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Arunachal: India's 'Land of Rising Sun' that borders three countries

Tawang on the western part of the border has some of the most spectacular sights in the state -- the Sela Lake accessed by hair-raising, winding roads; the surreal Sengaster Lake, made famous by the shooting of Bollywood film 'Koyla', and the Jang Falls -- plunging 100 metres

Nirupama Sekhri May 25, 2022
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NH 13 is part of the Trans-Arunachal Highway network, 1,559 km in length connecting Wakro in the east to Tawang in the west(left). Part of Theravada Buddhist gompa in Rima village built by Burmese artisans(middle). An imposing statue of Jetsun Dolma (Tara Devi) close to the Bhutan border(right)

Although the term is instantly associated with Japan, in India, Arunachal literally means that – Land of the Rising Sun! It is here that the sun shines first on Indian soil, before moving westwards and setting nearly one-and-a-half time zones away. It is India's biggest state in India's northeast -- nestled among the grand Himalayas, awash with cascading waterfalls and serpentine rivers – and an incredibly serene one. 

So peaceful, in fact, that one forgets that it touches the maximum number of international borders among all Indian states -- Myanmar, China, China's Tibet Autonomous Region and Bhutan. This also results in a very heavy military presence, particularly along the border with China. One is never too far from army camps; olive-green trucks and jeeps are a common sight on the excellent roads built by the BRO (Border Roads Organisation) -- a military offshoot. 

And yet, there is no visible tension and life laps calmly along like the lush, verdant nature that is characteristic of the place. 

In the eastern part of Arunachal is the Pangsau Pass, across which lies Myanmar. Up until this year, joint markets across the border used to be held with an easy come and go for residents of both countries. In January every year, there used to be a popular three-day winter festival in which singers and dancers from across the border performed and there would be a well-attended celebration of culture and cuisines –stretching a few kilometres inside Arunachal! This came to a halt due to Covid-19, and consequently, the February 2021 political turmoil in Myanmar. 

Buddhist influence 

In addition, traditional Theravada Buddhist Burmese craftsmen have been welcomed and stay for years in villages where Buddhist gompas (temples) are built, like in Rima which lies on the eastern border of the long-disputed Macmohan Line with China.  

Others, like the village of Aguhomo which one can access after an arduous four-hour drive over the rough and unpaved track cutting through the Namdapha National Park track, have only been at the receiving end of road connectivity around six months ago. Even last year, villagers from here would trek for seven days for any necessary purchases from Miao, the closest town. And Aguhomo isn’t even the remotest, farthest village on the map of Arunachal! They are keen to get connected and engage animatedly with visitors. 

More touristic-oriented towns include the beautiful Mechuka, an exquisite valley in the southeast part of the state. The word Mechuka means ‘the land blessed with medicinal snow-fed water’, and besides its Swiss-like natural beauty supported by excellent homestay options, it is also being promoted as a hub for adventure tourism, and features India’s longest (900m) zipline. 

Picturesque state 

Meanwhile, Tawang on the western part of the border has some of the most spectacular sights in the state -- the Sela Lake accessed by hair-raising, winding roads; the surreal Sengaster Lake, made famous by the shooting of Bollywood film 'Koyla', and the Jang Falls -- plunging 100 metres. 

One of the biggest draws of the state is definitely the local people, who are really warm, friendly and welcoming. They follow a range of distinct and diverse cultural practices that are fascinating and impressive for visitors to encounter. They are proud of their beautiful state and are gearing up for a rising number of cultural and adventure visitors. 

How to reach: Arunachal capital Itanagar is accessible through Dibrugarh and Guwahati airports in Assam from New Delhi, Mumbai or Kolkata. Travel within the state is best on private / hired vehicles. For security reasons, an Inner Line Permit is required to travel within the state, which can be got online at arunachaltourism.com)

(The author recently traveled through Arunachal Pradesh on the Trans-Arunachal Drive by Arunachal Tourism and Mahindra Motors. She can be contacted at sekhrin@gmail.com) 

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