Arunachal Pradesh is one of the last frontiers of India. Tucked between Bhutan, Tibet and Myanmar, this place has been away from mainstream attention for a very long time. Add security restrictions to that, and you have a beautiful state tragically unloved by travellers. Recently several places here have been opened up by the government, allowing entrance through permits that are available easily to Indian nationals.
Hope you start planning your trip to the fascinating Arunachal Pradesh soon, and show it some responsible loving that it has been waiting for.
Here are few things you can do in Arunachal Pradesh, that will open to you the box of magical experiences, unique only to this state.
1. Go Red Panda spotting in Namdapha National Park.
The Red Panda is the only surviving species of the genus Ailurus and the family Ailuridae, which are a type of bear family. India has about 20 protected areas aimed at conserving the Red Panda population and Namdapha National Park is one of them. Namdapha National Park is renowned as the largest protected area in the Eastern Himalayas, and this hotspot of biodiversity is also the third largest national park in India. Hire a local guide from Deban, and take a rainforest hike till Lisu Village in your search for the Red Panda.
How to reach: The nearest airport is Dibrugarh Airport in Assam, from where the national park is six hours away.
2. Visit the largest district of India, Upper Dibang Valley.
Despite being the largest district in India with an area of 9,129 sq. km, Upper Dibang Valley is the least populated district in the country. The place is inhabited by the native Idu Mishmis and a few other tribes who migrated from ancient Tibet a thousand years ago. Anini is the only place in Upper Dibang, which has proper access to the rest of India. The main attraction here is the dense Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary, home to the Mishmi Hills Giant Flying Squirrel. The Upper Dibang Valley is a sensitive area due to its proximity to the Chinese border, so be prepared with your identifications.
How to reach: The nearest airport is Dibrugarh Airport and the nearest railhead is in Tinsukia. After reaching these places, you will have to take a taxi to reach and explore the valley. Note that roads for Upper Dibang Valley go only till Anini.
3. Trek to Talle Valley
The trail to Talle Valley is an insightful journey into the ancient tribal culture and customs that play a pivotal role in maintaining the sanctity of the forests. The three valleys that are covered on this route – Pangey Valley, Talley Valley and Ziro Valley – are home to the Apatanis people. The tribe observes several customs, which have helped them in protecting the untouched bio-diversity in Talle Valley, such as a 'taboo period' when hunting or the entering the forest is strictly prohibited. The Talle Valley trek will take you through the fascinating and picturesque terrains of mountain valleys, endless grasslands and forest streams.
How to reach: The nearest airport is in Guwahati. From here take a train to Naharlagun (15617 – GHY NHLN I C EXP –Depart 21.20 pm – Arrive 5.00 am) and take an inner line permit from Naharlagun to travel further. To reach Ziro (100km from Naharlagun), where the trek begins, take a shared taxi.
4. Visit the ancient Hindu temple of Malinithan
The ruins of the ancient Malinithan Temple were discovered in the beginning of the 20th century, but originally date back to 550 CE. Situated on the northern bank of the Brahmaputra River, the temple was built during the period of Aryan influence in the region. The chief deity of the temple is Durga, whose relevance can discovered through local legends. The legend says that when Lord Krishna carried away Bhismaka's daughter, Rukmini on the eve of her marriage with Shishupala, he was given refuge at this site by Parvati. She welcomed the pair with garlands made with beautiful flowers around the valley, thus acquiring the name 'Malini'; after who the temple, Malinithan is named. The temple is a huge pilgrimage for Durga and Krishna worshippers around India and is best visited during November.
How to reach: The nearest airport is in Lilabari. From either Itanagar or Guwahati, take bus or car to Akashiganga from where Manilithan is just 12km.
5. Get lost in the symphony of the Ziro Music Festival
Just like poetry, the most enriching experiences are realised when recollected in tranquility. I don't mean to fill you up with any sort of "what-ifs", but a trip to the Ziro Music Festival is fully capable of changing your life. The festival is one of those rare celebrations, which seamlessly brings together the beauty of nature with the enigma of music. The Ziro Music Festival NEVER repeats a band. No same artist has performed here twice, and that privilege just adds a different layer of energy to the artists performing in that moment. Despite being hard-rocked out of your heads, the valley and the bright stars will allow only a little bit of getting lost, followed by a massive dose of natural wonder!
How to reach: The nearest airport is in Guwahati. From here take a train to Naharlagun (15617 – GHY NHLN I C EXP –Depart 21.20 pm – Arrive 5.00 am) and take an inner line permit from Naharlagun to travel further. To reach Ziro (100km from Naharlagun), take a shared taxi.
6. Genuflect at the Sela Pass and Lake
The Sela Pass (more appropriately called Sel La, but popularly known as Sela Pass) is a high-altitude mountain pass that connects Tawang to Guwahati. Perched at 13,700ft, this pass is famous for the legend of Jaswant Singh Rawat, who was a Sepoy of the Indian Army who tirelessly fought and stopped Chinese soldiers during the 1962 Sino-Indian War. It is said that the valiant man died protecting the gateway to Arunachal Pradesh, and was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra for his bravery. Near the pass is also the religious Sela Lake, which transforms into a frozen spectacle during winters.
How to reach: The nearest airport is in Guwahati. To reach the pass, you will have to move further by road either in a shared taxi or local bus from Tawang.
7. Visit the largest monastery in India
Tawang was a part of Tibet until early 20th century, meaning that a part of the Buddhist history, which currently lies under the iron fist of China, can be visited in its full glory in the Indian city of Tawang. The Tawang Monastery is known in Tibetan as Galden Namgey Lhatse, which translates to "celestial paradise in a clear night". It is the largest monastery in India and the second largest in the world, protecting and conserving parts of Tantric Buddhism that can only otherwise be seen in Tibet.
How to reach: The nearest airport is in Tezpur (143km). From there you will have to either take a local bus or taxi to the Tawang Monastery, which will take up to 8 hours.
8. Test your rafting skills in the white water of Kameng River
River rafting in Arunachal Pradesh is not meant for faint-hearted beginners. The best time to head here for river rafting is after monsoons when the Kameng River is at full force. To reach the rafting spot one has to trek through the hills that make the treacherous gorges of Kameng. It takes four days to just reach the Seppa, from where your rafting begins. Seppa is one of the last places of the Himalayas, where you can see white sand beaches with ancient forests that are maintained to perfection by the tribal people who guard them. All rapids of the Kameng River are Grade 4 and above, meaning you have to have some experience before attempting to float your raft here.
How to reach: The nearest airport to Seppa is in Guwahati. The drive from Guwahati to Seppa is 11 hours long, so you will have to stop over at Bhalukpong, which is 5 hours from Guwahati.
9. Visit the sister of Pangong Tso: Pankang Teng Tso, near Tawang
Pankang Teng Tso, like Pangong Tso, is a high-altitude glacial lake in the Eastern Himalayas of Arunachal Pradesh. The lake freezes at the first onset of winters and transforms into an ethereal sight. Popularly called PT Tso, the lake is located at 12,000 ft above sea-level and falls on the way to Madhuri Lake. Surrounded by green grassy meadow, the lake is nestled between towering snow-covered peaks and is a great spot to just sit and get lost in its sublime beauty.
How to reach: The lake is only 17km from Tawang and can be easily reached by a shared taxi.
10. Attend the Losar Festival at Mechuka
The Mechuka Valley in the West Siang District of Arunachal Pradesh is a hidden gem near the Tibetan border. Guarded by the Indian Army throughout the year, Mechuka is a solitary valley, which can be reached only by the most ardent of travellers. The Mechuka town conserves a beautiful yet austere 400-year-old Buddhist Monastery, which houses ancient Buddhist statues that were carried centuries ago by monks from Tibet. The people of Ramo Tribe are natives of the Mechuka. Accommodations are available at government lodges and homestays that are offered by locals.
How to reach: The nearest airport to Mechuka is Mohanbari Airport (385km away) and nearest railhead is Silapathar Station in Assam. From there you will have to take a taxi/cab or a local bus to reach Mechuka.
11. Sip on rice beer and thukpa at the Solung Festival in Pasighat
The Adi people are the major collective tribe to inhabit the Eastern Himalayas, dependent on agriculture for a living. Their largest festival is a socio-religious gathering celebrating the harvest season. The Solung Festival continues for seven days in the Adi months of Tauno and Yio (August and September). The festival is initiated by the ceremonial slaughtering of the Indian Bison or pig. For the coming days, Apong (rice beer) is brewed and served fresh along with a wide variety of meat dishes. On the final day of the Solung Festival, Adi men gather around to make bows and arrows, which they later participate in a contest with. The Solung Festival is a great way to witness the fascinating culture of tribal communities who are never aptly represented in the modern world.
How to reach: The nearest airport is at Lilabari. Another option (and a more interesting one) is Mohanbari (Dibrugarh), from where you can take a ferry across the Brahmaputra to Oiramghat, which is a few kilometres away from Pasighat. Pasighat can also be reached by bus from Guwahati (overnight journey), Lakhimpur and Itanagar.