Way before the second wave of Coronavirus wreaked havoc on us, Shivank was on a soul-filling motorcycle ride through Arunachal Pradesh. Here’s him reminiscing on the good times.
Our world is a mess right now. The second wave of COVID-19 has hit us harder than last year, permeating a sense of doom and despair everywhere. Perhaps, it’s not the most appropriate time to talk about my travel adventures – I don’t know, I’m a bit confused.
But then, here’s a thing. All this madness has only made me appreciate the simple joys of life even more now. What once seemed like routine work now feels more like a blessing. And so, without being teary-eyed about what has happened or what the future holds, I’d want you to allow me to reminisce on my brief time in the lovely surroundings of Arunachal Pradesh just before all hell broke loose.
Things were looking up at the beginning of 2021, and it seemed as if the bad times were finally behind us. We thought it was time to get cracking and get back on our feet – classic human spirit!
For us lot, driving/riding is the job. So, getting back-to-normal meant clocking some miles on the road on wheels. Now, ever since the first lockdown, I hadn’t been on a leisure road trip, nor did I take any flight for over a year. But when Honda invited us for a week-long adventure in Arunachal Pradesh in March, I couldn’t control myself – as I said, things were looking up. I thought it was the ideal time to break free. Naturally, I signed up for the proposed adventure – the Honda Sunchasers 2021.
The Honda Sunchasers was a 7-day ride through the magnificent landscape of Arunachal Pradesh. There were 11 riders – including journalists and social media influencers – on the ride, and each was given a spanking new CB350 cruiser for the job.
Arunachal is the largest state (area-wise) in the North-East and has popular tourist hotspots like Tawang, Ziro Valley, and Sela Pass; however, we only cover the lesser-known and sparsely-explored eastern part of the region, which meant skipping the said hotspots.
On March 8, I boarded a Delhi-Dibrugarh flight to join the adventure. The ride began from Dibrugarh since it was the closest airport to Eastern Arunachal. Upon reaching Dibrugarh, a detailed itinerary was shared with us. The lead rider for this adventure was Vijay Parmar – a renowned motocross rider and a very popular name in the rally scene of the country. Apart from being an accomplished rider by day, he’s also quite funny once the adrenaline dissipates by night – his sarcasm and deadpan delivery can keep you entertained for hours. I knew that with him around, our days were going to be fun and evenings funny.
On the first day, we rode for just over 100km to Ruksin – the border town between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. This was our official flag-off point, where we were also greeted by local dignitaries. In addition, we also enjoyed a couple of charismatic performances by the local tribes. In particular, the Tapu War Dance had me mesmerised – it’s an energetic tribal dance form, which is also a bit funny to watch.
After the flag-off at Ruksin, we hit the road again and continued to our night destination – Bomjir. Now, the ride from Ruksin to Bomjir was adrenaline pumping and picturesque in equal measure. On the one hand, there was beautiful scenery all around, and on the other, the tarmac was phenomenal. The mountain roads here are race-track wide and smooth – even on the CB350, our convoy was hitting triple-digit speeds quite comfortably – yes, on hill roads.
In fact, the H’ness turned out to be a pretty impressive machine for carving fast corners. The only spoilsports were its tall gearing and weak bottom-end, which is quite evident on uphill climbs. Anyway, despite these small niggles, it was a fast and exciting ride.
The Land of the Rising Sun
Arunachal Pradesh is called the land of the rising sun because the first rays of the sun strike this region before anywhere else in the country. In fact, the mornings here live up to the claim – it gets a little too bright a little too soon. In March, 6 am in Arunachal felt like 8 am in Delhi.
Our first night-stay in Arunachal was at Bomjir Resort, where we stayed in stilted bamboo huts in the middle of a private jungle near the banks of river Dibang. The morning view was more than just stunning, and the weather played ball. We stayed there for another night, but during the day, we scaled some heights – 1,650m, to be precise – to reach Udayak Pass to catch a spectacular view of the Lohit Valley from the top. Sure, you do get similar views in Himachal or Uttarakhand too, but two things make this place stand apart. First, the roads are usually empty – the region is scarcely populated and there are hardly any tourists. And no, it isn’t because of COVID-19, for when we visited Arunachal, it had already been declared COVID-free. Second, the roads here are phenomenal – they’re so wide and so smooth. Also, the landscape is so pretty that it gives you a very Northern Thailand kind of vibe. Not to mention, the local cuisine, which includes heavy and delicious portions of pork ribs, makes the whole experience all the more wholesome.
On the third day, we left Bomjir and headed to Namdapha National Park. Now, the distance was only around 170km, but in the last 40km of the ride, we encountered bad roads and an adventurous trail through the national park. The terrain had rock, gravel, and slush – an ideal testing ground for an Africa Twin, but we weren’t sure if the CB350 could take that kind of beating here. However, to our utter surprise, this little cruiser took everything in its stride quite convincingly. On muddy trails, the balance of the motorcycle was spot-on, brakes had a good bite, and even the traction control worked acceptably well.
What I liked the most about the CB350 on these rough trails was its fuss-free and easy-going nature – this motorcycle can definitely handle some abuse. In fact, by the end of the ride, I was just salivating at the idea of a Himalayan-like off-roader based on the CB350 platform. That would be brilliant, given the versatility of this platform.
As for Namdapha National Park, it is yet another hidden gem of Arunachal Pradesh. Spread over an area of nearly 2,000 square kms of dense forest, it’s touted as one of the biggest ecological hotspots in the world. It has over 1,000 floral and 1,400 faunal species, and that’s because its altitude ranges from 200m to 5,000m. More importantly, it’s the only park in the country with four big cat species – leopard, clouded leopard, snow leopard, and tiger. However, given how dense and vast the park is, you’d struggle to spot one of them – not that I wanted to anyway, especially when I was on a motorcycle.
At the park, we stayed right in the middle of the jungle at Deban Forest Rest House, which is the only accommodation inside the park. Even though the stay wasn’t the most comfortable, it was the best night of the whole trip – there was a bonfire, delectable food, cool breeze, and usual banter and gossips, which embellished that night. But before it was over, we all agreed that there are three things that disappear very quickly – ghosts, a politician’s promise, and our time in Arunachal.
The next morning, we headed to an even more special place – Pangsau Pass. Pangsau Pass is at a height of 1,136m, and it’s one of the border crossings between India and Myanmar. Its name comes from the nearest village of Pangsau, which is roughly 2km on the Myanmar side. This pass is mainly known for its strategic importance during World War II, especially for the historic Stilwell Road. The Stilwell Road was constructed between 1942 and 1945, connecting India, Myanmar, and China, to help the Western Allies deliver supplies to China in their fight against Japan. It was a remarkable feat – the road was built by 15,000 American soldiers and 35,000 local workers. Many lives were lost in this endeavour – the 1,079-mile-long road is said to have cost ‘a man a mile’.
After riding through the historic pass, we returned to the small town of Miao for the night stay. The next day, we saddled up again and headed to the final stop of the journey – Namsai. The name Namsai translates to ‘sandy waters’, and this is one of the places where you’ll witness the spiritual Buddhism side of Arunachal. The main highlight here is the Golden Pagoda, which is spread over an area of 20 hectares and has manicured lawns, an orchid centre, and smaller temples. There is a sense of calm and peace all around. Since this was our last stop in Arunachal, all this felt a bit poetic at that moment. After spending a day in Namsai, we swiftly cruised back to Dibrugarh. The next day we flew back to our mundane lives.
No Return Policy, Anyone?
Over the years, my job has allowed me to travel to some kickass locations. Exploring a new region is always exciting, and there’s a curiosity to learn more as you cover more miles – that’s what makes travelling such a joy, isn’t it? However, whenever it’s time to leave a place, I usually go back thinking, ‘You know what, I’ll come back here soon!’ But when I left Arunachal, it was different. I didn’t promise myself to come back here soon – I actually didn’t want to leave the place in the first place. That’s how special and alluring this place is. And given the current situation, my heart only yearns for those seven carefree days spent in Arunachal. Honestly, I regret coming back.