Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Country roads

In late 2013, I made a crazy trip to Arunachal Pradesh. Crazy because I dislike long road trips. Being cooped up in a vehicle for hours together does not hold any appeal for me. In most cases, the journey on the road is not broken by enough rest stops. The day's travel as planned invariably is a long one and the destination must be reached at a reasonable hour in the evening/ night.

It proved to be all this and more on the trip to this North Eastern State. Before I tell you why, I must mention beforehand that the trip was worth every jolted and jarred bone, ridiculously early starts (such that I'd never call it a holiday) and sometimes missed breakfasts (thanks to the early starts!). The views were beautiful, the hillsides green and silent, the roads free of traffic and the people ever friendly and cheerful. Though a bit surprised that 'Indians' were visiting their state. The majority of tourists they encounter are foreigners.

Roads as we know in our urbanised lifestyles (where potholes & puddles take on larger than life proportions), are non-existent in this state. They are merely tracks cut into the hillsides and if they was ever any tarmac on them, it's long gone. Almost every day I & my fellow travellers had to travel 5-6 hours on an average to reach our next destination, which on regular roads (as we know it) would have taken us half the time. As it's the eastern most part of our country, the day begins early and night falls early too. As early as 4 AM and ending by 5PM. Therefore, for practical and safety reasons it was crucial that we started and ended our road trips while daylight lasted.


Nightfall by 6PM enroute from Guwahati to Tezpur
Our first sight of the roads in Arunachal Pradesh as we crossed into the state
The road is carved out of the hillside while a river flows at its foot
Streams flowing down the hillside continuously erode the surface of the roads leaving mud and stones in its wake

The network of roads are the lifeline of this state. There are no railway lines since the state lies in a mountainous region. The closest rail heads are along the state border in Assam. Villagers are able to connect to the nearest towns only via this network of roads. During the monsoons, landslides and flooding block parts of this network isolating people for weeks on end. While travelling through just one small part of the state, even in the good weather we had, we could not escape the realisation of how cut off the lives of the people here are.

We had great mobile connectivity (imagine that!) in the towns where we halted and we saw almost every household with cable television (thanks to satellite dishes). But travelling from one place to another is a daunting task. The state transport buses plying these roads are few and far between. Days went by when we would pass at best one state bus a day on the roads we travelled. There were no private buses that we saw of. Taxis and vehicles for hire cost a pretty penny. So, they take to walking long distances in the hilly terrain which is probably the reason they have the reputation of being a hardy and resilient people. Obviously, this affects access to schools, healthcare services, jobs, markets etc.

Well maintained roads like these were few and of short stretches but very welcome!
A 'minor' landslide being cleared on the route out of Arunachal Pradesh

One must admit that a fairly commendable job is being done by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) who maintain and keep roads and bridges motorable in this border outpost despite inclement weather, soil erosion and the remoteness of the area. Nevertheless, even they seem to be able to manage just the bare minimum.

On their election campaigns, when the politicians talk of development in the North East and lifting the region from its isolation, one can only ask them to travel and experience these roads instead of air dashing from one helipad to another making fancy promises they never intend to keep.


  1. I haven't been to that part of the country yet. Thanks for the glimpses.
    Talking of roads that are bad in most parts of country, particularly the interiors.

  2. Thanks for checking out my post, Indrani. This was an unbelievable trip & many wonderful things to see, experience.

  3. Nice post on Arunachal! I'm hoping to go there sometime soon, though since I'm a foreigner I need someone else to come with me, and need to do a bunch of work in order to get a permit.

    It's funny, like you said above, I've found that even in the remotest of places, you can always find people with satellite T.V.s!

    1. Thanks for dropping by, Patrick. The region is absolutely beautiful. Well worth it. I hope you get your papers without any hassles, though.