Mechuka Madness

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#1 Apr 20th, 2009, 20:17
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#1
The idea of going to Arunachal Pradesh was first hatched while chatting on Beach Number Seven in Havelock. Once the seed had been planted in my brain it started to grow and gather importance. It would not reach maturity, however, for another three years, during which time I read everything I could lay hands on concerning this far-flung, inaccessible region. We had chanced upon meeting someone who had had the good fortune to live in Pasighat and Mechuka, Siang Province, NEFA (as it was then known) in the pre-Indo-Chinese war period. From there the idea snowballed.

That is how on a fine clear March morning we (my husband and I) came to be boarding the river ferry at Dibrugarh, after watching our jeep precariously loaded via two planks, with the enticing prospect of an all-day river journey to Pasighat. The Brahmaputra separates Assam from Arunachal Pradesh. But in the not so far distant past this area was all part of Asom. Our guide and our driver were both Assamese speakers. I had just learnt my first few words of Assamese and I was very keen to practice them – baal ligesse – that’s fine.

The unbroken horizon views inspired me to write some poetry.

Moonscape March river
Brahmaputra horizon
Eddying shallows

Pasighat nearing
Son of Brahma remaining
Endlessly flowing

Fisherfolk busy
In the grey shadows silt
Loggers sawing wood

Parasol floating
Lost to tidal memory
Found becomes treasure

Adivasi look!
What the waters carry home
Monsoon umbrella?

The feeling of exhilaration at being about to enter Arunachal Pradesh after an 8-hour boat ride was tremendous. We disembarked and drove straight to an ADI village where we were welcomed with Apong, the rice beer, traditional beverage and quasi-obligatory to taste. I couldn’t finish mine, but Mr T drank his cup down in appreciation. We then had a long discussion with the Adi elders.

We arrived at the Hotel Aane, welcomed by geckos and mosquito netting and hot water showers (reputedly the only ones in Pasighat).

Over the next days we explored the town on foot and had the good fortune to meet up with an elderly Adi by the name of Atom Tayeng, 79 years old, who remembered having met (back in the fifties) Verrier Elwin, the famous anthropologist. We sat and chatted with him and his extended family under the shade of a mango tree.

We also visited a tribal village called Auchali, 35 km away, which took about two hours of excruciating road to reach and another two hours to return to Pasighat. It was a MISHMI tribal village with a Long Hut inhabited by 18 people, ranging in age from five years to seventy years (i.e. six generations).

It was very hard to find a working internet in Pasighat, for the power supply was coming and going due to load-shedding. Finally, however, we found one – and while sending out e-mails enjoyed rock music on You-tube played by the owners!

Pasighat was not the most immediately attractive of towns, and yet the atmosphere was welcoming. We were – of course – the only “goris” in town. The natives stared at us in amazement as if they had never seen foreigners before. Japanese tourists are popular – they say – though I had not seen any. The Indian resistance fighter Bose has a statue in honour of his fighting on the side of the Japs in WWII against the Brits.

The time had come to set off for Mechuka. Leaving behind the humidity and heat of the plains, we endured a thirteen-hour jeep ride from the South of West Siang Province, via Along (or Aalo as it is known in these parts), up the new road (no more comfortable for being new!) to the far North of West Siang Province, to a place which is not on the map. As the banana trees and the dense verdant vegetation surprisingly and suddenly opened out into a plateau of pines, apple and almond trees, traversed by a stream, grazed by ponies, and Tibetan prayer flags waved in the breeze at dusk, we were so happy to be there!
#2 Apr 20th, 2009, 20:24
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#2
Pictures, pictures

more, more
#3 Apr 23rd, 2009, 14:31
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#3
Amazing ! What next ?
#4 Apr 23rd, 2009, 17:12
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#4
Thanks, Kingstonian and Mousourik, for the encouragement! (Pics are in the pipeline.)

Mechuka is situated at 6000 feet, not far from the Chinese border, and is nowadays a mainly Buddhist town, due to the large number of Tibetan refugees who have made it their home. There are also numerous Adi tribals living there; in the past they were referred to as “Abors” (which means “those who did not submit” according to some sources). The Memba tribals of Siang District are also Buddhists, following the same strand of Buddhism as the Tibetans. We stayed at the Nehnang hotel, a traditional wooden Tibetan home. The patriarch of the family had fled from Tibet on foot. His daughter was born in Mechuka and has no desire to return to the old country. Why should she? Shangri-La is there in the Mechuka Valley!

We spent three days there and could easily have stayed longer. It was the most idyllic setting we encountered in Arunachal Pradesh. It opened to tourism (domestic and foreign) only in summer 2008 but it still now (spring 2009) feels like an outpost. There is quite a strong army presence; there is an airstrip but commercial helicopter flights are not running at present. (They used to be frequent fifty years ago! The Indian Government has plans to restore them.) The road continues further north still towards Tibet (China). Perhaps one day it will open. We can always dream…

There are two Circuit Houses and the one hotel. That’s it! We were well fed by the cook, Raju, on such delicacies as home-grown mustard greens, vegetarian momos and thukpas. During the daily power cuts we lit kerosene lamps.

When we ventured out to explore on foot we were a source of entertainment for the locals. We met some Adis who were happy to show us their weapons: machete knives, bows and arrows. They live in their traditional bamboo houses, a marvel of architectural skill. It is traditional upon entering to stay quietly next to the open fire to appease the spirits before continuing down the corridor. The way of life of the Adis seems mainly unchanged.

Jawaharlal Nehru wrote:

“People (tribes) should develop along the lines of their own genius and we should avoid imposing anything on them. We should try to encourage in every way their own traditional arts and culture.”

Our next destination was Daporizo (via Along), closely followed by Ziro, home to the Apatani tribe.
#5 Apr 24th, 2009, 02:36
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#5
Great writing t-dancer, looking forward to more!
#6 Apr 24th, 2009, 08:40
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#6
A hardly visited area! Thanks for the report(and looking for more). I hope to go there some day.

Do they have buses to go to Menchuka?
#7 Apr 24th, 2009, 11:56
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#7
Thanks, Julia and Arunchs. I'm going to start scanning some photos these days. Happy to share this wonderful destination.

Buses? There must be some local buses there, although I cannot recall having seen any on that particular stretch of road! Actually, traffic was sparse in that area. The road is very narrow (big enough for one vehicle only), so when a driver encounters someone coming in the opposite direction he must find a place to pull over.

In most of the places we visited in Arunachal Pradesh we saw three types of transportation: state buses; public sumos (which run to a timetable); private vehicles.
#8 Apr 26th, 2009, 17:09
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#8

Degree Ziro

Our journey continued, saying Goodbye to Siang Province and entering Subansiri. As we descended from the remote fastness of the hills we spent a night in DAPORIZO in order to break our journey. The rhythm of the road is inexorable. You cannot hurry it. Better to simply resign oneself to a different mode of being where each curve in the tarmac might reveal a muddy landslide or a team of repair workers or elephants logging wood or puppies and children at play, oblivious to city-dwellers' notions of time pressures. Scenery floats by. Rope bridges stretch from jungle to jungle. Banana plantations. Leeches asleep, awaiting monsoon rains. Suddenly, a profusion of wild flowers. Daporizo looks like something out of the Wild West. A place where tribals come shopping. Not much of a place to linger. But fatigue may have clouded my judgement.

Early the next morning we set off again for ZIRO. As home to the APATANI tribe, it is fortunate to be just about the only place in Arunachal Pradesh which is economically viable, due to the ingenious system of irrigation of rice paddies which ensures a year-long culture of rice.

The setting of Ziro is temperate, hilly, and home to the Blue Pine. Luck was on our side as it just happened to be the Myoko Festival of Friends, otherwise known as Open Day at the Apatani houses, when everyone invites passers-by into their home. The tribal gentlemen wear their hair in a distinctive topknot on their foreheads. The ladies used to practise facial tatooing and also wear huge nose plugs. This custom has now been banned and can only be seen on those over fifty years of age. They are understandably camera-shy. We were told that this habit of defacement was enforced in order to stop other tribals from stealing their womenfolk. Nowadays, the young girls wear jeans and T-shirts and traditional dress is confined to the elderly.

The most intriguing part of our visit was a tour of the MYOKUM fields. We were taken there by an Apatani tribal who explained to us in detail (via our interpreter) what we were looking at. Every May, the villagers gather in a designated field and build, using sticks of cane, totems representing household members, one for each family. They decorate them with feathers, leaves, beads (some black and white, some colourful) and complete the dedication of the totem ceremony by breaking fresh eggs on the top of each pole of cane, measuring about one meter each.

The DONYI-POLO religion of the Apatanis, which worships the Sun and the Moon, uses a number of totem-like structures, some to ward off evil (like those situated at the entrance to houses) and some used as fertility symbols. Then again they may represent venerated ancestors or they may indicate by symbols the number of male or female children in the family so that a passer-by acquainted with these traditions may identify at a glance the status of the family represented by the totems.

There were also raised wooden platforms in strategic points throughout the village for gatherings of male tribals. They drink apong, the home-distilled rice brew, and discuss.

A tour of a traditional home revealed the distilling method for making apong as well as the way pork is cured by hanging it from the rafters.

The fascinating life-style of the Apatanis is confined to the Ziro plateau. We would see more about the other tribals of Arunachal Pradesh and their customs at the museum in ITANAGAR, our next destination.
#9 Apr 26th, 2009, 19:19
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#9
Theyyam:

Great to see your Arunachal reports here. Will read in detail at Mumbai.

You seem to have covered almost same places in AP: Ziro, Daporijo, Pasighat that we went to! Since the bridge crossing at Ranaghat, near Pasighat, to Rowing and Teju was broken, we had to ferry our Scorpio across to Dibrugarh (via Shilapathar and Bogbil Ghat) and then on the south bank route via Tinsukia, DoomDooma back to Arunachal to Parsuram Ghat, Hayuliang and then to Kibuthu (which is some 200+KMs east of Tezu!) and come back the same way to Dibrugarh.

I have taken lots of great pictures! Look for teh link in GHiRT thread in a week's time.

btw: Bhutan was really awesome! Quite neat and well-organised for tourists, as compared to the Indian Himalayas.

- KS
.
#10 Apr 26th, 2009, 22:03
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#10
It's wonderful writing, packed with so much information - a gem of a travelogue.
#11 Apr 28th, 2009, 00:56
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#11
Quote:
Originally Posted by theyyamdancer View Post
The unbroken horizon views inspired me to write some poetry.

Moonscape March river
Brahmaputra horizon
Eddying shallows

Pasighat nearing
Son of Brahma remaining
Endlessly flowing

Fisherfolk busy
In the grey shadows silt
Loggers sawing wood

Parasol floating
Lost to tidal memory

Found becomes treasure

Adivasi look!
What the waters carry home
Monsoon umbrella?

i liked the poem. In fact to be very honest the parts of the poem in bold strangely reminded me of the following lines in a famous song, and the music video of the song showing a flowing river.


With friends surrounded
The dawn mist glowing
The water flowing
The endless river

Forever and ever
#12 Apr 28th, 2009, 01:04
It's all Greek to me, but Benglish will do
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#12
Is that by Pink Floyd?
#13 Apr 28th, 2009, 01:07
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#13
Yes...see the video, of the guitars floating in the river, the people losing their grip on their balloons (and on the way of life, thanks to the onslaught of modernity)... and think of Brahmaputra and Arunachal. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bqvcmud3LFQ
#14 Apr 28th, 2009, 01:09
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#14
Must be some subconscious association there. I had to really think hard and dredge my mind to come up with the answer "Pink Floyd"...

Actually, the fact was that a sudden gust of wind took away my parasol and everyone on the boat laughed. It was a perfect moment.
#15 Apr 28th, 2009, 01:13
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#15
Haha, so a couple of lines of a poem alluding to a gust of wind that took away your parasol and made it float away on the Brahmaputra, made someone in USA remember a music video by a rock band showing guitars floating down a river in the English countryside? Interesting. And no laughing matter.
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