An Anxious Guy's Journey Through The North East

6th Feb 2020
Photo of An Anxious Guy's Journey Through The North East by Shubham Jhunjhunwala
Day 1

It's been a week of extensive anxiety and sleepless nights, for two reasons: I was utterly mesmerized about the upcoming trip and the second, I am Bipolar and a Schizophrenic, so, its a habit now.

This trip was very spontaneous.

The story about the trip goes as follows. I was in the local Mumbai train, heading to CSMT and I had around 14000 rupees in my wallet. So, I called my mother out of indecision and said, I am going to go somewhere and will come back only when I have made something of myself (given that I am twice a dropout - it's a long story). Surprisingly, my mom was calm and she immediately disconnected the call saying, 'Give me a minute'. If it's faith or fate, my sister, whom I consider my heart and soul, called me exactly in a minute.

We spoke for about 10 minutes, tears in four eyes.

She convinced me to stay back and hope and hope a little more.

And I said out of sheer desperation, 'Didi, mujhe thode time ke liye akela kahin jana hain'

And I was broke. I had no money.

Without speaking about the money part of the trip, She just asked me, 'Wapas ayega na?'

And one week later, I am on a bus to Tezpur where I will halt for the night and will head to Tawang, The second largest Buddhist Monastery in the World.

The current itinerary ends at Tawang, though my trip lasts for a solid 36 days.

I plan to improvise.

I plan to find peace.

36 days

Photo of Tezpur by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

As they say, the sky is the limit.

Photo of Tezpur by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

Smiling on the outside, dead on the inside. This might change.

Photo of Tezpur by Shubham Jhunjhunwala
Day 2

They say when you travel solo, you happen to find people, literally find people.

After checking into my room(OYO), in a very shady hotel, I found Jaanmath. He is the night manager of Hotel Durba.

A little back story - After getting off the bus at Tezpur ASTC, I found a rickshaw driver whose name I tend to forget.

With little to no shame, I asked, 'Dada, Bhutiya kahan milega?

(Bhutiya is the local weed strain)

He gave me a smile and he scored weed for me.
80 bucks for decent quality and quantity of Bhutiya (About 10 grams)

Now, continuing my experience with Jaanmath, I found myself in the hotel room with rolling papers and filters but no way of actually knowing how to roll. Enter Jaanmath.
He rolled me 3 joints out of which I smoked 2 and he smoked 1.

The thing about the high from Bhutiya is a bit unexpected. You tend to think, both creatively and critically.

I wrote a 1500 word thesis of my past, recorded a bunch of videos, and laughed till my stomach hurt.
The euphoria was exciting and clean.

I slept around 10, after munching at the shadiest restaurant, about a kilometer from my hotel, and slept like a baby.

The man himself, who helped me score my first weed

Photo of Tezpur by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

Jaanmath - What a spirit, he was. Rolled me the perfect joint

Photo of Tezpur by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

When you have everything but lack talent

Photo of Tezpur by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

Just laughing. Let me tell you, Bhutiya is an experience

Photo of Tezpur by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

The alarm woke me up at 4 as I had to take a shared Sumo to Tawang via the Sela Pass.

I don't know if it was the weed or the cold, but, after a long long time, I had a bit of clarity.

Alongside me was Seringji, who was a local at Tawang and we spoke, in breaks, but I told me what spending 7 years in the army feels like.
What a man, he was. We shared cigarettes along the 14-hour drive and I even let him smoke one of my cigars. He was surprised as to the look of a cigar but he enjoyed it thoroughly.

Now, coming back to the 14-hour drive.

If you travel straight, without any obstacles, from Tezpur to Tawang, its a mere 100 kilometers and you can cover that in 2 hours.

But, the beauty of the hills in Arunachal Pradesh is that you now have to cross mountains and cover nearly 350 kilometers and over 100 scattered villages. There's no straight road between the mountains and the 14 hours seem like a hassle, don't you think?

Don't worry my friend, you won't regret a single second.

Make sure you are well rested before the trip because if you miss out on a single minute of the road trip, you miss out on everything.

About 30 kilometers of straight road from the start and then, a lifetime of memories, twisting and turning across the Himalayas.

Remember, Eat, but Eat light.

Wear layers and carry a thick jacket and a beanie. No matter the month you are making this journey, it's chilling.

The most exciting part of the journey is through Sela Pass. That's the only way you can reach Tawang, no matter where you start.

Oh man, Sela Pass!

It was snowing throughout the 3 hours drive through it and you couldn't see 10 meters ahead.
The roads are tricky and raw. Only an experienced driver will get you through it, so, don't think about driving yourself.

Gorgeous snow-covered hills, muddy road, frozen lakes, Buddhist flags, valleys on both sides, life hanging in the balance, and 6 people in the Sumo with retro music in the background.

It was transcendental.

I won't say anymore. You have to come to see it for yourself.

Reaching Tawang, the journey in itself, 14 hours, wasn't tiring and wasn't restless.

5 AM - Tezpur. About to board the Sumo

Photo of Sela Pass by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

Somewhere along the way

Photo of Sela Pass by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

Just 10 kilometres before entering Sela Pass

Photo of Sela Pass by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

Sela Pass

Photo of Sela Pass by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

I could live here forever but I get a fever very quickly and it snows all year round

Photo of Sela Pass by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

How can you not fall in love with the snow?

Photo of Sela Pass by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

Seringji - The man who smoked a cigar for the first time

Photo of Sela Pass by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

I checked into my hotel, in Tawang, at 7 and it was already -2° and it was snowing lightly.

I ate two protein bars, had a cup of tea, smoked a cigarette, and lay down with an appetite for more solace.

To be honest, I wasn't tired. It was around 7 in the evening and the shops started to shut down.
Without ample street lights, I didn't know what to expect of Tawang. The journey was complete but the picture was a blur. Restless as to what to expect, I kept thinking and the cold put me to sleep.

Day 3

Well, I guess I was tired from the drive on the previous day. I crashed around 10 the night before and my eyes vividly opened at 12 noon when the electricity went down and the heater was switched off.

A little more into the weather in Tawang is that it's very windy and the houses here are poorly insulated (I guess the locals are used to it). So, I slept with thermals on, a relatively heavy t-shirt, full pants, socks on, a two-layered fleece jacket, two blankets, and the heater switched on. Trust me, folks, if you are not familiar with temperatures below 0°, and that you want to visit Tawang, you need to carry a lot of layers.

Plus, develop a taste for rum, not because it's cool but because it's necessary. And trust me, it's cheaper than water.

Now, since it was already noon, most of the shared taxis had departed to respective scenic routes such as the Bumla Pass (for which you need a permit and it takes a day), Maduri Lake, Gori Chen Mountain, and a few others. And since I am a solo traveler on a budget, booking a private cab seemed futile.

What's left?

Roam about the city? And that's what I did.

Firstly, I hadn't eaten in 36 hours so, I found a small shack where they had rice, paratha and chow mein. And, since it's so close to the Chinese border, I went with chow mein.
Let me tell you about the food facts here in Tawang and most of the North East.
So, North East is home to a lot of immigrants from West Bengal and Bangladesh - you might know this because of the ongoing CAA-NRC propaganda.

So, the food here, in the North East in general, has a touch of Bengal and Bangladesh.

Nonetheless, the food here is light on the taste buds, ironically because, spices are abundant here and their usage is limited. Don't be discouraged and try the local cuisine.

Also, wherever you are, you will find Chai and I would recommend, have a cup whenever you get the chance. Because, here, you don't feel thirsty and a hot cup of tea helps with the thirst and the cold. So, CHAI!!

There are no wild animals in Tawang, although, you will come across a lot of dogs.

Dogs here are a bit shy but friendly once acquainted. Don't approach them directly and be patient. Carry biscuits and they will remember you forever.

Another thing I noticed about Tawang is that almost every household has a dog. It's not about the question of safety, because Tawang is very safe, but a thing that shows kindness and compassion in the sense that all of them are adopted. They started as strays and ended up with a family.

Tawang is a clean city, although you will find garbage patches here and there. I would suggest please don't litter because we have already ruined the other 3 corners of India and the North East is the only escape.

I met a couple of people along with my crusade in the city, all with different stories.

Traveling solo or in a group, it is highly recommended that you come out of your shell and interact with the locals. You will learn a lot about their culture.

For example, after walking for nearly 6 hours, my legs were giving up and it had begun to snow. So, in the old market area, again, I found a shack where I sat down to have freshly steamed Momos and a cup of tea. After sitting inside that joint for nearly 30 minutes, I headed back to my hotel. About 50 meters from that shack, I found a group of people standing by the fire and chatting. They were locals, in an obvious sense.
I asked them if I could join too and when they learned that I am from Mumbai, they started asking me about the big city. I stood by that fire, with nearly 10 locals, for about 30 minutes and talked. Just talked.

Since it was snowing and I was evidently shivering, a man beside me asked me if I'd like to have a cup of local wine.

It's called Araa and it is indigenous to the Tawang region. It's made from rice and is served hot. It had a very strong flavor and it takes time to get used to the taste.

Now, I wouldn't have come across this local drink if I hadn't initiated the conversation.

Living in metros tend to make you rigid.

Here, you just have to smile and be approachable.

People are friendly and a 'Hello' and a 'Thank you' doesn't hurt.

I walked back to my hotel and rested for the adventures of the following day.

A side note - Its very rare that you find weed in Tawang. And smoking on the streets is illegal.
Alcohol is super cheap and is necessary.


Photo of Tawang by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

This plate cost me 80 bucks and it was filling. It's a strange thing I have noticed that food in restaurants in Tawang cost 80 bucks a plate

Photo of Tawang by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

It's clean and it's silent and it's soothing

Photo of Tawang by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

I wish I could settle here. I wish I could settle here!

Photo of Tawang by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

That's not a selfie smile. That's a natural one

Photo of Tawang by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

These two followed me for nearly 500 meters after I fed them biscuits. Loyalty folks, Loyalty.

Photo of Tawang by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

Bas Chai pete raho. Trust me, it will help

Photo of Tawang by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

Again, 80 bucks for the plate of Momos.

Photo of Tawang by Shubham Jhunjhunwala


Photo of Tawang by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

Ask for Munait Nat if you are in Tawang. He will help you dearly

Photo of Tawang by Shubham Jhunjhunwala
Day 4

So, basically, I hadn't had a proper sleep in about 3 days. I was worn out and I desperately needed rest if I were to continue my travels.

And yes, it was only Day 4.

Fact - The Tawang Monastery is open to the public for 24 hours.

Fact - Although it is safe in Tawang at night, you can't expect to walk nearly 5 kilometers at -6° and yes, transport shuts down at 7. So, the only way you can experience the beauty of the monastery is in the morning, after 7.

The previous night, I set an alarm for 6 but ended up waking up at 7:15 in the morning. It was cold and as you know, winters are the time where you find yourself beneath your blanket, reluctant to come out. At -2° at 7, and even with the heater up till max capacity, I struggled to elevate myself from the bed but I did, and I did with pure passion when I realized that I wanted to attend the morning prayers at the Monastery, which was due to start at 8:30 AM and I was running late.

I quickly smoked a cigarette, brushed my teeth, ignored to take a bath(Again!!), put simple clothes on, strapped on my jacket and gloves, tied my shoes, and started my journey of a mere 5 kilometers on foot with a zeal that was unmatched to any other.

Fact - I wanted to visit the Tawang Monastery since the winter of 2016.

History - In December of 2016, when I was in Kolkata for my semester break from VIT, I ran away from home seeking homage at the Tawang Monastery. At that time, I had given up hope on the events happening in my life, and I sought to become a monk and live my life in peace till the end of my life, at a place which I found by chance. Eventually, that aspiration failed when my uncle caught me at the airport. It's a strange but, a true story. Ever since my life had taken all the wrong turns and this impromptu trip fulfilled my dream.

Coming back to the present, as I was trotting towards a dream, towards my liberation, I realized that I was lost in the lanes between the old and the new Tawang Market. I dazed around in confusion as, even though I sought for help, I could barely understand their tone due to their accent. Soon, I saw a local cab fleeting past my feet. I extended my hand and asked the gentleman for directions. Instead, he gave me a ride to the Monastery, charging me the usual 150 rupees.

As I reached the gates, I knew something was in the offing.

I entered with an enlivening spirit, with my head in a bow, and found myself in the prayer room. It was 8:15 AM.

I left my shoes outside and sat down on the corner of a bed inside the room and closed my eyes.

The events that followed, span a mere hour of my only time at the monastery, but I think, that was enough.
I closed my eyes as soon as I sat down and my eyes vividly opened at 9:10 AM. The prayers were about to end. I am not sure if you would believe me or not but, things seemed different.
My vision was clearer.

My body was lighter.

My voice was unbroken.

And my soul was singing.

I had an experience from the beyond.

That's all I want to say.

I had planned to spend the entire day at the monastery, but, after a mere 55 minutes, I got a part of my answer. I stood up, took a bow in front of Lord Buddha, and left.

On my way back, one of the younger monks at the monastery gave me a ride back to the town and I didn't speak a word for the next 40 minutes.

I came back to my room, had a cup of tea, and called Koncho Da - A local travel agent I met a day earlier.

I booked a cab to Sangetsar Lake, paid him the full amount of the return journey(INR 3500) through Google Pay, and waited for my cab which he promised will arrive in the next 10 minutes.

It was 10:45 AM.

I waited by my hotel till 11:15 AM before I called him again.

The cab had not yet arrived.

His phone was switched off.

I tried again and again and again for the next 30 minutes and had the same response.

I got restless and ended up walking to his kiosk.

It was locked.

I started getting suspicious and my suspicions were amplified when the other 2 numbers on his card were also non-responsive.

I knew I was conned.

I came back to my room with a rather sullen face and sat there with my thoughts; not the thoughts that I was cheated for money, but, my mind was only focused on the events that transpired between 8:15 AM and 9:10 AM early that morning.

I sat on my bed, in my hotel, the entire day figuring out answers I knew was not possible to deduce under the circumstances I was in, in Mumbai.

At 5 PM, I received a call from Koncho Da saying that his phone ran out of battery and he couldn't call the driver on time.

He refunded the entire amount within a minute's notice and apologized thoroughly for ruining my day.

I just replied to him with a 'Thank you'
I didn't care about the money that day and the 'Thank you' that I threw at Koncho Da was out of my rejuvenated fate.

If I were had to take that road trip to that Lake, I wouldn't have come to the conclusion, I wouldn't have derived the answer I was always looking for. Koncho Da and his dead phone helped me recover my sanity.

Thank you. I say, THANK YOU.

I didn't eat the entire day and slept like a baby only to resume my travels the next day.

PS - I only clicked 3 photos that day and all were before 8:15 AM.

Living the life of a monk is difficult but, liberating.

Photo of Tawang by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

If I would have ended up at the Tawang Monastery in the winter of 2016, I wouldn't have regretted my decision.

Photo of Tawang by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

Patience is virtue.

Photo of Tawang by Shubham Jhunjhunwala
Day 5

At 22, I have never traveled alone. I have never been at the mercy of my own conscience and I have never been in a room, at night, all alone, just with my body and my mind. I was a bit timid and I was extremely scared.

The previous day was very eventful and soulful. A lot, which was dormant in my mind, had awakened to life and I was thinking and retrospecting those areas which I hadn't in a while. I had become my usual self, a hopeless romantic(again!), and I was feeling emotions that I had given up hope on.

I came back to my room, the previous evening, at around 7 and I had slept only to be awakened by the cold at around 11 PM.

I had nothing to do and I had to catch a shared Sumo at 5 AM. I thought to myself that if I were to sleep now, again, I will find it hard to wake up before my due departure. So, I turned on the TV.

Just a piece of information - if you are an average smoker, the cold and the snow will turn you into a chain smoker. It is what it is.

The clock struck midnight and to my dismay, the Airtel TV that was installed in the room had run out of balance. I was visually perplexed as I was pondering as to what to do next. I had nearly 5 hours to kill and being a bit scared in the dark in a shady room doesn't help with the visualizations. And, the electricity wasn't stable enough to provide perpetual heat. So, with my Google Pay, I recharged the Hotel's DTH, watched cricket for the next 5 hours, and just lay on my bed, smoking, eating protein bars, peeing constantly, and under 5 layers of clothing and blanket, waiting for my journey to   Aalo.

As the scheduled alarm sounded at 4:30 AM, I knew it was going to be a hectic next 36 hours of my trip as I had to change 3 cabs and a bus to reach Aalo, only to find bits and pieces in and around my journey which I will cherish forever.

The journey that I was about to commute was as follows :
Tawang > Bomdila > Itanagar > Pasighat > Aalo

I freshened up, aptly clothed myself, put my shoes on, and departed for the Taxi stand.

The Taxi duly left at 5 and I was very sleepy. The thing about these shared Sumos is that they pack up 10 people in it and it gets really uncomfortable; 2 in the front seat, 4 in the middle, and 4 at the back.

Out of sheer luck, I found myself as the only passenger on the back seat, for a considerable period of the 7-hour journey to Bomdila. I inflated my neck pillow, dismounted my shoes, strapped on my jacket, put my gloves on, and slept. The only regret here was that I slept through the 40-odd KMs through the Sela Pass. However, my eyes had already witnessed its majestic grace and even though I gave up the opportunity to relive it, I just thought, it's a memory now, a memory which no man or woman can wipe out. So, I found a sense of adjustment with my mind, which constantly said, 'Don't sleep' and shut my eyes for a bit.

Reaching Bomdila wasn't a hassle because I wasn't conscious through the 7 hour ride, only in a trance state, dreaming about an untouched world I was about to dive into. I got out of the cab, fresh, and booked my bus ticket to Itanagar which cost me 600 rupees as opposed to the 1500 rupees I would have spent on a shared cab with the only difference that the cab would take 5 hours lesser to help me reach my destination. And being on a budget, I was confused but I think I made the right decision choosing the bus.

After I got down in Bomdila, I found myself short on cash and quickly and frivolously, I went on a search for an ATM. I found one but with a very long queue. When my turn eventually arrived, I was able to withdraw what I wanted to withdraw. The gentleman after me, punched in 1000 rupees and the ATM prompted that it had ran out of cash. I was lucky.

Just a side note - When you are travelling to the North East, just remember to keep cash handy because it's very rare that you find operational ATMs here.

I quickly grabbed a bite to eat, had the most succulent Assamese Masala tea (2 cups) and waited in a restaurant named 'Restaurant' for about 2 hours before I hopped into my bus which was eagerly waiting to depart.

While I was waiting at the Restaurant, I only thought to myself that the next 15 hours, sitting in a seat, in a jam-packed bus, would be too much to handle. And when the bus finally departed, I was relieved because the bus was half-filled, the seat next to mine was empty and I had found two companions whose story melted my heart.

Antony and Margo.

It's strange what you can come across your travels in a place in the opposite corner of the country.

Margo was a rescue pup and Antony was his savior.

Antony is a driver in the Indian Army based out of Pasighat, Arunachal Pradesh. Due to the sensitivity of the region, he often has to travel across the state and for the past month, he was posted in Tawang which is about 50 KMs from the Chinese Border. On his return journey home, he found Margo in a nearby bush, shivering in the Sub-Zero temperatures. Margo was about a month old. Out of sheer compassion and unatoned humility, Antony decided to adopt him. He named him Margo because that area was called 'Margo'. And in this way, they found each other, two lost souls found a reason to live. Margo had a family now. Antony will carry forward to Pasighat where he will get Margo vetted and I sincerely hoped for them to be healthy and safe.

We made a few stops on the way for loo breaks and our dinner before I finally rested my eyes and my soul at around 11PM. We were due to arrive in Itanagar by 6AM.


After our dinner at around 9, and that our bus had resumed rolling up and down the mountains and valleys, I found a very elementary yet exquisite panorama under the moon light.

You could hear a river flowing through the valley, you could hear crickets, mild howls through the jungle and between all this noise, I  saw something that soothed my romanticism.

Under the moonlight, as we twisted and turned around the mountains, I could see layers and layers of hills, one on top of the other, and I could only figure out their edges and a strange black body which embodies and exemplifies the hopeless romantic in me. Between darkness itself, and in no sight of a settlement, I thought to myself, 'When the right one comes along, when it's time to finally relieve some of the pain, I will bring her here, build a small house and start a family'.


Just wanted to add that I suffer from serious motion sickness on long drives but after hearing the story of Margo and Antony, I put my earphones on, played Indie Rock, and I had a smile throughout the bus ride.

PS - These are privately run buses and to an extent, they are very shady in the sense that the driver drinks while he drives and people often smoke and drink inside the bus. If you are not comfortable with these aspects of the journey, you can opt for the quicker but expensive shared cabs.

Tea is cheaper than water and is better than water

Photo of Bomdila by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

A soul for a soul.

Photo of Bomdila by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

It's just a reminder that the beauty of nature is everywhere but hard to notice

Photo of Bomdila by Shubham Jhunjhunwala
Day 6

After yet another night without sleep, in the rocking bus, I found myself in Itanagar at 5:30 AM.

The thing about Arunachal Pradesh is that, that some areas and their roads are impenetrable even by experienced drivers. So, after leaving Bomdila, we first entered a part of the region of Assam in the south, and then, we headed north towards Itanagar. That's how inhospitable these areas are. Hence, my pass was checked again at the check-post.

After getting down, the only things open at that hour in the city were taxi stands. Cars were flying in all directions, looking for passengers and a fair wage. Soon, after relieving myself, brushing my teeth, I booked a cab to Aalo, which was going to be my rest stop before my onward journey to Mechuka. I realized that direct cabs to Aalo are a possibility and even though tiresome, it was wise. I could've taken a pause at Pasighat but, I chose to save time as time was essential because an expiry date was mentioned on my Inner Line Permit.

Now, there are two routes you can take to reach Aalo. One, which will take you East to Pasighat, and then, it will take you west towards Aalo. This, obviously, was the longer route. Now, since I have begun to appreciate my life and enjoy being 'alive', I chose the longer route which adds 3 hours to the trip. The second route through is through Ziro Valley, which people say is the most beautiful thing you will ever see. But, as I mentioned before, some areas are explicitly dangerous and life-threatening; and Ziro Valley is one of those "final" experiences. All the cabs traveling to Aalo, from Itanagar, take the longer route.

I have mentioned before that a Sumo ideally packs up 10 people for one journey and my luck was such that, it was the ideal situation for the cab driver. There were 10 people in my Sumo and even though 600 rupees seemed cheaper for the 350KM journey, it wasn't the ideal situation for a person who hasn't had a proper sleep in 2 days. And, the thing is, I am a bit on the heavier side and the rear seat is even narrower. You get the gist, right? Even though, I managed to shut my eyes, in that uncomfortable space, and forget a part of the journey; the easier part.

We had left the taxi stand in Itanagar at 7 and after 5 hours of journey, through discomfort, we stopped at a rest stop just outside Pasighat.

The thing to remember - Almost all highways, roads going to any particular town or village is lined with such rest stops. After every 50 KMs, you will find clusters of restaurants and shacks and they serve good, fresh, and hot food. They do have clean toilets and this is where it got interesting.

The next part of the drive was the difficult one. It was through the mountains and with raw, unmade roads. So, I usually suffer from serious motion sickness on long drives, and eating a meal before that journey, seemed unpractical. So, in the direction opposite to the lane in which our Sumo was parked, I found a small shack that sold cigarettes and tea. I requested for a cup and purchased a cigarette. (The black pepper tea was mesmerizing - Damn!) Until now, things were normal.

Before leaving, I went to the loo that was installed on the back of the restaurant where almost the entire crowd was.

The thing is, I usually keep my phone in my jacket, zipped tightly. On that occasion, I had forgotten to zip that pocket and inside the toilet, which was ironically spacious, I found myself stretching my legs and then, my back. ("You moron, couldn't you have found a better place to stretch your bloody back"). And when I leaned backward, my phone slipped out of the pocket and into the drain it went. And that was the small story which made me cry, not because the phone was an expensive one, but because I had recorded multiple videos and clicked a billion photos and the internet wasn't fast enough to have had them backed up to the cloud. Shit happens!

The more challenging journey to Aalo from that rest stop in Pasighat was a bit distressing for two reasons: 1) I had lost my phone and my content and 2) The roads were so bad that by the time I reached Aalo, I thought I had fractured my right rib just because the roads were bouncing and twisting and sometimes, both at the same time.

After getting out of the cab at Aalo at around 5, I stretched my body, this time with a little guilt and shame,  and with a heavy bag on my shoulder, I went on a search for an electronic shop. I could only find a Vivo Cafe and I figured since I tend to misplace my phone every 6 months, why not choose a cheaper phone this time. I was very tired and the heavy rucksack wasn't helping. So, I asked the lady in the shop as to what time they close. She said, 'By 7'. So, I quickly found myself a cheap hotel, checked myself in, freshened up, and went to that Vivo Cafe and purchased myself a new phone and a Sim card.

After leaving the phone cafe, I was a bit disappointed and sad because out of no particular reason, I had wasted a crucial amount of money on something which could've been avoided. Anyway, I drank a cup of tea and set out to score weed.

So, before ending up in the North East, I had researched a bit about how to score weed. All the websites quoted the same thing, 'Ask the Rickshaw driver' And, that's what I did.

The second Rickshaw driver I approached turned out to be Jini Da. A man in the late 40s and the man to know in Aalo if you need something illegal. When I said I needed Ganja and when he learned that I am from Mumbai, he said, 'Are Mumbaikars strong enough to smoke weed?!' - with a chuckle on his face. After exchanging a few laughs here and there, he said, 'Sir, if you require anything, anything at all, you just have to call me', and he gave me his number. Soon, we were off in his rickshaw to the site and the deal was finalized.

On the return journey, Jini Da showed me needle marks on his arm and said that he used to smoke Ganja a lot when he was my age and that it didn't help him get high and achieve that calmness he so desired. So, he turned to hard drugs, and with no one in his kin, he says that this is all he works for. There was a deep pain in his voice. There was suffering written on his face. 'What a past he might have had', I thought to myself as I reached my hotel room.

Since I was a bit tired from my travels over the past 2 days, I rolled myself a single, lighter joint and smoked up while watching Tarak Mehta Ka Oolta Chashma. By the time, it was 7 and the small town of Aalo had shut down and people were having dinner in their houses.

By around 8:30 PM, my high had started to fade off and I began to enter the munchy mode. Also, I hadn't eaten properly in 36 hours and hadn't eaten at all in the last 24 hours, I set out to find food.

The kitchen of my hotel had closed for orders at 8 and I could not find an open restaurant on my 3KM onward and return journey. While coming back in complete darkness, just near my hotel, I found Paradise.

It was called 'Hirecipe Restaurant'. I might have missed this small restaurant while on my way into the town since it was not on the main road. And, to me, at that moment, I said to myself, 'I don't care about the taste, I just need food'.

On entering I was greeted by a man in his late 50s. I duly asked, 'Uncle, do you have something that I can eat?'. With a very polite tone, he hushed back, 'Sorry, we closed at 7:30!'. The Delhi election results were on the TV in the background, and soon, his wife shouted from the kitchen, 'Son, come in, we have food'.

I was very tired and hungry and it reflected on my face and my movements. Seeing that, the lady cooked me Burnt Chicken Rice and Momos. The thing is, one plate has 6 momos in it. She gave me 4 because that's all she was left with at the end of the day. Trust me when I tell you this: it was the best Chinese I've had in a while. The only thing that made it tastier was the warmth with which she prepared it for me. Since I was eating at an abnormal pace, the lady asked, 'Son, since when have you not eaten?'. This melted my heart. We conversed for about 15 minutes after my meal and the man shook my hand and wished me luck for my trip. They were from Mechuka and that's where I was heading the next day. I thanked them, took a bow, and left for my hotel. It was around 9:30 PM.

My sleep was very deep and sound and I was excited for Mechuka. I set the alarm for 4:30 AM, spoke to my mother, and rested my eyes.

The owner of the Vivo Cafe. Here, we were testing the front camera

Photo of Aalo by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

This is where I scored weed in Aalo - What a view!

Photo of Aalo by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

Jini Da - The man with a mystery and a story

Photo of Aalo by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

I honoured Jini Da by naming my joint 'Jinita'

Photo of Aalo by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

The Paradise

Photo of Aalo by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

Burnt Chicken Rice - One of the best I've had in a while

Photo of Aalo by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

They were very sweet and comforting to an extent. I promised them that on my return journey from Mechuka, I will have my lunch at their restaurant. Will I keep my promise?

Photo of Aalo by Shubham Jhunjhunwala
Day 7

In the shivering cold, at 5 AM, barely able to keep my eyes open, I rushed to the Taxi stand where I would eventually commute to Mechuka - A 9-hour drive, including breaks.

The roads were in decent condition with new, broader roads being constructed all along the route. I read online that, Mechuka, is one of the least explored tourist spots in Arunachal Pradesh and I was thrilled as the Sumo left the counter in Aalo.

Luckily, this journey was going to be a comfortable one as there were 8 people in the cab with 10 being the full capacity. So, I sat in the middle row, with two other agents and was comfortable throughout the road trip.

At around 7, we stopped at a rest stop, where I ordered Veg Chowmein but instead, I got served Chicken Chowmein. This was one of the good experiences I had that morning. Also, since almost the entire North East survives on meat, it is easy to tell who's a vegetarian and who is not. So, if you are ordering a vegetarian dish at a restaurant, it is directly assumed that you are a vegetarian because of the rarity of such occasions. So, after finishing my Chicken Chowmein, when I went to pay for it, the lady behind the counter apologized when she learned that I was served Non-vegetarian food, due to lack of communication. And, between the general crowd, I looked like an outsider and she, with an apologetic face, asked, 'Sir, I hope you eat Non-Veg food?' I was shocked to see that they respect people and their culture around them. I was surprised and I was flabbergasted. People in Mumbai, where I live, are oblivious to such small differences. People die when it comes down to such incidents. Here, I was treated equally and with dignity. With a smile on my face, I replied, 'Yes, I do. Don't worry. And, Thank you!'.

After that, we resumed our journey and had started to meander across mountains and valleys.

I slept after, before waking up 3 hours later, at a rest stop, again. When I asked the driver if I had missed some details along the way, he said, 'Don't worry, Sir, the best part will start now'.

Evidently, I didn't eat anything, although, I found myself feeding two dogs around that shack, and with their wagging tails, my mind and stomach were content for the remaining part of the journey.

It was 89 KMs to Mechuka, from that rest stop. Just 89 KMs and about 4 hours of drive to cover that.

Observational Fact - if Arunachal Pradesh is divided into 10 parts, horizontally, the lower, southern 2 parts of AP is completely flat. While the upper, northern 8 parts of AP are just mountains and valleys. And if you are traveling to the northern reaches of AP, that is where the journey gets tricky and is extremely time-consuming. Although, it is very scenic.

The road to Mechuka is in decent condition but is very remote, even in daylight. Also, sometimes you go up, sometimes you go left and the other times, there are inclined blind turns and vertically upward roads. Small cars won't make it to Mechuka without breaking down a couple of times on the way. And when it does break down, no one is going to be present to help you, remember that. So, we had a group of 3 Sumos going to the Mechukan Valley, together. And, the luck was such that, the lead Sumo broke down about 30 KMs from Mechuka. What a coincidence! Soon, after it cooled down, we resumed our journey and reached Mechuka by 4.

The view, the mountains, the snow, and everything around it, was simply tantalizing.
The small village of Mechuka is located at a height of about 6000ft and is situated in a valley surrounded by snow-covered mountains on all sides. It was simply mesmerizing. Small houses, bungalows, huts, a river, and a lifetime of peace.

Note - There are a total of three hotels in Mechuka. All others are homestays. If I were to know then, that there is a homestay just by the river, I would have blindly halted there but I chose to stay at a hotel called 'Paradise Mechuka' and although it was a bit expensive, I didn't regret it, come that night.

After reaching Mechuka, I realized that the only Telecom carrier in the region is BSNL and that, there are limited internet services (2G). Plus, the mobile internet doesn't connect and the only way you can access the internet is through the sole WiFi network of the region which is operational for about 6 hours every day. And to access that, you need to have a BSNL Sim card. Moreover, it's highly unlikely that you will be able to speak on the phone for more than 2 minutes and your text messages may or may not reach. All this because the region is very close to the Chinese Border and these are the regulations imposed by the Indian Military. Although let me tell you, I was there for 3 days and I didn't miss my social life for a single bit.

After figuring a bit of the town and the people, I set down for a nap. I woke up at 8 PM.

The thing about the North East is that the Sun sets early and people often close up shops and restaurants at around 7:30 PM. Now, since I hadn't had my lunch today, I was very hungry.

Enter Lhakapa - The Hotel Manager.

I approached him asking if the hotel's kitchen is still open. He replied, 'Sir, we take orders till 6 PM. It's not possible now'. I nodded and walked back to my room, with my stomach making noises and my mind not working properly. I was a little sleepy still and very hungry.

[When I went to talk to him, he was in the hotel kitchen cooking food for himself and other staff members, which were his friends. That group of friends opened up this hotel not a while ago]

After about 5 minutes, I heard a knock on my door. It was Lhakapa. He asked me with intent, 'Sir, did you have dinner?'. To which, I replied, 'I couldn't as I had slept and I couldn't find anything open now'. He just nodded and said, 'Sir, give me 30 minutes'. I was unaware as to what he was going to do. Although, with the tone with which he said that, I knew he was going to serve me food but I didn't know, at that moment, how!

I waited breathlessly in my room for about 30 minutes. After this, I heard a knock. It was about 8:45 PM.

Lhakapa entered the room carrying a plate full of Dal, rice, and fried potatoes. It was the same food that Lhakapa was cooking for himself and his friends. I was taken aback and I had a shiver run down my spine just by the gesture of it. To which I said, 'Dada, but this is your food'. He replied, 'Sir, how could I have let you sleep hungry tonight!' I had no words in my mouth and my thoughts. Without saying anything, he turned around and headed back to the reception.

To be honest, my hunger multiplied by that warm gesture. I sat down on my bed, switched on the TV, and ate that meal.

In totality, what a gesture that was! A man saved food from his own plate and served it to a total stranger. Why aren't people in Mumbai so humble?

After finishing my meal, when I went to the reception to thank him and duly pay the bill, he refused to accept my money. He said, 'Sir, don't embarrass me. You are in my hotel and no one in my hotel sleeps on an empty stomach'. I simply had no words.

This is the kind of experience I had over the past 5-6 days in the North East. People have a very odd misconception about this part of the country. They say that it's not safe. They say that people are very rude. Let me tell you, my friends, people here, in all respects, are nothing like what the media has portrayed them to be. They are polite, they are patient, and they are very jovial, if not something else. Even if you get out of your room at 3 in the morning, you can be assured that you are safe. Moreover, it's extremely safe for women. No wonder sexual assault cases are pretty rare in the North East.

I was about to leave Mechuka the day after tomorrow. It was a 2-day plan from the beginning. But, after my first night, after that experience, subconsciously, before sleeping, I added a day to my plans in Mechuka.

Welcome to Mechuka (or Menchuka)

Photo of Mechuka by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

This view was bestowed on my eyes just when we halted at the rest stop where I had fed two dogs and then, my soul

Photo of Mechuka by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

Somewhere along the route to Mechuka

Photo of Mechuka by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

The Mechukan Valley

Photo of Mechuka by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

There are no internet services in Mechuka. I repeat, there are absolutely no internet services in Mechuka

Photo of Mechuka by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

This was the food that Lhakapa served me when he learned that I hadn't had my dinner. It was very tasty

Photo of Mechuka by Shubham Jhunjhunwala
Day 8

The room was somewhat elegant in reference to the ones I stayed at in Tezpur, Tawang, and Aalo. It had an HD TV with Tata sky installed, there was a heater included in the room tariff and the bathroom had a functioning geyser. The bed was firm but soft enough to get me good sleep and the blankets were very cozy. I had nothing planned for tomorrow, so, I watched TV until late that night and finally slept by 2 AM.

The thing about me is that I get spooked very easily, even by the smallest of things and after, I get very anxious. So, around 12:30 AM, certain visualizations started to manifest - some old suppressed memories from the past. Moreover, I was not following up on my medicines, regularly, for the past week. And, that night, it showed why, in my condition, medicines are an important element in my day-to-day life. Yet, after realizing this, I couldn't find myself getting out of the blanket to take my medication which was barely at an arm's length. It was frantic. The nearest thing I could grab was my phone and, out of helplessness, I dialed my mother's phone. She didn't pick up and I, I didn't dial her number for the second time thinking she might have slept, obviously. However, my mother did call me back instantly and I am not too sure why, I just wasn't in the mood to talk, given that I had called her up in the first place. And now, she was spooked and worried. And when it comes down to my health, my mother is very protective. She was evidently sleepy and I just said, 'Its okay mummy, I'll just take my medicines and sleep'. Soon, I disconnected the call, took my medicines, and waited for it to take effect.

The next hour was a bit terrifying for me, meddling with all the emotions and thoughts. With the TV switched on and a small green light giving me company, my mind jumped from being blank to chaotic and blank again. My body was numb and was not responding to my cues and I just lay there, introspecting and analyzing the most bizarre and hypothetical situations in my life. To those reading this, I am a Bipolar and a Schizophrenic. Being alone, in a different corner of the country, with my naked mind, it was a bit more explosive than usual. However, the one thing that I had learned ever since I was diagnosed 5 years ago was to stand my ground and fight it off. And, that's what I did for the next hour before my medicines took effect. I pulled the heater close to my body, wrapped my body in the thick blanket, and waited with bated breath. It was around 1:45 AM and I had begun to calm a little. In that preceding hour, I didn't even blink, and after, I don't remember when my eyes finally closed. It must have been 2 AM, I thought to myself the next afternoon and made peace with it.

[The only thing I learned from that night was that, even though my mother didn't admit to it but, she didn't sleep at all that night.]

I woke up with a very drastic and dramatic calmness on my face. It seemed like, whatever happened the previous night, was just a bad dream. Today, I had decided that I will rest for a bit. And, that's what I did. I must have ordered at least 10 Masala teas and smoked at least a pack of cigarettes. To your eyes, it might seem that I wasted a day but to me, I was at peace, looking out the balcony and staring at the military airstrip right in front of the hotel with mountains lingering on your head in all directions and a cold breeze that refuses to part ways.

The thing that I can definitely say is that I had started to feel again. Those emotions, which once were my forte, which I could feel in all the cells of my body, I had started to feel them again. I used to be a very emotional person. Every humane emotion, for me, they were exaggerated. Everything was a bit more than what an average person can or could feel. After certain experiences, I had lost that touch. To be very honest, over the course of my diagnosis, I had become cold-hearted. To me, nothing surprised me anymore, which in earlier days was extremely thrilling and exciting. The only gift that I took pride in having was that I was in sync with my feelings and here, in this small town, disconnected from the agony of the outside world, I had started to feel again. And that, I guess, is what I have been missing in my routine life in Mumbai.

I just relaxed the entire day under my blanket, watching movies, and listening to songs.

One of the movies that I watched that day was 'Sanju'. The thing about "past Shubham" is that he used to cry a lot on every good and every bad occasion. That's how close he was to his conscience. So, you can judge me but, I cried multiple times while watching that movie. That stimulation had revived and I was glad because I think that will help me figure out a direction for my life.

After this revelation, I was a bit more content than usual and tonight, after taking my medicines early, I slept around 10 PM. I needed all the energy I could gather because I had to climb a mountain tomorrow.

This is how I woke up that day.

Photo of Mechuka by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

Damn, Maggi tastes even better when you are hungry

Photo of Mechuka by Shubham Jhunjhunwala
Day 9

Before sleeping the previous night, I had planned to wake up at around 4 AM and start my climb - the mountain on which 'Menchuka' was inscribed. However, I didn't. I woke up at 7 PM. I am lazy, sue me. Also, I take sleeping pills, and it is difficult to open your eyes before a certain time has elapsed. As soon as I got up, and out of the blanket I went to go to the bathroom, a wave of cold air hit my body. Even though the heater was switched on throughout the night, the room was still very cold. Under the think blanket, I did not apprehend it to a certain degree.

Obviously, I ordered tea. I avoided breakfast and I guess, that was wise.

I left my hotel at 8:30 AM; mostly because after freshening up, I went under the blanket again.

So, to trek on top of that mountain, you need to cross a narrow river. And, in order to cross that narrow river, there are two bridges hanging above it. And, both these bridges are on either side of where the hill starts and ends. Now, u was confused as to which one was closer as, from where I was standing, it seemed as if I was right at the center of it. So, I asked the woman in the grocery store which was adjacent to my hotel.

She suggested that I should cross both the bridges at least once as she explained to me that both of them were very aesthetic. Moreover, she also advised me to take the bridge that was farther from my hotel for the onward journey; and obviously, the other one, the closer one, for the return journey. She made a good point that, when I was to return, I would be tired, and the short walk home would be wise. I did exactly that.

For walking nearly 3 kilometers to reach that metal suspension bridge, I made a lot of observations.

1) Menchuka is an isolated village near the China border. So, most of the populace, either has a small business(grocery stores, employ at the only bank in the village, alcohol shops) or he/she works for the government(MTNL office, Indian Armed Forces). The means of income are limited, hence. And since tourism, in Mechuka, is on the rise, people have converted their homes into lodgings and homestays. There are mere 2 hotels in the entire village, however, almost all of the houses are offered as homestays.

2) Tourists are God to Mechukans.

3) Even though the town is very small, there are 4 alcohol shops in total. Almost everyone drinks only because, in that cold, it is necessary.

4) The city is very clean. After every 50 meters, you will find a board saying, 'A penalty will be imposed if you litter. Please use the dustbin'.

As I reached the metal suspension bridge, I thought to myself that, yes, I can survive a month here, without the internet. The meandering river with its crystal clear water, snow-covered mountains on all four sides and the village in between, the clouds, the air, it was divine. I took a moment to absorb everything and I started walking again.

As I crossed the bridge, I turned left. The bridge ended where the hill started. Although, there was a specific route to make that climb, which was right in the middle of it. It was another 1.5 KMS to my left. Furthermore, throughout those 1.5 KMS, the roads were being mended. The raw roads were being cemented and the only reason that seemed plausible was that it was a tourist spot.

As I reached the middle of the hill and was about to climb, I was already feeling the heat. Yes, it was still around 0° but given the fact that I am obese and I smoke, the 5 KM walk till here was an exercise in itself. Also, now, I was doubting the climb.

The first half of the climb is entirely vertical and the easiest route is marked by white flags. It was easy only on paper though.

As I climbed, I had to stop after every 3 minutes to catch my breath and wipe the sweat out of my forehead. However, somehow, I reached midway. By now, at 0°, the fleece jacket was off, the winners were off, and my t-shirt was wet. I was breathing very rapidly and my heart was racing. Then, I cursed all the cigarettes I have smoked so far, throughout my life. Now, the next part of the climb was relatively easy but my will had given up.

As I turned around, my eyes saw which only a few people who are reading this will ever see. Not because you can't travel to Menchuka, only because you never will. Yes, tourism is on the rise but, still, even if you are traveling to Arunachal Pradesh, you won't waste an entire 2 days just to reach this place, and even longer if you are starting beyond Itanagar or Pasighat.

I thanked my research on the internet that I found this place. I will attach pictures at the end for you to see.

I wanted to sit there for as long as possible but the thing is, cows graze on these hills and dung was everywhere. Plus, I couldn't stand straight because the hill, from where I was standing, was very steep and my back was arching acutely, to an extent that it was paining. Obviously,  I bore the pain for as long as I could, and 20 minutes later,  I began my descend.

As I reached the bottom, I was standing in front of a yellow house,  on the porch of which,  there were Lacapa and Dawa.

Yes,  the entire village resides on the other side of the river but, there are houses on the hills surrounding it. So, here I stand, in front of a yellow house,  Dawa (12) and Lacapa(8) staring at me. They were evidently home alone and I was evidently a stranger from a different corner of the country. Yet, I salute their maturity and compassion. They offered to take me in and asked if I wanted to rest inside their house. When I refused they asked if I wanted water. Obviously, my water stock was empty and I was, in fact, very thirsty. I said yes with a little embarrassment. Then, as I finished my water, they asked to me sit on a small porch by their gate and I did. We talked for about 15 minutes, talking about the skyscrapers of Mumbai. When I told them that my building was 24-stories high, they were fascinated. They started asking about my house, how big it was, and about my family. Their innocence reflected on their faces, however, I was astonished to see their maturity for their tender ages. Before I departed, I handed them two chocolate protein bars and they were over the moon. I said my good-byes and the said theirs.

Before taking the next bridge back to the other side of the river, I sat down on relatively open land, which was sufficiently elevated to give me a panoramic view of the entire village. I was at peace.

I smoked a cigarette quickly and started walking again.

The bridge for my return journey was a rather thrilling commute. It was an antique wooden suspension bridge and at a time, only one person can cross as it was very narrow and fragile. After shaking and trembling, I completed the mere 50 meters of the commute in 15 minutes.

After, I went through a grazing field, military barracks, a military airbase, before I finally reached a more familiar setting - the main market where my hotel was.

Now, I went straight to the only ATM in Mechuka and stood in line after a couple of army officers. Ahead of me was Surrender Singh, an officer in the army. The line mostly consisted of Army personal as they were about to be relocated. A military truck was standing on the opposite side of the street and they all were lining up before the ATM.

And I and Officer Surrender Singh started talking. He has been in the force for the past 7 years and has been posted in Rajasthan, Kashmir, Punjab, and now, Arunachal Pradesh. He obviously did not tell me as to where they were heading but he was telling me his experiences briefly. And then, we talked about Mumbai, obviously. Mumbai, to the people who have not visited, is a dream destination for them. Mumbaikars take advantage of this fact, seriously.

When I told him that I was a tourist, he asked all the army personnel to let me withdraw first, only because the ATM was about to run out of cash and since I was a tourist, I was in requirement of cash more than they were. I was filled with immense gratitude and respect for everyone who shifted a space backwards in the queue.

As I left for my hotel, which was on the opposite side of the perpendicular street on my right, I bought two beer cans for the night.

The rest of the afternoon and night, I spent watching old Bollywood movies and listening to songs. There was no means to contact anyone and I am glad it was what it was.

In the evening, I booked myself a ticket back to Aalo for the next morning and after having Daal and Rice once again, I slept at around 12 AM.

For the onward journey.

Photo of Mechuka by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

Steel and steel.

Photo of Mechuka by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

When we die and face judgment, God will ask us, 'How was paradise?'

Photo of Mechuka by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

Love stories begin beside this river.

Photo of Mechuka by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

The Menchuka valley in its full grace.

Photo of Mechuka by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

Dawa and Lacapa.

Photo of Mechuka by Shubham Jhunjhunwala

For the return journey.

Photo of Mechuka by Shubham Jhunjhunwala