Seema Bhatt finds peace in the hypnotic sounds of Kamlang River and Glao Lake.
When I told people in Delhi that I was going to visit a place called Wakro, there were blank faces.
Where on earth was Wakro? Nestled in the Mishmi Hills in the district of Lohit, Arunachal Pradesh, lies the town of Wakro. Wakro is a three-hour-ride from Tinsukia, a popular train hub in Assam. One can also get to Wakro from Dibrugarh in Assam.
Dibrugarh is well connected by air as well as train. The drive from Dibrugarh to Wakro takes four to five hours. The early part of route goes through the famous tea gardens of the region. The area that follows is inhabited primarily by people from the Khampti, Singpho and Deori tribes. Khamptis and Singphos both follow the Hinayana School of Buddhism. It is believed that this branch of Buddhism went from India to Burma via Sri Lanka, and was subsequently carried back to India by these tribes. The evidence of this Buddhism is apparent by the number of monasteries and statues of the Buddha that one encounters along this route. Perhaps the most visited and popular monastery in recent times is what is called the Golden Pagoda. Situated in a 20 hectare complex in Namsai, the Pagoda is built in the Burmese style of architecture, and was declared open after elaborate ceremonies in 2010.
Driving into Wakro, visitors are welcomed by the sign indicating that this is the country of oranges. Orange cultivation, introduced on a commercial scale over twenty years ago, has changed the lives of many Mishmis in Wakro. Orange trees cover almost 10,000 hectares of land. Walking through Wakro during the fruiting season, past orange laden trees, is an unforgettable experience.
Wakro is inhabited primarily by the Mishmis. The Mishmis or the Deng are an ethnic group comprising of three tribes, the Idu Mishmis (Idu Lhoba); Digaro tribe (Taraon, Darang Deng), and Miju Mishmi (Kaman Deng). Racially, all three are from the same stock and are believed to have come from Burma.
The drive leads visitors to the charming resort surrounded by the Mishmi Hills in Wakro. This has been built along with the community on their land, with the help of a Dibrugarh-based travel company, Purvi Discovery. The resort has four huts on stilts, built entirely of bamboo and cane in the Mishmi style of architecture, including a traditional bamboo door latch! The beds are clean and comfortable, complete with a mosquito net. Four concrete modern toilets with showers, a little distance away from the huts, assure the traveller that this is not a completely “wild experience”. There is a central dining place. The staff is extremely warm and attentive and the meals delicious and eclectic with an assortment of dishes from different parts of the country.
Dusk descends early in this part of the country, and it is dark by 5 pm. After an early dinner it is time for bed; lulled to sleep by the hypnotic sounds of the Kamlang River flowing not too far away, and the chirping of crickets. Come 4.30 am, and a cacophony of birds and faint calls of people from the village herald the dawn of a new day. A perfect time to enjoy the morning cup of tea with biscuits, punctuated with the hoots of the Hoolock Gibbon, the only Indian ape.
Wakro and its surrounds, offers some interesting options for visitors. Perhaps the best known and oft visited place is the Parshuram Kund. Located 20 km away from Wakro it is also known as Brahma Kund, and is one of the most revered spots for Hindus.
Wakro is located at the edge of the Kamlang Wildlife Sanctuary. This approximately 783 sq km sanctuary derives its name from the Kamlang River that flows through it and joins the Brahmaputra to the west of the sanctuary.
To the south of the sanctuary is the famous Namdapha National Park. Tropical wet evergreen forests are present in the lower reaches of the sanctuary while the upper regions, particularly the Daphabhum, bordering Namdapha have alpine vegetation.
A walk through the sanctuary after permission from the Forest Department is a very pleasant half day activity.
About 20 km from Wakro lies the Glao Lake. The term “Glao” is said to mean “water” in the Mishmi language. Glao Lake can be reached through Kamlang sanctuary of which it is a part. Located at 5000 sq km above sea level, and with an area of 8 sq.km, the lake, wreathed in swirling mists, is well worth a visit. Some consider this lake as the origin of the Kamlang River. This relatively undisturbed lake is teeming with fish. The six-hour trek to the lake is steep and tough, and camping by the lake for the night is recommended.
A walk through the surrounding villages of Gundri and Kanjan provides a glimpse of the Mishmi lifestyle. The Miju Mishmi are animistic and, unlike other tribes in Arunachal, worship a number of deities, most of whom are connected to elements of nature. The customs of the Mishmis are unique and are still prevalent in the area.
For travellers who want to give back something to the community, Wakro provides interesting opportunities to contribute by sharing their skills and time for some of the initiatives in this area.
There is a residential school run by the Anushiksha Seva Trust (ASSET) that has been inspired by His Holiness Swami Sri Sri Anubhavananda Saraswatiji and which is also involved in capacity building of rural teachers and health awareness camps. The interested visitor can get involved with various activities of the Trust.
Another interesting initiative is the APNE Library, a part of the Youth Library Network run by the enthusiastic and committed Shri Sathyanarayanan Mundayoor, a former government officer, affectionately called “Uncle Musa” by the children. Travelers can contribute through activities like storytelling and even cataloguing books in the library.
The North-east has opened up for tourism comparatively recently. It is crucial that it follows a model of tourism that showcases its incredible culture and nature with minimal impact. The Mishmi resort is an example of such an approach—with aesthetically pleasing, minimalistic and yet comfortable accommodation, and the sensitive and caring involvement of the local people – a great example of low impact tourism.