I’ve grown up hearing about Arunachal Pradesh being one of the most beautiful states in India, but also one of the most cut-off and non-tourist-friendly places in the country (from a language and connectivity point of view).
With greater exposure to the Northeast region of India in recent times (I’ve traveled to parts of Meghalaya, Assam, Nagaland, and Sikkim in the last two years) and have heard countless anecdotes from fellow travelers turned friends, I decided it was time to explore this beautiful state this summer.
Most people think of Tawang when they think of Arunachal Pradesh (blame our collective ignorance). Where I wanted to go was the dreamy Mechuka valley that my friend Nishant (“the Chalohoppo guy”) often described as one of his favourite places in the Northeast!
I asked my mother if she’d like to join me, and when she agreed, we set off for Mechuka, located in the West Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh.
We traveled 2700 km via 4 modes of transport over 2.5 days to get there!
Here’s why it was every bit worth it.
Stunning Sunsets & Orange Orchards
Our first stop on the way to Mechuka was Aalo (formerly Along), where we were welcomed by the most stunning sunset, perfect weather, and a lovely homestay overlooking rice fields and an orange orchard.
We spent the evening drinking lal cha (red tea) and walking through the orange orchard at the center of which was a small water body with ducks and geese. The huge balcony at the homestay allowed us to take in the view at all times of the day while providing the perfect setting to read a book and unwind. Even after sunset, the view was so gorgeous that one couldn’t help stepping outside to count the stars!
Fifty Shades of Green
What I love the most about Arunachal (similar to Meghalaya in this regard) is the diverse range of trees found here- of all shapes, sizes, and shades of green. Being a region that receives heavy rainfall, it’s home to trees that we typically associate with tropical areas (a major contrast to the trees found in Himachal and Uttarakhand).
It is a pleasure to look at and drive past high mountains covered in different shades of green. The best way I could describe this to my friends was that it felt like Kerala meets Himachal (since these have been my references within the country when I think of tropical trees and mountains)!
The greenery made our hours on the road feel less strenuous, and the pit stops at local dhabas along the way ensured we got to eat like the locals (the thalis are delicious, filling and cheap).
Upon reaching Mechuka as well, we were surrounded by greenery on all sides. The sights we witnessed often made us feel like we were in Switzerland, and not a remote part of India! The valley, in spite of it’s growing popularity amongst tourists in recent times, still remains fairly untouched compared to a lot of other places in the country.
Mountains, Waterfalls & Rivers Galore
While Aalo is in the foothills of the mountains in Arunachal, Mechuka is higher up at 6000 ft above sea level.
The 5-hour ride from Aalo to Mechuka is simply beautiful, with waterfalls on just about every turn, lush green trees (particularly in the summer monsoon months- I went in June) all around, picturesque clouds that look like they’re straight out of your kindergarten drawing book, and the Siang river and its tributaries flowing along throughout the route.
On one of our days in Mechuka, we decided to hike up a nearby mountain, known for MENCHUKHA engraved on it (proper Hollywood style!). We packed some old-school chowmein from a nearby restaurant, and had two local teenage girls accompany us as our guides!
The climb up was quite different from the usual Himalayan terrain. While the ground was grassy, the incline was steep, and every few minutes we’d stop to catch our breath, while the girls raced up. We met several army personnel on our way up and down (in fact they climbed all the way up AND down while we were still halfway up!).
It was a clear, sunny day, and every time we halted for rest, we were rewarded by spectacular views of the valley below.
Often when we’re hiking, we get so caught up in reaching the destination (i.e. the summit) that we forget to enjoy the journey as well. Since we were by ourselves and in no hurry to reach the top (or back down), we enjoyed the views every chance we got, even catching a few naps atop the mountains (highly recommended)!
Being a remote village, Mechuka is also lovely to simply walk around, peeping into people’s farms and meeting gorgeous horses every now and then.
Another spot to feed the soul is spending time by the river. There are certain areas where the bank is wider and full of pebbles, making it a perfect spot to enjoy an afternoon picnic. Our homestay hosts cooked us some lunch and we devoured the meal to the sound of water flowing. Collect colourful pebbles as souvenirs to gift your friends and throw a few tiny ones into the river to hear the splash and see how far it can go! In the age of chaos, it’s a blessing to enjoy the simple pleasures and moments of solitude in a picturesque, dreamy village-like Mechuka.
Food for the Soul
What can I say about the food in Mechuka! It’s a non-vegetarian’s paradise, but it’s also not too bad for vegetarians. While I was looking forward to a lot of pork and rice beer, since we were there during the election results time, we didn’t get our due share 😦
However, we still got to eat excellent home-made food, from Assamese-style chicken curry and dal, to home-made momos and thukpa made by our host in Mechuka! The food habits of this region are quite similar to the Tibetan highlands and the Ladakh region of India.
There aren’t many commercial restaurants here, just homestays or roadside dhabas where the locals themselves eat (read drink), so it’s best to stick to home-made food, or eat in the popular joints while on the road.
Arunachal Pradesh is home to 36 major tribes and over 100 sub-tribes, including the Galo, Memba, Apatani, and Adi tribes, to name a few. Our hosts belonged to the Memba tribe, a subgroup of the Tibetan people. While each tribe has its own variations in culture, food, attire, and religious beliefs and practices, each one is as rich as the other, although a few are more well-known than others.
The Memba tribe’s religious life revolves around the Mechuka Gompa located in the village. Most families reside around it, and it exhibits a quaint atmosphere, unlike popular Gompas elsewhere.
We didn’t get to interact with members of any other tribes on this trip, but living with our hosts definitely made us realize how much there is to see and learn about the people of Arunachal!
On our last night in Mechuka, our hosts were kind enough to dress up in their traditional attire and explain the significance of their jewellery, colourful headgear and embroidered dresses. While I usually hate to ask this off hosts while staying with them, the excitement of the teenage girls of the house as they got dressed, giggling away and even performing a traditional dance for us post-dinner ensured that our ten-day trip to this dreamy village ended on a warm and fuzzy note 🙂
Chalohoppo is an experiential travel company in Northeast India and they helped me with the itinerary, bookings and inner line permit for this trip. They’re generally my go-to people for anything Northeast-travel related.
How to get there
We took a direct flight (Vistara Airlines) from Delhi to Guwahati in the wee hours of the morning. Since we were flexible with our dates, we planned our trip around securing cheap flights.
From Guwahati (Kamakhya station), we took the overnight train (Lachit Express) to Murkongselek (Jonai). We reached around 8 AM and took a shared taxi to Pasighat (costs ~INR 100 per person).
At Pasighat, we took another shared taxi to Aalo (formerly Along). Our tickets were already booked by our hosts (costs ~INR 500 per person), but you can also purchase tickets on the spot as there are plenty of operators (though pre-booking is recommended to avoid waiting).
We broke our journey at Aalo and took another shared cab the next day to Mechuka (costs ~INR 550 per person).
We followed the same sequence on our way back as well, leaving Mechuka early morning, halting at Aalo for the night, heading to Pasighat the following morning, and then catching the train back to Guwahati that evening, followed by the flight back to Delhi the day after (phew!).
Shared taxis are typically 11-seater Sumos and can get a bit stuffy when full, but otherwise quite comfortable and the drivers are very good (they drive safe, are polite and helpful, break for food and refreshments periodically).
Where to stay
Lovely property in Aalo, a bit cut off from the main town (about 20 mins by rickshaw), but overlooks rice fields, orange orchards, a duck pond, and has a great view of the mountains. It is an ideal place for a pit stop on your way to and back from Mechuka. There’s not much to do there except for a short walk around their orchard, so carry a book and enjoy the view from the balcony!
There are plenty of homestays in Mechuka. This is the one I stayed at so recommending it here. Khandu’s family is extremely hospitable, the rooms are basic but comfortable, and they have a lovely kitchen that is the ideal place to bond over some hot food and ghee chai! Their house is walking distance from most places (such as taxi stand, monastery, riverside, etc.)
Best time to visit
October to May is considered a good time to visit this region. Monsoon period starts towards the end of May, and while the valley is lush green during this time, the rain may ruin your plans. We also got stuck in a landslide for 7 hours on our way back. However, I don’t regret doing this trip in May because of the greenery and waterfalls we got to experience. In fact, a few friends who have visited the valley in the winters were amazed by the photos and said the valley looks very different in dry/cold weather.
Things to keep in mind
You need an Inner Line Permit to enter Arunachal Pradesh. This can be made in Guwahati or you can apply for it online (suggest doing so well in advance).
BSNL is the only phone network that works in Mechuka, so either get yourself a BSNL SIM or even better, say bye to all external communication while you’re visiting!
The weather can be quite unpredictable at times (like any other mountain region). So even if you’re traveling during the summer months, it’s advisable to carry warm clothes and rain gear.
There’s pretty much a town-wide shutdown during and right after elections (including the election results time), so it’s better to avoid visiting during this time.
My trip to Mechuka is one that is hard to describe in words, so I’d urge you to check out my photographs and videos from my trip on my Instagram account (listed as a ‘highlight’ on my profile!)
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