Into the Unknown
Discover India|September - October 2021
Embark on a 10-day road trip across eastern and central Arunachal Pradesh to find fresh perspective and a world that abounds in pristine beauty.
RUTH DSOUZA PRABHU

I AM A CITY GIRL who loves her occasional getaway to the mountains and beaches. I enjoy everything, from bare-bones camping to whiskies in infinity pools. But I always return to the chaotic, fast-paced life of the city. This changed when I found myself on a 10-day road trip through eastern and central Arunachal Pradesh, as part of the Trans-Arunachal Drive 2021. For motoring and offroading enthusiasts, the Trans-Arunachal Highway (NH13), currently under construction, is, frankly, a dream stretch.

It covers 2,407 kilometres, and is proposed to connect Tawang in the west to Kanubari in the east.

The Trans-Arunachal route takes you through regions untouched by commercial tourism, from crystal-clear gurgling rivers to forests too dense for the sunlight to penetrate. It makes for an experience of a lifetime.

LAND OF PAGODAS

Our journey began in Namsai in eastern Arunachal Pradesh, a 120-kilometre drive from Dibrugarh Airport in neighbouring Assam (Arunachal Pradesh doesn’t have operational airports). Home to the Tai Khamti and Singpho tribes, Namsai is located close to Nao Dihing River. Relaxing at Arun Jivitta Hotel, we indulged in some delicious dishes of Khamti cuisine —shutki maach (a Bengal-inspired dried fish dish), shredded koi boyle (banana stem), and black rice kheer (milk and jaggery pudding). At the hotel’s bar, we tried ZumZin Peach Wine, a product of Bhutan. Tart, yet pleasant on the palate.

Sunsets in Arunachal are at 5:30 pm and sunrises at 4:45 am, giving the body clock a jolt. An hour after sunrise the next morning, we drove to Kongmu Kham, also known as Golden Pagoda. The serenity of the place was enhanced by the calm of the early morning, broken only by the swishing sounds made by temple keepers sweeping the steps. The best time to visit the temple is during the Kathina Festival, a Buddhist festival that falls at the end of Vassa, the annual, three-month monsoon retreat. The multitude of monasteries —Namsai, Momong, Chongkham Buddha Vihara, World Peace Pagoda, and Empong Monastery —lend Namsai the epithet ‘Land of Pagodas.’ If you wish to spend some time here, download the My Namsai app for reliable information on tourism hotspots in the area.

STORIED FRONTIERS

Arunachal Pradesh shares borders with Bhutan, Myanmar, and China. I visited two of these international border sites. The first was the Pangsau Pass (in Changlang district), located at an altitude of 1,136 metres in the Patkai Hills on the India-Myanmar border. It was called Hell’s Pass during World War II due to its dangerous terrain. But I found myself enjoying the uphill drive; the scenery improves incredibly with each hairpin bend. Far from being grandiose like the India-Pakistan border at Wagah, this is a barbed-wire fence across which a few rows of wooden structures are built on an elevated base. People from both sides of the border come here on specific days of the week for what we are told is a lively marketplace. Unfortunately, the pandemic has shut this practice down temporarily. From the border viewpoint, we spotted the ‘Lake of No Return,’ in whose waters several allied planes are believed to have perished during WWII.

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