The world has its own Land of the Rising Sun in Japan, and India has Arunachal Pradesh, sharing in the nomenclature. A small state in the north-eastern reaches of the Himalayas, Arunachal Pradesh is an abiding enigma, one entrenched in old-world existence, imbued with an indefinable magic, and peopled by folks who have hung true to their traditions.
The land Arunachal Pradesh has always been a source of inspiration for nature lovers and seekers of peace. Diverse, varied, stunning and isolated, Arunachal Pradesh inexorably draws visitors into its folds, leaving them forever changed, enriched and mesmerized.
Stretching from the snow-capped eastern Himalayas to the plains of the Brahmaputra valley, Arunachal Pradesh lies at India’s north-eastern tip, surrounded by Bhutan, China and Burma. Assam lies to its south. A stunning landscape of deep valleys, lush plains and towering mountains, the state is a wealth of flora and fauna. In the tropical forests of the Tirap district, clusters of the beautiful blue vanda adorn the trees. The state is also known for its orchids, which occur naturally in diverse habitats. The bamboo orchid, a pretty evergreen species with pinkish-purple-hued flowers, is common in the sunny areas near the Tipi district, which is also home to the Orchid Research Centre.
The major rivers of the state are the Brahmaputra and its tributaries (the Dibang, Lohit, Subansiri, Kameng, and Tirap). The Brahmaputra (known as the Tsangpo in Tibet and the Dihang in Arunachal Pradesh) flows eastward across Tibet before dipping south through the Himalayas into north-central Arunachal Pradesh.
Wild jungle covers nearly 82 per cent of the state, while rock and snow envelope about 8 per cent, leaving a modest 10 per cent for towns and farmland. The species in the region have not been fully catalogued, but over 6,000 species of plants, 650 birds, and more than 100 mammals (29 of which are endangered) live here. Such wildness and diversity are now extremely rare in India.
The climate varies with topography and altitude. The foothill zone is subtropical and has a hot and humid climate; in the lower valleys, maximum summer temperatures reach 35°C, while winter minimums drop below 14°C.
Shrouded in mystery and handed down by word-of-mouth – that is the history of Arunachal Pradesh. Its confirmation is impossible and its reality is undeniable, a land of perennial interest, a place that beckons with its enigmatic past, the perfect recipe to draw in the inveterate traveller. So there is no recourse but to repose faith in legend. And one such tale dating back to the 16th century says that the origin of Arunachal Pradesh can be traced back to the Ahom Kings, who, it is believed, had a great influence in the territory. Arunachal Pradesh history maintains that people hailing from Tibeto-Burmese linguistic origin lived there first. These people belonged to the Daflas, Bangnis, Monpas, and other tribes that continue to exist today.
However, the history of Arunachal Pradesh, as modern chroniclers know it, starts with the Yandaboo treaty in 1826, signed between the British and the Government of Assam on February 24, 1826.
Moreover, accounts state that Arunachal Pradesh had been a part of the North Eastern Frontier Agency before 1962 and till 1965, this region was administered by the Ministry of External Affairs in India. Consequently, the administration then passed on to the Ministry of Home Affairs.
It was in 1972 that Arunachal Pradesh became a Union Territory of India, before eventually becoming an autonomous state of the Indian Union on February 20, 1987.
The land of Arunachal is peopled with a multitude of tribes. The tribes are predominantly casteless and governed by chiefs and the adults of their clan. Having grown independently of each other, the different tribes have not been influenced by each other’s practices. The only common thread is that the young follow the diktat of the older generation. Birth, death and marriage are big social occasions and incomplete without the blessings of the elders.
The entire population of the state can be divided into three cultural groups on the basis of their socio-politico-religious affinities. The first of these groups includes the Buddhist tribes; the second occupies the central part (from east Kameng in the west to Lohit in the east); and the third group hails from the southeastern part of the state.
With over 80 Mongoloid and Tibeto-Burmese tribes and sub-tribes spread over 12 towns and 3649 villages, each has its own languages, clothes, headgear, customs and traditions. The major tribes are Daflas, Monpas, Adis, Akas, Apatanis, Mishmis, Nishis, Noktey, Wangchu and Sherdukpens. The Apatanis are experts in terrace farming and are distinguished by the tattoos on their faces sported by both men and women of the tribe, while Akas paint their faces with resin and alcohol. The Sherdukpens, it is believed, are adept in witchcraft. The Daflas wear a hornbill’s beak on their headgear and carry traditional knives.
Only with conversions to Christianity did the tribes have conflicts. Due to their peace loving nature and a good administration, the state has kept insurgency at bay. The society of Arunachal is patriarchal and follows endogamy and strictly abstain from marrying outside their tribe. Polygamy is socially sanctioned and practiced by most of them.
50 dialects are spoken in Arunachal Pradesh and each of the tribes speaks their own dialect. To communicate with one another they use Assamese, Hindi or English. Given that each tribe is distinctive, there is no common religion. A large chunk of the population is Buddhist and an equally large number of people follow animist practices. Some tribes mix the two. Still others are converting or have converted to Christianity.
Agriculture is the prime profession for the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. Besides this, farming, crafting are also practiced by these people.
The people of Arunachal Pradesh have always been a major source of attraction for tourists interested in learning about different cultures and peoples. This land has twenty six tribal groups and other sub communities. The simple and gentle nature of the people, and their generosity in welcoming guests to their land with open arms, remains the common binding factor for the state that is home to such a variety of traditions, however different their origin and background.
The food is as diverse as the folks who inhabit the land in Arunachal Pradesh, so there’s plenty to taste. In general though, the food here is very unlike the stereotypes suffered by Indian cuisine. The food here, in fact, is bland and the locals seldom fry the ingredients. Dishes are seasoned with bamboo shoots and local herbs. While plenty of leafy vegetables and maize are consumed, the Arunachal inhabitants are by and large meat eaters who also have lots of fish and eggs. Apong is the local drink, which is made from rice and millet.
As is the case with the other sister states, the people of Arunachal have remained more or less untouched by modernity, as a result of which their native culture and customs has flourished and stayed relevant even today.
The tribes of Arunachal Pradesh have an excellent heritage of artistic craftsmanship and they are recognised for their artistic nature. Most of the people are very good craftsmen and expert designers. Even weaving is a major time pass activity for the tribal woman folk which bring bread and butter for many families. Their aesthetic essence of tribal art could be seen in their painting, pottery, wood carving, basket making. Weaving, wood and bamboo crafting are some major professions of these tribes.
The people are also known to make beautiful masks and are also popular for staging pantomimes and masked dances. They specialise in carving semi-religious motifs on wood and make exquisite carpets, painted wooden vessels and silver articles. They are expert workers in cane and bamboo and weave articles that are commonly required and essential in their daily lives like shawls, jackets, shoulder bags and coats.
Specific tribes are skilled in crafts that are crafts exclusive to their tribe, like the Monpas weave carpets and make wooden vessels. The Apatanis, Adis and Hill Miris make bamboo products and the Wanchos carve wooden and bamboo figures and design intricate necklaces strung with colourful beads. Interestingly, the social status of the bead-wearer is indicated by the width of his/her necklace.
Festivals too are an integral part of the socio-cultural status of the tribes. The large string of festivals celebrated by these communities tie one community with the other.
There are no flight services to Arunachal Pradesh and the nearest airport to the city of Itanagar in Arunachal Pradesh is Lilabari in Assam, which receives flights from Guwahati. The distance between Lilabari airport and Itanagar can be covered in two hours by bus or a taxi.
You can also fly into Tezpur Airport, which is 226 km away from Kolkata. Both airports are well connected to the cities of Itanagar and Naharlugan in Arunachal Pradesh by taxi and bus.
The nearest railhead is Harmuty, 33 km from Itanagar but the most convenient disembarkation point is North Lakhimpur, about 60 km distance from Itanagar. The Arunachal Pradesh Express serves Harmuty. Super fast and fast passenger trains will bring you to North Lakhimpur from Guwahati, which is well connected to the rest of India. Taxis and buses link both railway stations to Itanagar.
You can drive into Itanagar and Naharlugan from neighbouring Assam and Meghalaya. Tezpur in Assam also has a direct route to the tourist spots of Bomdila and Tawang. It’s a good idea to rent a 4WD with a chauffeur or take a bus, as driving a car is difficult in this region, with stopover and breakdown infrastructure being negligible. Direct buses are available from Guwahati, Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Tinsukhia and Nagaon in Assam, as well as from Shillong in Meghalaya to Itanagar.
You can rent a chauffeur-driven car or 4WD from travel agents in the city of Itanagar, which is a transport hub. There are no self-drive cars available for rent. Unmetred taxis and autos are available for hire. Tourist deluxe buses for groups can also be hired. Buses connect all major tourist spots to Itanagar. It is also possible to charter a plane from Lilabari to Bomdila as there is a small airstrip there.