The End Of The Road

Arunachal Pradesh sits in the far North East corner of India and shares a large land border with China. The Chinese have on a few occasions tried to claim AP as their own, so the already fragile Indo-Tibetan border is heavily guarded, there is a strong military presence throughout the state but the peaceful atmosphere remains. This is probably one of the least explored parts of the country and is often dubbed ‘the final frontier’ of India, certain places in the state are still to be named and mapped so the idea of delving into the wild is appealing to me. Let’s hope that the 50 quid I’ve shelled out for the inner line permit to come to ‘The Land of the Dawn Lit Mountains’ will be worth it…

Dirang was a long drive from the Assam border, and we really only stopped here to break up the journey to Tawang. Dirang has only a handful of fly ridden eateries selling nothing but fried rice, but on the other hand almost half the shops in town are hole in the wall alcohol joints, so even though you will go hungry in Dirang, you will never be without a bottle of Bagpiper whisky. Old Dirang is a long walk from the new town, or in my case a 5 minute drive if you can hitch a ride from someone who assumes you’ve met David Beckham, just because you’re English. Old Dirang’s tiny stone Monpa houses reminded me of the village scenes from ‘Cadfael’ the 16th century crime solving monk, and there were more goats than people. Back in new Dirang we checked out the Yak Research Centre, the chief professor kindly showed us around the labs where they are attempting to create a genetically modified super yak that can live in warmer climes. I didn’t mention that I’d eaten yak meat only a couple of weeks ago…

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In Hinduism, a deity may be a rock in a cave, a tree growing in an orchard, a cow wandering the streets…or even a banana…

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or a goat…

Arunachal’s roads are in a word, appalling. Bus travel here is rare so everybody uses shared Tata sumo jeeps to get around. The roads, if you can call them that, are very muddy, so combine this with the mountain terrain and it’s understandable how it takes an eternity to get anywhere. You can forget about sleeping, reading or doing anything else to pass the time as the journey will be extremely rough, so all you can do is sit and wait, whilst being stuck in the same position with the eleven other passengers. The distance from Dirang to Tawang is a mere 170km, it takes 8 hours. The road twists and turns up and over the 4176m Sela pass and down into the valley. The ‘highway’ continues for some time, the smell of the cannabis plants that line both sides of the road being the only comfort. A final ascent is made to Tawang where you reach the end of the road, literally. It’s just as well this town doesn’t have a football team as a trip to Tawang F.C would be a nightmare away day…

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One of the better roads

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Normal sight on an AP highway

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The trucks have eyes in Arunachal

Tawang was founded in the 17th century and is the last major settlement on the ancient trade route to Tibet, I’m guessing there were a lot of banjo strings sold here and that’s where the town generated its name from. The monastery here is reportedly the second largest in the world after Potala Palace in Lhasa and is a must visit pilgrimage site for any Indian Buddhist. Monasteries can act like schools for young monks who wish to dedicate their lives to finding spiritual enlightenment. The young boys eat, sleep and live here whilst doing all their lessons including Maths and English, just like any other school, bullying is not unheard of as I found out when I witnessed one monk receiving a ‘chalky’ on his robes by the rest of his cohort. Inside the prayer hall is a giant statue of Buddha Shakyamuni, maybe this is where Black Grape got their inspiration for the song ‘Shake Your Money Maker’…

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Afternoon prayers

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8m high statue of Buddha Shakyamuni

Urgelling gompa, a nice walk further into the valley, is the exact spot where the 6th Dalai Lama was born. The small, colourful monestry has a rather eerie set of hand prints that are worshiped by devotees, I just thought it was pretty cool having a cuppa in a former Dalai Lama’s bedroom…

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The Tawang valley is predominantly inhabited by the local Monpa tribe. Some of the older traditional woman can be found hanging around the bazaar selling cow’s blood and sporting yak felt headgear, which looks a little like those cheap Rastafari wigs you can buy at Camden market…

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Tawang is Dalai Lama mad

Come to Tawang if you ever want a truly ‘off the map’ experience, no internet, no telephone and most of the time, no electricity. A little further afield from banjo sound, is what they call ‘the lake district’ a series of high altitude lakes near the Tibet border. Unfortunatly foreigners are not allowed any further, as it is too close to China and anything the Chinese are involved in is never simple. So, having reached the end of the long road that started in Madurai, it was time to turn around.

(Up to date info on how to get a permit for AP. It is possible to do it yourself and pay only $50, but this is a lot of hassle and means spending time in either Delhi or Kolkata to make numerous, time consuming trips to their respective AP houses. Whatever anyone says, it is impossible for a foreigner to get it on your own in Guwahati. I strongly suggest just biting the bullet and paying an agent to do it, the extra fee is worth it to eliminate the stress. Shop around for different prices, I was quoted between $80 and $130 dollar per permit. I ended up settling with Rhino travels in Guwahati although it’s possible to find cheaper agents in Arunachal itself but this means possibley having to do bank transfers to pay the fees.)

Arup Barua – Rhino Travels
+91 9864021303
Rhinotravels@gmail.com

Christopher Michi – Apatani Cultural Preservation Society
08014012558/09402048466
christophermichi@hotmail.com

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Categories: India, Useful Information | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “The End Of The Road

  1. Izzie

    Awesome. I went to AP in 2008 after a chance meeting with a dude at the Bangladesh consulate in Kolkata. He was refused his visa, so instead he said he would try for the NE states and would I like to join. At that point you needed to be a group of 4 so we trawled Sudder St for 2 others with the same idea. The 4 of us then went to the FRRO in Kolkata to apply for the AP permit. It was a palava, true, but not too bad. We had to specify our route and our understanding was that we’d have to choose between Tawang and the loop via Along; being February, we chose Along. It was a 10 day permit, starting immediately, though we managed to persuade the dude to give us 3 days grace to get up there before starting the 10 days. Didn’t have to pay a fee to him, he told us we’d have to pay on state border but that never eventuated. Not saying it’s necessarily repeatable but yeah, free to visit AP on that occasion. Left by boat in Pasighat, though no one checked our permits so probably could’ve stayed over 10 days.

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