After the excitement of watching elephants bathe and play at the Manas National Park in Assam, the following two days of the Great Himalayan Drive turned out to be mostly uneventful as I headed to Itangar, the capital of Arunachal Pradesh. But there were a few surprising and unexpected things in store for me even here. Here goes some of it:
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* No idea about the distance: When I started, I had absolutely no idea how far Itanagar was or how long it will take. Maps gave a rough idea of the distance but no one around seemed to have a clue about the condition of roads. (Turned out to be 438 km and 8 hours of actual driving time to get from Manas to Itanagar)
* A beautiful monastery here: The Thupten Gatsal Ling Gompa (monastery) on a hill in the middle of the town turned out to be a sight worth visiting for its simple but aesthetic design and the colours of the many flowers and plants there. This monastery is a branch of the Gaden Namgyal Lhatse monastery in Tawang.
* The remains of the Itanagar Fort: Apparently Itanagar had a brick fort estimated to have been built in the 14-15th centuries. But no one has a clue about its actual history. What is left are a few walls in three different locations in the town signifying virtually nothing.
* Everyone speaks Hindi: Turns out most people in Itanagar converse in Hindi including locals. This may be because of a significant number of businesses being run by non-Arunachalis and the presence of the Armed forces who come from all over India.
* Don’t expect tribals here: All locals dress and behave like people anywhere else in the country. Don’t expect to see anyone in their traditional tribal dresses – or even wearing just some accessories. For that you need to go deeper into the interiors.
* Little in terms of touristic attractions: Itanagar was disappointing as it has little to offer for tourists. Even accommodation is limited, of average quality and hard to come by. There is no one including Government officials who could provide adequate information. A Government guide, meant for free distribution, was being sold for Rs. 100 in shops – it was not available in the tourist office.
* Eat only to live: I did not find a single place to eat with anything close to wholesome and tasty. Just eat enough to get by.
It seems Itanagar is frequented more by Government officials and those who have a business interest. Those visiting other attractions of Arunachal Pradesh usually take alternate routes via Assam; and one need not even come to Itanagar for the more popular Tawang as there is a straight route from Tezpur.