Vijoynagar is one of the remotest village in Arunachal Pradesh bordering with Myanmar in the Patkai hills range. For last 2 years, I was desperately wishing to trek up to Vijoynagar, the little known human habitat of Lisu tribe.
It was mid February 2019, when we set with full plan to reach Vijoynagar by Helicopter from Miao and then to trek down up to Deban in Miao through the Namdapha National Park. Worth to mention that helicopter service is the only transportation facility provided by the Government of Arunachal Pradesh from Miao to Vijoynagar and vice versa, but the service is totally uncertain. You can never rely, instead rely on your feet if you can and dare to trek for 10-12 days through the Namdapha National Park along the Nao-dihing river. Else follow the MG Road (?) .
The Chopper service is dependent on many factors to fly, like the weather, sociopolitical conditions of the region, availability of the Chopper etc. We relied on the service without knowing all these factors and it was our destiny that we witnessed all, that caused the chopper to stand on the helipad only. And we lost many days from our itinerary expecting the Helicopter to fly.
It was 17th February, the winter is still here in Northeast India and there was no sign of raining in the following days. We (Me, Madhumita, Zaved and Debojit) reached Miaofrom Tinsukia in the evening, the small township in Changlang District. It was raining heavily and continuously. Immediately on reaching Miao, I phoned the concerned person to inquiry about the Chopper service. And the reply was that the service had been cancelled until the weather get cleared. Bad luck. We booked accommodation in a lodge few kilometres away from the town.
Next day morning also it was raining. After breakfast we three (except Zaved) decided to go to the Nao-dihing river. We spent few hours enjoying the cold breeze and its sound on the river side. Due to winter the river water was narrowed down to 40-50 meters in breadth, whereas the entire river bed is nearly a kilometre wide, I guessed. The water was clean and could bring the sky in to its lap; flowing with that ancient heavenly sound. There were many plum trees, the plums tasted good. We took few with us.
Meeting a Buddhist Priest
2nd day morning, Zaved told us that he going to the other side of the Nao-dihing river to spent the day with a Buddist priest whom he met the day before. We thought why not to join him as we had nothing to do. So all of us went to the market to get few ration, chicken and vegetables to cook at the priest’s place. We crossed the river with a hand rowing boat. The boat carries everything- motorcycles, cycles, passengers, luggage etc; as that was the only transportation connecting the people on both the sides.
After crossing we walked nearly half kilometre and there was another part of the river to be crossed by same kind of boat. The water level was low and hence the river get bifurcated into two parts. From there we walked nearly 2 kilometre to reach the place of the buddhist priest.
The priest lived alone in the campus of the temple. He was a funny person and in his daily life he had nothing to do but to eat and then sleep, with morning and evening rituals. Everything he needed, was taken care of by the villagers. Each meal was prepared by the villagers and brought that to him. In fact he was spending a lazy life. Anyways talking to him was just chill, we cooked meal for us. He did not accept our meal obeying his rituals, but we left the remaining of the ration for him and came back.
In the evening our only to do thing was just to look at the sky and pray…. the night passed on. Again the morning was cloudy and started to rain. We had nothing left but to roam here and there and praying for a clear sky, so that the chopper service could get resumed.
By afternoon, the sky was getting cleared and we saw a ray of hopes. But the hope lasted only for few minutes, someone said to us that the Arunchal Pradesh Student Union has declared indefinite state lockdown. There was a socio-political issue that was burning the entire state, particularly the state capital Itanagar, where many violent activities were carried on. There was nothing that could hide our frustration.
Reversing the Plan
Till now we had already lost 4 nights and 3 days. So, we decided to reverse our trek plan; we would trek from Deban to Vjoyanagar and on return we would opt the Chopper service, assuming that, by the time 10 days past the weather as well as the situation would be clear and normal. We hired a vehicle that would pick up us as early as by 4 AM the next day, to avoid any unwanted problem that might arise due to the declared statewise lockdown and drop us at Namdapha Jungle Camp owned by the authority of namdapha-national-park.
Deban- Chakma Basti
On day 4th we reached Namdapha Jungle Camp early morning. We plan to reach the Chakma Basti on the other side of the Nao-dihing to hire porters for the trek. After having roti-sabji, omelette and a cup of strong tea, we crossed the river with the help of guy from the camp.
I had come to this Chakma village twice in 2014, when I organised a Corporate Event (adventure) for SBI life Insuarnce company on the river bank. It was an amazing experience to conduct the event and was equally successful. And probably, was the first kind of adventure oriented outdoor event for any corporate in North east States, ever conducted. I have written about that event in detail in this blog here. Since then the village had been changed a lot. Electricity made available, people were seen richer and wealthier this time.
Finding boys to join us a porters was not easy, it was difficult to convince the young to come with us. Yet we found 3 (three) guys who would join us @INR 1000/- per person per day. We bought ration from their local shop, picked rice bag from one of the boy’s stock. Dry fish, rice, dal, musturd oil, sugar, tea, sabi masala, ciggrette, bidi and few packs of salt, were the items we packed for our coming days menu.
In Vijoynagar, salt costs nearly INR 200/- per kg, whereas it is actually INR 15-20 per kg, and we had heard that Salt and Bidi are the two things that made the people in Vijoynagar happy, if they get it as a gift. So we bought these two items more than we needed.
Heading for Vijoynagar
Day 5th morning we started the journey by few hours late than decided, as our porters took longer time to reach our camp crossing the Nao-dihing. We did not opt to trek through the National Park as the water level of the Nao-dihing river was continuously rising and the river was not safe to be crossed over the temporarily made bamboo bridges. It was the MG Road, we followed from the camp.
Decade ago 2-3 vehicles ran over it up to Gandhigram or Vijoynagar, and MG road was the project of constructing a motor able road since decade! The condition of the road is not at all motor able, only cranes, dumper trucks, earth cutters and such heavy machinery vehicles used for construction can be drive over for it.
Began with a mini truck
At MG Road we boarded on a mini truck loading with few road workers, villagers and bags of cements. tins, gallons of diesels etc. Madhumita was offered a seat with the driver line and we jumped to the back of the truck with the others already there. Plan was like we would go as far as the truck could cover, as the driver also not sure due to road and weather condition whether he could wheel his truck to his destination or not.
After almost half an hour drive we found the road blocked, as the ignition of one earth cutter vehicle was not working. Somehow nearly 20 minutes or so the engine roared and we started again. Another half an hour traveled, from there the truck could not be driven as the road became to treacherous. We unloaded ourselves and our bags, began to walk.
During the drive our porters suggested us to hire another guy, who was already there in the truck; now our team comprised of 4 trekkers and 4 porters.
Today, it was not raining. The sky was bit clear and we were happy to kick off our most waited trek. We hiked for rest of the day till dusk, road appeared to be more dilapidated and stopped to camp at 21 miles (Location). The road took a complete 90º turn towards up. We pitched our tents on the both side of the roads exactly on the turn. I pitched on the ridge side and Debojit pitched on the shoulder side of the hill. Our boys spread their own tarpaulin sheet few meters below us on bamboo posts pre-used by some others to spent the night there.
Two of our porters went inside the jungle to collect vegetables for our dinner. They came back with larger in size ratten canes (Calamus rotang), that were generally found in abundance in this mountain range. These canes are used in different household activities, and one such use is most notably the whip used by our police departments. The taste is bitter, but they made it delicious when cooked with the dry fish.
As we wake up few bicycles without any brakes where coming down very speedily, hardly saving a hit with us. Those bicyclists were returning from Vijoynagar after delivering the cargo.
In fact bicycles are the only mechanical transport system used to cargo the essential goods right from food items to construction items fro Miao to Vijoynagar. Otherwise their backs and shoulders are used as the carriers irrespective of men and women. The men were coming down from the upper side of the roads and had never thought of meeting few non tribal people camping on the road side. They were allowing their bicycles with a free fall on the slide and we barely escaped.
We had our tea and repeated the same meal as brunch. The weather was unpredictable, whether it would be raining or not. But soon it started to rain and we too started to trek ahead. The rain became very dense at some places but we kept on moving. Whole day it was raining.
The road happened to be one of the most dangerous and shocking for us. The entire road was filled with the sticky mud mixed with pebbles sliding down from the hills up to 3-4 feet. Though it was wide enough to ply big trucks but the mud left only few parts of the road to keep our feet safely. And if somehow we kept our step on the mud then leg went dip inside the mud it was difficult to take by self. It was sticky and risky of getting serious leg injury.
Madhumita stepped her one leg in the mud and was buried till the thigh. One tribal man came from the opposite direction and helped us to take her leg out of the mud.
An unbelievable Livelihood
To our mere surprise there were still many people coming from Vijoyanagar, loading their back with 30-35 kg of cardamom filled bags to sale those at Miao and many others going back, with loads of ration, diesel, building materials like Tin etc. either on their back or on bicycles that had only the wheels and frames. And what not a joke was that the distance 160 km between Vijoynagar and Miao. Just imagine the no. of days they carry those heavy loads on their backs and cycles through that sticky muddy MG Road.
At some place they needed to get help from other 3-4 fellow men to move one single cargo cycle. We witnessed for nearly 20 minutes when a cargo cycle could cover a distance of nearly 200 meters with the collective effort of 3 men. How far could they move like that?? But they had to move ahead, and that was their kind of livelihood.
I wished, I could show you a video how they were transporting their most needed goods and materials, but I lost it somewhere. They use to sleep anywhere at night by merely making a temporary roof by using bamboo and woods.
Camp at 42 miles
2nd trek day was a difficult day with continuous rain and thick mud. Our porters said to us that we would be camping in a abandoned dilapidated forest house at ’42 miles’ (location). That house remained unused for nearly 20 years and only the people who carry cargo use to camp there overnight. It was still safe to spent the night at least to get protect from heavy rain and wind as it had the strong roof, though the windows and doors were broken. We spent 2 nights in that house as the weather was not clear to move ahead.
After two (2) nights in that abandoned house and we decided to cancel our trek to Vijoyanagar as we had only few days left in our hands and we thought with that weather we would be taking nearly 10 days to reach our destination. Zaved and Debojit had few days left of go back and join their services. Also 2 of our porters said no to go ahead as they lost their self confidence. Although Madhumita and I had a thought of going ahead with 2 other porters, it did not seem to work, as we had limited ration and utensils to cook. So we packed and moved back.
Nagudi; a village inside Namdapha National Park
Since it would not be possible to reach Namdapha Camp in the same day from the 42 mile camp, our porters suggested a beautiful tribal village ‘Nagudi’ of Lisu tribe at ’12 mile’ (Location) inside the National Park for a night stay. As we entered the village, it was felt relaxed and touched. It was one of the most clean and green village I have ever seen.
The village was beautiful and so as its people. They looked so young, energetic and fresh, because they live far away from the modern life and its chaos. Fresh air, herbs and their lifestyle with the nature built them with all vigor. The villagers nurture the entire village with cultivation of papita, banana, maize, ilaachi, sugarcane pineapple, cabbage etc and even tea; poultry like chicken and pig too.
Meeting the Village Head
We asked the villagers for accommodation to spend the night. They suggested to meet their village head. The village head was a lady and she looked young and beautiful, although she had 2-3 grand children. In fact everyone in the village were young, healthy and beautiful. 2 men and 2 women built a home right in front of our eyes during the day, and you won’t believe the 2 ladies although looked very young, had grand children.
The people in the village migrated from the Vijoynagar in search of a comfortable and accessible life and made this beautiful Nagudi Village.
They took good care of us and offered us two bamboo houses to camp for the night. One for us and the other for our porters. We gave few medicines, electrolyte powder and first aid items to them, they were so happy, because for them medicines are very rare. We felt blessed to spent the night in such a beautiful village.
Back to Deban
Next morning we clicked few photos with the village people and conveyed our thanks and wishes. Few of them were coming to Miao that morning and we followed them, though we could not keep the trace with them, but they guided us the short cut to reach to Deban.
It was our one of the most desired trek which remains unaccomplished and we still wish to make it happened. May be by the October 2020 we will again plan to trek Vijoyanagar. If you wish you to can join next, comment in the box.
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