It was my first trip to the Northeast in February 2017, and immediately someone had thrown up the name Mechuka at me (Also called Menchuka). I was told by my acquaintances in Guwahati to reach Dibrugarh and then make my way to Aalo (Along) and then Mechuka. As regular readers of Travelshoebum might know, planned trips aren’t my forte and I was chilling in Ziro Valley instead.
After looking at various maps, it was understood that I would first have to reach Daporijo and then somehow get to Along (Aalo). A shared sumo ride began from Itanagar for Daporijo and Ziro (Hapoli) was a stop on the way. I bought 10 kiwis for 100 Rupees in Ziro for breakfast. The shared sumo drive was really uncomfortable, thank God for the leftover Kiwi wine for proving to be a good companion for a part of the journey. The drive was lovely and passed through wild banana plantations and orange orchards.
We began from Ziro at 10 in the morning and meandered into Daporijo town at around 5 pm. As soon as I reached, I was greeted with bad news when locals said that there was no way I could go to Along, on the next day. Daporijo is a notorious town and I could see unscrupulous elements on the road. It was already close to getting dark and I still had no idea about a safe hotel to stay for the night. A ramshackle room was found and I quickly had some dinner, which turned out to be inedible.
Daporijo is an important stop on the highway in Arunachal Pradesh and the main reason for its notorious nature was said to be the incidence of prostitution. There was a shutter which effectively sealed off entry to the hotel and I slept in peace. I made some phone calls to my contacts in the north east and it was confirmed that there was indeed no way to reach Along. There are no shared sumos that run from Daporijo (called Dapo in local parlance) to Along and there is only a bus service that runs on alternate days.
Although the journey next day onwards was quite crazy and very very long, I attempt to reproduce words from the diary that I carried on the trip. It is a sincere attempt to keep it short :
Wake up at 6. Foggy morning. Sleep again. 7 am – Walk out. Shutter closed. Get out by 7:30. Have decided that hitchhiking is the only way out of Daporijo. Quick breakfast – 20 Rupees. Want to get to the Along highway as soon as possible. Cross Subansiri river by crossing bridge Tadak Dulom Shom. Buy oranges, 20 Rupees for 5 pieces. No luck with a lift to the main road. Cross the bridge, pretty Subansiri river and lovely landscape. Wait at dhaba. Phone call. 5 km ride in a sumo. Asks for 20 Rupees. Walk past Dumporijo town. 2nd phone call. Private Scorpio Assam Number stops. Really comfortable drive. They think I am a foreigner with a backpack, and hence gave me a ride. 20 odd kms.
My immediate target is reaching the town of Bame, from where Along is only 60 kms away. Bame is still 80 kms from where I am, and its already 10 am. 3rd phone call. GREF Truck. Sit in the back. 5 kms to reach a Camp. Near Mare village. Maratha café. Finally some food. Eat a lot, drink chai and chat up with the officers. 50 Rupees. An auspicious omen knowing that I will get a ride if I am on the phone, lucky again. GREF gypsy drops me another 8 kms, they are surveying a prospective helipad. Stand with the army guys on the road. Stop a Assam number truck, already 4 people inside. They think I am an army guy who needs help and ask me to get in!
Next village stop for food. I try hitching a ride in a car. Truck people tell me ‘Arunachal people won’t give you a lift.’ I get back in the truck. Painful drive, hardly any place to sit. Share oranges with them. Lunch stop in a small village. Lovely bamboo homes overlooking a valley. Superb architecture, locals chilling and drinking. Adi tribe, which is said to be a clan of Apatani tribe. Feeling a little bit worried, we leave around 4 and Bame is still 45 kms away.
Immaculate valley views and sunset colours from the window of the truck but can’t try and click photographs and show them my phone. Terrible road, lunch break has taken more than 1 hour. Tirmin village comes, sizeable town. Darkness in the jungle by 5-530 pm. Loo break, a bit scared just in case something goes wrong. Slightly tipsy driver, chewing some intoxicant it seems. All the four people in the truck are from Lakhimpur in Assam. Bame checkpost reach at 630, no place to stay for the night. Along only 49 kms from here. Just 3-4 dhabas at Bame Checkpost.
Suddenly the possibility of reaching Mechuka tomorrow seems alive. The shared sumo taxis from Along to Mechuka leave at 5-6 am in the morning. Decide to continue in the truck till Basar town, 8 kms from Bame check post. Dropped in front of a Petrol Pump owned by a Rajasthani. Locals also suggest better to contact this person for trucks going to Along. Think about finding food first, because very hungry. But first have to find about how to reach Along. Already 730 pm.
Go inside the petrol pump office. Immediately welcomed. The owner is from Sujangarh in Rajasthan and the manager belongs to Nawalgarh in Shekhawati. We exchange introductions and he asks his staff to find out about truck drivers headed to Along in the night. I’m invited to his home for dinner. Immediately say yes. Very tasty chapati and mix vegetable. Eat to my heart’s content. Also more good news, truck guy has been found. He will leave at 9 pm. I should therefore reach Along by 2-3 in the night.
We finally leave before 10 and the progress after Bame check post is painfully slow. 5 kms an hour. Worst road I’ve ever seen, this is worse than Spiti, Ladakh, Zanskar and all of them combined together. Another local boy given a ride, his home is in Along and wants to reach there. Very talkative. 1145 pm make a stop in jungle. I notice drunk truck driver. Ask to stop. Stops. Decide to sleep for some time. 1 hour. Uncomfortable like crazy. Stinking feet and claustrophobic feel with the closed windows.
0115 am. Decide to get down from the truck for some fresh air. Pitch dark. Beautiful skies and misty jungle. Lovely aroma of nature. Big surprise. A bus goes past. My bag is inside the truck, otherwise I would have gone in the bus. Another bus goes by. I decide to throw caution to the wind and wake the boy up and ask him to also stand outside. To our luck, another bus comes. We stop it and haul our bags and jump inside. Really really comfortable. 30 Rupees ticket to Along, bus is going ahead to Kamban. Reach Along at 0415 am. Sleep for 15 more minutes in the bus.
No sleep. Strange feel. Already daylight. A new day has began even before the earlier one ended.
I am sure I wouldn’t have faced such a huge problem if I had the chance to check the most comprehensive guide on Backpacking in Arunachal Pradesh written by the awesome guys at LostWithPurpose.
Stomach heavy. Walk outside Along bus stand and ask for shared sumo taxi to Mechuka. Get seat no. 8. I’m just in time. There are only 2-3 sumos that ply each day from Along to Mechuka and they all leave at sharp 5:30. My emotions are a mixture of relief, exhaustion and delight. 500 Rupees paid for seat. Along to Mechuka is 180 kms. It is said to be a 7 hour drive along some crazy roads. Another random backpacker from Bombay is in the same sumo as me! Happy to meet a traveller in the wilderness of Arunachal Pradesh.
5’o clock my allotted sumo driver comes, takes me directly to Sulabh Toilet and asks me to get done with my morning duties. Initial drive through gorgeous Adi Tribal villages like Pobdi, Kabu and Kamban. Their longhouses are huge, and are elevated structures made of bamboo and wood. The driver is a jolly fellow and the other passengers are quite affable too. Uneventful ride, lovely green landscapes. Breakfast in Kaying village. Terrible food. I eat oranges instead. Donyi Polo site nearby (temple kind of place.) See a small homestay board in Kaying village.
Read : Leh in Winters : A Snapshot
Siko Dido waterfall on the route. Stop for a chai break. The road is in fact quite good. First sight of the Siang river. Yancho Chu and Yorgam Chu in Mechuka, it is called Siang near Pasighat. Reach Mechuka at 2 pm. Just before the final bend to Mechuka, blue Siang river. Lovely scene. Rach village, huge village of 500 homes. Sheogat is another village near Mechuka; from here China border is around 30 kms. Also locals say there is a hidden lake away in the mountains. Even though the internet has confusing altitudes mentioned for Mechuka; keeping in mind the cold and gradual ascent from Along (250m); I think Mechuka’s altitude is around 1700 to 1900m.
Pretty monastery with a winding path with snowy peaks in the background. All homes in Mechuka are on an elevated level, are made out of wood and seem to have pronounced colours in the windows. Search for a homestay begins. Almost Heritage Homestay, seems costly. 1000/- Rupees for 2 people excluding food. We go to a place called IB-2. Lovely wooden room. Fresh aroma of pine wood in the cottage and the window opens to a fabulous view of the snowy mountains surrounding Mechuka. Price 600 Rupees for 2 people!
Check : A glimpse of Spiti in winter
Some kids have come giggling. The Bombay guy gives them some biscuits and they are happy. After a cup of chai, we go out for a walk on the banks of Siang river even though I am very tired and can barely stand still. Hanging suspension bridge on Siang, pretty scenes as the villagers walk across. White sandy beach, blue waters, houses on the other side; and a huge ‘Menchuka’ affixed on the top of a mountain. It seems that Menchuka is the local name used by the Memba Buddhists that live here. Tranquil time by the river.
It is a sleepy town. Most of the shops are closed. There is a State Bank of India Branch. Most activity only seems to be going on at the sumo counters. We walk across Mechuka and cross the army base of Kumaon Regiment, chat up with the Army people. There is also an airbase in Mechuka. I click many street shots in the village; of the chorten, of locals, of houses. We drink chai at a small dhaba and are overjoyed when it turns out to be tasty.
Maybe my standards have been set pretty high after slow explorations in the Himalayan regions; the so called ‘Last Shangri La’ of Mechuka comes across as a pretty average place. Even the Bombay guy isn’t impressed. He had been sold Mechuka as a must visit place when he went to Arunachal Bhavan in Delhi. The locals inform us that there is a very popular homestay in Mechuka but that it is quite costly.
It is getting colder and the wind is picking up too. We decide to go back to our heavenly cottage to enjoy the evening hues as dusk falls across Mechuka. I sit down and write the goings on in the diary. It is almost dark now, I instantly start wondering whether it was worth it to reach Mechuka after such an arduous journey? In the kitchen, we meet 2 guys from Kullu who are here for some work and have been awarded a construction contract. They are making dinner today, we sit in the kitchen itself because its warm here.
They serve us dinner in a cozy dining room. It is piping hot and glasses of chhang accompany the food. Roti, dal, raipatta (green leafy vegetable), paata gobi and rice. Made on a wood fire chulha, tastes delicious. We have double helpings of everything! The owner of IB-2 is a very nice and friendly person. Black tea after dinner. 100 Rupees per person for food. Stay out watching the stars. Thoughtless mind. Maybe I should have skipped Mechuka and stuck to the popular circuit of Tawang, Bomdila and Se La instead.
Or maybe Mechuka is really pretty when it is green and I have just come here in the wrong season. My flight from Guwahati to Delhi has already been booked and because I am a long way away, it makes sense to go back. Sleep early at 9. Love the cold in this tiny village and also when the lights of the monastery come up. The sumos from Mechuka to Along leave at 530 am and charge the same 500 Rupees. This time I get a nice window seat.
Morning rush. Driver is staying in the same place as us. Leave for Along. Good tea. Terrible breakfast. Locals chatting up with me about Mechuka. They say there are 4 colours in Mechuka : White, brown, black and green – depending on the seasons.
Driver Rimo tells me the best and quickest way of reaching Guwahati. I need not go to Pasighat. There is an alternate way which is much easier and faster too!
Cross the hanging bridge at Pubdi before reaching Along. Reach Along at 1 in the afternoon. Horrible lunch. Have to get some printouts urgently – life of a travel writer, cum freelancer! Along – dusty town, barber lane, vegetables and spices. People in Arunachal haven’t exactly been friendly.
430 pm shared sumo from Along to Itanagar, takes around 14 hours. Lot of time. Get a head massage done. A local gets in a verbal spat with me. I quietly make my way to the shared sumo office and sit. Bame road is beautiful, it is a different road for sumo and private vehicles; and a different one for buses and trucks. Darkness falls quickly, en route Adi villages have tribal people selling fresh veggies and greens in small wooden open structures.
Till Silapathar, the road is in a bad shape. Then enter Assam, Likabali check post and Highway. All AR numbered taxis move together now. It is around 2 in the night. We make a chai stop in Assam. The shared taxi is going till Itanagar but my destination – Guwahati is closer to reach from Banderdewa. Here the road bifurcates, one goes to Itanagar and the other to Tezpur and Guwahati. The highway in Assam is like a dream, smooth and well metalled. Drizzle at Banderdewa Check post. I sit near a chai wallah. An old man wandering around informs me no vehicle or bus will come before 5-6 in the morning.
He is shivering. I notice his feet. He has no footwear. His job is to run and stop the trucks for a quick cup of chai. I experience a sudden rush of emotion. Remove my shoes and give it to him. I say that I can wear my slippers instead. As it is, this is the last leg of my trip to the north east and I just need to get home. Over watery chai, I cried and told him countless stories of the paths these shoes had treaded upon. That these were the very shoes that took me across the Shingo La from Lahaul to Zanskar. A wave of memories came flooding by, I narrated to him tales from Kashmir and of monsoon treks in Goa.
The poor man says that numerous people crossed the check post each day. If only the world could do with more kindness. The chai wallah, a sweeper and some truckers all have moist eyes by the end of this conversation.
Sitting on that broken wooden bench in Banderdewa, I felt free. I have learnt a small lesson, ‘The pleasure of life is in giving.’
How to Reach Mechuka? The most recommended way is from Dibrugarh in Assam. Crossing Brahmaputra river on a ferry at Bogibeel Ghat is the next step to reach Kolajan Ghat. It should roughly take 45 minutes for the ferry ride. From here, there are two ways to reach Along : One is through Pasighat; and the other one is through Likabali and Silapathar. Along to Mechuka is 180 kms and roughly takes 7 hours in a shared sumo.
Shared sumo’s run on the entire route from Dibrugarh to Along and also from Itanagar to Along and then Mechuka. There are also a few buses that ply to Along from different parts of Arunachal Pradesh. Along (Called Aalo) is home to the Adi tribe and is a sizeable town with basic hotels and shops. I clubbed Ziro Valley with my visit to Mechuka and the result is this blog post!
For travellers visiting Arunachal Pradesh, it is essential to have an Inner Line Permit.
Homestays : Tourism Department of Arunachal Pradesh and trying to promote and develop Mechuka as an adventure destination. Locals also spoke of Mechuka Adventure Festival being organised in November for the last 2-3 years. During the time paragliding, rafting and other adventure activities are organised. Hence, there are many places to stay in Mechuka in the form of homestays.
I stayed at a place called IB-2 by the locals and had a really nice experience! It is a small place with many eateries and shops but don’t think Mechuka has a hotel, although with increasing tourist arrivals it may happen soon.
When to Go? Although I went in November, I think summers should be the best time to visit Mechuka – with regards to the weather and landscapes.
There are a few functional ATMs in Along and maybe one in Mechuka. It is better to be armed with cash when you are travelling in Arunachal Pradesh. Most mobile networks work in Along but in Mechuka only BSNL works.