Arunachal Pradesh – the land of dawn lit mountains
The Panoramic view of Tawang Monastery
Tawang and other parts of the West Kameng District of Arunachal Pradesh comprises of the Western Arunachal circuit and is the most visited area in Arunachal Pradesh. However, despite the Chinese agression which took place almost fifty years back, forty seven to be precise, the road infrastructure is all but appalling. The basic requirements for any traveller who intends any tourist destination are Travel related amenities available alongwith the infrastructure related to Boarding & Lodging.
State of Transportation
At the outset I would like to make a specific statement for those aspiring to visit Arunachal Pradesh i.e. One needs to have an iron like mind the gritty determination to endure the journey to Arunachal Pradesh, as the roads remains in a state of disrepair throughout the year due to heavy rains and snowfall in upper reaches, accompanied by frequent land slides. The Public transport system is totally invisible and as per the official website information also, even if they run in some areas, the disruption is a normal routine rather than exception and I quote from one such site – “Public transport between a pair of settlements typically operates once a day, usually in the morning. Because of this a change of bus sometimes results in a wasted day even if the distance is short. Many routes have a weekly day off for vehicle maintenance and "no-shows" occur now and then. Always give yourself an extra day to get out from an interior area. A tour by public transport subtracts at least 2-3 days from the field”. Therefore, if one intends to travel the circuit with his/her family the option of using Public Transport is ruled out, both because of the indecisive nature coupled with the time schedule of a traveler, which he/she has to adhere to. However, during my recent journey, I discovered that this draw back is now amply compensated by the presence of ‘line Sumo’, which are basically ten seated jeeps which operate between fixed destinations on a regular basis and whose rates are fixed as per the destinations. But the seating arrangements become so cringed that persons afflicted with either claustrophobia or motion sickness will find it extremely difficult to commute through this means of transportation. Thus, the only remaining option for even a budget traveller is to hire a vehicle for his/her family, which are available a plenty from Tezpur (Assam) and the present going rates are between Rs.1,800/- to Rs.2,000/- per day for a dry vehicle i.e. Fuel costs extra for any Four wheel Drive - Sumo/Bolero etc. and it is advisable to opt for such a vehicle keeping in view the torturous road conditions. The drivers of these vehicles are very cunning and despite the fact that the owner while negotiating the price will inform you that the cost of daily allowance payable to the driver is inclusive of the sum, but the ground reality is that the driver shall make all efforts to board & lodge at your expense. The other aspect in hiring of such vehicles, which I encountered was that although the owner will not press for the fuel for the return journey, albeit the vehicle will be used to ferrying persons as a ‘line vehicle’, but the driver makes all efforts to garner as much fuel as he can from your pocket and I had a bad experience of shelling out for 80 litres of diesel for a 400 Km. journey. The fuel gauge would show less fuel, as per the fuel gauge meter reading, when parked downside and the driver of our Sumo despite having been provided for 60 litres of diesel for travel upto Dirang, made a sudden stop below Sela Pass and without seeking any instructions from me, proceeded to get a 20 litre Jerry-can from a lady running a local Dhaba stating that he was almost out of fuel. I pointed out to him at Tawang that his fuel tank was almost half full and enough for downhill back journey to Tezpur when he started insisting on getting fuel for his return journey. The incident has been highlighted to make the travellers aware of the tantrums thrown by the drivers’ en-route.
The most preferred mode of transportation & the irksome driver
Distances in West Arunchal Pradesh
Guwahati - Tezpur : 196 Kms. (4-5 hour by jeep, 5-7 hr by bus, as per schedule)
Tezpur - Tawang : 350 Kms. (14-16 hours by jeep)
Tezpur to Bomdila : 165 Kms. (6-8 Hrs. by Jeep)
Bomdila - Tawang : 181 Kms. (7-10 Hrs. by Jeep)
Bomdila - Dirang : 42 Kms (2 Hours by Jeep)
Dirang - Sangti : 10 Kms. (1 Hour by Jeep)
Dirang - Mandala : 28 Kms. (2-2½ Hours by Jeep)
Dirang to Sengay : 37 Kms. (2-3 Hours by Jeep)
Dirang to Baisakhi : 45 kms. (3-4½ Hours by Jeep)
Dirang to Sela Pass : 61 km
Sela to Jang : 37 km
Sela to Tawang : 77 km (along the highway)
Boarding & Lodging infrastructure
The Boarding & lodging is not a problem in the plains of Assam i.e. be it Guwahati or Tezpur as there are a plethora of Hotels catering to all kinds of clientele. However, as you enter Arunachal Pradesh your choice increasingly gets constricted. There are basic hotels available at Bhalukpong and reasonably good hotels and budget hotels at Bomdilla, which provide for both good food (for all kinds of connoisseurs i.e. be it North India, Bengali or otherwise) & lodging at reasonable rates. The hotels I stayed at while going & coming back i.e. Hotel Tashi Den (near H.S. School run by an ex-Arunachal Government Officer – Tel.No. 03872-222812) and Elysium Lodge (Near D.C Office – Tel.No.03872-222156) were good budget hotels. However, as you proceed onwards towards Tawang your choice gets restricted, at Dirang there is only one good Hotel i.e. Hotel Pemaling and the remaining ones placed in the vicinity of the market are really basic and leave room to be desired for. I had stayed at Tourist Lodge in Dirang, as no other rooms were available for three days at a stretch in any of the Hotels, despite the fact that the place has only four rooms and a good ambiance yet my experience has not been very good. The room we occupied on the first day suddenly got invaded by a swarm of termites and in order to clear the same we were shifted to another room, in this room a huge mountain rat got up on the bed at night on my shoulder and I had to literally fight it out with my slippers and then with the hotel staff got its entry blocked for the night with some stones placed in the opening of its hole. Although the hotel staff changed the rooms again the next day, yet I was in for a rude shock regarding the pricing of their fooding. At the outset I was informed that the cost would be Rs.40/- for a Vegetarian meal i.e. Rice, One Vegetable & Dal, he further informed that for a Egg/Fish/Chicken meal the rates would be Rs.60/-, Rs.70/- and Rs.90/- respectively. In every budget hotel I have stayed till now, the rates as quoted are inclusive of the additional item provided. However, in this particular Hotel, while I asked for the settlement of the Bill on the ensuing night before check-out early in the morning, I was only provided with the billing in the morning itself and was stumped to find that the billing for the fooding was such that any extra supplement to the meal i.e. Egg/Fish or Chicken had been added to the basic fooding bill of Rs.40/- i.e. Egg meal with two eggs curry would cost you Rs.40/- + Rs.60/- = Rs.100/- and similarly a fish meal would cost Rs.110/- (for extra two piece of fish) and Rs.130/- for Chicken meal (containing only two small pieces of chicken curry per head – not served separately but together in a bowl – servings not to be compared with chicken preparations served in any Delhi or metropolitan restaurants/hotels), thus for half a small chicken diced into small meat like pieces we had to shell out Rs.360/- extra. This made the budget estimates go beyond expectations as I had stayed for three days at Dirang. Therefore, it would be advisable to clarify the meal rates before ordering in Arunachal Pradesh. At Tawang the Hotels are at best basic and if one is used to comforts of modern day Hotel accommodations, he should think twice before embarking on journey to this place. The fooding too, that is available in the local market, is not palatable for outsiders and having browsed at ‘India mike’, the recommended outlet called ‘Basana Resturant’ (near Hotel Sela- Tel.No.03794-224353), although very basic, but provides for good fresh Bengali home made food and was our savior in this outpost called Tawang.
Front view of Hotel Tashi Den in Bomdila
People of Western Arunachal Pradesh -
Tawang and other parts of the West Kameng District of Arunachal Pradesh are dominated by the simple, hospitable and welcoming Monapa Tribe. The name Monpas has originated from the term ‘Mon’ or ‘Monyul’ which was used by the Tibetans to describe is neighboring regions consisting of Ladakh, Sikkim, Bhutan, Menchukha & Tawang etc. Monpas are more akin to people of Bhutan as regards custom, language, agricultural practices, land management etc. is concerned than with the Tibetans. Agriculture is the main source of livelihood of Monpas. Some of Monpas still live as nomads high up in the mountains and practice barter system for trading, who breed Yaks and other cattle. Monpas practice the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and are quite famous for Tibetian Tankha Paintings. Monpas belongs to the Mongoloid stock. The men-folk wear an ‘Endi’ shirt of Tibetan style and a short woolen trouser called ‘Kangnom’ or a full-length woolen trouser called ‘Dhorna’. The ladies wear a red colored gown, girdled at the waist by a band, with white stripes covering the body right from the shoulders to the knee level called ‘Shingka’. Although, as of now, in the towns and even villages by the road side, you will hardly find any Monpa wearing the traditional dresses, except for when you travel to desolately placed villages.
A Monpa Woman in traditional dress chafing millets
Conclusion Despite all the difficulties faced by me, I would recommend that one makes an array to these pristine virgin natures delight, as the major parts of this state is still untouched by the curse called development. Here the rivers run alongside the roads, the clouds drift along side the mountains below and around you, waterfalls from astounding heights and alpine fresh water lakes are a treat to watch. You go to a land of enchanting beauty, the land of the ‘dawn lit mountains’, the epitaph as the first rays of morning sun that touches down upon India lights up this distant state first.