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Arguably one of India’s most naturally beautiful states, Arunachal Pradesh can aptly be described as an outdoor lover’s paradise. With a name that translates to “the land of the dawn-lit mountains,” it’s one of the last wild frontiers of India in the far northeast corner of the subcontinent. Very few know of the visually stunning and culturally rich area bordered by TibetBhutan, and Myanmar. However, its underexplored nature has become the attraction for intrepid travelers looking for untouched wilderness in India.

Arunachal is dominated by the peaks of the Eastern Himalayas, with deep valleys carved out by glacier-fed rivers and lush forests located in the lowlands that shelter rare flora and fauna. There is an endless supply of activities and natural spaces to explore in Arunachal Pradesh for outdoor adventurers. From wildlife sanctuaries harboring red pandas and snow leopards to hiking trails through valleys home to traditional tribes, visitors can experience a sense of seclusion, peace, and raw adventure rarely found anywhere else.

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Namdapha National Park is India’s third-largest park. © Ranjan Kr. Das / Shutterstock

Namdapha National Park

One of only 20 places where you can spot a Red Panda in India, Namdapha National Park has become a prime spot for wildlife photographers and conservationists. The huge park is the third-largest in the country and is in the far southeast corner of the state on the Myanmar border.

Along with the rare pandas, you can also spot four species of big cats, including tigers, leopards, clouded leopards, and elusive snow leopards. While it can be challenging to reach, the chance to explore the ancient biodiversity inside the park beckons the most determined of explorers. 

The closest town is Miao, where park permits are issued. It offers visitors basic accommodations. You can hire a local guide to take day hikes into the park or join a longer multi-day safari trek to get up close and personal with some extraordinary mammals and birds.

Rafting and fishing

The mighty Brahmaputra River is known as the Siang River as it curves its way through Arunachal Pradesh. The cross-border river entices anglers, kayakers, and rafters to explore its flowing water and diverse wildlife through its journey in the Eastern Himalayas. The tradition of fishing in the area plays an important role in the culture of the local Adi people, one of the largest tribal groups in the state. 

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The Sisen Bridge crosses the Siang River © Courtesy of Arunachal Pradesh

Most travelers base themselves in the oldest town in the state, Pasighat, located on the banks of the river. The town is often referred to as the gateway to Arunachal, the town has an airport, bus station, and accommodations, serving the trickle of visitors the area receives. 

Guided rafting trips can be organized from Pasighat, or you can hop on a specialized angling tour to try your luck at catching a Golden Mahseer, the prime fish of the river. Hire a local guide to ensure you have the best experience and obtain proper community permission for angling and fishing. 

The Siang River's largest tributary, the Subansiri River, is also prime for rafting and fishing, with fast rapids and a vibrant aquatic ecosystem. The stunning and remote waterway is best accessed from the town of Daporijo. 

Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary

Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary is one of India’s best destinations for bird watchers. The protected park sits at the foothills of the Himalayas of West Kameng District in Arunachal Pradesh. With its dramatic scenery and a subtropical climate, Eaglenest is considered a paradise for biodiversity. 

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Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary boasts one of the world’s highest densities of bird species. © Werannut / Shutterstock

It’s estimated that over 700 species of birds can be found in the region, which is one of the highest densities of bird species in the world. For dedicated bird watchers, it’s the only place to spot the elusive Bugun liocichla, which was named after the local Bugun community when the bird was first discovered amongst the forest in the mid-1990s. Otherwise, there are many other rare species to watch amongst the treetops, including Ward’s trogons, wedge-billed babblers, and Blyth’s tragopans. 

The unique sanctuary makes up part of the greater Kameng Protected Area in western Arunachal Pradesh, which means you can also combine a visit with neighboring Sessa Orchid Sanctuary and Pakhui Tiger Reserve across the Kameng River.

The Seven Lakes Trek (Anini)

Towards the far eastern side of Arunachal Pradesh, you’ll find the spectacular Dibang Valley. The valley, blessed with incredible natural beauty, is characterized by its lush green slopes and low hanging clouds forming a mystical landscape. At the heart of the valley is the main village of Anini, home to the traditional Mishmi tribe, who migrated centuries ago from ancient Tibet. 

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Anini is one of Arunachal Pradesh's best towns for rugged outdoor adventure, thanks to the Seven Lakes Trek. © Gindro Miwu / Shutterstock

One of the only ways to really explore this beautiful area is on the Seven Lakes Trek. The trek might be one of India’s best-kept secrets for outdoor adventures, featuring jaw-dropping views and a challenging trail with many ascents and descents. Following centuries-old hunting routes, it connects seven different high-altitude lakes to the north of Anini village over six days. The incredibly wild landscape carved out by the mountain peaks is best tackled with knowledgeable local guides and porters and proper camping equipment. 

Anini is an incredibly remote destination that beckons those with an adventurous spirit and plenty of patience to tackle the long winding road to get there. The village is generally reached by road via Roing, the main town of the Lower Dibang Valley.

Hiking the Bailey Trail

For a longer journey on foot, the Bailey Trail presents one of the best hiking adventures in Arunachal Pradesh. The trail traces the historic route carved out by British officers, Captain Morshed and Lieutenant Colonel Bailey, who surveyed the land in 1911-12. 

Traveling from Dirang to Jung, the hiking route is located towards the western part of the state and passes through villages home to the Monpa tribe. The Monpa people, who have traditionally made their home throughout the Himalayan lowlands, are believed to be the only nomadic tribe in Northeast India.

On the trail, you’ll wander through dense forest while making your way up to mountain passes that offer spectacular views of the highest peaks in the region, including Gorichen and Kangto. 

The week-long trek climbs to almost 16,000 feet in elevation, past Monpa settlements on the lower slopes and untouched lakes filled by glacial rivers. It offers hikers a slower-paced insight into the region’s diverse landscapes and cultures on rarely trodden trails that present a feeling of seclusion seldom felt anywhere else in India. 

Dong Valley

As far east as you can possibly reach in Arunachal Pradesh, the Dong Valley is carved out by the Lohit River. This is the most accessible easternmost point on the Indian subcontinent, so the valley is considered to be the very first place that receives sunlight in India. It’s a real adventure to climb to the top of the valley to catch a glimpse of the first rays of sunlight as they hit the mountains.

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The Dong Valley’s slopes are covered in lush forests. © Talo Moyong / Shutterstock

Dong Valley is home to three small villages, Dong, Walong, and Kibithu, with the nearest major town at Tezu, a 125-mile trek by road. You must hike for around two hours from Dong village to reach the most famous mountaintop spot to watch the sunrise. Most hikers begin their climb at around 3 a.m. to make it in time for the first light. The effort is rewarded with an unreal view of the sun hitting the forested slopes through the clouds, likely to be one of the most memorable mornings you’ll have in India.

While the stunning landscape draws most visitors, Dong Valley is also home to the Meyor tribe, one of the least known communities in Arunachal Pradesh. With just a small population concentrated in this remote corner of the state, it’s an incredibly intriguing destination to get to know the local people who have made this beautiful valley home for centuries. 

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