If you fall asleep through your journey, long enough, to wake up in Mechuka, missing the road signs that give you a reality check, you may have to pinch yourself, and yet the valley may seem unreal.
Come get giddy in Mechuka.
From a complete shift in architectural pattern, with wood replacing brick and mortar and herds of stray horses interrupting your path or seen grazing at a distance, replacing the usual cow herds seen on Indian roads, you slowly tend to relate to the deep-rooted Tibetan influence that you have read online about.
It is not every day that you get to visit a geographic location that remains cut off from the rest of civilisation for half the year due to the lack of a motorable land. In November nature allows you enter Dambuk and use the dry river bed as a road. So, are you going to decline nature's invitation?
Day 1 : A train ride
The journey begins with a train ride. Oh, what fun it is to break the ice while sitting in the comfort of your 2 tier AC train commuting for less than 12 hours. The best thing about this train ride is that it gives travellers enough time to know each other before the road trip starts. We love train journeys and hope you will enjoy it as much as we do.
The trip requires you to reach Kamakhya railway station by 7 pm. The train departs from Kamakhya station at 8:30 pm and reaches Murkongselek at 7:45 am.
Day 2 : Bumpy roads and lot of pit stops later
Yes, we are not in Arunachal Pradesh yet. That state is far. That is the fun part, isn't it? But you don't have to wait any longer. After a few photos inside the train with our chai, we step out to be greeted by a friendly driver Rishi da. His Scorpio/Bolero will be our companion for the next 8 days.
A drive of approximately 6 to 7 hours with many deserving punctuations will lead us to the first stop and the first homestay of the tour-Reyi Homestay in Along. Our aim is to only reach the homestay for a simple dinner and some tasty ash rice beer!
Along the way to "Along"(name of the first town we layover before heading to Mechuka), we will see the landscapes change from lush paddy fields to rugged mountains. The temperatures are going to be on the warmer side so far but that will change soon.
Tonight we sleep early because the longest part of the journey awaits us tomorrow!
Day 3 : A day of transitions and end of long drives, for now
The view is stunning from the porch of this traditional and modern cross of a house. Acres of paddy fields. Rows of orange trees. A couple of ponds that appear like beauty spots on the lush vista. The constant gurgling sound of a stream running along the length of the house.
Yes, you want to take time to take all these in. But time is less. Only for those whose bodies haven't adjusted to the new clock. The Northeast India clock is a different deal altogether. More details on this once you are on the trip. For now, the tea is getting cold, we need to make a move.
If we manage to leave by 7 am then we would have had a decent start.
After a 2 hour drive, its time for the actual breakfast and loads of stops, keeping in mind that the drive with only 2 stipulated pitstops takes about 8 hours.
No one can get a grip on the weather in Arunachal in general, so if it rains then we have to alter the drive schedules accordingly. Ah, so much excitement and unpredictability already.
If you don't like the sound of it, then you should probably not check what happens the next day.
Day 4 : The day you sigh from atop the 'Mechuka La'
Last night you were a little tired because despite best attempts we couldn't enter Mechuka before dark. But hey that's alright since we will be taking the same route on our way back 3 days later, so you are didn't miss out on anything. And you cherished the drive up till that point anyway, so all is well.
If you liked last night's butter tea then the same shall be had now for breakfast. You met the hosts of the homestay last night remember? We sat around the kitchen fire greeted the family members before we broke into our rooms and some pulled out a few cans of beer. Oh, by the way, May is definitely a good time to carry a few around and guzzle one at one of the viewpoints.
You also go to know by now that we have no restrictions as such, apart from knowing that we get good people who are smart adults making conscious choices. As discussed yesterday today we hike! Yay!
We will almost walk the length of Mechuka town but at a higher elevation which will give us almost bird-like views of the inhabited land. It will be long, hence lunch will be had when we find the best viewpoint to aid in building an appetite.
Specific brief about how to prepare for this day hike will be shared when you sign up. Don't worry.
It's going to be handy to keep the cameras charged since we may lose count of the number of photographs we click.
By evening we should be back at the homestay or just loiter around Mechuka town.
Day 5 : The day we use the car more than our legs
You have worked hard so far. Let us give you some time to sleep a little late today. You can stay in bed till 8 30 am. That according to the rest of the country's time would be around 10 am. Good enough?
So when we meet for breakfast which shall be served around 8 am, the ones who wake up late can still have it until 9 am. Why these rules? Feels like boot camp is it? Well, it is still a pretty chilled out one, so you can bare with a few timelines here and there no.
Today's agenda is to have the langar at the Gurudwara because it is lovely. This will take us about an hour's drive from town. From an elevation of about 6600 feet, we will be driving up to 7600 feet and eventually to the last civilian point at the Yarlung military camp.
Wait but why does Mechuka in one corner of Arunachal Pradesh have a Gurudwara? This and more such intriguing stories will grapple us when we visit the Taposthan opposite to the location of the Gurudwara.
Apart from a lovely riverside location, the Taposthan has s giant rock which has a split and we try and pass through that. Sinners obviously get stuck. Says the legend.
At the Yarlung check-post, we can chit chat with the jawans and the junior officers of the Indian army who have a few interesting stories of their own.
The old Gompa, that is 400 years has always eluded a lot of the travellers so we aren't putting it on the agenda but we'll see how it goes this time. The curse of the planned itinerary is hence withdrawn.
This is the day we use the car at our disposal.
Day 6 : The day we hike bearing gifts for the shepherd
Another hike today! How's the body and the mind feeling now, eh? It better be good because Darjeeling which is our first village pitstop before hiking to the shepherd's hut in Rinjinling is a beauty and your mind needs to clear to be absorbing the positive energy.
We should definitely pull over by the riverside and dip our feet in the waters and it would be a good time to invest some energy in wild berry plucking. It's very addictive to pluck one and put it straight in your mouth and the worst part is that you keep eating them as you collect them and eventually you have none to show. After this distraction, we are again set on our path hike up the trail where the end of the upwards hike sees us entering one of those "Vs" mountains have. Only then do we get to see a different side of the hill and one that definitely should make us feel like we have gone a level up in the game.
We shall obviously handover the gifts we brought for Doge Philley the shepherd. It would be nice if he is free to sit with us for a cup of his special ghee chai. It's not going to be very nippy but it will be pleasant with a hint of chill in the air. So the ghee chai will be perfect.
His hut in this obscurely lush grazing paradise is like travelling in a time machine and visiting a place at the confluence of the changing times, changing governments and flexible identities.
We shall have a light lunch in that hut, perhaps time to cut open that packet of Maggi?
Day 7 : The day it was about stopping over at Along
Did we sleep last night? It's time to bid goodbye. Your new family will miss you. You should ideally not want to leave but a family bound by blood waits back home. Perhaps a job as well that lets you fund the wanderlust waits too.
But let's not get too soggy already. Remember we had driven into Mechuka in darkness? Now we drive out in broad daylight. Delaying this beyond 10 am won't be recommended.
We are on course to break the journey at the same homestay in Along. By now you know that Along is the district headquarter of the West Siang district. People of the Galo (tribe) inhabit the town and our homestay hosts are very keen on fitness. Let's look out and admire the landscapes on this drive. A rest day at Along is all this night is about. B