The story of the ultimate road trip to Mechuka- escaping the landslides!
So much had happened from May 19th to May 28th 2018, that every time I tried to write something I have been left confused. It all began with the trip being a very normal one, where everyone was having fun, getting to know each other and I was busy working out the next steps as the organiser. By 22nd May, things were taking a turn, for the better. Now, the travellers were making fun of each other. Now, there was no inhibition. Now, these strangers had become friends. They cared for each other. They killed each other mercilessly over many games of the mafia! However, things would take a drastic turn on 24th May.
Here’s a detailed account of the unusual, scary but exciting travel experience I had in leading a trip to Mechuka with 7 fellow travellers as we walked over mudslides that could sink an elephant, cleared fallen trees that blocked our path, stayed overnight in a dingy place that almost collapsed overnight, left our belongings behind in a Tata Sumo, completely trusting the driver and all of this with zero phone connectivity.
Note: While this was the unplanned part of the adventure we undertook from Guwahati to Mechuka, we did pre-plan to film the journey to this unknown gem of Arunachal Pradesh and I must proudly say that we may have done justice to it. Watch what we experienced (before the landslides hit) and let us know your feedback.
This video will inspire you to take a trip to Mechuka.
Everything is so perfect, is something wrong?
24th May could be called D day. This was the day the weather, the unpredictable teenager of weather turned against us for the first time in 6 days. As we drove merrily on the high roads of MECHUKA, singing songs and admiring gorgeous ladies and cute babies through the fogged-up windows of our Tata Sumo, something was different. The roads looked wet and everything seemed calm. It was too perfect. The waterfalls we had crossed on 21st May seemed to have grown larger, flowing down with impeccable force. The mountains were sheltering clouds like older brothers taking care of younger ones, standing strong behind them. It was as if we owned the roads. There was no traffic, the ten-odd Sumos that usually come from the other side were not to be seen.
A giant tree across the road at an acute angle gave us the first premonition of what had happened. We were caught on this side of the world, where only one road connects it to MECHUKA, and that road continues into Tibet(China). We were cut off from India. From everywhere else, as 32 landslides had descended over an 8 km stretch.
Things were a little different now. Our spirits were still high. We didn’t bother much when some locals said it would take 7 days for the roads to open. The others said it would take 15 days. We couldn’t imagine that.
The most important decision, to walk or to stay back?
As we finally drove to a point where 7 other Sumos had already parked themselves since last night, the magnitude of how bad the situation was dawned upon us. I ran across the first landslide, a couple of shovels and we could clear it in about an hour or so I thought. I marched on till the second heap. I saw a truck parked there and then started walking back. We had to walk this stretch, no matter what, I decided. But as I was walking back to the Sumo, I realised that it would be impossible to negotiate these giant mud cocktails with our bags on us. The group agreed, and we trusted the driver with our bags, carrying only essentials in smaller rucksacks.
No one gave this group of 8 a chance. The other drivers, actually one fat driver, who had mixed his alcohol with milk was determined to tie us down with his discouraging words. He tried his best to plant fear in the minds of these city dwellers who had come for a holiday. We marched over his words, stamping them as we do on bubble wrap, and it felt good. Now, it was us, the intermittent rain, the giant mud puddings and a destination which seemed as far as the moon.
Yes, Mechuka is remote, but are we really the only non-locals walking this trail?
Walking over the landslides with 8 different people, some who hadn’t walked more than a kilometre in their daily life, some who were carrying injuries on their legs, some who carried their more weight than they could haul, despite my instructions was tricky. In 4 hours we had covered only 5 kilometres. By now the colours of our clothing had become a uniform brown, as if we were all bonded soldiers of a communist regime, toiling to complete some non-accomplishable Herculean task. The waterfalls along the route ensured that we were hydrated and the snacks from Jaipur and Indore gave us the calories we needed to move ahead. After walking for 8.5 kilometres looking at the destruction that was caused, we realised how it was possible for the process to take a week if not more. We had crossed patches where the roads were washed away and then there were patches where humans narrowly escaped slipping into the abyss. No one complained. There was a joy we had found in this struggle. When we came across a GREF truck waiting on the other side to evacuate soldiers of the Indian army who had been sanctioned a holiday, we breathed a sigh of relief. It appeared our adventure was finally over. But did we speak too soon?
May I have a Red Bull, please?
Our hosts for the night in Along were sweet enough to drive all the way from Along and meet us halfway to unload us from the truck and a comfortable journey of 1.5 hours began. We were worried about soiling the blinding white upholstery in our mud suits but Mr Ete while offering us energy drinks said it would be all right. I and a friend who had joined me on this trip rode on the trunk of the other rescue vehicle and there we reflected on how special this journey had been. As we stood on the pickup truck, the pinpricks of a million raindrops cleansed the pores of our skin like no product off the shelf could, while our eyes remained shut.
Everyone had made peace with the fact that flights had to be rescheduled but a new complexity was thrown into the mix. In the last 4 days that we were romancing with nature in MECHUKA, Alliance Air had launched a new flight connecting Pasighat, Arunachal Pradesh’s oldest town to Guwahati. It was to depart at 9: 25 am the next day. The flights wouldn’t have to be rescheduled. Everyone took a bath gleefully, and it was decided that we leave at 3:00 am in the morning and hope to make it to the airport by 8:00 am. Some travellers stayed up all night since we barely had 2 hours before our third journey of the day would begin.
We don’t have to reschedule our flights, really?
One hour into the journey in the morning and panic sets in. A Google search said that the tickets for this new flight were suddenly sold out! A flight departing from an airport which even the locals don’t know the direction to, was sold out? This seemed odd. My friend who now started looking at the positive side of things started appreciating the patterns the countless potholes had made on the road as the Sumo bounced its way to Pasighat. I am sure our organs were displaced from their respective positions in this journey. He suggested that we visit the airport regardless and check for ourselves what the situation was.
Our Sumo driver Gogoi was excellent and we entered the town at 7:45 am. “Where is the airport’s entrance?”, we asked everyone we saw. They pointed in vague directions. We could see the boundary of the airport but there was no gate to be seen. We switched to Google maps, and the navigator failed us, as it does frequently in Northeast India. After driving over open drains, dead ends and into people’s homes, we took our car right up to one of the unmanned gates of this Advance landing ground, run by the Indian air force so that someone comes out even if it is to chase trespassers. This worked. On reaching the airport which looked a well-painted post office we found out that the flights for today had been cancelled. And we dared to think our woes were over when we saw the GREF truck.
An Assam bandh now is that the icing on the cake?
We had to reach Guwahati, somehow, now that we had made it so far.
There were a few options:
- Drive to the nearest port and cross the Brahmaputra river to reach the town of Dibrugarh and take any train or bus from there.
- Board the train that leaves from Jonai town only 1 hour away at 8 pm.
- Take a bus from Pasighat that leaves at 1 30 pm and reaches Guwahati at 5 am.
- Take a bus that goes to Siliguri from Pasighat and get off at a point nearest to Guwahati.
After all that we had gone through, we got to hear that there was a strike in Assam’s Dhemaji area and hence options 1, 3 and 4 were supposedly nullified. After some running around I figured that a bus would leave for Guwahati at 1 30 pm defying the strike. We had 5 hours to kill.
Read our blog on the 12 mistakes one should not do while planning a trip to Dzukou valley in Nagaland.
Oh, we have to use raincoats inside the bus too?
As if the last few days were only about proving Murphy’s law right. The bus looked decent, smelled bearable, and though the dirt had permanently settled on the seat covers like refugees in crisis, it didn’t bother us much. The bus moved out of the station 10 minutes after its scheduled time and with the first breaks applied by the driver came a downpour of water. Arunachal rains had followed us into the bus. The roof was leaking. Raincoats were pulled out, bags were put inside the respective rain covers. And people put them on. We had 15 hours to go. We reached Guwahati. The bags reached a week later and were couriered to Jaipur and Mumbai, that’s where the travellers had come from. Life goes on. Cannot wait to head back to Mechuka again.