Virginal Arunachal Pradesh appears as a giant patch of green on India’s map. The country's wildest and least explored state, Arunachal (literally, Land of Dawn-Lit Mountains) rises abruptly from the Assam plains as a mass of improbably steep and densely forested hills, culminating in snowcapped peaks along the Tibetan border. Arunachal lures travellers with the promise of adventurous journeys to remote mountain valleys and encounters with some of its 26 indigenous tribal peoples. Tourism infrastructure – such as hotels or even homestays – has yet to reach many areas; this is travel far beyond standard tourist trails.
China has never formally recognised Indian sovereignty here, and even invaded Arunachal briefly in 1962. Border passes are heavily guarded by the Indian military, but the atmosphere is generally calm. Arunachal has been relatively untouched by political violence, though Naga rebels are active in the state's far southeastern corner.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Arunachal Pradesh.
Thought to be about 400 years old, the charming wooden Samten Yongcha Gompa stands on a breezy hilltop 6km (as the crow flies) west of Mechuka, fronted by a forest of prayer flags and with wonderful panoramas over the valley, river and surrounding mountains. The caretaker will probably appear to show you round the two-storey temple with its colourful imagery, including some genuinely scary guardian deities. It's possible to drive most of the way: turn right in Segong, 8km along the road from central Mechuka, and after 750m you'll see a short path down to a hanging bridge. Cross this and follow the path up the hill to the monastery. You can also walk all the way from town; traffic along the road is light. For a slightly different approach, turn off the road 250m before Segong, down on to a path with some wooden boards that leads 750m to another hanging bridge. Across this, you can make out a path winding up the hillside to your left. This reaches the monastery in 20 to 30 steep minutes.
Around a quarter of Arunachal's population follows the Donyi-Polo (Sun-Moon) religion, an institutionalised form of traditional animist beliefs developed in the 1970s in response to the spread of Christianity (which is now the state's most popular religion). One of the biggest Donyi-Polo temples stands a short distance south of Aalo's town centre. Sunday prayer meetings are superficially reminiscent of Christian church services, with smartly-dressed attendees sitting in rows and singing hymns in unison. Visitors are welcome (leave shoes outside). The temple is usually open on other days too, with a priest in attendance for individual prayers.
A small monastery overlooking the valley from the hillside on the south side of Mechuka, Samden Choeling makes for an enjoyable 1km walk from the town centre. Particularly nice at sunrise or sunset.
Next to the Circuit House is an informative little district museum showcasing bits and pieces of local tribal culture in the form of artefacts. It also sells a few books.