India’s most northeastern state, Arunachal Pradesh, boasts of pristine jungle, high mountains, deep canyons and some of the wildest rivers in the country. I checked it out for myself earlier this year and was blown away by it as a destination. It is the ultimate wilderness adventure paddling destination in India. I can’t wait to head back soon.
What to expect
Long drives, stunning wilderness, tribal culture and days upon days of read and run whitewater. There is so much that will stick with you after a trip to Arunachal, but for me, it was the sense of total isolation (somewhat of a novelty in the second most populated country on Earth) and the quantity of phenomenal yet boat-scoutable class IV whitewater.
When to go
The classic season for kayaking in Arunachal Pradesh is autumn to spring, usually between late November and April. Between May and October river levels are massive and heavy rains turn the already arduous roads into their own expeditions. That being said, the lower sections of rivers would probably have some next level big water if you could get to them.
How to get there
Dibrugarh, actually situated in Assam, is a good jumping off point if you are flying in from overseas. Kayak friendly airlines such as Turkish, Air India, Jet or Etihad can get you to many of the major airports in India, where you can then fly internally with Indigo, Jet or Air India. If you are combining a trip to Arunachal with Meghalaya, then it is possible to make the drive in a couple of days.
You need permits to visit Arunachal Pradesh. The easiest way to get these sorted is to go with a travel company, who will also be able to sort your vehicle logistics out. Consider Expeditions India, Aquaterra or All India Overland.
Personally, I can’t recommend a trip with All India Overland highly enough. Callum Strong and James Smith have converted an old coal mining truck into a house on wheels. Drive times between rivers are measured in days, not hours, so having the comfort of their bus means your travel days are also rest days. As an added bonus, when you arrive in rural villages, you can invite curious locals into your house. This often leads to reciprocal impromptu tours of random villages you pass through, something you’d rarely get if just travelling around in a 4×4.
This year we paddled the Kurung, Subansiri and lower section of the Lohit. They were all predominately read and run class IV with the occasional sportier section.
Subansiri and Kurung
We began our trip on the delightful Subansiri from Nacho to Daporijo, two days of read and run class IV and a chilled morning of flat water on the third day. After taking out in Daporiji we hired a jeep to drive us up the Subansiri’s tributary the Kurung, putting on just down from the bridge at 27°46′36.44″N, 93°36′27.72″E. This then flowed downstream until it joined the Kamla then the Subansiri, changing from a small creek to a big volume playground over four very relaxed days on the water. Fast groups could do it in two, but who wants to hurry through paradise? We took out at the construction site of the new dam going in on the Subansiri at the Arunachal/Assam border at 27°33′16.76″N, 94°15′29.42″E.
After the Lower Subansiri we then smashed the drive across to the Lohit over the Brahmaputra to Dibrugarh then on to Parsuram Kund, the takeout to the Lohit. We used this as our base for Lohit laps. Unfortunately, we were turned around by the army at Hayuliang, who insisted we would all be going to jail if we tried to sneak past the checkpoint when they weren’t looking. This led us to run laps of the lower section of the Lohit (Hayuliang to Parsuram Kund), which was still the best whitewater we found on the whole trip. We have since figured out what we did wrong in our permit applications, and if you want to do the full class IV/V Lohit trip from the China border down, be sure to use Expeditions India, Aquaterra or All India Overland.
It is worth noting that there are countless more rivers in Arunachal Pradesh. Watch this space over the coming years for more information as we learn more about this magical area.
All photos by Patrick Griffin. Big thanks to All India Overland and everyone on the trip!