Huff. Puff. Huff. Puff. Boy, this is beautiful! Boy, this is killing! Just a little while more. Time to call it quits. Glory. Failure.
Machete in hand, a Monpa tribal song on his lips, Rinchin Tsemyang leads the way. He pauses every once in a while to cast a benevolent look backwards. The practiced ease with which he scales up the steep slopes of the forests beyond Kharman, is well beyond my abilities to keep up with. Years of cubicle rot and a reluctance to engage in any sort of physical activity have led me to such a condition of disrepair.
Possibly, if I weren't wheezing like a steam engine, I could have focussed more on the experience. Then again, maybe, pain is multiplying the gain.
Impact, it has to be said, isn't in short supply. Kharman, a picturesque little settlement in the remote Pangchen Valley of north-western Arunachal Pradesh is my base station. The homestay run by Mr. Tsemyang, in an initiative supported by the World Wildlife Fund, is a cozy stone dwelling with bright blue windows. Perched as it is, at the top of a steep hillside overlooking the valley of the Nyam Jang Chhu, its location is enough to keep me enthralled without even venturing out into the jungle.
The air at 8000 plus feet is cold, crisp and as per signals from my plainsman's lungs, in short supply. We pause often, allowing me to pretend that I am taking pictures while quite obviously catching my breath. Pictures are in a way, a lost cause, because every time I turn around to look down, the view is so much better than it was a 100 steps ago. The ribbon of white that is the Nyam Jang Chhu cuts through a infinite palette of green all the way down, deep down to the valley floor with the mist from the rain providing the aura of a Japanese water painting. To the north are the massive snow covered sentinels of the Tibetan border from where the river emerges to make a quick detour into India before meandering westwards into Bhutan.
These are forests of plenty and the avian citizens who flitter in and out of my visual range provide liberal doses of colours, some known & others not but whose psychedelic shades blaze themselves into my memory. Home to fauna like the musk deer, Himalayan black bear, blue sheep & takin which have thrived due to the strict no-hunting code implemented by the village councils on the principles of Tibetan Buddhism, the Pangchen Valley continues to be a natural wonderland despite it not having any government designated protected areas.
Not to forget, these forests are also a stronghold for the indescribably cute and very rare red panda, imaginatively called the fire cat, due to its distinctive fur. It was a thrill to walk through their home although in summer months, they tend to prefer the higher colder reaches where I did not venture. As I look around to see seasonal waterfalls springing from random locations in the surrounding hills and little wooden logs strung across burbling streams as bridges, I can only imagine how happy animals must be to have a place like this. Even as a human, I am filled with an indescribable joy.
-The human is not entirely absent from this scheme of nature's bounty. Once in a while, a water wheel makes an appearance, done up in exquisite bright colours, spinning under the influence of a tumbling mountain water channel. The golden dome of a distant gompa on the mountaintop opposite glints with a message of peace and serenity. The white chortem where we pause, yet again, a memorial to ancestors past, is covered with fluttering prayer flags, casting their ancient mantras to the breeze.
-As tired and beat-up as I am, the truth, already well known to men like Rinchin, is plain to see. Impatience, wanderlust, restlessness - are often a city man's creed, it takes a walk through a forest for him to be finally freed.
For any and all information regarding the wonderful homestay(s) at Zemithang, please contact the conservation rockstar and local hero Degin Dorjee at +91-9402955593/+91-9402859651 and learn about the WWF run programme at https://bpwange.wordpress.com/