Athu-Popu trek on Indo China border: Dibang Valley

Athu Popu

When six boys and six girls risked to trek to the remotest Athu-popu, a holy place of Idu Mishimi of Arunachal Pradesh situated on McMohan Line,one’s life had changed forever.

The Belief

ATHU-POPU, the most sacred place of Idu-Mishmi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh, who beliefs in life after death. It is situated in Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary on the line of Indo-China Border. According to the mythology of the tribe, after death the soul of a person takes a journey guided by their Priest to attain a new life. And ATHU-POPU is one of the holy places where the departed souls take rest in the journey towards the eternity.
A big mass of Rock stands alone at Athu-popu, and it is believed that the priest Sinerwu cried on this sacred Rock after knowing about his mother’s death. The rock still bears  the impression of the priest’s palms and his tears, as believed. There is also a paddy field near ATHU-POPU, believed to be cultivated by the departed souls on their onward journey. There are lots of tales, beliefs associated with the hills and places on the way to ATHU-POPU, that enthrall anyone.

Trek to the remotest place

The day was 9th August, 2014, clocked at 10:55 AM. Sky was clear; the hills looked majestic with the green pine grooves and white clouds on its lap. We started our journey on foot from Maliney, the last motor able vollage in Upper Dibang Valley district, at a distance of about 200 km from Roing.

Base Maliney Village

The Itinerary

ATHU-POPU is situated at Kayala Pass, Indo China Border and is approximately 120 KM from Maliney. Its altitude is nearly 3500 MSL.
Our planned itinerary was like-
Starting point- Maliney (1795 MSL)
Camp 1 – Awalin (1860 MSL), 9KM from Maliney,
Camp 2 – Emopani (1755 MSL), 9KM from Awalin,
Camp 3 – Solari (1885 MSL), 8 KM from Emopani,
Camp 4 – Maukri (1975 MSL), 9KM from Solari,
Camp 5 – -Baluwa (2420 MSL), 15- 16 KM from Maukri,
Camp 6 – Kendray (it is said that if anyone makes a noise at this place, it starts to rain heavily,
Camp 7 – Kapuda, (here one can find Amuhuw Lake of 4 km in circumference and at distance of 4 KM approx, another lake Aampi that is 14- 18 KM (approx) in circumference),
Camp 8 – Emrei Etatho,

Camp 9 – Athu-popu (3500 MSL), Kayala Pass, Indo- china Border is around 500 meters from Athu-popu, 

The trek begins
Deep and Dense

The nightmare starts

The first day trek was the most difficult one. The sun was shining and the trek was steep ups and downs. Sometimes we needed to climb at 80-90 degrees with the help of roots and sometimes the same on down. We climbed up and down over sharp edged rocks, sometimes with the ladder made up of logs, crossed and jumped over slippery rocks in water streams/canals. While many a times we just let our bodies to slip down over the slopes. We did every tedious task that we do not do in our daily life.
We needed to fill up our emptied water bottles in every water canals we passed by.  Sometimes it seemed to be just like we  were keeping our steps on the trek amidst 4-5 feet tall grasses, but as we peeped through the grasses by the side, its – OH My GOD, ITS A STRAIGHT DOWN EDGE!
After a steep climb
Filing up the emptied water bottles

Awalin Camp

Throughout the day we were forced to punish our bodies and there was another nightmare waiting for us in Awalin Camp. We reached our first camp Awlin at 4:30 PM, and after having our bath in the nearby stream, we experienced a strange kind of itching on all over our heads and the exposed body areas. We were shocked, what it was! Was it due the river water or dandruff?

No, it was a very small insect called KAMUE (in local language). They were so tiny that if we had used our mosquito net at night, it would be a mere joke, they were so powerful that insects repellents were of no use. They could bite us through anything. Only smoke could keep them away.

No one could sleep, the night passed on as the sleepless night for everyone, as we could not put our fire due to rain to smoke them out. The torture that the tiny insects did to us took away most of our physical and mental strength.


Tent in Awalin camp

The Leeches

Next day 10th August 2014, at 8:30 AM we began our trek. It was raining and we put on our rain coats. Weather became suitable for the nasty dirty leeches to hug and suck us. From this day till the last day leeches were our most dearest and nearest one , as they were always on us, sometimes some of us could find them in their noses, ears sucking blood while sleeping.  
That day we covered two camps- EMOPANI (ITBP camp of 5 jawans) and SOLARI camp, a total distance of almost 18 KM. We reached EMOPANI at 12:15 noon and restarted at 1:15 PM for Solari Camp. We trekked along the river bank, over the rocks of all sizes from small to big. The most challenging and life risking task was crossing the rivers over rocks and fallen trees and on hanging bridges. After crossing a hanging bridge on ITI river we reached Solari camp at about 5:45 PM.
Beauties of the jungle
A much needed break

Crossing the Hanging Bridges 

3rd day, 11th August 2014, we loaded our backpacks from Solari camp at about 6:15 AM and were heading towards Maukri Camp (ITBP camp of 5 jawans) at a distance of about 9 KM. We crossed two hanging bridges, one on Taloh river and another on Einto river.
The most significant facts about the bridges were that they were built up with two heavy metal cables tied to four big trees on both the sides, the two main cables were then grid with other short and less thick wires and bamboos. And the foot paths of the bridges were nothing but the trunks and logs, bamboos, lied on one by one from one end to the other end. There were gapes on the footpaths, and making a faulty step might lead to the things not wished for.

Taloh River

Taloh river was the widest and the most turbulent one we came across, and the bridge over it got our Adrenalin rush as it was the longest yet most worn out hanging bridge. Any atheist will utter God before crossing it. No life jacket, no hook could save anyone if he/she makes the slightest fault. We crossed one by one successfully.  After crossing the river we felt that yes we can do beyond our confidence level. Crossing the second hanging bridge became an easy task for us.
Hanging Bridge over Talo river
Crossing Talo river

Wrong decision and the risk follows

By evening 4:30 PM we rested under a big rock that formed a cave like space just below it. We took a wrong decision there, to move forward up to Balwa Camp (the last ITBP camp of 22 jawans), which we thought to be at a distance of nearly 2-3 hours of trek from the rock, that actually not. We moved ahead by 5 PM after having tea and snacks.
Where we made the wrong decision
Going Ahead

Few of us moved faster to get the camp soon as darkness started to gulp the jungle. I was with 4 others, out of whom two were porters and we were at the last moving slowly. This part of the trek was again a very notorious one, as there were frequent steep ups and downs, rocks were sharp and slippery, and we needed to keep our feet in between the inches sharp gaps of the rocks that hurt us. 

There were numbers of water streams coming out from the top of the hills that we needed to cross in almost darkness. And just below us, steep down, the same Taloh river was flowing vehemently with its ferocious sounds. 

Taloh River

Trekking in Darkness

We switched on our headlamps. All of a sudden one of us, Haren could not keep his pace to move ahead and stopped. It was then almost 6 PM. We decided to load his backpack on one of our porter and asked him to move ahead and inform our team, we regrettably forgot to give him a torch. He overtook us in the darkness with nearly 40 kg load. By the time the whole jungle was covered with deep darkness, rain and the fearsome sound of the Taloh river.

I was leading even though it was very difficult for me to find out the trek left by our other members in the darkness. Many a times we were stepping by the sides of the hill on just 1 foot wide track, and had we been slipped down then we fall either on the rocks at 10-20 feet down or on the vehemently flowing Taloh river. We were stumbling around in the darkness, got injured number of times, climbed down on slippery ladders made up of woods and fallen trees. 


Another Nightmare

Suddenly after 40 minutes or so we saw the backpack that we loaded on the porter just below a big tree. Tension gulped in our minds. I asked our porter and  another member (Khyanjeet) to move ahead and I decided to stay there with the another, whose the backpack was, as he got difficulties to move. It was my responsibility of his safety, whatever might be the challenge.

It was raining heavily and since we stopped our movements, we were feeling the cold and got shivering. I tried to put fire by tearing my note book pages, but could not, everything nearby got wet. I noticed some holes in the trunks of the trees and became cautious of snakes or anything unexpected.

We talked less and shivered more, blew our whistles, signaled with torch as time passed on. We stood there almost for one and half hour. Finally we saw three torch beams coming towards us, they were Kiran, Aniko and our porter Sajjan, who left the backpack there and came back with them from half way where he was found sitting with a fire, as he could not move in the darkness ahead.


It was almost 8:30 PM. No one of us could say anything more, other than that they would load our backpacks and it was almost another  2 hours trek to the camp. They also let us know that they had met our last two members on the way. I was afraid, whether they could be able to reach the camp safely or not. That worry was intense in me but I somehow manage to hide it. We all felt very tired, and these three brave guys who came back to rescue us and still loading our backpacks, I bowed my head towards them.

Balwa Camp

By 10:30 PM, we reached Balwa Camp. That day we trekked almost 24-25 km. Tine (Tine Mena the first lady from North East India to summit Mount Everest) was found more worried for us. We slept after having our dinner in the tents pitched by the ITBP jawans. After such a tedious trek also we could not sleep due to the torture of that little insects ‘kamue’.


Rest Day

Next morning we had been suggested by the ITBP force not to move ahead and stayed with them till the weather become favorable, as they got instructions from their base camp to restrict their movements. And with the message that one of their porters had been washed away by river in Anini area.

Tine and I after speaking to other members decided to halt our trek and move back the next day as we can play with no one’s life. We took rest that day, enjoying the time with the jawans, sharing and preparing our meals, playing antrakshri etc. 

Rest day

The Team divides

Next morning, 13th August 2014, the weather started to play with us. It showed us as if it was going to be shining. Seeing the weather one of our lady members, Mishi Miri Madam wished to take the challenge to move ahead further. We could not convince, so we send our strong members Eco, Aniko, Kapil, porters Saajan and Eco with her, while we Tine and I decided to take back others- Khyanjeet, Haren, Ena and Sony.

At that time our only concern was the safety of our people and nothing. we got divided into two groups, after hugging and wishing for each other we moved in the opposite directions at about 9:15 AM.

Raining started again. We reached Maukri camp (ITBP) at 4:15 PM. The weather became worse and water level of the Talo river was flowing over danger level, we spent 2 nights at that camp and decided to move on the 3rd day morning, that is on 15th August. As we prepared to pack, got the message over wireless from Balwa camp that the other team had moved back and asked us to hold on Maukri camp. The team reached the camp by 1 PM.

The team divides
We are moving back

Taloh River

On 16th August 2014, we started to move at about 6:15 AM. Water level of the rivers were up, current became fiercer. We crossed the rivers hand in hand, putting rocks on the rivers to keep our steps, cutting trees and using them as the bridge. At the point, where the longest and the most worsened hanging bridge was, Taloh river seemed to be more turbulent and fearsome, it was flowing just 2-3 feet below the bridge at its midpoint with the bigger ebbs and waves. Scattered water from the waves touched our body and face as we crossed the river.

We crossed it safely by the grace of God. At around 12:15 noon we reached Emopani Camp (ITBP) and stayed there that night.


Back to Maliney

Next day, 17th August 2014, we started our trek at 6 AM, this time our aim was not to hold anywhere but to reach Maliney, from where we began our expedition. This portion of the trek was very tedious and that time we felt it even more tedious. By 2:15 PM we reached Maliney. Weather started to become clear and sunny. We thought as if Nature was not happy with us for our journey to ATHU-POPU.

Note: It may be noted here that I published the above story including the photographs earlier in many social media platforms, third party websites as well as in print media. And hence you may find its contents or part of it, or photographs in other platforms including social media, websites, print media etc copied and uploaded by the followers of my original story, may be with or without my consent.

Read Also, II Trek to Dzukou Valley: Nagaland II

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Dipmoina Dowarah

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