway and moved past Tezpur towards Nameri. It was getting dark, and Kaustuv told us that this is elephant country, and often while driving one can run into a herd passing through the area. It is a pity that we humans have encroached into the forest lands which belong to the animals, and as a result, they are forced to move into localities in search of food.

Our huts inside Nameri village were pretty. There were only two huts in the particular homestay we were putting up. The huts were clean, and they organized a local dinner in the open space in front of the huts. Assamese-style chicken and Aloo Pitika were the highlights of the dinner. We also had a taste of Apong, the local rice beer from the Mising tribe, who are inhabitants of the foothills of Arunachal. The slightly sweetish beer is offered in a brass bowl to you if you visit any home of the Mising tribe.

Arunachal has about 26 tribes each speaking its own language. Hindi is thus the common language of communication in the state. Western Arunachal is predominantly inhabited by a tribe called Monpa, who are Buddhists and are also a predominant tribe in Eastern Bhutan. 

The next morning, we went around the village. The villages in Assam are very green and pretty, they reminded me of the Dooars area of North Bengal. We explored the small village before we started our journey early moving towards Dirang, our next destination.

As we moved on the Kameng River accompanied us. We had a short visit to the river bank in Nameri, a wide riverfront that has been spoilt by garbage left behind by tourists. The Arunachal check post at Bhalukpong took a bit of time to cross, as we had to make the Inner Line Permits here. The border is dotted with wine shops, as alcohol in Arunachal is about one-third cheaper than in Assam. 

The roads in Arunachal are among the best among the hilly tracts of India. A large credit goes to Border Roads Organization (BRO) which builds and maintains them. Throughout Arunachal, you see a lot of movement of army trucks, as this is one of the most sensitive border areas of India. 

At Tenga Valley, the food, the road and the vegetable market

Our lunch was at a small place in Tenga Valley. We tried both the Assamese Fish Thali as well as the local Momo and Thukpa. While bypassing the town of Bomdila, we had to negotiate extreme fog where visibility was only a few feet. At dusk, we reached the town of Dirang and directly proceeded to the Dirang monastery.

Dirang Monastery

Dirang is a small town in the West Kameng district in Arunachal. It is a preferred stopover en route to Tawang, though certain tourists prefer to spend the night at Bomdila too. The monastery is located at the top of a mountain, and in good weather conditions, you can get a phenomenal bird eye view of the town. We were not so lucky on a cloudy day. The monastery was one of the cleanest that I have seen (and with my travels I have seen many of them). The hot tea in the canteen refreshed us before we went down to check in at our homestay.

Gonpalok Homestay was more like a small hotel. We were provided rooms in the annex building. The rooms were large and had all amenities. The issue that we faced during the two-day stay was that the attendants were mostly in the main building, so service often took a bit of time. That said, overall the stay was very comfortable, and the food was decent too.

Mandala Top Chortens (Top) and Thembang Monpa Houses

The next day, we visit Mandala Top, 26 km away. Bad weather did us in again, the top at 10,000 ft was completely covered by fog. The Mandala top has 108 Chortens, with religious inscriptions on all of them. Our next stop was Thembang, a model village of the local Monpa tribe, which is a UNESCO Heritage site. The Monpa homes made of stone and wood have been maintained in the traditions of yesteryears, and the shapes and architecture of the houses made for an interesting sight.

It was time to move on from Dirang. The weather did not let up, and that helped us to a fascinating view of Sela Pass top. It was snowing, and the whole top was covered with snow, including a half-frozen Sela Lake. We stopped to pose for photographs and play with the snow. There is an army canteen here offering hot tea and snacks. Sela is at 13,700 ft and it is the gateway to the border district of Tawang which was our next destination. The lovely surroundings along with the lake make you stop for a good amount of time here, before you move further ahead. 

Sela Lake

You can contact our Tour Organizer Kaustuv Khaund at  91018 51344. He is based out of Guwahati, and organizes tours to Assam, Meghalaya and Arunachal.

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