A flight and two helicopter rides later, one completed a 10-hour journey from Kolkata via Guwahati to reach the picturesque Mechukha Valley in the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, a mere 30 km from the Sino-Indian China border in West Siang district and some 130 km from state capital Itanagar.
Mechukha is bound to bowl you over with its snow-capped mountains, yellowish long grass on the vast meadows, evergreen pine forests and crystal clear water of Siyam River flowing through the valley.
Apart from the serene surroundings, what was so tempting was the opportunity to watch cross-cultural rituals, soak in the adventure games and come across first-hand stories of the 1962 Sino-Indian war.
No doubt there is a heavy deployment of military forces at Mechukha, which has an advanced landing ground (ALG) at an altitude of 6,200 feet, but the bonding between the army establishment and the locals is deep-rooted.
“Village chiefs assist the local administration in controlling the law and order. They also provide information about the Chinese activities along the border to the armed forces,” Tyogi Dorjee, the chief of Sangey village said.
The locals also depend on the armed forces for health emergencies.
Mechukha presents an interesting study for its cultural diversity. It is the confluence of contrasting cultural rituals of major tribes – Memba, Tagins, Bokar and Pailibo. While the Memba tribe practices Buddhism, the others have faith in Donyi-Polo (Sun and Moon).
An ancient narrow cave, which locals believe only people with pure heart can pass through, is a must-see spot. There are also a number of monasteries, one of which perched on a hilltop is believed to be 400- years old.
The locals are in favour of opening up the border for trade with China, as this would usher in economic development in the remote area, 186 km from the Aalo district headquarter.
“We face hardship in taking the local perishable vegetable produce to Aalo for sale. Likewise, procuring essential goods and necessities from Aalo and selling them in the local markets are difficult.
“It would be better to open up border trade, and showcase the beauty of the spot to attract tourists to boost the local economy,” Mechukha Bazaar Committee Secretary K. Mosing said.
“See, China, they built roads right up to the border several decades back while our road connectivity is not up to the mark, neither for tourists nor for local traders,” he pointed out.
Listening to the voices coming from the grassroots, the Arunachal Pradesh government decided to create a unique brand image for Mechukha to hard sell the valley as a tourism hot-spot.
Thus they hit upon the idea to promote it as an adventure sports destination providing facilities like paragliding, para sailing, water zorbing and rafting, among others.
Before the annual adventure fest began in November 2013, tourist inflow to Mechukha was not significant. But the figures have jumped over the past two years in the entire West Siang district, a tourism official said.
“There were around 16,450 tourists, including domestic travellers and foreigners in 2015. This year till September, we have received17,315 tourists,” West Siang district’s tourism officer Rita Yorung said.
She said the district tourism office was getting a lot of queries these days from potential travellers. Facilitators of adventure sports, who have been coming to Mechukha for conducting such activities, were also promoting the spot in their own localities.
“During the festival this year, all home stays and tents were occupied and local people also offered their private houses on rent to the tourists during the festival,” said festival co-director Moyir Riba.
There were around 32 official home stays. Depending on the size, on an average 12-20 people can be accommodated in each home-stay. There were about 100 tents pitched on the festival ground too.
“This year, about 480-500 tourists stayed in the home stays while 120 persons were staying in the tents,” she said.
Those planning to visit Mechukha, can block November 7, 8 and 9 next year in their diaries to savour the fun at the next edition of the adventure@Mechukha festival.