Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Riding High in the Low Country - II

Bellies full and warmed up we make our way up towards Nechiphu (5,694 feet), which is the highest point between Bhalukpong and Tenga. This part of the state is inhabited by the Aka tribe, who are relatively backward as compared to other tribes of the region. Dwellings are usually bamboo huts on stilts and the Akas still maintain their animist traditions. The forests around us abound with wild bananas on which the Akas depend for cash income. Nechiphu is a misty place with a few scattered huts where vehicles stop in case the visibility is very poor, which is often the case. At Nechiphu the road splits, one heading towards Seppa, the district HQ of East Kameng district. This is one of the least explored regions of the state and even inhabitants of other districts prefer to avoid it. Making a mental note for a future visit we drive on to New Kaspi where, apart from a Nag Mandir, there are also few dhabas where one can tuck into some hot food. From here onwards the road begins its descent into the beautiful valley of the River Tenga.

Tenga itself is a small town, catering mostly to the Army as the 5th Mountain Division or the Ball of Fire Division of the Indian Army is headquartered here. There is a proposed highway from Tenga to Kamengbari in Assam, which would vastly reduce the journey time to Bomdila, but the construction of this road is being opposed by the State Forest Department as it would have to be built through virgin forests cutting across the Eagle’s Nest Sanctuary, which is a high altitude biodiversity hotspot. Incidentally there is also a trek route from Sessa to Eagle’s Nest. The Tenga Valley is home to the Buguns, one of the smaller tribes of the state. The road moves alongside the river for a while and just beyond the Army installations the road splits into two with one going towards Bomdila and the other towards Rupa. Rupa is another beautiful river valley and beyond Rupa lies an area rich in horticulture potential and, if local lore is to be believed, it has some great fishing sites. This road ultimately goes on to enter Assam near Mazbat. Rupa is home to the Sherdukpen tribe, who are nomads by tradition and once had the practice of migrating to the foothills of Assam for trade during the winters. There is also a Tibetan settlement on the Rupa – Mazbat Road which houses a Tibetan University.

We move on forward on the Bomdila road. The climb up to Bomdila is very steep. At around 12 noon we finally reach Bomdila. Although the town, with its myriad shops looks very interesting, we decide to move on to Dirang as we have planned to spend a day at Bomdila on the return journey. There are small camps at short distances on the highway, which house the road building gangs. These are named after the leader of the camp so we cross several camps with names like Rama Camp, Munna Camp etc.

We gradually begin our descent into the Dirang Valley, possibly the most beautiful area in the whole of Arunachal. The road is quite bad compared to the one that brought us to Bomdila. The hillsides are bare and denuded and landslides seemed to be occurring quite frequently going by the tell tale signs on the road. Around 10 kilometres from Bomdila, the road splits with one road going to the right towards Nafra, the home of the Miji tribe. We get to know from the locals that there is an ancient graveyard in Nafra and that there also some unexplored caves.

The first thing you notice when you enter the Valley is the wind. It is shaped like a funnel and this makes it a very windy place. There is a constant wind blowing throughout the day and this makes the place quite chilly despite it not being at a very high altitude. There are two Dirangs – one is the village itself and other is Dirang Basti, which is around 20 km short of the village. The basti houses the remains of the Dirang Dzong, built around 500 years ago. Dzong, is a Tibetan term which loosely translates to ‘fort’. In ancient times, this region was under the administrative control of the Kings of Tibet and Dirang was an administrative headquarters where tax collectors would come from Tibet to collect taxes. Squatters now occupy the Dzong although our driver tells us that the Govt. has recently decided to renovate it and develop it as a tourist attraction. He takes us inside, which is quite unkempt, dirty and completely in ruins and points to show us a couple of cells which were used to house prisoners. Seems people didn’t like paying taxes even in those days.

Will continue later.........

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