The day was 9th August, 2014, clocked at 10:55 AM. Sky was clear; the hills looked majestic with the green pine grooves and white clouds on its lap. We started our journey on foot from Maliney, the last motor able village in Upper Dibang Valley District of Arunachal Pradesh at a distance of about 200km from Roing. Our aim was ATHU – POPU, the most sacred Place for the IDU Mishimi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. The Idu Mishimi tribe believes in life after death. According to their mythology, after death the soul of a person makes a journey guided by their Priest to attain the new life and ATHU- POPU is one of the holy places where the departed souls take rest in their journey towards the eternity. At this sacred place a big mass of Stone stands alone, and it is believed that the priest Sinerwu once cried on this scared Stone on getting the news of his mother’s death. The stone still bears the impression of the priest’s palms and his tears, as believed. There is also a wild paddy field near Athu-Popu, believed to be cultivated by the departed souls on their onward journey.
Athu- popu is situated at Kayala Pass, Indo China Border and is approximately 120 KM from Maliney. Its altitude is approximately 3500 meter MSL. There are lots of tales, mythological beliefs associated with the hills and places on the way to Athu-Popu, which enthrall anyone.
Our planned itinerary was like -
Starting Point - Maliney (1795 MSL)
Camp 1 - Awalin (1860 MSL), 9KM from Maliney
Camp2 - Emopani (1755 MSL), 9KM from Awalin
Camp3 - Solari (1885 MSL), 8Km from Emopani
Camp 4 - Maukri (1975 MSL), 9km from Solari
Camp 5 - Baluwa (2420 MSL), 15-16 KM from Maukri
Camp 6 - Kendray (it is said that if anyone makes noise at this place, it starts to rain heavily)
Camp 6 - Kapuda, (here one can find Amuhuw Lake of 4 KM in circumference and at distance of 4 KM approx, another lake Aampi that is 14-18 KM (apprx) in circumference)
Camp 7 - Emrei Etatho
Camp 8 - Athu popu (3500 MSL), Kayala Pass, Indo- China Border is around 500 meters from Athu- popu
The first day trek was the most difficult one. The sun was shining and the trek was steep ups and downs. Sometimes we needed to climb at 80-90⁰ with the help of roots and sometimes the same on down. We climbed up and down over sharp edged rocks, sometimes with the ladder made up of tree branches, crossed and jumped over slippery rocks in water streams/canals; again many a times we just let our bodies to slip down over the slopes. We did every tedious task that we do not do in our daily life, we needed to fill up our emptied water bottles in every water canals or streams we passed by. Sometimes it seemed to be just like we were keeping our steps on the trek amidst 4-5 feet tall grasses, but as we peeped through the grasses by the side, its- OH MY GOD, ITS A STRAIGHT DOWN EDGE!
Throughout the day we were forced to punish our bodies and there was another nightmare waiting for us in Awalin Camp. We reached our first camp AWALIN at 4:30 PM. And after having bath in the nearby river, we experienced a strange kind of itching on all over our heads and the exposed body parts. We shocked what it was! Was it the river water or dandruff? No, it was a very small insect called KAMUE (in local language). They were so tiny that if we had used our mosquito net at night, then it would had been a mere joke, they were so powerful that insect repellants were of no use. They could bite us through anything. Only smoke could keep them away. No one could sleep, the night passed on as sleepless night for everyone as we could not put our fire strong due to rain, to smoke them out. The torture that the tiny insects did to us took away most of our physical and mental strength.
Next day 10th August 2014, at 8:30 AM we began our trek. It was raining and we put on our rain coats. Weather became suitable for the nasty dirty leeches to hug and suck us. From this day till the last day leeches became our most dearest and nearest one, as it were always on our bodies. Sometimes some of us could found them in their nose, ears sucking blood while sleeping.
That day we covered two camps – EMOPANI (ITBP camp of 5 Jawans) and SOLARI camp, a total distance of almost 18 km. We reached EMOPANI at 12:15 noon and restarted at 1:15 PM for Solari Camp. We trekked on river banks over the rocks of all sizes from small to big. The most challenging and life risking task was crossing the rivers over rocks and fallen trees and on hanging bridges. After crossing a hanging bridge on ITI River we reached Solari camp at about 5:45 PM.
3rd day, 11th August 2014, we loaded our backpacks from Solari Camp at about 6:15 AM and were heading towards Maukri Camp (ITBP camp of 5 jawans) at a distance of about 9 km. We crossed two hanging bridges one on Talo river and another on ‘Einto’ River. The most significant about the hanging bridges was that they were built up with two heavy electric wires tied to four big trees on both the sides, the two main wires were then grid with other short and less thick wires and bamboos. And the foot paths of these bridges were nothing but the trunks and its branches, bamboos lied on one by one from one end to another end. There were gaps or holes on the footpaths, and making a faulty step might lead to the things not wished for. Talo River was the widest and most turbulent one we came across, and the hanging bridge over it got our adrenalin rush as it was the longest yet most worn out hanging bridge. Any atheist will automatically utter God before crossing it. No life jacket, no hook could save anyone if he/she makes the slightest fault. We crossed one by one successfully. After crossing the river we felt that yes we can do beyond our confidence level. Crossing the second hanging bridge became an easy task for us.
By evening 4:30 PM we rested under a big rock that formed a cave like space just below it. We took a wrong decision there, to move forward upto Balwa Camp (the last ITBP camp of 22 Jawans), which we thought to be at a distance of nearly 2-3 hours of trek from the rock, that actually not. We moved ahead by 5 PM after having tea and snacks. Few of us moved faster to get the camp soon as darkness started to gulp the jungle. I was with 4 others, out of which two were porters and we were at the last and were moving slowly. This part of the trek was again a very notorious one, as there were frequent steep ups and downs, rocks were sharp and slippery, and we needed to keep our feet in between the inches sharp gaps of the rocks that hurt us. There were numbers of water streams coming from the top of the hills that we needed to cross in almost darkness. And just below us, steep down, the same Talo river was flowing vehemently with its ferocious sounds. We switched on our torches. All of a sudden one of our participants could not keep his pace to move ahead and stopped. It was then almost 6 PM. We decided to load his backpack on one of our porter and asked the porter to move ahead and inform our team, we regrettably forget to give him a torch. He overtook us in the darkness with nearly 40 KG load. By the time the whole jungle was covered with deep darkness, rain and the fearsome sound of the Talo River. I was leading even though it was very difficult for me to find out the trek left by our other members in that darkness. Many a time we were stepping by the sides of the hill on just 1 foot wide trek, and had we been slipped down then it would be either on the rocks at 10- 20 feet down or on the vehemently flowing Talo River. We were stumbling around in the darkness, got injured number of times, climbed down on slippery ladders made up of woods and fallen trees. Suddenly after 40 minutes or so we saw the backpack that we loaded on the porter just below a big tree. Tensions gulped our minds. I asked our porter and another participant to move ahead and I decided to stay there with the another, whose that backpack was, as he got difficulties to move. It was my responsibility of his safety, whatever might be the challenges. It was raining and since we stopped our movements we started to feel the cold and slowly got shivering. I tried to put fire by tearing my note book pages one by one, but could not, everything nearby got wet. I noticed some holes in the trunks of the trees and became cautious of snakes or anything unexpected. We talked less and shivered more, blew our whistles, signaled with torch as time passed on. We stood there almost for one and half hour. Finally we saw three torch beams coming towards us, they were Kiran, Aniko and our porter Sajaan, who left the bag there and came back with them from half way where he was found sitting with a fire, cause he could not move in the darkness alone, it was almost 8:30 PM. No one of us could say anything more, other than that they would load our backpacks and it was almost another 2 hours trek to the camp, they also let us know that they had met our last two members on the way. I was afraid, whether they would be able to reach the camp safely or not. That worry was intense in me but I somehow managed to hide it. We all felt very tired, and these three brave guys who came back to rescue us and still loading our backpacks, I bowed my head towards them. By 10:30PM, we reached Balwa Camp. That day we trekked almost 24-25 km. Tine (Tine Mena the first lady from NE region to summit Everest) was found more worried for us. We slept after having our dinner in the tents pitched by the ITBP jawans. After such a tedious trek also we could not sleep due to the torture of that little insects ‘Kamue’. Next morning we had been suggested by the ITBP force not to move ahead and stayed with them till the weather become favourable, as they got instructions from their base camp to restrict their movements also with a message that one of their porters had been washed away by river in Anini area. Tine and I after speaking to other members decided to halt our trek and move back the next day as we can play with no one’s life. We took rest that day, enjoying the time with the jawans, sharing and preparing our foods, playing antrakshi etc.
Next day morning, 13th August 2014, the weather started to play with us. It showed us as if it was going to be shining. Seeing the weather one of our lady participants, Mishi Miri Madam wished to take the challenge to move ahead further. We could not convince her, so we send our strong Participants Eco, Aniko, Kapil, Saajan (Porter) and Eco (Porter) with her, while we, Tine and I decided to take back the others- Khyanjeet, Haren, Ena and Sony. At that time our only concern was the safety of our people and nothing. We got divide into two groups, after hugging and wishing the best for each other we moved in the opposite directions at about 9:15 AM. Raining started again. We reached Maukri camp (ITBP) at 4:15 PM. The weather became worse and water level of the Talo river was flowing over danger level, we spent 2 nights at that camp and decided to move on the 3rd day morning, that is 15th August. As we prepared to pack, we got the message over wireless from Balwa Camp that the other team had move back and asked us to hold on in Maukri Camp. The team reached the camp by 1pm.
On 16th August 2014, we started to move at about 6:15 AM. Water level of all the rivers were up, current became fiercer. We crossed the rivers hand in hand, putting rocks on the rivers to keep our steps, cutting trees and using them as the bridge. At the point, where the longest and the most worsened hanging bridge was, Talo river seemed to be more turbulent and fearsome, it was flowing in such a way that we had to shout in other to hear each other’s voices. Water was flowing just 2- 3 feet below the bridge at its midpoint with the bigger ebbs and waves. Scattered water from the waves touched our body and face as we crossed the river. We crossed it safely by the grace of God. At around 12:15 noon we reached Emopani Camp (ITBP) and stayed there that night.
Next day, 17th August 2014, we started our trek at 6 AM, this time our aim was not to hold anywhere but to reach Maliney, from where we began our expedition. This portion of the trek was very tedious and this time we felt it even more tedious. By 2:15 PM we reached Maliney.. Weather started to become clear and sunny. We thought as if Nature was not happy with us for our journey to Athu-Popu.
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