‘Land of the Dawn-Lit Mountains’, Arunachal Pradesh is in every sense a frontier state. With borders shared by Bhutan, Tibet and Myanmar, it remained off-limits to foreign tourists until the 1990s and is still, despite its extraordinary array of landscapes, wildlife and cultures – a region where, once beyond the capital Itanagar, facilities for travellers are scarce.
In the far west of the state, the remote Buddhist monastery of Tawang is reached via a fragile, unfinished military road that climbs from Bhalukpong, on the Assamese border, through miles of misty foothills and isolated fortress towns to the 4,300m (14,107ft), snow-prone Sela Pass. Renowned for its relics and vast library of ancient manuscripts, Tawang is a suitably spectacular end to this dramatic road journey – a huge medieval complex housing 500 monks, encircled by high mountains.
Elsewhere in Arunachal, the elaborate patchwork of the region’s indigenous, or ‘tribal’, inhabitants provides the main focus. The state holds around 26 major groups, each with its own distinct religious practises, dress and traditions.
In the far northeast, the Namdapha National Park encompasses an extraordinarily rich biodiversity, with some of the world’s rarest orchids, a healthy population of elephants and four species of big cats – tiger, leopard, clouded leopard and snow leopard. Red pandas and hoolock gibbons are also found within its borders.