Sunday, December 25, 2011

Arunachal Pradesh - Visiting the North East (Part-IV)

Arunachal Pradesh – the land of dawn lit mountains
(Around Dirang)
Birds eye view of Dirang
DIRANG, situated between Bomdila and Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh is about 42 Kms. from Bomdila. It is at a much lower altitude than Bomdila and thus, the weather is much milder & comfortable, a constant wind blows along the river valley making it a very pleasant place to stay. After having lapped up the nature’s grandeur spread out at Bomdila top, we slowly descended towards the valley below. Dirang is placed at an altitude of 1497 meters/4910 feet, as against Bomdila, which is placed at an altitude of 8500 feet. This particular portion of the route, especially the one just below Bomdilla and another part near Munna Camp, are prone to landslides, as the roads that cut through them are through mountains which are primarily composed of small rocks & mud and thus, even a heavy downpour can bring down a mud slide and cut-off the road link. Munna has a small village which appears to be placed right in middle of the river, Dirang Chu (‘Chu’ means ‘River’ in local dialect) which runs parallel to the main highway all the way upto & beyond Dirang. The other notable feature noticed in this part were the cultivated fields, which unlike the mountains of north India, are not terraced, but placed on the slope, probably due to much more heavy rainfall in this part as compared to north Indian mountains.
Villages & fields - a typical Monpa Village enroute Dirang

View of Munna Camp

Dirang as such does not have a whole lot to see but it has an intrinsic spectacular scenic beauty and an ideal place to rest for a while. Therefore, in order to give our tired souls some rest and to replenish our energies, we decided to stay put in Dirang for three nights. However, when we reached Dirang we found out that none of the hotels in the main bazaar area of the township did not have any rooms available for three days at a stretch. There are a plethora of hotels available in the Bazaar area like Ma Lakshmi Lodge, Moon Lodge etc. but they were just basic and not at all appealing, as they appeared to be unkempt, dirty & congested devoid of proper ventilation. This unavailability of rooms in the main bazaar area ultimately turned out to be a boon for us, so far as living conditions were meant and we were referred to a nicely spruced complex called the ‘Tourist Lodge’, which is placed next to Hotel Pemaling, the only decent Hotel in Dirang. I have already described my experience regarding the Tourist Lodge in my very first part of the present series of travelogues and would not like to dwell on it, any further, in this regard. However, I have learnt one good lesson while staying in Dirang, which I would like to share with my readers i.e. experienced gained by interacting with many families/drivers etc. who transited through Dirang during the few days that I spent in there, I found out that most of the journeys undertaken to this region was best undertaken with tour operators, for the following reasons – (i) They have personal contacts in this region; (ii) They move in groups, which makes it all the more secure; (iii) Most of them travel with a cook in tow and rent kitchen of the Hotel where they put up their guests and provide them meals, which the tourists are akin to, thus making the journey more wholesome.
View of the main entry to Dirang Dzong
View of the outer periphery of Dirang Dzong

Dirang offers some interesting spots which a traveller can explore and the most striking one is the Dirang Dzong (fort), with an array of 500-year-old stone houses located in its ruins, one can experience first hand, the culture & ethos of the local Monpas. This 17th century monument represents the authority of the monastic rule through which the Monpas carried out their public administration during the past. It was also the centre of military and judicial activities concerning the entire population within its jurisdiction. The DZONG (fort) was built in Dirang in 1831. It is at a strategically located hill top and comprises of an array of four storied fortified stone buildings in which the entire village could take refuge at the time of war. It is the only one of its kind in the entire area. The two-storied fort was built out of huge stone slabs and wooden logs. The wooden gate leading to the fort is decorated with local architectural designs.
View of the Kiwi Orchard

View of the Hot Water Spring in Dirang
The other local attractions, which the tourists visit, are the National Yak Research Center (situated half-way between Dirang and Tawang). The Regional Apple Nursery & Kiwi Farms are situated across the river valley and one has to cross over through a small bridge. The entire township which is concentrated over an area of less than a kilometer, offers a good view of the topography of the township, apart from views of sloped farms with view of little wonderful villages scattered around the hills. The other famed tourist spot is the Hot Water Spring, which is also the main attraction for locals, who supposedly take bath in the Hot Springs as its water is said to possess curative properties. However, I was most dejected after having undertaken a long trek down from the main road, as an Ecological Camp has come up at the site, with a Cafeteria right in front of the Hot Spring, which is not only blocks the view of the Hot Spring, but also creates more ecological hazards, rather than preserving the ecology there for which it is meant & sounds. The local environment department needs to take a look at this, before it gets too late to redeem the hot spring.
View of the famous Sangti Valley

View of the traditional water flour mill or Chuskar

At a distance of 12 Kms. beyond Dirang is the famed Sangti Valley, Sangti is dotted with numerous picturesque spots, which are ideal for holidaymakers. One of the prime attractions is a sheep breeding farm. The other one being the Chuskar (traditional water mill), a flour mill system using hydro power, which is used by the villagers to grind the millets. The Sangti valley is the favored tourist destination for avid bird watchers as well as it is home to the endangered back necked cranes during winter months which come to nest here from Tibet.
View of typical Monpa house or a Cher Khyem

Dirang is also used as a Base camp for trekking & bird watching at Mandla or Madla Phudong (local name), it is situated at a distance of about 28 Kms. from Dirang. The place is situated on a mountain ridge high up, with few villages strung far apart. It is a real ecologist’s delight and although we could hear a variety of birds singing, but could not spot one because of the dense foliage all around and thus, no photographs. Yet the visit to this spot was rewarding in itself as we could see some virgin forests and observe typical villages & villagers at work enroute. A Monpa village comprises of many houses which are locally called Khyem and are generally rectangular in shape & double storied made of wooden posts & beams and walls are constructed of crudely cut stones smeared with mud. However, the poor people live in houses constructed entirely out of bamboo and are called Cher-Khyem.
View of the forest cover at Mandla or Madla Phudong

Despite the photographs that I have placed in the travelogue, nothing beats the moving images captured through video, you may enjoy the visual treat -

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