Take the map by the top right corner, follow the narrow corridor between Nepal and Bhutan, turn right after Bangladesh, see the little appendix heading towards China and Myanmar, here you are! This is the “forgotten land”, Arunachal Pradesh where sun rises at 5 in the mornings and bathes at 5 in the afternoon in an ocean of clouds before leaving for night, where people feel so intensely Indian after the Chinese aggression of 1962 and looks so intensely Chinese!
Culture, people, nature, everything there is absolutely intact to the point that children are genuinely scared when looking at our pale faces and blond hair. It takes time to win over this fear. The scenery is breath taking, people are warm, friendly, curious, amused at observing our exotic behavior and attire, generous at sharing with us their tea plus salted yak butter (extremely appropriate to the climate and the needs of the local people, kind of immediate tommy repellant for western stomach)
We have been trekking about 6 to 8 hours a day at an average altitude of 3000/3800 mt, at very acceptable temperatures at daytime, a bit say chilly at night, our tent usually showing a thin lay of frost in the morning. We had the best cook of Arunachal Pradesh which doesn’t mean he was good but he kept us alive.
We got 3 young guides, all from the local tribes and as a result able to translate for us conversation with the villagers, but none of them being professional in any way. One of them lost his way 3 times which was OK since Piera and myself were following another one on the right track but it is quite backward to have to look after your own guide so that he doesn’t get lost! They were the sweetest gentle young lads, looking penitent but laughing at all their mistakes.
We tried to buy things from people having no sense of money exchange and who are still bartering yak milk for salt or maize for tea from a village to the other. We provoked great laughing by pitching tents when they believe in solid bamboo houses.
They sang and danced for us in the evenings when they came to our camp and asked in return for me to sing French songs which I did and surprisingly the sky didn’t fell in pieces. They gave us wine, tea, good times and sometime even fleas which they call jumping monsters and which we got rid of only at the end of the trek. They had so many questions and so did we and I don’t know who felt the most curious. They are far away in space and time from our present but they are now very close to me in memories.
These tribes we met were all Monpas and we saw so many Mr. and Mrs. Monpa with their colourful and elegant costume, their yak hair caps shaped in the fashion of the old English judges wigs, laughing loudly when on their way, passing by our tents, they saw our shaggy heads appearing in the early light out of the tent’s zip.
We met the great Rinpoche in Tawang. He arrived and left at same time as we did and followedthe same route. We happened to appear as the last jeep of his escorand were saluted with devotion as another pair of unpredictable lamas, along the road where villagers werburning cypress branches, holding huge embroidered flags and flowers.We also cruised along the Brahmaputra river on a dull ship whose engine expired when we embarked, was repaired, and whose decayed old wooden hull was leaking and had to be bailed out permanently by a small fellow hidden in a vast towel.We spent 2 days and nights in a Vaishnavite monastery in Majuli Islands, being shepherded by a monkof the name of Dullal who offered to us hospitality, a samosha and some buffalo dahi and to whom I offered in return my old beloved blue shawl who had been with me for all previous trips to India and more specifically for all treks.
We also wandered for half a day in the Missing village where we created the perfect Hurricane in the very peaceful, sort of the beginnings of the world scenery. We saw monastic dances at night performed by young monks whose graceful beauty and made up faces, mesmerizing young village women, left us with a very ambiguous, disturbing, stunning emotion at the flickering feeble candle light. The very scarce audience was made of a few monks cuddling on their lap child they were in charge of.
We finished in Kolkata the cheerful, gay, cultured, vibrant city were we again went over the flower market for hours amongst the crowd, trying to avoid these two legs huge bundles running on their own, and spent a Sunday afternoon in a big public garden where families were having picnics below the posters forbidding any food and beverages within the garden, all women in their most beautiful attires and everybody coming to speak with us.
We were pampered beyond any expectations by friends in Kolkata and Delhi. We met in Delhi, Tarun Tejpal, a generous, charming, simple and warm person who happens to be the outstanding author of one of he best books of the last two decades. We will be back next year, here or there, in another corner of the map, visiting places which are still not on the maps.