To all adventurers! A friend and I recently spent a month (July 2014) cycle touring in Arunachal Pradesh. Reports from locals made it clear that we certainly weren't the first cyclists to have done it, but we hadn't been able to find much useful information beforehand so I thought I'd upload a little report just so that any prospective visitors can know what they're getting into.
So, first things first: it's possible! And super interesting. Tons of different tribes, lots of English speakers, great scenery, momos everywhere, nice cheesy "chulpi" soup, and so forth. Downs: pretty rough roads that will almost certainly break your bicycle, if not your will; infrequent electricity, general lack of cell phone service, let alone internet; clouds and miserable wetness that will get your clothes all moldy.
Second things second: You've got to have a permit to do it. We got ours from Wangdi Gyalpo at Mon Tawang Tours and Travel. Email him at monttandt at gmail dot com, or call him at +91-987-332-0052. Most tour operators will only provide you with the permit if you take one of their group tours, but when we told Wangdi we had cycles and would rather do it ourselves, he gave us the go ahead. At $75 ($50 for the gov't and $25 for the paper pushers), it's a bit expensive, but that's the premium you have to pay to get to an area relatively untouched by Western tourism. Applying for the permit itself is easy, all you have to do is email him scans of your passport and visa and send the money via State Bank of India.
OK, so, on to road conditions.
My friend and I rode from North Lakhimpur (Assam) to Ziro, then from Ziro to Itanagar, from Itanagar back down into Assam and over to Bhalukpong, and then up from there to Tawang. By the end, our bikes were in such crappy shape that we decided to chuck our cycles (and selves) into a lorry and hitch it back down to Guwahati.
In general: in June/July (early-mid monsoon season), it’s just barely doable. I would say that about 60% of the roads are in “decent” shape, by which I mean that they are still mostly asphalt even if there are lots of bumps, gashes, potholes, etc. Another 30% are asphalt covered with enough dirt and rubble that they’re pretty unpleasant to ride. 10% (that might be a little optimistic) are actual smooth road, not quite as nice as the stuff in Assam (let alone countries other than India), but a welcome relief and pleasant to ride on. Unfortunately, these good stretches never last and are often preceded and followed by the absolutely terrible rocky road or muck/sludge mess.
I had done about 23000 in Korea, China, Southeast Asia, Myanmar, and east India before riding in Arunachal; the 500km there did more damage to my bicycle and gear than the previous 22 months of cycling combined. Holes worn in my front racks, eyelet snapped of the back rack, back hub completely wonky from being filled with water and gunk, brand new brake pads worn out in under a week, outer wall of rear tire starting to peel off. All of this, but no flats or broken spokes. There are standard scooter shops along the way who can fix up broken racks with rubber splints and all that, but don't count on finding any spare parts along the way; bring your own spare EVERYTHING with you.
North Lakhimpur – Kirim: Still in Assam, road is awesome.
Kirim - Lichi: Dilapidated asphalt with a few rough spots and a few nice stretches.
Lichi – Potin: Back and forth between dilapidated asphalt and decent pavement.
Potin – Yazali: Pretty nice asphalt all the way down the hill and over the flats. Yazali – Ziro: Decent asphalt with some potholes, rocky and muddy stretches.
West of Center
Potin – Itanagar: 25km or so of descent, road alternating between gorgeous and amazing and then absolutely terrible. Remaining 25 has a lot of really terrible dips, full of mud and rocks, lots of short but very steep inclines. The roads in and around Nharlagun are particularly abominable.
Itanagar – Gophur: Atrocious on Arunachal side; lots of slopes, mud, rocks, and places where it almost doesn’t seem like a road anymore. Perfect after crossing into Assam.
Balipara – Bhalukpong: Still Assamese, totally perfect.
Bhalukpong – Nichiphu: Nice out of Bhalukpong for 10km or so until the heavy ascent starts. After that, decent asphalt but some killer climbs.
Nichiphu – Tenga: Decent asphalt most of the way.
Tenga – Bomdila: Pretty good pavement for first 8 or so until the climb starts, then another 8 unpaved and rough, followed by a couple kilometers of decent asphalt on the way into town.
Bomdila – Dirang: Good on the way out of Bomdila, alternating decent but decaying pavement with some heavy landslide zones on the way down to the bottom, one long stretch very unfinished. Not too bad after Munna.
Dirang – Sange: 10 flat and pretty good, 15km rough but pleasant, 12 or so atrocious, 3 or so pretty nice.
Sange – Sela: a few rough spots but mostly paved. Not terribly steep, but the weather is bad and altitude sickness may or may not kick in.
Sela – J.garh: 15km, very nasty, tons of rocks and mud
J.garh – Jung: 8km wonderful, 10km unfinished, very rocky.
Jung – Tawang: 8km of mostly dilapidated asphalt on the way down, then a few kilometers of nice roads just after crossing over the river, then mostly pretty hellish broken asphalt for most of the first climb, decent to very good roads on the short descent after Lhou, then hellish again all the way to Tawang.
As far as sleeping and fooding are concerned, there's nothing to worry about. There are frequent shacks selling drinks and snacks, and larger towns and villages every 30-50km or so where you can get hot meals. Bigger ones have guesthouses and if not there will at least be churches, schools, and kids' hostels you can camp out at. And front yards, too. Wild camping is a little tougher since the surroundings are either mountains or under cultivation, but at the right time of year you might just find a spot.
I guess that's all anybody needs to know. If you want pictures and details, visit my site (www.threeruleride.com) and either search for things tagged "Arunachal" or look at posts from Summer 2014.
Happy riding, hope this helped, and feel free to leave questions in the comments!
Just a few hours ago I didnt know anything about Arunachal Pradesh. But I want to cycle from India, overland into Myanmar and I love mountains so Arunachal Pradesh came on the radar. Thanks so much for the info, this sounds like the off beat adventure I need.
I will be there in February but still have my winter gear from The Stans with me so I will go!
Thank you Thank you!
Glad you found the post, Dennis. Hope it'll prove useful. Please add on your experiences when you're through!
If you're going up the Tawang way and interested in volunteering for a bit, look up the children's community Jhamtse Gatsal (jhamtsegatsal.org). It's a really beautiful, inspiring place.