By Bhoot Jolokia
So after a lot of thinking, I finally went to Mechuka (Spelled Menchukha locally) in the West Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh. It was an eventful journey to the small town. Soaking in the sights of the mountain town, with its little wooden houses, bustling little markets and shops, hills rising high, flowing Siyom River, and snow decked mountains gives you a different perspective of your life. Especially, if you are a dweller of a metropolitan city.
Here, I will write about my journey to Mechuka with two of my friends.
Menchukha or Mechuka is a small town in the West Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh. The Mcmahon line separates India and China after Mechuka. The border is 29 kilometres away from Menchukha. It lies about 6000 feet above sea level (1,829 m).
The Red and Blue Mechuka Diaries
Journey to Jonai
“You know what is essential for a trip? A WhatsApp group” – Baba Leined Irob
On the 28th of January, I took a bus to Dibrugarh from Golaghat in the wee hours of morning. I slept like an uncle on bhang in the bus journey and forgot to de-board the bus to catch a public vehicle to the ghat. I finally de-boarded at the town, so I travelled a couple of kilometres more than I should have. Finally, I walked around the town looking for a public vehicle. Drivers of public transports are blessed with a sixth sense, I think it is evolutionary, and they immediately know when a person in need of a transport, or how desperate that person is for a transport. The fare cited by the driver is directly proportional to the desperateness of the person in need of a public transport. Anyway, an auto braked in front of me, and the driver summed an exorbitant amount to take me to the ghat. My middle class heart just had an attack, eyebrows were raised, and I wondered if I would reach Guwahati from Golaghat. So, we haggled for half an hour life an aged married couple does when deciding whether they should watch a daily soap or the football match. I felt that I won the haggling battle, but the slight smirk on the auto wala bhaiyas smile quashed my moral victory.
So off we went to the ghat. The road was quite bad, and I wondered what would happen to it during the rainy season. It was a bumpy ride in the auto and my butt was protesting. Soon it would realise that harsher times were to come.
After reaching the ghat, I inquired and found that ferries leave in quick intervals. If you want to be a middle class Jesus like me then try to board the government ferry, as it is cheaper compared to the private ones. I had my food in a small eatery on the ghat.
I boarded the ferry and like every public transport in India, it was overcrowded and filled with humanity to the brim along with vehicles, which they transport across the river Brahmaputra. The public transport in this country is encumbered by the constant comings and goings of a huge mass of humanity. If it were alive, it would have become hunchback by now.
I managed to find a seat and soon was surrounded by middle-aged women. I love hearing people conversing in the public transport in India. The women were educated and were conversing about doctorates and master degrees. Soon, the conversation veered off to their daughters-in-law. They were of the opinion that the new age daughters in law were useless. If they could serve tea in the afternoon to their fathers and mothers in law after a hectic day at work then their daughter-in-laws should too. If only the poor girls could serve tea on time to appease these ladies, would the world become a better place? The conversations ranged from the local politics, to local gossip, to their sons and daughters. I sat there adjusting space for the aunties throughout the entire journey. The Bogibeel Bridge was seen too, and soon it will be a potent factor of political narrative, as two parties will jostle for the credit of its building and completion.
The ferry finally reached and the people who were so fondly gossiping started hurtling towards the waiting public transports pell-mall. I managed to cramp into a seat inside Tata Magic and off we went to Jonai. The National Highway 515 is in a good condition thankfully, and the journey to Jonai was void of bumps albeit cramped.
I started from Golaghat at 5:30 am and by 2 pm I was at my destination i.e my freethinking friend Deniel Bori’s home. His entire family was so welcoming, brimming with care and warmth. The food at his place was sumptuous. We sat together beside the wooden fireplace, looked at the thin tendrils of smoke wafting through, and had sips of Apong (home-made rice beer) with some delicious fried pork.
The next morning, I join Hirak and Tinku who had come in a train, fighting for the charging point during the entire journey, and we bid our adieu to Deniel and Assam.
Pasighat to Along
The three of us boarded a magic bus from the Ruksin gate to Pasighat. Again, it was a cramped journey and but the sights were quite beautiful. The driver played some obscure Hindi songs, which am sure even the singers and composers do not want to admit were ever sung/created by them. I think there is a secret association, which delivers obscure Hindi songs to all the public transport drivers
We reached Pasighat and there we booked three seats in a sumo to Along. It cost us 500 bucks each. Off we went, mashed together like sacks of potatoes to Along. The road was average to bad and our driver was projecting all his road rage on to the pedal. There wasn’t enough space to move your head or your leg; somehow we had to adjust and fall asleep only to wake up when you will be pushed to one side when the vehicle jumps on a pothole. Every vehicle stops at a particular location where we relieved our bladders. There, we were greeted with the most majestic sight whilst peeing. This was perhaps my most aesthetic peeing session.
One striking observation is that women run most of the shops. You will find the women selling oranges with their kids tucked cosily on their back. I bought a basket of orange for 100 bucks. Plenty of sweet, juicy oranges only for 100 bucks.
We were on our way again soon. We were bouncing up and down on potholes, often in rhythm to obscure Hindi songs. In one song, the male singer croons that ‘College mai pyaar ka class kyu nahi hai?’ and that stupid song just went into our heads. I hate it when it happens. A friendly elderly couple, living in Along and sharing the same Sumo, told us about the tunnels built in the hills here. The uncle was particularly chatty and told us with gutso that Kishore Kumar was the real deal and the new generation of singers are naught but dust particles, fleeting and fickle. We had no option but to agree sleepily.
There was a hanging bridge, and it looked precarious. Apparently, the local kids run whilst crossing this hanging bridge. A lifetime of practise has made them adept at ignoring the quivering of the bridge, which is the only link from the hill where they stay. The world we stay in is amazing, and we are so naive to be immersed in our own self constructed realities, considering ourselves to be important, and yet we are not.
We finally reached Along at 4-5 pm and set about searching for a hotel. Hill towns shut down very early and hence we had to hurry. We had budget concerns and were hunting a cheap hotel to spend the night. We had already booked three tickets to Menchukha after we had deboarded from the Sumo. They cost us 350 rupees each.
We entered the premises of a dilapidated looking hotel called Aanchal. The hotel screamed shady from a kilometre away; nevertheless, we wanted to save money and ventured forth inside the hotel. A grumpy looking middle aged man came out of a room after repeated calls. There seemed to be no one else at the hotel. The room that he showed us seemed 300 years old. Mouldy curtains, stained bedsheets, dusty tables, and what not. I could have said that I was possessed here and people would surely believe me. The bathroom looked like a fight had transpired there with broken basins and all. We also saw used condoms strewn on one bed. We immediately made a beeline to the streets. Finally, we came across Hotel Veggie near the Along bus junction with a picture of Sri Sri Sri multiplied by infinity Ravishankar smiling at us benignly and stayed there for the night. Decent place and we got rooms for 800 rupees a night, and three people could sleep comfortably.
Onward To Mechuka
We left for Mechuka next morning at 5:30 am on another Sumo. The road to Mechuka was marginally better than the road to Along. Again, we stopped at designated Sumo stops to stretch ourselves. The journey was beautiful. We were awestruck at the mountains that we could see at a distance, the lush green scenery, and the sharp bends on the road. Kudos to the army for constructing this road. This has immensely helped the locals. We reached Mechuka at around 1 pm.
The journey might have been uncomfortable but we the moment we reached there, all our complaints were smothered. There was a serenity in the town and in the distance, snow capped mountains were visible. We lodged at the Grace Homestay. The wooden rooms were cosy and cheap. We got the room for 800 rupees per night and four people could sleep comfortably there.
The owners were very polite and welcoming. We refrained from venturing out that night and stayed at our cosy room. The hosts served us a delicious dinner of rice, plain dal, boiled mustard greens, and pork curry. It was lip smacking and we ate heartily.
I procured some fresh gayal meat from the market place. Look for it in the markets, they are not sold often, and if you find, try it if you are into tasting different kinds of meat.
Day 2- Camping beneath the stars
As the trend has been in this trip, we woke up early morning and after a light breakfast; we embarked on a trek to Dorjiling (Darjeeling’s pretty friend maybe). It was bitterly cold. We asked directions to the locals, who were always very forthcoming, and went forth ascending a small hill.
We casually trekked to Dorjiling. The entire village and the surrounding mountains could be seen from a viewpoint above the hillock.It was mesmerising. Everything was so quiet and serene. One characteristic in Menchukha was that it was always quiet; we never heard a horn honking or a group of people talking loudly. There were flags on top of the hillock and we saw mules and horses grazing lazily. There were gayals too and we kept a safe distance from them.
It was beautiful to walk from Mechuka to Dorjiling. You will see the wooden houses of people, woods being stockpiled, small vegetable gardens, and all with a backdrop of the hills and snow decked mountains. It’s a self-sufficient sustainable life, something that made us yearn for it. It’s perhaps our privilege projecting to find a ‘tourist like’ fascination with little things in Mechuka.
We managed to get a lift from two local guys who were going to Mechuka from Dorjiling. They told us about the Mechuka festival which is organised in September-November.
Camping Along The River
We were planning to pitch our tents beside the Yargyapchu River. Apparently, the water of the river is so clear that it is akin to mineral water. In fact, the name Mechukha translates to medicinal water.
Laziness begets misery. We were a bit lackadaisical in moving out of the homestay. By the time, we took all our gear and went in search for a spot beside the river; Mechuka was already engulfed in darkness. Hill towns shut down early and people sleep early here. Here we were three of us carrying tents on our backs, cots, torches, and dinner in our hands and walking gingerly to the riverbank. It was pitch dark, the only source of light was our flashlights. We set up our tents in the pitch dark, much credit to Tinku who took charge of the situation and also to Hirak, whose enthusiasm got us there in the first place.
We went again to a nearby homestay to buy firewood. For 150 rupees, they gave us three bundles and with extra dry wood to ignite the fire. We carried the bundles of wood precariously back to our campsite. Perhaps, it has been the most sobering night of my life.
Hills on three sides and the Yargyapchu River on the other, surrounded us. It was eerily quiet and you could hear the minute sounds. A horse neighed its presence and at that deathly silence, it felt like tons of bells tolling. We three sat there, listening to river flowing calmly, and looking at the stars above. Humans are miniscule, puny beings flooding a tiny planet in the solar system. Our existence is pointless, and perhaps why we try to attach as much meaning to our lives as long as we live, because without it, we will lose the grip to our sanity, maybe.
There was a light drizzle in the morning. We woke up to see the smiling faces of some local workers. They were very curious about our tent. We packed our belongings and made our way back to the homestay. We made it a point to not litter there. What is an exercise in wanderlust and social media approval for us is livelihood for the locals, and littering it perhaps the sign of degeneracy. We made it a point to clean the litter and walk back to the homestay.
Bidding adieu to Mechuka
We arranged a car to roam around the town. Driving through the immaculate hilly roads was a treat. We went to the Taposthan Gurudwara at first. They believe that Guru Nanak had visited Mechuka and helped habilitate the Memba community there. The Gurudwara holds langar daily and you will find army men coming here for lunch. There is a small waterfall in the taposthan. We partook in the humble food offered at the Gurudwara.
We went to the Mechuka viewpoint. The airstrip was clearly visible from the point. The entire town seemed like a cluster of wooden houses together. Our perspectives change the moment we see objects from a vantage point, doesn’t it? We took a brief walk inside the monastery, both the old and the new. Mechuka has predominantly Donyi-Polo, Christian, and Buddhist faiths. The locals love Bollywood songs and movies here. I wonder if the mainstream glitz of India was spread here so that Chinese culture doesn’t influence the region. Countries fight culturally too.
The next morning, we bid adieu to the locals and left for Along. We reached Along at around 2 pm. Unfortunately, we could not find any buses to Pasighat that day and hence we lodged at hotel Veggie again.
Night of Horror
The entire trip was quite eventful for us and as we were soon to be given a good dose of scare at Along.
As usual, the hill town had shut down early, and it was raining on top of that. Tinku had gone out for a smoke and whilst returning to the room, a hotel worker showed up and without any preamble, took the cigarette from his hands, took a few puffs and returned it to his bewilderment.
Hirak then went out to buy a fanta. Whilst returning to the room, the same hotel worker took the fanta out of his hand out of nowhere, took a few sips, and returned it to him to Hirak’s sheer bamboozlement.
The pillow covers in the room were dirty so we summoned an employee to change it. We were talking in the room when the door banged open and the same guy who had taken the cigarette and the fanta burst in without any invitation. Probably knocking on the door was passé for him. He was visibly inebriated, and kept on mumbling incoherently to us. When we asked him to change the pillow covers, he told us in English, “I don’t want to fight with you guys” We were taken aback. He started rambling about Padmavati, Hindu, Muslims, dharma, and all random balderdash. We had to force him out of the room.
We were about to sleep when the door burst open again and he came in. Our hotel room’s latch was fragile and one good push broke it. Again, he refused to leave and continuously talked about hating his job, hating his life, and propagandas. We did not want to physically assault him, a local, in an alien town. I went out and got the manager. The manager pushed him outside and they had a shouting march. The manager assured us that he had locked him inside a room, and that he was the cook of the hotel who was drunk.
We were about to sleep when we heard sounds from the room right above us. The sounds are akin to someone throwing a large bag around or throwing a cylinder around. We were worried that the cook might be attempting to commit suicide or he might well be trying to light up a cylinder. We went up to the room where the sounds were coming from and soon the sounds stopped.
As we contemplated what to do, stuck in Along, without network on our phones, the drunk cook barged into our room with a black eye and a broken leg. He was struggling to stand. He drank water from the bottle and started spitting in the room whilst talking about the manager. We realised that there was no else in the entire hotel. The manager had left and only one small kid who used to work there was with us. The cook was threatening violence on the kid and he promptly locked himself inside a room. We asked him to call the manager but he didn’t respond. The drunken cook was creating a ruckus refused to leave the room. We also saw two guys walking down the stairs and when we called after them, they did not pay heed to us but they walked away briskly. As per the drunken cook’s words, these were guys, hired by the manager to give him a good beating. We were wondering if the cook would die of his injuries. leaving us stuck there. We did not even have network on our phones to call the police and the town was shut. The rain was not helping either. We escorted the drunken cook outside and he came back again. This time we barred the door and he repeatedly banged on the doo and pleaded with us to take him in.
After an hour of this ordeal, the manager came back and shoved the cook into the basement where we saw him mumbling to the wall. We immediately changed rooms and I asked for a refund, which the manager refused. I knew better than to argue with the local manager who has just summoned goons to beat someone up. We left Along in the wee hours of morning and reached Deniel’s house by evening.
It was probably the best trip of my life and my perspectives mired in myopia have perhaps been slightly changed; at least I hope that they have.
How to Reach Mechuka
Aaloo is the base for Menchuka.
Reach Dibrugarh-Go to the ghat on a shared sumo/auto (shared sumos are considerably cheaper)-Cross the ghat on a Ferry (It takes around one hour or an hour and half to cross the Brahmaputra)-Take a shared vehicle to Pasighat-Shared sumo to Along-Shared sumo to Menchukha. (443.9 km)
Sumos run to Menchukha early morning at around 5:30 am-6 am so you have to lodge at Along for the night.
Reach Itanagar- Take a shared sumo to Pasighat via Pangin (356 km) – Shared sumo to Along-Shared sumo to Menchukha.
Reach Itanagar- Take a shared sumo to Pasighat via Likhabali/Silapathar-Basar (303 km) – Shared sumo to Along-Shared sumo to Menchukha.
You can take your personal vehicle as well. The National Highway 515 is in a good condition. Roads leading to the ghat in Dibrugarh range from decent to average. The road to Along from Pasighat has some really bad patches, but mostly it is decent. Road from Along to Menchukha is average to decent at best.
From Itanagar, the route to Pasighat via Pangin is much better than the other one.
The nearest stations are the Murkongselek station in Assam and the Naharlagun station in Arunachal Pradesh.
From the Murkongselek station, you will find shared vehicles to Pasighat. (36.6 km)
From the Naharlagun station, you will find shared vehicles to Itanagar.
The nearest airports are the Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport (Guwahati), the Mohanbari Airport (Dibrugarh), and the Lilabari airport (North Lakhimpur)
From the Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport, you will have to take public transport to Itanagar located at a distance of 332 km from Guwahati.
From the Mohanbari airport, take public transport to Pasighat(located at a distance of 154 km from Dibrugarh.)
From the Lilabari airport, take public transport to Itanagar (located at a distance of 70 km from North Lakhimpur.)
Additionally, you can take the Helicopter service from Guwahati to Naharlagun and then proceed to Itanagar. You can also take the Helicopter service from Naharlagun to Along.
Accommodation in Mechuka
There are a lot of budget homestays in Menchukha and they are quite good. Do not expect luxury. These are budget homestays offering the basic amenities. I would recommend the Grace Home Stay located near the Mechukha police station. They had cosy wooden rooms with double beds and attached bathrooms. The food they served was amazing. We paid 800 rupees per night for a room where 4 people could be accommodated.
Also, in Along, you will find budget accommodations. The one we stayed was called Hotel Veggie, located adjacent to the bus station; it was a decent hotel.
Here are the contact details
Y.Koje- 9402474078, 9436621827, 9402058062
I will add pictures of the room and the food when I go into the details of the trip.
Food in Mechuka
You will find small restaurants serving thukpas with noodles, momos, tea, coffee, and chowmein. The food is simple and amazing. The momos I had there were some of the best I have ever had. Additionally, you can buy from the market and cook on your own if you can find a kitchen. Food in homestays is also quite good. The owner of the homestay we stayed in served us a meal of rice, boiled mustard spinach, simple boiled dal, curry of the meat of your choice, and fried potatoes. It was simple and hearty.
For cafes, I will recommend Kunsang’s cafe in front of the airfield. The momos, the soup, and the thukpa with noodles were well prepared.
Here are things that you can do in Mechuka-
Fishing in the Yargyapchu River: The clear waters of the river will beckon you and you must find the best spots (ask the locals) to fish in the river.
Trekking to Dorjiling: There is a road connecting the main town of Mechuka to Dorjiling but you can trek up a hill to it. The trek is very easy and also quite pretty. Atop the hill, you can view the entire town of Mechuka which is a sight to behold.
Hire a bike and explore the town. The town is very picturesque, so hire a bike from a local and explore the town.
Visit the Old and the New Monastery.
Visit the Menchukha view-point:The view from it will stir the Wordsworth in you.
Visit the Tapasthan, Gurudwara in Menchukha. Partake in the Langar and also, take a walk to the small waterfall inside the Tapasthan. It is fun to squeeze through a narrow rocky tunnel inside the Tapasthan.
Camping beside the Yargyapchu River: At night, it is absolutely pitch dark and you will not hear a sound. Venture out of your tent and look at the night sky. You will see a clear sky lit with stars. It will give you a different perspective on life.
Hanuman Point – It is a bit further from the town and you will need a vehicle to reach there. Lord Hanuman, a Hindu mythological figure’s footprints are believed to be there.
Yarlung– You will need a permit to visit Yarlung. Get it from the office near the police station in Mechuka. You will find it covered in snow. Yarlung is quite picturesque.
Things you will need to visit Mechuka
An Inner Land Permit is a must to visit Arunachal Pradesh. You can apply for it online at www.arunachalilp.com or get the permit from the designated offices, the locations of which you can find with a quick Google search.
Only the BSNL network works in Mechuka and that too is unreliable. So do not expect a steady network connection and you can bid adieu to the Internet for a few days.
Withdraw the necessary cash in Along or before reaching Along. You will find less and less ATMs the higher you ascend, and in Mechuka, there were no ATMs, although there is a branch of the SBI.
You would not find petrol pumps in Mechuka. Get a full tank in Pasighat and stockpile fuel in bottles as you go to Mechuka if you are taking a private vehicle. Although, there are a number of stalls selling fuel in bottles in Mechuka so you will not face any problem.
Hindi is easily understood. People love Hindi films and songs there. Arunachali Hindi is quite prevalent. English is also a good medium of communication.
You also don’t have to worry about the trusted Old Monk. As one young man in Mechuka told us grinning, “There are more wine shops in 5 kilometres here than humans”