Are you a jaded traveler looking for immersive travel experiences? Want to be guests in a land where priests and shamans communicate with spirits? Wanna date drop-dead gorgeous women wearing necklaces chiseled out of priceless stones? Wanna visit a place still living in splendid isolation from the ravages of contemporary culture? Wanna be in the midst of the mysterious mountains of the Eastern Himalayas?
If you crave any of these, pack your bags and head straight to a mythical land – Arunachal Pradesh in India’s North East. Drive through hairpin bends all the way to Pasighat – a little-known, yet picturesque Eastern Himalayan town, in fact, the oldest town of Arunachal Pradesh!
This extreme North Eastern state is a very sensitive one for geopolitical reasons – Tibet lies to the north, Myanmar on the east, Bhutan to the west.
Arunachal shares borders with the Tibetan region of China extending from the Bhutanese border on the east all the way to the tri-junction of India, Myanmar, and China. The border with China is around 1,000 Kms. long and is blessed with some of the highest mountain peaks of the Eastern Himalayas.
This part of India is not just wild, it is also the least explored state, and tourism hasn’t yet been commercialized. The quaint mountain town of Pasighat is famed for the gurgling Siang river and traditional vernacular hanging bridges that reflect amply the tribal engineering skill sets.
Out here, vacations are slow, unhurried, and every bit transformational in terms of impact. A myriad of remarkable tribal villages/hutments surrounds the town and a bewildering array of outdoor activities like mountaineering, river rafting, and endless trekking trails invites the discerning world traveler to embark on an unparalleled exploration of one of the planet’s most hush-hush biodiversity & anthropological hotspots.
Being the headquarters of Eastern Siang, Pasighat is beautifully nestled at a height of 155 meters above sea level, and being the oldest town of Arunachal, the town is steeped in myths and legends. The huge importance that the government attaches to this town has meant that Pasighat has been included in the Government of India’s ambitious “Smart Cities” project.
Pasighat’s warlike past is remarkable – founded in 1911 A.D. by the erstwhile British Raj to serve as the administrative nerve center of the greater Abor Hills, the town has been the citadel of the Adi tribals for more than a century.
The town came into the limelight after the infamous Anglo-Abor War of 1912 that opened up the option to set up an exclusive administrative hub with a dedicated Assistant Political Officer outpost. The importance of the town can be further gauged by the fact that Pasighat even had an airstrip established way back in 1946.
In Pasighat you are actually in the bastion of the primitive Adi tribes – one of India’s oldest tribes! Please be informed that the tribal population of Northeast India is quite unlike anywhere else in the world. As a racial entity, they are linguistically and culturally very different from other tribal communities.
Adi tribes like other tribes of the North East like the Nagas, Kukis, Aos, Mishings, Monpas, etc… belong to the Mongoloid stock and their dialects are of Tibeto-Burman origin. Anthropologists worldwide are mesmerized by the ability of North Eastern tribals’ manner of comprehend dialects that are outside of their own.
The Adis are a mysterious lot and lead a life that is based on the tenants of purity, simplicity, and eco-friendliness. They tend to rely a lot on primordial belief systems that have been passed on from generation to generation. They derive force, power, and potency from their belief systems and are very demonstrative, which finds reflections during their festivals – costumes, rituals, dance, music, and the bonhomie on the show is absolutely otherworldly.
In the past, the tribes would often engage themselves in inter-tribal rivalry or feuds for dominance over land and even today while you’re tucked away in India’s North East, you will often come across news on inter-tribal fights. My friend Oken Tayeng is of the opinion that inter-tribal fights or skirmishes are still in vogue and that it’s all good fun as disputes are settled amicably by the village chieftains.
The stupendous tribal diversity of India’s North East is best summed up by the maverick Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh Shri Pema Khandu thus – “We have 26 tribes and more than 100 sub-tribes and each one is different from the other in their language, cuisine, and architecture of the house. Being an Arunachali, when I travel to other parts of the state, it is new for me as well.”
Right now the state is witnessing a succession of infrastructure projects to further integrate this mountainous state with Mainland India and the 1700-km Trans Arunachal Highway is on the verge of completion. A railway project connecting Arunachal to Assam is also on the pipeline that will further provide a fillip to the state’s bid for greater connectivity.
Shri Pema Khandu is known to dream big and his obsession with all things Tourism is well known. Recently, as part of the government’s lookout for a Brand Ambassador, Shri Khandu has been able to rope in Bollywood superstar Sanjay Dutt as the official Brand Ambassador of the state. The macho superstar is scheduled to feature in a series of promotional videos on tourism that is going to give a further boost to tourism.
Like elsewhere in the world, most indigenous cultures like those of Apache Indians, the Aborogines and the Maoris have over time evolved to be in sync with contemporary trends. Here in a remote hinterland village in close proximity to Pasighat, I interacted with a few Adi blokes at a sketchy roadside restaurant, and believe me, they were all engrossed listening to Guns & Roses, Metallica, Scorpions, Pink Floyd and what have you………Exciting stuff indeed.
In spite of the onslaught of modernity, there are still many villages where the Adi tribes have remained in splendid isolation and as yet “uncontacted”. Out here visitors can rest assured of an epic cultural odyssey – perhaps the last genuine tribal outpost of India where tribes are every bit primitive and it is a sheer delight to watch them engage in “slash & burn” terrace farming.
Pasighat and the gurgling Siang River are synonymous. This river is steeped in legends and is the principal tributary of the great Brahmaputra River. This ancient river originates from the Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet and makes its passage to India through the Upper Siang District of Arunachal Pradesh.
Like all great rivers of the world that have encouraged human civilization, the Siang River valleys hold great significance for the native Adi people, and needless to say, the Adis have worshipped and revered this ancient river from times immemorial.
First-time visitors are mesmerized by the sight of the 70 meters long cane & bamboo hanging bridge on the Siang River that connects the Adi tribal hamlets from either side. With a government that is upbeat about promoting adventure tourism in Arunachal Pradesh, the Siang River was opened for tourists in the year 2003 and is easily one of the world’s most preferred rivers for Rafting and Kayaking.
Film Director Joor Baruah’s 20-minute documentary film on the Adi tribes and the mythical Siang river – “Adi | At The Confluence” has been showcased in more than 40 film festivals worldwide. This enigmatic film was nominated for 18 awards and has already won 10 Best Documentary awards.
Another of Joor Baruah’s documentary films “Voice of Siang” was screened at the Mumbai International Film Festival 2020. The documentary is a beautiful rendition of how the indigenous Adi people of Arunachal Pradesh have evolved over the past centuries, their fascinating lifestyle, their animistic beliefs as well as their nature-based sustainable life.
The film draws back memories of the Indo-China war of 1962 and rather ingeniously portrays China’s hegemonistic tendencies and its obsession to claim India’s North-Eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, which for all purposes is the rightful place of nativity of the Adis. The swift-flowing Siang river and the valleys – the bastion of the Adis, is the theatre of war that portrays a series of battles with the Adis.
Pasighat’s most famous son, the unputdownable Oken Tayeng has carved a niche for himself with the launch of Abor Country Resort, located 10 km away from Pasighat town that has been enticing high net worth individuals (HNI) as visitors to this piece of paradise. This one-of-a-kind resort is the ultimate secluded hideaway and has won rave reviews from celebs.
The resort’s luxury tents have been featured in renowned travel publications like Conde Nast, Travel+Leisure, Outlook Traveller to name just a few.
Oken’s ingenuity has spurred him on to set up this outstanding eco-camp bang in the middle of a jungle, instead of the town and a succession of rocks laid out from the resort goes all the way down to the gurgling Siang river. Needless to say, many a visitor have been held captive here by nature’s beguiling charms.
Although I am not a Met expert, Pasighat and its surroundings are prone to heavy rainfall, especially during the monsoon season (May to September). The dramatic landscape consisting of undulating mountains that envelopes the area is ideal for the formation of rain-bearing cloud cover that aids in generating heavy rainfall.
Yet again, in the winter months, this place offers a truly distinctive natural drama – that of the wintry winds that blow across the mountainous landscape, thereby ensuring a fog-free winter. WOW!
It is time for the discerning world traveler to come and explore one of the world’s last remaining tribal outpost of the invincible Adi tribes and raise a toast to the quintessential Adi pride, Adi valour, their sense of democracy, their family orientation, their marriages, their dormitories and last but not the least – their festivals, which are a riot of colors and pageantry.
Come to the Adi Land on a celebration called life!