In Photos | Driving through the Dawn-Lit Mountains

On a drive along one of India's newest highways, a photographer captures vignettes of life both changing and constant but evocative nevertheless.

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Through the mists at Sela Pass, which is located at the border between West Kameng and Tawang. The altitude of the area is 13,700 ft. Photo by: Rana Pandey

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In the northeasternmost of India’s northeastern states, a modern trunk road stretches for a couple-thousand kilometres, an arterial route hugging the blue Mishmi and Patkai Bum hills and overlooking the raging Siang almost for the entirety of its length. Running from Kanubari in the southeast to the snowy frontier of Tawang in the west, the Trans-Arunachal Highway is a rallyist’s dream playground, offering pristine driving conditions and accessibility to and from districts on the Assam-Arunachal border. More than just a new dimension to the region’s tourist appeal, the highway is expected to help shine more light on local life, as more intrepid itinerants and discerning motorheads make their way to the tea estate-speckled city of Dibrugarh.

Photographer Rana Pandey set out on the route as part of the Trans-Arunachal Drive 2022, capturing vignettes of life from pit stops on the way.

 

Driving Through The Dawn Lit Mountains

Deer skulls at a local’s home in Rima village, Changlang district. Tribal communities all over the state adorn homes with skulls, horns tusks and beaks as trophies.

 

Driving Through The Dawn Lit Mountains

As I was about to enter the Kambu village in West Siang, home to the Galo tribe, I saw children playing football and I was straightaway drawn to the game. When I came closer to the ground, I was surprised to find an Astroturf in such a remote region of the state, instead of natural grass. The boys playing told me that the this came courtesy of a self-sponsored project by the zealous local MLA, in a bid to support the youth of the nearby areas and keep them off drugs. All the materials needed for the construction had been brought from Bangalore.

 

Driving Through The Dawn Lit Mountains

In Kambu, we stayed overnight at locals’ homes. I, along with two other members of the group, was put up at 80-year-old Nyumge Ninu’s residence, where the family gave us a warm welcome. Sitting down, we were offered apong, which is the local alcohol prepared by fermentation of rice, along with some meat and fish snacks. The house was made of wood and bamboo and had a single large room under the thatched roof with the kitchen right in the middle of the living room.

 

Also Read | Tribal Tastes in Arunachal Pradesh

 

Driving Through The Dawn Lit Mountains

The next morning, Nyumge’s 27-year-old son Gebin Ninu showed me his traditional attire and how he hunts using bows and arrows. He went on to brandish a poisoned arrow, the likes of which are supposed to retain their toxin for about 10-15 years. The poison is extracted from local plants and herbs found in the nearby mountains.

 

Driving Through The Dawn Lit Mountains

In Menchuka (also known as Mechukha), located close to the McMahon Line in Shi Yomi district, a local prepares a regional rice beer called Senja.

 

Driving Through The Dawn Lit Mountains

The tranquil Sela Lake, which lends its name to the famous pass. According to legend, a sepoy of the Indian Army named Jaswant Singh Rawat fought alone against the Chinese soldiers near the pass during the 1962 Sino-Indian War. A tribal woman named Sela who had brought food and water to him is said to have killed herself upon seeing Rawat’s dead body.

 

Driving Through The Dawn Lit Mountains

A monk at Tawang Monastery, one of India’s biggest and most iconic Buddhist monasteries. The prominent religious site is close to four hundred years old.

 

Driving Through The Dawn Lit Mountains

Jang Waterfalls in Tawang, cascade with full force into Tawang river from a height of about 300 feet. The fall is also known as Nuranang.

 

Also Read | In Tawang, Tibet’s Timeless Folk Theatre

 

To read more stories on travel, cities, food, nature, and adventure, head to our web forum here or our new National Geographic Traveller India app here.

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  • Rana Pandey is a practicing visual storyteller from Kolkata. Photography, for him, is a democratic medium, and he uses his lens as a tool to understand the world.

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