A travel guide to backpacking in The Shangri-La of North East India – Arunachal Pradesh. A guide for those who are interested to explore the unexplored and untouched Arunachal Pradesh.
Backpacking in Arunachal Pradesh Part I
Arunachal Pradesh- a remote state in the far northeastern corner of India, nestled under the mighty Himalayas, the land which welcomes the Sun on Indian soil.
Despite being far from the center of the Indian mainland, poor infrastructure and permit procedure being home of 26 tribes and 110 subtribes nestled between dawn-lit mountains, Arunachal Pradesh offers you perfect photographer delight locations.
Despite offering so many things which anyone as a tourist wishes to see, Arunachal Pradesh left in deep ignorance by local and foreign tourist there are numerous reasons behind such rude ignorance, such as lack of information about the state, annoying permit procedure (at least it seems when one is reading from home and yes obviously for foreigner tourist its quite pesky), lack of development programs are some of the key reason.
However, thus this allows spent some time with your soul believe me if you ever wish to spend some moments with you your soul, away from megacities honking, rush and work overload, Arunachal Pradesh is one of that place that you are looking for.
But, but everything has its downside, on the downside, you won’t find much information or I would say satisfactory information and which lead you to more confusion!
And that’s the point of time this article came into the picture!
This article will try to answer all the bumping question you have in your mind, regarding perfect backpacking in Arunachal. However, if you wish to read more about Don’ts about Arunachal Pradesh there is a separate article for this sole purpose here Things NOT to do in Arunachal Pradesh.
However, as a disclaimer before the show I would say that this article doesn’t cover entire Arunachal, you will need to spend hell lot of time for this, however it will surely guide you in setting up a “common tourist plan” for Arunachal plus it’s a common-sense thing how can I put entire Arunachal in just one article that would be rude with Arunachal isn’t it?
Every good plan has a source and a destination, so the first you need to find is where in Arunachal? Where you like to go in Arunachal in addition to that since Arunachal needs permit thus you need to specify the places, it is important to note that you are only allowed to go to the place that you have specified in the permit.
The entire area of 83,743 sq Km of Arunachal is divided into 12 tourist circuits, and every circuit provides different ethnic groups, topography, and vegetation, from Evergreen Sub-tropical forest to Alpine you would find everything in between in Arunachal Pradesh. These tourist circuits are namely,
- Tezpur (Assam) – Bhalukpong – Bomdila – Tawang
- Itanagar – Ziro – Daporijo – Aalo (Along) – Pasighat
- Pasighat – Jengging – Yingkiong – Tuting
- Tinsukia – Tezu – Hayuliang
- Margherita – Miao – Namdhapa – Vijoynagar
- Roing – Mayudia – Anini
- Tezpur (Assam) – Sejiosa – Bhalukpong
- Ziro – Palin – Nyapin – Sangram – Koloriang
- Doimukh – Sagalee – Pake Kessang – Seppa
- Aalo – Mechukha (Menchukha)
- Daporijo – Taliha – Siyum – Nacho
- Jairampur – Manmao – Nampong – Pangsau Pass
You can also check more about these routes on Arunachal Pradesh’s Offical Tourism Website, there is sufficient information to give you a kick start about your plan.
Here is fifteen days route backpacking in Arunachal Pradesh
Here is the route which we have followed in Arunachal Pradesh during our 15 days trip, we used only public transport for moving one place to another, however, we had few friends there in cities like Aalo, Pasighat, and Itanagar so. we had the privilege of strolling around the city with them in their vehicles. Big thank you to all my friends there! We began our journey from Dibrugarh and ended up in Guwahati. Here is our route map.
Fun Fact:Though this isn’t the actual plan, this is a sort of modified actual plan due to our inexperience with Arunachal, in our actual plan we have added Yingkiong as well but we were in short of time, so we kept Yingkiong for next trip.
Well, it’s up to you when you would like to go and for what you are going? The ideal time to visit the state in March and April or October and November.
Apart from that, it depends on you, like if you’re looking for snow then November to March-April is the best time to go you’ll get snow in upper reaches like Tawang, Menchukha, Anini. But if you love rain May can be a good time we went in May and we were pelted by the gross amount of heavy rains.
Monsoon begins in the first week of June and runs up to September and even if you love rain, we would recommend you not to go there during Monsoon since entire North East is prone to heavy rainfall, floods, and landslides.
Before applying for permits, one should figure out where he needs to travel in Arunachal, but if you can’t then you have an option of Select All (grin). There are two kinds of permits for tourists:
Protected Area Permit (PAP):PAP is required for the foreign travelers, it is valid up to 10 days with an extension of 7 days. It will cost $30 which is equivalent to Rs. 2140 (at the time of writing this article).
There are exceptions for the tourists from Pakistan, Bangladesh, China and Burma (Myanmar) the request for tourists from these countries will be processed only after the Ministry of Home Affairs approval.
You can request for PAPhere.
Inner Line Permit (ILP):ILP is required for Indian citizens, there are two ways to obtain an ILP either by online or through the nearest office. It will cost Rs. 100 and Rs.400 if you wish to obtain on the same day. To apply onlineclick here.
Point to remember:Once you got the permit to make sure you have several copies of it you will need to show it on various checkpoints and in hotels for check-ins.
This article follows the destination that we have traveled during our fifteen days of the tour. Recommendations are based on our own experience and suggested by local friends.
Pasighat the oldest town settlement in Arunachal Pradesh, is a small town which also serves as the headquarter of East Siang District. Pasighat is more like a gateway to the Eastern Arunachal with undistinguished in nature, the town serves three different routes for the tourist for three different tourist circuit – Along, Yingkiong and Roing. All three routes serve delighting view for you. We went to Along from here and the entire is surrounded mountains and with the Siang flowing as your companion.
3 hours journey from Dibrugarh via Bogibeel Bridge – Sumo leaves around 5 AM and minibus will be available from 6 AM onwards – Rs. 350.
3-4 hours journey from Along - Daily Sumos at 5 AM from Sumo stand – Rs. 350.
There are several hotels of the various price range.
Hotel Siang:Perhaps one of the oldest functioning hotels in Pasighat, provides an economical stay at Rs.600 for a double bed with private toilet, it also provides a single room with a shared toilet at Rs.450.
Hotel Serene:The only three-star hotel in Pasighat near the bus stand if you prefer to lavish and comfortable stay with food, the price of accommodation is from Rs.1700 to Rs.5000.
Hotel Aane:The price of accommodation varies from Rs.800 for a single room and Rs.1100 and Rs.1500 for a double bedroom.
Raneghat Bridge:The only thing you will remember about Pasighat is Raneghat Bridge situated about 7 km outside of town in Raneghat area, Raneghat Bridge stores sublime view of the mighty Siang and the blue mountains surrounding, Raneghat lies on the junction where the straight road leads to Along, and crossing the Raneghat leads you to towards Yingkiong and Roing.
Daying Ering Wildlife Sanctuary:This sanctuary lies about 25 km from outside the town, we haven’t visited this place because in this trip Pasighat served as a stopover town for us.
There are several restaurants in Pasighat in the market area- also lookup several are on the upper floors of the buildings. An important thing to remember is the market gets close by 7.30 PM you need to adjust accordingly.
Whenever I think about Along, a peaceful and serene scenery appears in my mind, a calm town surrounded by hills all over and the Yomgo river gurgling across the town splitting the town into two halves. Aalo, (Along among Adis) doesn’t have spectacular features in it but serves a must stopover stop in en-route Menchukha, the riverside scenery will never disappoint you and serves breathtaking view in early morning and evenings. Along is a cluster of several villages because the inhabitant Galo community always lives in a cluster over a place. There are several villages along with rice paddies (Paata in Galo) which one should visit while in Along such Darka, Kamba. The life of Along will surely help you to forget all your stress.
3-4 hours journey from Pasighat – Sumo leaves around 5 AM– Rs. 400.
8 hours journey from Menchukha- Daily Sumos at 5 AM from Sumo stand – Rs. 500.
Note: There are two more routes for reaching Along one by via Silapathar and Basar. One via Daporijo, at the time of writing this article these routes are mainly closed due to ongoing road cutting work. The route from Silapathar connects Dibrugarh with Along. While route via Daporijo connects Itanagar with Along. Due to the ongoing work, if anyone wishes to go to Itanagar he needs to check Along Pasighat route via Lakhimpur.
There are several hotels of the various price range
Hotel Toshi:Rs.600 for a double bed with private toilet also has a restaurant for eateries in Sipu Colony across from bus stand.
Hotel Aalo:Rs.800 for a double bed with private toilet across the bus stand.
Cozy Resort:This resort is located at the confluence of Sipu River and Yomgo river, which provides a breathtaking view of nature especially in the early morning and evening hours, during the vacation time which (April to June) this place is one of the favorite places for partying among locals.
Darka Village:This village is situated about 7 KM from the main town is the largest village in West Siang district. Darka is one of the places which is famous for the agricultural festival of Mopin. The village gets nurtured by Sipu, Hiri and Hisum Rivers which flows through the village and the lush greenery bestows the mesmerizing view. The preferred time to visit this place is April during the Mopin festival which is celebrated on 5th and 6th April.
Patum Bridge:One of the major tourist attraction in Along though because of some neat construction this is the first cable bridge which was constructed around 1997, it gives an alluring view of the mountains. The bridge is 7 km away from Along and connects Patum from Pessing. One can see this bridge as coming from Pasighat as he enters Pessing.
Donyi Polo Temple:If you are interested to know more about the inhabitant tribe the Galo then you should pay a visit to this temple is also at a walkable distance from the bus stand but to understand the rituals and customs of Galo you should go on Sunday prayers or during Mopin festival.
No Tension Point:A point that comes to enroute Darka from Along is locally known as “no tension point”. The place provides a surreal view of Along town one can see entire Along town from this point. Apart from these, there are many villages around along where one should go when he is Along, such as Kamba, Kabu Maasi(Masw) you will get nothing new but nature has enough to mesmerize you. There are hanging bridge almost in every village you go in Along one should try to cross these bridge.
There are several restaurants in Along in the marketarea one of the best however we haven’t tried much apart from that is the rooftop restaurant in Hotel Toshi. The other places like CT Restaurant, Chakraborty Hotel, and Hungry Hut are among the famous places among the localities.
Magnificient Menchukha surrounded by mighty peaks asking you to scale and at the same thing horrifying by the lush green jungles and deep gorges certainly the best place we have visited in our tour is Majestic Mechukha, if Arunachal is known as the Switzerland of North East then certainly Mechukha is known as the Switzerland of Arunachal a place which certainly fits in the description of Shangri La. Entire town is surrounded by mighty peaks capped with snow. You will surely experience a different life in Mechukha close to nature far from the rush.
8 hours journey from Along– Sumo leaves around 5.30 AM– Rs. 500.
Note:Book your seat before it sumo gets full. Along serves as the main market of Mechukha so there are chances that sumo fills quickly due to pre-bookings.
There are several homestays in Mechukha
Almost Heritage:Rs.800 for a single bed with shared squat toilet (however well maintained) and Rs.1200 for a double bed with a television and private toilet. Value for money homestay in Mechukha the hosts are very friendly.
Potala Homestay:Rs.800 for a double with private toilet, on the main road across from town.
Grace Homestay:Rs.800 for a single bed and Rs.1200 for double bed with private toilet.
When we were in Mechukha there was incessant rain and hadn’t stopped until we left, but it is a perfect place to trek trails are leading to the hills are easy to spot just choose your favorite direction and start walking.
New Gompa:situated over a small hill and not too far from the main market is a must-visit place here in Menchukha serves a beautiful view of the city.
There is another gompa which about 8 km from the main market known as Old Gompa we had the plan to visit there but we weren’t allowed to visit due to incessant rains. Surely is on the cards when we visit next time.
You should climb Mechukha hill to see the birds-eye view of the town we had the plan but it was advised to trek it only in winters. There will be snakes and wild grass all over the hill during the monsoon season.
On an average, you will need three to four days to see all the tourist attraction of Mechukha as claimed by a co-passenger when we were going to Mechukha he was posted there and possess a good knowledge about Mechukha. We are quite thankful to him for guidance.
Dorjelling:A village which is 6 km North of Mechukha there are two ways to go there you can trek a hill to go there which most of the local people do or you can go by 8.5 km road recently constructed under PMGSY. There is a hanging bridge over the river you should take a walk to feel the real fear the bridge is broken but still used by the locals. There is a gompa as said by a local but we didn’t go there again heavy incessant rains.
Note:Mechukha is famous for three things: snow, rain, and fire. During winters mainly from November end to February or sometimes early March there will be snow, from May to September there will be heavy incessant rains and during the break, ie., September end to November there will be fire when the grass dries. The ideal time to visit Mechukha is in either during winters when several sports activities are also organized or in March and April.
The homestays in Mechukha are perhaps the best place to eat in Mechukha, they provide delicious veg and non-veg food for breakfast and dinner. Our homestay charged Rs.130 for veg thali with plenty of refills.
There are other nondescript restaurants in the main market one of such restaurant is exactly opposite of the sumo stand.
The Capital city of Arunachal Pradesh, is different from the rest of Arunachal there is crowd (as compared to Arunachal), nondescript but yet has few things for the first time visit. After the plains of Assam, you will come to Itanagar kind of a gateway to the mountains of Arunachal Pradesh. We stayed 2 days here basically we were here to meet our friends who helped us a lot during our rest of the trip.
8 hours from Along (we came from Along here)
If are about start your trip from Itanagar then there is a direct train from Guwahati (Donyi Polo Express) also there is a Rajdhani Express from New Delhi which will take approx. 40 hours. The preferred way is by flight arrive in Guwahati and then catch the Donyi Polo Express. The train will drop you at Naharlagun a town which is 15 km away from Itanagar.
Alternatively, you can have cabs which will take 10-12 hours from Guwahati.
Note:Naharlagun can be a good alternative to stay if you can’t find a way in Itanagar.
We stayed at Naharlagun so we can help you with the hotels which are there in Naharlagun.
Hotel Arunachal:A good hotel in budget off to the sumo stand, Rs.700 for a single bed and private toilet.
Hotel Chandani:Provides double bed with private toilet for Rs.1000.
Gompa:sits at top of the hill is a peaceful place where you can try to get inner peace away from the rush by doing meditation.
If you like to dig deeper and about Arunachal, this museum can be your starter pack. You will find interesting you are interested to know about state, culture and the people of Arunachal. People like me certainly ready to go there.
Ganga Lake:Locally known as (Gekar Sinyi) is a must-visit place if you are in Itanagar it is a personal favorite place of Itanagar the morning and evening provide you mesmerizing view.
Ita Fort: I would say the ruins of Ita Fort after which the city is named, situated at the hill is also a place you would to go just for a picnic and do some photography there is nothing much there but you can catch bird eye view of the entire city.
Hotel Mahalaxmi:provides perhaps serves the best food in the nearby area of sumo counter in Naharlagun, from a range of north cuisines to the south cuisines.
There are also nondescript restaurants and food points in Itanagar where you can have momos Chowmein and other cuisines.
Well, it’s hard to figure what would be the cost of your backpacking in Arunachal Pradesh though we have spent approx. Rs.18000 (Rs.9000 per person) for our 15 days tour (excluding the train tickets to reach Dibrugarh.
I will write a detailed journal of our Arunachal expedition hopefully soon!
Budget accommodation tip:
There are several government circuit houses especially you will find in every district and tourist circuits are the best budget accommodation. However, the bookings are subject to the cancellation when there is a scheduled visit of government officials, these visits are frequent by the way.
- Flashlights or headlamps: to deal with power cuts!
- Socks: You are in mountains you can’t expect them to be hot.
- Rain covers for backpacks: Rain is a busy customer in Arunachal Pradesh you have to be prepared of it.
- Water Bottles: Not the plastic ones, like a good traveler say no to plastic and keep Arunachal clean!
- Power Bank (Portable battery pack): You can’t expect 24/7 power in mountains.
- Insect repellent: Odomos for mosquitos, salt for leech: Trust me you’ll need these things.
- Medicines: Especially for cold and cough you can’t keep yourself away for too long from cold here.
There is much more to write about Arunachal Pradesh which will help you a lot while planning a visit but it would be wise to split a little bit. Probably it will take another couple of articles to finish off the backpacking series. Stay tuned for more!