Tuesday 18 December 2012

Menchukha - the heavenly snowland

Jobin George

 Close to Tibetan border, surrounded by the pointy peaks of snow clad Himalaya, this little town had no roads until 2005, an army airport with its runway at center of the village - doubles as a playground when it snows. Villagers used to trek up to Tato, 50km away where the road connects to Aalo. There are no fuel stations but fuel is sold by sub dealers at a hefty price. Boasts solar powered BSNL station and SBI branch, no ATM. This sub divisional headquarters has major army presence at the village and along the road to the border. Aalo - Menchukha road is better than most of the roads in Arunachal. Menchukha (2000m above MSL) popularly known as Mechuka with few letters missing in the spelling. Men - medicine, Chu - water, Kha - snow, literally means medicinal water of snow. Buddhist Memba people live here in harmony with Hindu, Donyi Polo and Christian minorities.

APST bus runs to Menchukha on alternate days (10hrs, Rs.230) is not preferred by the locals, so we booked Sumo (8hrs, Rs.450). Passing through Kabang, Kaying, the road ascends to Tato from where a diversion leads to Pidi and Monigong. We met Varghese, a school teacher who hails from Wayand, Kerala. He took a voluntary transfer to Menchukha during winter to enjoy the snow. There are four residential schools including a higher secondary, exemplary of the Buddhists' keenness in education. Tourist facilities are coming up in Menchukha, a large tourist complex is under construction. Hotel Naksang adjacent to the runway, with three rooms (263245, dbl Rs.500) is very basic with shared toilet. Best in town is the homestay (9402423444, dbl Rs.600) adjacent to the ground next to Kasturaba school run by the lovely couple Gebu and Nana. Gebu owns a grocery store and a restaurant and sub dealer of petrol, diesel and kerosene. Ask anyone for Gebu's house to find this Tibetan style timber house with six rooms and a kitchen- if you like cooking your own dishes. Nana and her sister Omu satiated our gastronomic desires with authentic Tibetan dishes. Nana's mother brought a special Tibetan soup with corn, radish and Mithun cartilage - Oshum Thuppa and Gebu brought the local beer Chang - unforgettable delicacies. The bukhari in the living room warms you up from the bitter cold after sunset, though the day is sunny and pleasant.

We spent most of the evenings inside Nana's kitchen sitting around the bukhari, chatting with the locals. The kids Zomba, Ohjo and Sonam are more than adorable and we gelled with them in no time. We spent time teaching them English and helping them with their homework. These kids are smarter than the city kids of their age. Nana was too keen to learn English conversing with us overcoming her inhibitions. Most of the heavy task are done by women including concrete mixing, possess diverse skills. Nana has seven sisters, each of them manage different businesses in the village.

Samden Choling Gompa aka Naya (new) Gompa is ten minutes stroll from the village. Long horns, drums and clarinets created a special ambience at the monastery. Relishing butter tea offered by the Lama, we spent one hour attending the puja. A steep climb from the monastery takes you to the army bunkers providing a closer view of the snow capped mountains. The incessant drizzle brought down the mercury close to zero and eventually a big snowfall. While we were teaching Nana to make wheat dosa, a motorcycle rider just arrived all drenched in rain - Jobin from Kerala.
Jobin George

According to locals snowfall is least expected in the month of December, it was my intense desire to see snowfall what made it snow on this day of 12-12-12. Nana all of a sudden saw it snowing and shouted from outside, I was wearing only a tshirt and cargos as I was sitting by the fire, while Romin was gaily talking in his mother tongue with Jobin, in simple words MMTP. The excitement of snowfall didn't give me time to think and pack myself before getting in the freezing cold and playing in snow. Sonam and I made a small snowman and keeping our mouth open to eat the snow. Romin was watching me be a kid with kids, or more kiddish than the kids. In the night when we slept after snowfall adventure I could feel each part of my body frozen.

Next morning, we saw Varghese was smashed by snow at the school grounds. It was a holiday, thanks to the first snowfall of the season. Jobin, Varghese and we trudged along the river Siang to the 400year old Samdem Yongcha Gompa of Mahayana sect at 150m higher than the airstrip. Varghese was leading us through some unused trails, tackling streams and swampy terrains covered in snow. Crossing the hanging bridge with a few planks missing was adventurous, snow made it like skating on the ice. Though the gomba was locked, we enjoyed the 9km trek watching Menchukha valley covered in white - looked like a magical land from a fairytale.
Jobin George

On our way back we wanted to hitch a ride in an army truck. When we reached the road we saw a truck coming, not an army one but GREF truck loaded with concrete mix. The friendly driver offered a seat in the front for me, seldom did he know that I was more keen than men to stand in the back of the truck. With the help of workers already on top of the truck, we climbed up and one lady warned us it would jerk and we would lose balance once the vehicle starts to move. Before we could react, the truck moved, Romin and I fell on the concrete mix. For the next half an hour we tried all possible positions but could neither stand nor sit and palms frozen holding the iron door. The drizzle made it more cold and we could feel the chill on our face as the drizzle sprayed on our face. The humble co-passengers offered to hold the umbrella for us. Rest of the day was spent near the fireplace.

After spending six days at Menchukha, it was not so easy to bid Adieu to our new friends. But we have miles to go before we sleep. When we return to Northeast, it is a must to visit Menchukha.
Jobin George


  1. Lovely...
    The biker, for sure wants to come back to this heaven again...

  2. What did you hear about the road from Along to Mechuka? Is it open through the year r closes down due to snowfall & monsoon rains?

    Any resort-type accommodation in Mechuka or only budget?

    Is it possible for civilians to go beyond Mechuka?

  3. Jo, tell us about your bike trip!
    Any place where we can see details of it?

    1. Used to write about trips.
      will surely start doing it again.
      will let you know.

  4. Whewww, another great read about Menchukha/Mechuka. This place really can spell wonders on one. Lovely unspoilt heaven on earth.
    @HVK, yes, one can go beyond Menchuka till the road ends. I think that's another 12-20km or so.

  5. If it rains/snows continuously, the roads get blocked for a while. Army resorts to choppers those times. So, it is not open throughout the year especially Jan-Feb snow time and monsoons.

    A new tourist complex is coming up at Menchukha- we have to wait and watch the completion and maintenance of this govt run property. We would recommend family run guest houses here. Tibetan cultural experience is one of its kind!

    You can go upto the last army camp (not the outpost) by road. You can further trek, if you obtain permissions from the local admin office at Menchukha. We know a few foreigners have painstakingly done this trek in 4days.