Mechuka, although spelt and pronounced as Menchukha by the locals, is a Buddhist Himalayan hamlet which is an undeniably stunning and picturesque destination in Arunachal. Although Mechuka is an often ignored destination by mainstream tourists who can’t think beyond Tawang. Mechuka being less explored is often referred to as secluded paradise which can give you serious wanderlust with its gorgeous valleys. In a single sentence, if I have to define Mechuka, I’d say – If you remember, how we as a child used to paint surreal dreamscapes in watercolour, like green valleys with layers of hills with few quaint wooden cottages in front – That exactly my friend, is Mechuka.
So, if you have just landed here in this page, hold tight as we are on our 17 Days long journey to explore the Unexplored Arunachal and we are following the below itinerary.
Nov 1 : Day 1 : Kolkata – Dibrugarh
Nov 2 : Day 2 : Dibrugarh to Ziro
Nov 3 : Day 3 : Ziro Sightseeing
Nov 4 : Day 4 : Ziro to
Nov 5 : Day 5 :
Dapirazo Pasighat to Along
Nov 6 : Day 6 : Along Sightseeing
Nov 7 : Day 7 : Along to Mechuka
Nov 8 : Day 8 : Mechuka Sightseeing
Nov 9 : Day 9 : Mechuka Sightseeing
Nov 10 : Day 10 : Mechuka to Along (Igokato Village)
Nov 11 : Day 11 : Along (Igokato Village) to Jengging
Nov 12 : Day 12 : Jengging to Tuting
Nov 13 : Day 13 : Tuting Sightseeing
Nov 14 : Day 14 : Tuting to Yingkiyong
Nov 15 : Day 15 : Yingkiyong to Pasighat (Ledum Village)
Nov 16 : Day 16 : Pasighat (Ledum Village) to Dibrugarh
Nov 17 : Day 17 : Dibrugarh to Kolkata
Nov 7 : Day 7 : Along to Mechuka :
We woke up at around 2 AM and quickly got ready as we had plans to leave by 3 AM. However, Mrs Ete insisted that she’d prepare us Tea at least. Here’s a summary, if you are not following along from the previous episode. During our stay in Aalo (Along), local students union called a strike – “Chakka Jam“, against the govt. from 5 AM to 5 PM. So we have to cross the border of Aalo (Along) town by 5 AM in order to not getting stuck at Aalo (Along). Although it takes around 45 minutes – 1 hour to cross the town, however, Mr Ete recommended us to start early as he anticipated that students would start patrolling the streets from tonight and might start pelting stones even before the town sees the first light of the day.
Finally, after bidding Good-Bye to Mr and Mrs Ete for such a wonderful experience and enjoyable stay, we left by around 3:30 AM.
It was almost wee hours of the morning and thus the road was completely free from any kind of traffic and vehicle movement. Along the route, we noticed a few groups of students patrolling as anticipated by Mr Liduk Ete. Even though my parents were afraid but no one seemed to bother us. It was pitch dark outside with no visibility. Shiva kept his eyes steady on the road and carefully kept navigating through the hairpin bends of hilly terrain. Everyone was so calm and quiet that you can even listen to your heart-beat.
Once, we crossed a safe distance away from the Aalo (Along) town we stopped for a while for a smoke break. In between, we noticed various Line Sumos too plying at such wee hours. I was glad that we were not the one on this journey.
Gradually, the first light of the day started illuminating the landscapes around us. It was not much interesting as such, however, the journey by the Siyom was splendid. Finally, after driving continuously for a while, we reached Mechuka Gate at around 7 AM. Although it’d take another 5 hours to reach the actual town – Mechuka. There’s a small eatery by the Mechuka Gate. Generally, all Line Sumos stops here for Lunch and mid-day breaks for freshening up, however, today being an exception, we all stopped there for our breakfast!
En-route we stopped at the magnificent Siko Dido Waterfall for a while before proceeding further. We relaxed our legs for a while and enjoyed the sprinkles of water of the gigantic waterfall after such a strenuous journey. There’s a cafe nearby which serves hot momos and Tea / Coffee to add up to the flavour. The people in these regions mostly are of Libo Tribe. British Govt. during their reign termed the word Hills Miri Tribe to distinguish between Plains Miri of Assam and Hills Miri of Arunachal. However, Arunachal Govt has abolished this term being inappropriate. Well, you might wonder why am I telling you all these? Firstly being a travel freak, I love learning about local culture, traditions and customs. Secondly and most importantly, you must be very sensitive towards what you say and how you approach the locals in tribal regions. Tribal people are very friendly, welcoming and co-operating but are very sensitive towards their cultural sentiments. So you are good to navigate on your own through tribal regions, till you don’t hurt their cultural and traditional sentiments.
Finally, we reached Mechuka by around 2 PM. As we were not sure of when we’d be reaching Mechuka, we already informed our host to not to arrange our lunch for the day. So after reaching Mechuka, Shiva drove us to a restaurant nearby for lunch as we were hungry like hell!
Noticing a lot of people in their traditional attire, walking down the alley, we enquired with a local. He informed us that today is an auspicious day at the newly opened monastery. We immediately sensed to score a hands-on experience of local culture. After having our lunch, Shiva drove us to the hillock at the newly opened monastery. Upon reaching there, we noticed, some religious festival was going on. Upon enquiring with the monks we came to know that, this monastery is newly opened and today is the last day of the auspicious celebration. The monks offered us Butter Tea which is a local and hugely popular in Mechuka. And to my utter surprise, I got my hands-on to capture some of the beautiful local Memba people in their traditional attire.
Local Culture & Traditions :
Mechuka is the home to Memba tribes. People of Memba tribes are popular for their skills on agriculture over terraced fields. Religiously, they follow Nyingmapa Tibetan Buddhism. It’s believed that people of Memba tribe travelled all the way from Lhasa in Tibet by road. Other than people of Memba tribe you can also encounter people of Tagin, Ramo, Libo and Bokar tribes. However, people of Libo tribes are mostly pronounced at Tato and the people of Ramo tribes are mostly pronounced in between Tato and Mechuka. Whereas, people of Bokar tribes are mostly pronounced at Monigang.
Generally, they build houses on a raised platform above the ground. Same as like other tribal cultures throughout the state, the kitchen is the most important room in the house with an open fireplace and a chimney where all the residents of the house gather to warm themselves up over a cup of Tea, Chang / Apong (rice beer) or Ara (local wine made of rice).
People of Mechuka mostly depends on the agriculture of Millet and other produce throughout the year. Other than that, few people are involved in the business which is limited to local shops and Govt. Contracts. Govt. jobs though, are a scarcity here in Mechuka, unlike our experience with Apatani Tribes at Ziro and Galo Tribes at Aalo (Along) where people are almost 80% involved in Govt Jobs.
However, the most interesting thing that I learned here in Mechuka is, the barter system is still alive here. Not in terms of buying goods, but in terms of any kind of services. Locals here, do not employ or pay anyone for services such as agriculture, building houses etc. Say, for example, if I’m planning to build my home or fix something, the local villagers will help me accomplish that task. In return, I’d also help them when needed or with cultivation. In fact, the fantastic thing that I experienced here is, every product they consume are grown locally. So in a round-about manner, every villager grows different produces and share it amongst themselves except few necessary items such as rice, leafy vegetables which everyone produces on their own. Rest assured, the meals that you are consuming here are of local produce and completely organic.
Later, we drove back to our shelter for the next 2 days – Yargapchu Homestay. Noticing us, our host Mr Lakpa Sona came forward and welcomed us warmly. He then showed us our rooms.
There was still around an hour of daylight still remaining. So Shiva suggested us to utilize the daylight and to explore the town. Considering the short time, he took us to the nearby hilltown – Dorjeeling. The name sounds similar to the most popular hilltown in Bengal – Darjeeling. In fact, the town Darjeeling too got its name from Dorjeleeing which in Tibetian dialect means “a land of thunderbolt“.
Even we were surprised by the name. This scenic village with its tiny wooden huts and an ancient Monastery is a soothing visual retreat to the eyes. Dorjeeling is like a fairy tale village with colourful cottages scattered throughout the vast grassland with swinging tall grasses and horses grazing through them. One can also choose to hike to Dorjeeling which takes around 2 hours from Mechuka.
While exploring the village we paid a visit to the nearby monastery which is a small gompa. It was really nice chatting with the lone monk of the gompa. Unfortunately, he didn’t want to get his pictures clicked. So I kinda respected his decision here. He narrated us tales of daily lifestyle at Dorjeeling.
Finally, after spending some time roaming around the valleys of Dorjeeling and enjoying over the wobbly hanging bridges, as the daylight started disappearing, we came back to our homestay.
Later in the evening, as the temperature almost dropped to the freezing point, we all gathered together with our poison by the room heater! The rest of the evening was mostly uneventful. Finally, we were served dinner at around 9 PM. The warm fireplace at the kitchen felt really comforting at such a frozen temperature. After having our dinner, we chit-chatted for a while with our host, learning more about their culture, local traditions and customs before calling off the day.
Total KMs Travelled: 180 KM
Nov 8 : Day 8 : Mechuka Sightseeing :
We woke up at around 7 AM and took our sweet time to get ready. The chilled weather slowed us down a bit with its laziness! Later after having our breakfast, we started our day at around 9 AM.
Samten Yongcha Monastery
Mechuka’s main attraction which also drew the Dalai Lama is the 400-year-old Samten Yongcha Monastery on a hilltop. Although the monastery is only reachable by a moderately easy trek of around an hour from the last vehicle drop point. So today, we planned to roam around the pristine valley and enjoy the scenic beauty as I was travelling with my parents. We decided to hike to the monastery tomorrow after hiking to Mechuka La summit, whereas my parents would be roaming around the market.
Yorlung Army Camp
Shiva first drove us towards Yorlung Army Camp. Although, there’s nothing much exciting about visiting an army camp, however, this is the closest you can be, before you hit the McMahon Line. The route to Yorlung will treat you with a colourful view of the valley and majestic mountains of the eastern Himalayas. Upon reaching, the army asked about our purpose of visit. They offered us a seat along with a cup of hot tea and snacks. They shared stories about the importance of this location and their lifestyle. We felt really honoured to experience their bravery and lifestyle while being shattered at the same time on how these brave men are safeguarding our country being miles away from their families.
While returning back, we stopped for a while at Hanuman Camp. A small Hanuman temple was built by the side of the road. However, the exciting thing is, Shiva pointed us towards a hill and informed us that if we see carefully, we’d be able to notice a representation to that of the face of Hanuman Ji.
On our way to Yorlung, we came upon a Gurudwara which is said to be built in the 1980s over the river as an ode to Guru Nanak who is believed to have stopped here and meditated on his way to Tibet. Shiva informed us that every noon, the soldiers offer daily prayer and langar (free meal) to all devotees and visitors made by themselves. So we decided to stop here on our way back from Yorlung.
Upon reaching the Gurudwara, a soldier asked us to follow him across the street to a holy cave dedicated to Guru Nanak. Upon reaching the cave the soldier pointed us towards a massive rock and informed us that the impressions on the rock are believed to be of the turban of Guru Nanak while he meditated at this place. Later he gathered us all together and gave a small speech which really touched our hearts. It was beyond any religion and one’s religious beliefs. He believed in helping and sharing with others, mainly, the unprivileged. He told us that, one can find utmost peace on sharing with others. Building temples or Gurudwaras won’t help anyone. All these religions and religious institutions will only matter if we can help people through these institutions. He told us that if we can even offer a nibble to a single person, there’s an utmost truce in that.
Later, he directed us downhill through a narrow crack in the mountain. The soldier informed us that we won’t be able to pass through the gap if we have ever sinned. Well, I don’t know if I have sinned or not, but with this obesity, I’d never able to cross! The solder though told me obesity won’t matter and insisted that I must try. Luckily, to my complete surprise, I crossed it like ablaze! No, I’m not referring to any miracle here, however, I never imaged I could cross it with this bulgy tummy of mine! Crossing the crevice lead us to an alluring view of the forest by the river. We spent a while enjoying the soothing view of nature before proceeding further.
The soldier further pointed us towards two tiny water pools which seemed natural out of the pores in the rocks and instructed us to pick a stone. There’s a mixture of white, black and grey stones which is believed to determines one’s destiny. The white stone represents happiness, the grey stone represents a period of struggle before you find happiness whereas the black stone represents bad luck and darkness. Finally, he invited us back to the langar at the Gurudwara. For those, who are not accustomed to this word like me, langar is a free holy meal offered at most of the Gurudwaras. The meal is prepared daily by the brave soldiers for the devotees of their own contribution from salary. Sharing a delicious meal sitting beside the bravest soldiers felt really honourable.
Finally, with the ever cherishing memories, we left for exploring the sovereign valley at around 3 PM. Rest of the day we kept on driving through the colourful vast meadows with graceful horses running wild through the evergreen pine forests in the foreground and it’s waving brown deserted hills and snow-capped mountains in the background treating us with a visual extravagance. Mechuka is exaggerated with various wooden hanging bridges throughout the town which is built to cross the Yargapchu river and is an essence of Mechuka which defines the town.
Later around the evening, as the light started to fall off, we returned back to our homestay. Same as like yesterday, we spent the whole evening warming ourselves up over boozing! In between, it started drizzling for a while due to which temperature dropped drastically. The room heater though came to rescue as a saviour! Shortly after having our dinner at around 9 PM we called off the day.
Nov 9 : Day 9 : Hike To Mechuka La :
Today we woke up at around 8 AM. Our plan for the day was to hike to Mechuka La and then hike to Samten Yongcha Monastery which we couldn’t visit yesterday. Although initially Me, Akash and Shiva planned to hike together, however at the last moment Akash was not much keen on hiking so he dropped off the idea. Instead, he preferred to roam around the market with the rest of the family members.
So after having our breakfast, I and Shiva went ahead together for Mechuka La summit. The Mechuka La trek is very famous and popular due to its huge “M E N C H U K H A” sign inscribed over the mountain like Hollywood at Los Angeles.
We were lucky as Yargapchu Homestay is situated right at the east end of Mechuka, nearby the Bumjipanga vehicle bridge from where the hike to Menchukha La begins. Although I insisted on hiring a guide, however, Mr Lakpa suggested otherwise. He informed us that the path of the hike is easily identifiable and we really don’t need to hire a guide for such an easy hike. As the homestay was just nearby, he showed us the entire route from there itself. The hike through the magical valley was really enticing. It was not much tough even considering my bulky figure. For someone fit, I’d categorize it as an easy-medium hike. The hike to Menchukha La treats you with a birds-eye view of the entire valley and the town surrounding with snowcapped mountains. It took us around 5 hours for a round trip from our homestay.
Once, we were back to our homestay, we realised that the rest of the family members went to the market on their own for exploring the town. Soon we joined them up over lunch at the same food joint we visited yesterday.
Next, our plan was to hike to Samten Yongcha Monastery which is a 400 year old monstery nestled on a hilltop. The monastery is renowned for having a golden statue of Lord Buddha and many other carvings, sculptures and Buddhist artefacts. It’s mostly referred to as Old Monastery in Mechuka. And it’s said that Mechuka previously was not accessible by road. And the road was build to Mechuka when Dalai Lama visited Samten Yongcha Monastery on 2003. Although most of the part of the route to Samten Yongcha Monastery is accessible by road however one is expected to hike a steep path in the end in order to reach Samten Yongcha Monastery.
To tell you the truth, neither me nor Shiva was no more interested in hiking to Samten Yongcha Monastery. So when the family mentioned that they are now getting bored and instead would like to roam around the town and explore picturesque valleys instead, we just took advantage of the situation to drop the plan of hiking to Samten Yongcha Monastery.
Later, after our lunch, Shiva drove us through the beautiful valleys and rickety hanging bridges. Well, due to the Yargapchu river flowing through the valleys, the town of Mechuka got divided into two parts. And thus these old rickety hanging bridges are very common throughout the town which connects villages located on both sides of the river. And I must say, the beauty of Mechuka lies in its colourful valleys and these hanging bridges.
As we had nothing much left on our checklist, we slowed down and took our own sweet time to explore the valleys and indulge in the beauty of nature. It felt like a dream destination with colourful cottages and horses grazing throughout the grassland. We took this moment to interact with locals and learn more about their livelihood and lifestyle. They were very friendly and always smiling!
Later, as the daylight started disappearing, Shiva drove us back to our homestay by around 4:30 PM. In the evening, as we were the only guest left, Mr and Mrs Lakpa asked us if we’d like to join them over a beer. We took up this opportunity to all gather together in the kitchen by the warm fireplace which served as medicine at such sub-zero temperature. We also took our bottle of Whiskey to share with our hosts!
Rest of the evening we chit-chatted a lot, sharing stories about each others tradition and culture. Soon it started raining due to which the temperature fell down drastically. Although we couldn’t realize the same till we came out of the kitchen after having our dinner.
With this night, our 2nd leg of the trip to Unexplored Arunachal comes to an end. Tomorrow, we had the plan to travel back to Aalo (Along). Considering the long route, Shiva suggested us to start early. Thus we packed all our belongings and cleared all the bills with Mr Lakpa Sona in advance before hitting the bed.
Total KMs Travelled (Day 8 & Day 9): 84 KM
Inner Line Permit (ILP) / Protected Area Permit (PAP) :
Arunachal being a tribal-state is a restricted zone. Thus, Indian Citizens (except the native people of Arunachal) needs Inner Line Permit (commonly referred to as ILP) and foreigners need Protected Area Permit (PAP) in order to visit Arunachal.
One can either apply it online through the web-portal accessible at https://www.arunachalilp.com/ or offline at various cities such as Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati, Shillong, Tezpur, Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur, Jorhat.
Please check out the detailed procedure of applying ILP / PAP at Unexplored Arunachal | Ziro | Part 1
The best period to enjoy Mechuka is during winter – November to April. The temperatures during this period are around 7 – 10 deg C during the days and around 0 – 2 deg C during the nights. April though is warmer with around 17 deg C during the days and around 10 deg C during the nights.
Although it rains a bit throughout the year in Mechuka but one should generally avoid travelling during Monsoon (Mid May to Mid Oct) considering the drastic road conditions.
How To Reach :
If you wish to travel to Mechuka, it’s best to start from Pasighat. You cannot really travel up to Mechuka in a single day. You have to break it at Pasighat (optional, depending on when you are reaching Pasighat). Form Pasighat, you need to break at Aalo (Along) and then travel all the way to Mechuka.
There are several ways you can reach Pasighat.
- You can choose to directly fly to Pasighat. Along with that, there is a regular Pawan Hans helicopter service which connects Pasighat with various regional airports such as Guwahati.
- Or else, you can fly to Dibrugarh and take a private vehicle if you can afford or opt for the regular ASTC Bus / Line Sumos to Pasighat from Dibrugarh.
- If you prefer via Guwahati, you can also choose to take a train / fly to Guwahati. From Guwahati, you can take an Auto / Bus to Kamakhya Railway Station. In the meanwhile, if you have a buffer day, explore the famous religious Kamakhya Temple at Guwahati. From Kamakhya Railway Station there’s a daily train to Murkongselek Railway Station in Jonai of Dhemaji district of Assam. Kamakhya – Murkongselek Intercity Express which is also known as Kamakhya – Murkongselek Lachit Express is one of the best trains in this route. From Murkongselek Railway Station there are Line Sumos up to Pasighat at regular intervals.
- Murkongselek Railway Station is also connected with Dibrugarh. However as I mentioned previously, if you are taking a train/flying to Dibrugarh, it makes no sense to take a train to Murkongselek. Instead, you can opt for the regular ASTC Bus / Line Sumos to Pasighat from Dibrugarh as it’d be more convenient.
- Finally, as always, you can also take a private vehicle from Dibrugarh if you can afford.
- Lastly, just for your information, there’s a daily boat service available from Dibrugarh to Oiramgaht from where one can reach Pasighat by local bus. But with Line Sumo’s and ASTC Buses, this is not a convenient option anymore.
From Pasighat, onwards, there are regular Line Sumos up to Aalo (Along). Aalo (Along) is well connected by daily Line Sumos from Pasighat / Itanagar / Dibrugarh / N. Lakhimpur / Silapathar / Jonai. So you can also directly travel to Aalo (Along) from these towns if you wish to skip Pasighat.
Further from Aalo (Along), there are regular Line Sumos up to Mechuka.
The journey by Line Sumos for each of these sector costs Rs. 500/- – Rs. 600/- per person.
Important Points :
- Although Mechuka has one State Bank of India ATM in the market but being such a remote location, there’s always a scarcity of cash there. Needless to say, Mechuka being an offbeat destination, there’s no scope of using card or digital payments either. So please carry all your expenses in cash from Aalo (Along). There are lots of ATM in Along (Aalo).
- As soon as you start moving out of Aalo (Along), you’ll be out of coverage area of all major telecom operators except BSNL. BSNL is the only service provider in Mechuka, that too with a weakened network. Calls and SMSes work fine most of the time, however, don’t expect data speed at all. Sometimes at some specific areas, you’ll get 2G at most during specific hours of the day.
- There’s no shared vehicle service in Mechuka for exploring the town and doing local sightseeing. You have to either explore them on foot or you may ask your homestay to arrange a vehicle instead.
- With lots of liquor shops in the market, getting your favourite liquor is not a problem in Mechuka. In fact, being a tax-free region, you’ll get it cheaper throughout Arunachal.
Yargapchu Homestay: Needless to say the homestay is named after the local river Yargap Chu (chu in local language means river) which flows through the valley in Mechuka. Yargapchu Homestay is located by the banks of Yargapchu River overlooking the beautiful valley. It’s situated right at the east end of Mechuka, nearby the Bumjipanga vehicle bridge from where both the hike to Menchukha La and Dorjeeling begins. The main market is around 5 mins walking distance from this homestay. So yes, location wise it’s just perfect.
The homestay is basic no-frills accommodation, same as like other accommodations in Mechuka. However, the exciting part of staying at Yargapchu homestay lies on the warmth of the host – Mr and Mrs Lakpa Sona. They are very friendly, warm, welcoming, co-operating and always smiling. Well, most of the people of Memba tribes bear the same characteristics.
The rooms and the property is really well maintained, neat and clean. The rooms were really spacious. Due to the scarcity of electricity here, you won’t find electric geysers here in washrooms. However, every morning, Mr Lapka Sona puts up a jumbo tub of warm water for the guests. They also provide a room heater to each room without any extra charge to cope up with the freezing temperature of the valley. Food is completely organic and very tasty. All I can say is we really enjoyed our stay here at Yargapchu Homestay.
Breakfast at Mechuka Gate : Rs. 310/- (Day 7)
Lunch at Mechuka Market : Rs. 1380/- (Day 7) & Rs. 1800/- (Day 9)
Momo at Mechuka Market : Rs. 290/- (Day 7) & Rs. 240/- (Day 9)
Yargapchu Homestay, Mechuka : Rs. 1500/- per room per night (Food is not included in accommodation package)
Fooding at Yargapchu Homestay, Mechuka : Breakfast – Rs. 100/- per head per day and Dinner – Rs. 250/- per head per day.
Vehicle : Rs. 5500/- per day
Our Total Costing for this whole trip was Rs. 2,35,000/- (excluding the flights) which is about Rs. 40,000/- (rounded off) per head.
Mr. Lapka Sona, Yargapchu Homestay, Mechuka : +91 94026 63192.
Shiva, Driver : +91 99547 77434 / +91 94019 47966 / +91 86381 73035. Very friendly and co-operating young chap to travel with. During our course of 17 days tour through tribal villages of Arunachal, he became a family member to us. Although he prefers to get called by his self-named nickname – Nick to maintain the style!
Dipankar Da, North East Travels : +91 89722 47306. Dipankar Da is more than a friend to me and my go-to solution when for North-East destinations. He’s very reliable and knowledgable when it comes to Birding, National Parks, Tiger Reserves and destinations in North East.