Let’s face it, one of the most overrated terms in the travel industry is ‘offbeat’. We are all looking for offbeat experiences, offbeat Goa ideas, offbeat and unexplored local restaurants. I have also been a victim of this, in my pursue of offbeat travels.

Until my very recent visit to Arunachal Pradesh, I realised that I didn’t quite do justice to this word. And now once I am back after having spent 18 days in the land of the rising sun, I know that I cannot look at a map the same way.

Have you ever stared at the names on a map and wanted to lose yourself in each one of them? I have. I love maps and before every travel, I spend a lot of time in understanding the geography. Yet, in Arunachal, there were places that the map didn’t indicate and my vocabulary didn’t know they existed. And when I set a foot in these places, I understood that reality is limited by what we know.

Hues of Tirap.
Hues of Tirap.

Curiosity is instinctive in all of us

Human beings are curious beings (or at least, we ought to be). As I met different locals across the numerous villages in Eastern Arunachal, sure I was interested in knowing more about them, but here I noticed them to be more curious than me. Most of the time I found myself answering their inquisitive questions about my life!

In my course of interaction with them, I understood where this stemmed from. I was told, a number of times, we were the first tourists to visit their villages. This happened across hamlets and every time I was taken aback. As I continued to explore, I adapted to the comfort of being the recipient to others’ questions while encouraging curious conversations between us.

A day in the fields.
A day in the fields.

Survival is tougher than our history books

It is involving to read about the evolution and descendants of the tribes of Eastern Arunachal Pradesh, but realising how they have adapted to change across generations is a revelation. These are probably aspects that we never understood from our textbooks (and anyway, who thought history was fun in school?!) There are tribes in the state where agriculture and head hunting consisted their primary cultural practices and now because of urbanisation, the latter has been discontinued. Of course, civilised practices are the sign of any prosperous society. But how do we maintain our lineage of tradition, especially when it becomes a question of survival?

We're all speaking the same smile.
We’re all speaking the same smile.

Smile is a language

Every tribe has their own language, which is strikingly different from the other. Luckily, most of the people I met spoke Hindi and Assamese. And even though I am an inhibited speaker of the beautiful Assamese language, I did give in plenty of times; only to realise that it was not necessary.

The only greeting that works (anywhere in the world) is an honest and genuine smile. People immediately open up. I remember, the last day when I met a very interesting lady in a highland village of Changlang, we didn’t speak a common language. No sooner I saw her smile at me, as I climbed the craved wooden steps to her house, I knew we’d get along. Sometimes, words just complicate the communication.

Surrounded by inspiration.
Surrounded by inspiration.

Women are harder and tougher workers than men

This is an obvious fact. However, the colossal amount of physical work women do in the villages was a disclosure. Apart from the every day home chores, they go to the fields, cut logs of wood, ply these all the way back home through the steep slopes, host unexpected guests and weave on a regular basis. Most women here have been married at an early age and every family has three children, on an average. The men are contrastingly lazy and comfortable mono-taskers. While a man attempts to complete one task, his wife has promptly finished three! Very few women actually enjoy the luxury of choosing ‘light’ tasks. And yet, I wonder why we undermine our physical capabilities?

Money doesn’t drive us. Companionship does.

So, our car broke down, in the middle of nowhere, some six kilometres ahead of our destined village in Tirap. We had three villagers who were hitchhiking. The unbelievable support and aid we received from them left me speechless. Apart from being familiar with the know-hows of the place (read: where the driver may stand in order to get network connectivity to make the SOS call), they welcomed us to their village and helped us resolve the situation. We spent an entire day in this village, meeting people, hearing their stories, keeping ourselves warm by their kitchen fire, using their mobile phones and contacts to get in touch with the car mechanic, sipping endless cups of tea and enjoying a hot dinner. These are gestures we cannot repay with money.

I fell in love with them!
I fell in love with them!

In another incident, when we were returning from Konsa, a remote village along the Myanmar border, we were past our lunch time. The unpredictable gloomy weather and the scenic drive through the mist doesn’t make up for the starvation. En route, we stopped by the home of a BRO employee and asked him if he could guide us to some food nearby. He and his friend offered to make us Maggi noodles (which we are carrying with us) and chai. Here I spent time getting to know the two men while we collaborated in making bowls of deliciousness together. As we bid goodbye, I realised how alone they might have felt living in the middle of nowhere, away from family and loved ones. They told me how incredibly happy they were to have our company that day. May be sometimes all we want is another person’s voice reciprocating to our own.

And while I have already decided to go back and attune myself to more unknown names and places, I hope Arunachal will remain as offbeat as it is now.

I travelled to Eastern Arunachal Pradesh in the month of April with a friend. This was a self-sponsored travel and more stories coming up soon!

Will you allow Arunachal to open your mind to change?

Amrita Das

I have been a travel and culture independent journalist. My bylines have appeared in many publications worldwide including National Geographic Traveller India, Lonely Planet Magazine India, The Indian Express and World Travel Magazine. A fellow of Media Ambassadors India-Germany 2019 program by Robert Bosch Stiftung and Centre for Media Competence, University of Tübingen. Currently, I am the photo editor for RoundGlass Sustain, a wildlife and conservation e-publication. I live in India.

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15 thoughts on “Lessons From the Nowhere Land of Arunachal Pradesh”

  1. What an extraordinary land, far removed from anything we’ve known and read about. You’ve captured it beautifully, Amrita. Looking forward to more stories!

    1. It’s tough not getting overwhelmed with the stories though. Glad you liked it, Shivya :)

  2. One life and the vast land to travel. Earlier I was in hurry to travel to tour all but now I am not. Whatever I have travel I am happy with it – at least I travel. At the same time I am happy to read travel bloggers traveling where I have yet to visit. Maybe some day. Keep traveling, keep writing, keep sharing. Good photos. Cheers!!

    1. I agree Tushar. It’s better to start now than to constantly plan one. We’re all helping spread the travel love :)

  3. Very powerful read, Amrita.
    And you’ve said it in nonsense manner about the ‘offbeat’ places. :)

  4. Wonderful to read about your travels in Arunachal. As a traveler, I love interacting with locals and share thoughts about each others culture. While I am planning a trip to Arunachal this April, the internet s flooded with trips to Tawang and I was pleasantly surprised to read your post on other places in Arunachal. Could you how one can visit these places? Thanks :)

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Madhura. You will need a car (even though the roads are hardly intact) and special permissions to enter eastern Arunachal. Else consider exploring central Arunachal with Ziro, Mechuka, along Siang River. Those are especially pretty and accessible.

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