The Sumo ride to Ziro was a fun (and somewhat dangerous) one, which often seem to go hand-in-hand in my choice of recreational and holiday activities.
Including me, there were nine passengers packed into the vehicle. The driver looked like a punk kid, having an arm tattoo, spiky hair, and wearing a black wife beater. There were five young guys in the front and back seats combined, and four women (including me) in the middle seats. After strapping our luggage to the roof, we pulled out of Naharlagun and began the winding, bumpy ride. This punk kid surprised me—he expertly maneuvered the uneven road boobytrapped with numerous craters, as well as the oncoming Sumos that appeared out of nowhere around the sharp corners.
The oncoming traffic was probably the most dangerous part of the ride, and we narrowly swerved a few vehicles. Avoiding collision depends on the drivers honking continuously around the corners, which seemed effective enough. All the while, the soundtrack to this obstacle course was a mixture of Hindi ballads and western pop music. Totally unfit for the occasion (the occasion being on the potential brink of death), but the contrast was amusing and made me smile.
This was not my first death-defying ride. As previously mentioned, I rode the Death Highway (yes, it is actually called that) from Mae Sot to Umphang in western Thailand, which included a series of hairpin curves along a narrow mountain road, in the back of a songthaew. I can picture my parents rolling in their graves if they knew this is how I roll in Asia.
We drove past several police checkpoints and I presented my permit for Arunachal. (If anyone reading this ever decides to visit the state, print out five or so copies of the PAP—some checkpoints keep the permit and others just look it over.) As we drove deeper into the center of Arunachal, the forests noticeably became more green and dense. The landscape resembled northern Thailand (Mae Hong Son) a little, and was beautiful. The feeling that this would all be worth it came over me, and I felt relieved and excited.
We arrived in Hapoli (New Ziro) in the mid-afternoon, and I gave my homestay (Abasa Homestay, which is recommended in Lonely Planet) host, Kampu, a call. Her daughter kindly came to pick me up from the Sumo dropoff point, and I was wowed when we pulled up to the home. I thought it would be a simple, modest accommodation resembling the homestays in the Ladakhi villages, but it’s a modern, large, colourful house. I had a separate, private room with a bathroom. Pretty mosquito nets are draped over the beds (much needed here—the windows are designed such that some of them are fixed to always be open, and there are no screens). I was so happy that I could finally take a warm shower and relax after the long journey. I changed into clean, comfy clothes and ate a wonderful meal made with fresh veggies from their garden. They served me some of their homemade, two-year-old kiwi wine as well, which was strong, but very nice. Kiwis grow in the region and the wine is prepared locally, along with rice beer. Because I have no phone service in this part of town, Kampu also called to arrange a local guide to show me around Ziro the next day.
I called it an early night and read by flashlight under the security of my mosquito net until I drifted off, fully at peace.