Arunachal – the amazing land in the North – Eastern part of India guarantees jaw dropping experiences everyday. During our one month visit we simply could not stop asking ourselves, why we haven’t heard of it before. A unique mix of jungle covered hills, river valleys, high Himalayan peaks is the most biologically diverse part of India. It is inhabited by more than 60 tribes, which members still follow a traditional lifestyle and practice old customs.
Pretty much in the entire state we cycled through dozens of villages, where the houses were built as they used to be hundreds of years ago. In most of the cases, only the local material is used (usually bamboo), which makes it a very sustainable shelter.
We saw different types of houses in each region, but the idea was almost the same wherever we went: wooden/bamboo pillars, bamboo spliced walls, a balcony or a terrace and a roof made out of dry leafs. In some cases the houses were so big, that they looked more like bamboo villas than huts!
Sometimes steel roof plates and concrete pillars are used to make the house last longer. However, bamboo huts are usually constructed for 5-8 years, and rebuilt when the old structure is falling apart.
Some of the houses we visited were so nice, that we wouldn’t mind having one for ourselves! We loved the bamboo verandas, with an open fire place in the middle of the floor. Imagine having all your friends sitting there and enjoying the evening!
As we were told, the entire community is involved in the process of house building and it takes only a week to construct one.
All the materials necessary to build an Arunachali house grow not further than a couple of kilometres away.
It is quite easy to construct the traditional shelter; sometimes the old techniques are used to build modern houses as well.
Unfortunately, modern, longer lasting materials are getting more and more popular and slowly will replace the traditional ones.
In general, most of Arunachal Pradesh is like a huge open air museum! There was no other place in Asia where we could observe so much old customs. Time has stopped over there!
As in many other parts of Asia, people of Arunachal prefer to carry the loads in the baskets suspended on their foreheads.
The kids grow up very fast in Arunchal. We saw quite a lot of them working very hard, helping their parents. While invited by the local families, we were surprised how skilled in the houseworks the children are.
Young girls usually cook or take care of their siblings, and boys collect the firewood or even hunt.
They learn a lot from their parents and grandparents, mostly by watching the adults working. This is the best way to pass the traditions to the next generation!
Arunachali people are very skillful. In every part of the state people weave baskets or backpacks out of cane, and in some tribes they make woven hats as well. We were lucky to receive a traditional cane backpack – “ratcha” during our last day in Arunachal Pradesh.
It was so nice to see the traditionally dressed men and women!
Some districts of Arunachal are famous of radical body modifications carried by the old members of the tribes. Here is the shy lady of the Apatanis.
Cycling through the hilly parts of Arunachal was hard but very rewarding.
People could not imagine a life without animals! It is hard to find a place in Arunachal without them, wild or domesticated. And the king is – no doubt about it – the mithun.
Just like in South East Asian jungle covered countries (Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Northern Thailand) people of Arunachal eat everything what is available.
Arunachal Pradesh, its culture and environment, is unique yet very fragile. It is a miracle, that it survived almost unspoiled until the 21st century. There are many things threatening its stability, among them the Christian missionaries. While riding through the state we were stunned by the number of churches of different denominations (some of them really exotic); they could be found even in the smallest villages! We talked to the local pastors and missionaries and we must say, it was scary! One young, devoted Baptist told us, that his church has the aim to convert 85% of the population until 2015! In our opinion it is a cultural rape performed on the local traditions to convince people that their original religion is less valuable and should therefore be given up. We were so angry when we heard the story of a woman whose child died, because she prayed to Jesus instead of calling the doctor.
Yet another danger is the tourist industry. Arunachal opened its border to Western tourists in 2011. The tourist infrastructure is still pretty undeveloped, but it will change very soon. We met many Indians visiting Arunachal during their holidays and not so many Westerners (this is due to the permit, we guess – free for Indians, expensive for the others). In places like Tawang and Ziro valley we could already feel the influence of the masses.
When we talked to the locals, many of them were unaware of the fact, that Arunachal will change dramatically in the nearest future.
It is still quite unspoiled and authentic, but that might not last long.
Like in many other parts of the world, together with the development and job opportunities for the locals (and in this case, the poor citizens of India looking for the job) the end of the traditions will follow. Arunachal might soon have the network of paved roads, schools, medical centers, hotels and restaurants but at what prize?
The conclusion is one: go there when you can, when it is still as we could experience it!