5/4/2009 to 5/12/2009 | Arunachal Pradesh , India


The Mechuka valley sits nestled against the border with Tibet north of Along.  Unreachable by road until very recently this region is still very untouched by mass tourism.  The only place to stay is at the government power and water department rest-house.  Although that is about to change, a new tourist bungalow complex was under construction at the edge of town, an attempt to make Mechuka a more palatable destination for higher end jeep-tours.  I was thankful I visited when I did, before the inevitable onslaught of jeep-tours.

Our arrival to Mechuka was greeted with rain.  We sat out the showers in a small tea shop before walking down the road to the north end of town and the rest-house.  It was not long before the town was aware of our arrival and a series of local officials greeted us to welcome us to town and to make sure we had the requisite permissions.

Our first day in Mechuka, we began walking with a rough objective of a monastery at the northern end of the valley.  We had not made it out of the town proper when we were invited in by a kind woman who offered us some chang the traditional Tibetan home-brewed alcohol.  I’ve had a lot of chang throughout my travels in the Himalayan region but this was by far the best.  While most chang that I’ve had has a sour/bitter aftertaste, making it little more than drinkable, this chang had a rich smooth flavor with little aftertaste.  I would later learn the secrete to the quality of this chang was patience, while often chang is only fermented for a few weeks, in Mechuka almost every family had a wooden chest in there home devoted exclusively to painstakingly and careful fermentation of the barley for chang which took up to 9 months.  If the Adi rice beer hadn’t already had me conveying the title of home-brew capital of Asia on Arunachal then the chang of Mechuka sealed the victory.

We arrived at the Monastery to find it deserted, although the hill top location offered fine views of the valley, unfortunately the high mountains were draped snuggly in an impenetrable layer of clouds.  From our vantage point we could see a gathering of people in the adjacent village.  We descended to investigate.  Upon reaching the gathering, we discovered why the monastery was empty, the monks were all gathered in the village to perform the necessary rites and ceremonies for the funeral that was being held that day.  We were greeted graciously by the family and invited to stay and watch as the monks chanted mantras, while the body burned amidst an immense pile of carefully stacked wood.  Onlookers sipped butter tea, spun prayer wheels, and slipped prayer beads through their fingers to the inaudible mantras they recited in there heads.  We were invited back to the house for some more excellent Mechuka chang and lunch, where I first tasted Mitone, the bovine creature somewhere between a cow and a buffalo unique to Arunachal.  Mitone do not live at the high altitude of Mechuka, the meat was brought from further down the valley, so it was a bit ironic that my first taste came in a region not native to them.  They have a more temperamental disposition than cattle and are often kept by the villagers in the nearby forest only to be retrieved when needed for meat or during the cold of winter.  There meat tasted essentially like beef for those that were wondering.

At the house, more mantras were being recited by monks in the house’s prayer room.  Most Tibetan families have a room or at least part of one devoted to religious practices.  This one was no exception.  At the conclusion of the day’s events we headed back to Meckuka with a friendly man we had met at the funeral, who kindly invited us over to his house for dinner the following evening.

The next day we walked over the hills to the village of Dorjeeling, a pleasant meandering despite the lack luster weather, which was marked by gorging wild strawberries, visiting a smattering of religious sites, hanging out with a few villagers in the fields, and a bit more chang as well.  We had begun the walk back towards Mechuka when we passed a house emanating the sounds of monastic chants.  We hung around the gate waiting to be spotted and invited in, which of course we were.  This particular ceremony was a way of blessing the house before a marriage ceremony which would be taking place later that month.  After observing our fill and downing a few cups of some tasty Mechuka chang we continued back in order to make the dinner appointment we had made the evening before.

The following day we took a shared jeep back down to Along.  Although we would spend a further 5 days in Arunachal Mechuka would be the last highlight.  The journey from Along to Yingkiong was a beautiful one but the town of Yingkiong itself lacked the cultural interest of Ziro, Along, and Mechuka.  The weather didn’t help matters with a torrential down poor limiting the extent of our explorations.  We had wanted to go further up the valley to another Tibetan area around Tuting but with only a few days left on our permit, the currently dismal weather, and transportation to Tuting leaving only twice a week, we decided to pass instead heading back down to the less than interesting town of Pasighat situated on the plains of the Assam valley below.  We booked a night bus to Guwahati the next evening leaving us with a painful day to kill in the dusty market town of Pasighat.  We managed.

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