Saturday, September 19, 2009

Tuting on Two Wheels: Aalo to Komkar

The next morning, before the sunrise, and after a dozen or so kicks of the starter, we were off. As luck would have it, there was a light drizzle and the sky was very gloomy. We rode for about half an hour before the sun came out and the view simply took our breath away. The drizzle had freshened up the foliage of the forests and they were a sparkling green. On our left the Siang accompanied us like an emerald green snake its broad expanse broken intermittently by rocky outcrops. It was then the thrill of the adventure gripped us. Even our rusty bike seemed to have sensed the moment and was flying along the road.

Now as I put pen to paper, I shudder at our foolhardiness. We were traveling in a remote region on an unknown bike with no spares, spare tyre or tube and half a bottle of water between the two of us. Mobile phones don’t work along that highway and had we faced a flat tyre or mechanical failure we would have been at God’s mercy. In the two days that we traveled we did not cross a single vehicle capable of carrying our bike in case of any such problem. But that is now. There and then as we moved along the road amidst pineapple and orange orchards and beautiful terraced fields the only thought was of absorbing the natural beauty around us and the next stop for a cup of tea.

A beautiful surprise awaited us at Panging village! As we turned the last corner into Panging, the valley suddenly opened up and we realized that the river we had been following was not actually the Siang but only a tributary. Our first view of this majestic river which is called the Brahmaputra in Assam was a revelation. Sparkling green from the now bright sun it roared its way below the road and the tributary paled into insignificance just as the moon melts away with the arrival of the sun. At Panging we crossed the first of the rickety bailey bridges which bridge the river at three points on the road. Our definition of rickety was to change spectacularly later in the day. Panging is also the point at which we leave West Siang District and enter East Siang. In fact the road splits here with one curling away to the right to Pasighat. After Panging, the road began a steady climb and soon the river became a green ribbon below us. The forests became very thick interrupted by clusters of bamboo. These forests seemed to be under private ownership as we saw many areas fenced in.

Although we crossed several beautiful villages there was no place that served a cup of tea. The cold and the damp soon chilled us and we became desperate for a hot cup of tea and breakfast. It was a good two hours before we reached Boleng where an old lady ran a tea shop. Our breakfast consisted of two mathris and a cup of sweet tea. Boleng seemed to be quite a big place as it also had the only fuel depot between Aalong and Yingkiong. 

The road from Boleng was a gentle gradient till we began to descend into Dite Dime or popularly known as ‘65’ as it was sixty five kilometers from Aalong. Curiously we found that people in Yingkiong too called it ‘65’ and insisted that it was sixty five kilometers from Yingkiong too. Since the total distance between Aalong and Yingkiong was 120 km, I just couldn’t work out the mathematics of that one.

Dite Dime must be one of the most beautiful villages in the world. Dominated by orange and pineapple orchards on mountain slopes on one side of the road, the other slope was gently terraced down to the river. Little chang ghars (houses on stilts) dotted the fields. These are used only during the paddy season as it brought the family closer to their fields. Just the ideal place for a summer holiday home with pork and apong in abundance.

Dite Dime is also the place where the road again splits. Taking a right over another shaky bailey bridge leads to Yingkiong and the straight road on the left bank of the Siang goes to Tuting. As we had planned to go to Tuting via Yingkiong we crossed the river on to its right bank. The true majesty and beauty of the river can actually be experienced only on these crossings as we can see along the entire length of the river.

At Dite Dime we enter Upper Siang District and the road begins a steady climb upwards. Its condition also worsens and landslide prone areas become quite common. At many places the gradient and the condition of the road compel us to dismount and push the bike. We take these as opportunities to stretch our legs and take some photographs but we can now sense that, after the initial excitement had abated, the going was getting tough. The two roads, on the left bank to Tuting and on the right bank to Yingkiong, run parallel for a few kilometers and we could see that the Tuting road had more habitation. It could also be a case of the grass being greener on the other side as by this time we are once again desperate for a cup of tea. We cross Geku which seems to be some sort of a Government headquarter with offices and shops, but we could not find any tea shop or hotel on the road. Deciding against going into the town we ride on.

Upper Siang is topographically different to the West and East Siang. The gradient of the slopes are steeper and the forests denser. We meet several groups of men armed with antique rifles and guns and it was obvious that they were hunting parties. Hunting is a fairly common practice even now in these areas and this has resulted in the depletion of several species despite favorable habitats. Forest produce forms a very important component of the household income with bamboo being the most commonly used produce. The tribe inhabiting this region are called the Miyongs and they are a part of the Adi group of tribes. The ‘Kebangs’ or village councils are famous administrative units and the Panchayats of Northern India can be compared to them.

It is past noon by the time we come to Komkar and we are now anxious to reach Yingkiong as, in the mountains, the weather is always tricky after noon. As we near Yingkiong there is a stretch of road which is not only damaged by landslides but also very steep. There are also increasing signs of human habitation and for the first time in the day a couple of vehicles cross us. Even from a moving bike I can discern that same bewildered expression we were met with in Aalong.

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