Tuting & Pemako

In the far north of Arunachal Pradesh lies the isolated town of Tuting, visited yearly by handfuls of pilgrims and hard-core adventure seekers. Accessible from Pasighat by a long, rough road, it sits near the Tibetan border, where the Yarlung Tsangpo River, having crossed the Tibetan Plateau and burrowed through the Himalaya via a series of spectacular gorges, enters the Indian subcontinent and becomes the Siang (which in turn becomes the Brahmaputra in Assam). Steadily gaining a reputation as a thrilling whitewater-rafting destination, the perilous 180km route from Tuting to Pasighat is littered with grade IV to V rapids, strong eddies and inaccessible gorges. This is for pros only.

Tuting is also the launch pad for the fabled land of Pemako, which straddles the international border and is known in Buddhist legend as a hidden paradise, a gateway to the beyond and the earthly representation of the Tibetan goddess Dorje Phangmo (her breasts are two mountain peaks; her vulva is the triangle of land at the confluence of the Siang and Yangsang rivers near Tuting). This isolated and pristine mountain territory is thinly populated by various tribes including Memba and Khampa Buddhists. Most visitors here are Buddhist pilgrims travelling on foot – though a jeep road now reaches Dewa Kota Monastery, one of the main pilgrimage goals, which is about 60km up the Yangsang Valley. Hardy trekkers (and pilgrims) can reach the mystical lake Danakosha (elevation 3750m) among snowy peaks and do a kora (ritual circuit) of several lakes nearby. A few agencies including Abor Country Travels offer Pemako treks lasting one to two weeks (around US$1500 to US$2500 per person); the best season is from late August to early November. It's also possible to reach Tuting independently by Sumo (₹12,000 chartered from Pasighat; there are also public services from Pasighat to Yingkiong and from Yingkiong to Tuting, about six hours for each leg), and to find local guides (per day ₹2500) and porters (₹1000) in Tuting.

Two lovely rustic-style but very comfortable places to kick back before or after a Pemako trek are Yamne Abor, near Damroh in the remote Yamne Valley between Pasighat and Yingkiong, and Aborcountry River Camp, on the banks of the Siang just outside Pasighat. Both belong to Abor Country Travels.