With its high-altitude mountain passes, snow-clad peaks, mighty rivers and untamed forest reserves, this remote Himalayan region in Northeast India remain largely unexplored. Travelling in this wilderness offers a chance to get close to nature’s most stunning offerings and experience the unique culture of the state’s many tribes.
While the region is awe-inspiring, the infrastructure has a long way to go. Travel here can be gruelling, and a little preparation goes a long way. Hence as two women, we had our initial apprehensions about travel in the far-flung region. However, we comfortably travelled through Bomdila, Tawang, and Dirang in Western Arunachal, and came away with key insights to keep in mind when planning a trip.
Planning the trip
Homestays are a great way to experience local culture. As accommodation options are limited, it is best to book well in advance. If you’re travelling in a group, it makes sense to hire an off-road vehicle for the duration of your trip. For solo travellers, this can be expensive. Shared transport is common, with daily jeeps departing to major destinations every morning. Remember that you need special Inner Line Permits to travel in the state, and keep these handy near state borders.
Driving on mountainous terrain is time consuming. Couple that with unpredictable weather and undeveloped roads, and it means that distances take much longer than usual to cover. A distance of under 200 kilometres could take up to 10 hours. Get an early morning start to make the most of daylight hours, as it’s unadvisable to drive after dark. Be well prepared with snacks, water and medicines, as shops and tea stalls are few and far between.
One thing we loved was that was no crowd. Arunachal Pradesh is among India’s least densely populated regions. Arriving from a crowded metro city with choked roads, the lack of people was absolutely welcoming and we stopped often to take in the incredible surrounds without too many people around.
Welcoming and safe atmosphere
Bomdila is a lively town, drawing students from across the region to the government college. The sun sets early, but it’s common to see women out on the streets well after dark. I took my cue from them and explored my neighbourhood on foot, and felt comfortable walking back to my guesthouse after sundown.
Early risers are early sleepers
Arunachal sits on the easternmost periphery of India, meaning the sun rises and sets much earlier than in the rest of the country. This is a crucial element to keep in mind while planning your days, as options are limited after dark. Rise early, pack in your sightseeing, and get an early dinner. Chances of finding a restaurant open after 9pm are slim. Avoid being out once the shops have their shutters down – you’ll have nothing to do anyway.
Women in society
Driving from Bomdila to Tawang, where roadworks are continually in progress, I noticed the labour force comprised mainly women. They carried heavy equipment, lay tar, and operated machinery, often with babies tied to their backs. In the towns, shops, restaurants, and even liquor stores, are mostly operated by women.