Arunachal Pradesh, the least visited part of India.

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Arunachal Pradesh is more similar to Nepal and China than India.

Arunachal Pradesh is one of the seven sister states in North East India, and the last one you need a permit to visit. I have already covered two of the other states: “Nagaland, The forgotten India on a budget” and “Kaziranga National Park, Close-up with One-horned Rhinos

Arunachal Pradesh is so different to the rest of India. For the most part, Arunachal is unexplored so you still have places where no western tourists have been. It’s one of the least developed areas in Asia so there is a lot of virgin nature and local tribes living traditional lifestyles. For nature lovers, Aruchanal is like untouched Shangri-La.

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Normal housing in western part of Arunachal Pradesh

When I was researching Arunachal Pradesh before I decided to visit I was very surprised that even the latest information was years old.  The Lonely Planet was completely useless and enquiries made on various forums always returned the answer that it’s not possible to travel there on your own – or you are required to have a guide and bla bla bla.
So, I decided, as I always do when I’m not satisfied by my research, to head over and figure it out upon arrival.

Entering Arunchanal Pradesh

First of all, YES you do need a special permit to travel in Arunachal. Even Indians do. The permit is not cheap and takes at least a week to receive.  Normally you have to go through a registered travel agency in Arunachal.  Usually, at least 2 people are required to obtain the permit into the city.  Luckily, I received my permit in a week and I travelled alone.  If you are planning to go there please can send me a message and I’ll pass on the contact of the contact person who fixed my permit. But I can’t promise that he will obtain it.

When entering Arunachal Pradesh you have to pass a checkpoint where you have to register your permit and passport information.

The first thing you will notice when you enter Arunachal Pradesh from Assam is that Arunachal Pradesh alcohol is tax-free. There are alcohol shops just across the state border and lots of Indians from the state of Assam are crossing the border just to buy alcohol – in a similar fashion to people back here in Norway travelling over to Sweden.

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An older Monpa man.

The first destination I wanted to visit is Tawang, the birthplace of the 6th Dalai Lama. Tawang is also the home of Tawang Monastery, – the biggest monastery in India since 1660.  The monastery is also recorded as the second-biggest in the world after Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. It is also the home of the Monpas people.

According to Lonely Planet, the road to Tawang is one of the worst in the world. In fact, it’s not that bad at all. In my opinion, the Lonely Planet is without use for Arunachal Pradesh and the rest of northeast India. It appears that they have simply found old information online and put it in their book without having actually been to do their own research.  It is worth nothing that there are a few checkpoints on the way to Tawang.

Since the Lonely Planet informed me that the road is so awful I decided to stop-over in Bomdila, about half the way between Assam and my final destination in Tawang.  Like Tawang, Bomdila also holds stories about the Dalai Lama. The current, 14th, Dalai Lama passed through Bomdila when he escaped Lhasa in March 1958. And it was in Bomdila when His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama received the historic telegram from former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru granting him political asylum after his flight from the Tibetan capital.

These days, Bomdila is not more than a sleeping village with 3 small monasteries, a few hotels and restaurants. The road to Bomdila is not actually bad at all. The scenery during the journey from Bomdila to Tawang is even more stunning then the road from Assam to Bomdila so I was looking out the window and enjoying the view all the way. In my opinion, it’s some of the most stunning scenery in all of India.

Unfortunately stopping in Bomdila proved to be a small mistake since I was really struggling to find a hotel that allowed foreigners to stay.  If I had known beforehand that the road to Tawang is not so bad I would have continued my journey to Tawang in the same day instead of stopping over in Bomdila.

I really can’t do justice to how stunning the road from Bomdila to Tawang and is sure to be a highlight of any Indian trip.  I would say that the world famous road from Manali to Leh in western India can’t compare to the beauty of the Bomdila – Tawang road.

Unfortunately, I was taking a shared jeep on this part of the road. If I had known that the road would be so good I would have hired a private jeep and done a lot of stops on the way.

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A young monk, looking out trough the laundry room

When you finally arrive in Tawang you will feel pretty relieved, there’s no problem to find a place to stay at all.  There are quite a few good restaurants, some tax-free liquor store and some very friendly local Monpas people that invited me over for a cup of tea. Tawang is everything Bomdila is not. Tawang is actually a very tourist friendly place, there is even a working ATM there and some of the guesthouses have working WiFi.

The town is small enough to walk around but since it is very close to the Himalayas it’s not flat, there are lots of steep hills. I never found a problem hitchhiking around the area, every car stopped; I assume they are not accustomed to seeing foreign tourists in the area.

For most people, the main reason to visit Tawang is the amazing Tawang Monastery. And with good justification, it’s breathtaking. I have previously travelled to Tibet Lhasa in Tibet and visited Potala Palace.  While Potala Palace is even more stunning it’s a bit disappointing since Potala Palace has been converted into a museum and you are not allowed to walk around freely.

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Tawang Monastery.
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A young monk

Tawang Monastery is still a functioning monastery with around 450 monks, you can walk around freely and hang out with some of the local monks.  I was even invited to be their English teacher for a day, invited to eat with all the monks and had countless cups of tea with them. A perfect day!

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Some of the young monks heading to class.
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A young monk having a sneak peak into a class

Tawang is the birthplace of the 6th Dali Lama, but, unfortunately, it was closed due to renovation when I was there so I couldn’t visit.

After three days it was time to leave this amazing place, I would have loved to stay longer, but I was starting to run out of time on my visa, and everyone that have ever visited India knows what a hassle it is to obtain a visa extension.  I also had a few places I wished to visit in Arunachal Pradesh.

One of those places is Ziro Valley with the Apatani people famous for their face tattoos and huge nose rings but to reach Ziro I was required to pass through Itanagar, the most depressing city in all of India.  Upon my arrival, there was a government strike so and no transport to Ziro for four days.  Since my Indian visa was running out, i had to leave for Assam to catch my train back to Delhi.  Missing out on Ziro valley is one of my biggest regrets since I’ve been traveling.

I will definitely be heading back to Arunachal Pradesh, not only to visit Ziro but more of the northern part, the part that Tibetan monks call Shangrila, I would also love to spend a lot more time in Tawang and the surrounding areas.

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Visit Arunachal Pradesh

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41 Comments
  1. Christina .. Lovely look towards Arunachal Pradesh. Keeping in mind I m Indian travel blogger, when I explores North East it was definitely very rare and it is still ..Are you still going to be in India ? Btw tweet to me the personal details I would like to go again.. T: @rutaagayire. Hope to see you some day !

    1. Im back in Norway now for a short moment, but im planning to return to India and the seven sister seven states, very soon:)

      Christian

    1. Thanks for you Comment Juliet:) if visitng India and want to get away from the hassle, beggars, and polution is Arunchal the best place to visit:)

      Christian

    1. Thank you:)

      Im currently using Olympus OM-D EM1,
      but it it doesn’t matter which kind of camera you use these days, every camera is good, it depends on the person behind the camera and the settings you use:)

      Christian

  2. I enjoy travelling but don’t get much of a chance nowadays however I am a big armchair traveller and I really enjoyed reading your post and the photographs are stunning. It is a part of India I’ve always wondered about – so thank you for sharing.

    1. Im always happy so share my stories,

      I find this part of India beeing the “best” and most interesting, and since you still need to get a travel permit to visit Arunachal makes its really unspoiled, i just hope that the Indian gouverment keeps it that way for years.

      Christian

  3. This looks gorgeous, I’d love to go there someday – it definitely looks more like Nepal than India though! I recently travelled India for nearly two months and am probably going back at the end of the year, check out my blog if you have time: http://www.tanisha.co. All the best with your travels, going to the monestry looked like an amazing experience xx

    1. How did you find India? The north east is very different from rest of India, i will have a lock on your blog:)

      Christian

  4. I’ll be going that way in early Jan. 2016, traveling solo. Will it be bitter cold? Maybe I can hook up with others along the way. Any advice? Thanks!

    1. Hii.
      Sorry for the late reply, I been bussy hiking and volunteering in Nepal.

      Yes Arunachal Pradesh gets cold in January, even the budget guesthouses I used in Arunachal Pradesh had heating and good blankets so it shouldn’t be a big problem. You shouldn’t expect to meet any other travelers in Arunachal Pradesh,

  5. It’s a beautiful place.arunachal is my homestate.please visit again.and there’s more of arunachal than you think.

      1. Hi Chiristian,
        Thank for your valuable comments about Arunachal Pradesh. I am Dev belong to AP. I must suggest you about ANINI, because your trip was last but not least, please visit anini then you get to know about natural beauty, try to google it ANINI which falls in Dibang valley district,!!

  6. I really love your travel blog since I also really enjoy getting out to less traveled locales.
    Visited India way back in ’87 but I didn’t get anywhere near Arunachal Pradesh. You’ve got me considering India again after all these years.
    I look forward to getting back to this site and reading more of your posts.
    Cheers,
    Darrell
    P.S. I just started my own travel photography/commentary blog called roving-camera.com.
    Please check it out sometime.

  7. Hi Christian,

    Such a great post! I’m planning to travel to Arunachal Pradesh in mid September and here is the route I’m thinking:
    Guwahati – Tezpur – Bomdilla – Tawang – Itanagar – Ziro
    I’d like to know what is the best mode to travel around these places? Is it better to just get a private cab or are the shared cabs / buses good enough?
    I definitely want to stop, take photos, soak in the sights but at the same time don’t want to spend too much. So is it possible to mix it up? Are private cabs easy to hire if I just decide one day? Since you mentioned the route from Bomdila to Tawang is so beautiful – I would definitely like to get my own cab for that.
    Any help/advice from your side will be much appreciated 🙂

    Thanks in advance. Cheers!

    1. Hello Madhavi.

      The best mood of transportation between those places is take shared jeeps/private jeeps.
      There´s also a few buses running between those places, but they are very, very slow. I took shared jeeps between all the places, they were fast and comfterbale. Just be in mind there´s no transportation after dark.

      The shared jeep I used was happy to stop when I asked it to, the locals in the jeep did´t mind either.

      There´s was no problem finding jeeps for hire in either of the places when I was there:)

      Christian

  8. first of all, Mr Dev Thapa is not a local from Arunachal, he’s a Nepali. and Milo is a tribal of Arunachal and I’m also a tribal of Arunachal.
    Mr christian thanks for visiting Arunachal, hope you visit again ?. these pictures are lovely. and i want to say please visit again, you should probably visit Ziro, mechuka, anini, daporijo and Tuting. Please do visit again ??

  9. Hi Mahadevi,
    you should extend your journey to Ziro – Daporijo – Aalo – pasight – Tuting.
    it would be nice 🙂
    -Nangom

    1. Hi Nangom!
      I wish I had more days to cover more places but unfortunately I only have about 10-12 days.
      Also, can you suggest any homestays in Ziro? Everything seems to be full for the month of September 🙁 Can’t find anything

        1. I’ve checked both the places you’ve suggested. Everything seems to be full.
          But thank you for your help anyway.. hope I’m able to figure something out 🙂

          Really looking forward to exploring Arunachal – I’m sure I will love it !

  10. Well being an North eastern Indian , I would like to say that the entire North east india is extremely a stunning place. I would like to mention a few places that you can visit . PARASHURAM KUND – Arunachal pradesh , Manas national park – Assam , Shillong , Cherrapunjee , Dawki – Meghalaya , Kohima – Nagaland and a lot more are there ! Google it ! All d best

  11. Nice article…I appreciate your energy & enthusiasm for traveling. Hope you get to see rest of the places very soon 🙂

  12. hey!
    I may be late in reading this. But it was nicely written. The fact about the lonely planet is true. Some of the places were not put in order. There are much more to explore. Do let me know when you visit Arunachal again. Basically, I am from Tezpur. So, we can meet up when you pass by. Have a wonderful year ahead.

  13. Hei Christian.
    Det virker som om du er norsk eller svensk, så jeg skriver like gjerne til deg på norsk.

    If you are not norwegian please let me know and I will write you in english….

    Jeg er fotograf og kort fortalt så har planer om å lage et fotoprosjekt om hvordan klimaforandringer påvirker folka som bor rundt og på Brahmaputra elva. Planen er å komme meg opp til litt forbi Tuting , ved grens til kina i arunashal pradesh og følge elva ned til bengal bukta i bangladesh. Kunne trengt litt info om arunachal pradesh. Ser at du skriver at du har en kontakt som kan hjelpe med å ordne tillatelse for å komme seg inn i staten. Har du mulighet til å sende meg kontakt info? Jeg skal fly Dibrugarh, assam ca 20 februar 2017. Vet du hvor man i assam man kan ordne med innreise tillatelse? Bor forresten i oslo og hvis du også gjør det og du har tid så spanderer jeg gjerne en kaffe på deg for å høre litt om dine erfaringer. Jeg heter forresten sebastian diaz linnerud. Du kan finne meg på facebook ved det navnet om du vil svare meg der. Fine bilder og bra skrevet forresten. håper å høre fra deg.

    1. Hei Sebastian.
      Jeg kan sende en mail til han jeg kjenner der og spøre om han fortsatt kan hjelpe med permiten.
      Er en stund siden jeg har hatt kontakt med han nå.
      Tillatelsen til Arunachal Pradesh kan være et mareritt, Er bare offisiele reiseagenter eller folk som er i fra Arunachal som har lov og sende ut tillatelsen.
      Jeg reiste helt alene med lokal transport ,men teknisk sett så må man være 2stk som reiser sammen for å få tillatelsen.
      Når jeg besøkte Arunachal så måtte jeg hente tillatelsen min hos “Arunachal House” i Guwatahi. Men Vær OBS på at tillatelsen må godkjennes hos turist ministeren i Arunachal og det kan ta dager, når jeg søkte var han på møtte i New Delhi så tok noen ekstra dager.

      Det posetive med Assam er at de har noen av de beste veiene i hele India så går lett og reise mellom byene, det negative er at de aller fleste hotel i Assam ikke har lov til og la utlendinger bo hos dem. Jeg bor I Halden, men reiser til Afrika denne uka.

  14. Thncc Christian… for.. posting about.. arunachal Pradesh.. that is my home town.. and Nxt Tym when u will.. visit.. then.. come to Anjaw dong village.. its very beautiful and it is the first place in India… where sun rises… and.. also try to go to glow lake…

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