Pasang Dorjee Sona is young and dynamic. He also happens to be the MLA of this town/village (whatever you call it) called Mechukha – a place in Arunachal Pradesh so remote (and so pretty!) that you have to take a chopper to fly down (unless you want to break your back over a two day drive). But that hasn’t stopped him from turning the village bordering Tibet into a hub for adventure sports in India’s North East. We got an idea recently when we landed there for Adventure@Mechukha, the adventure sports and music festival, that showcased his efforts, strobe lights, John Abraham, et al. Ocider Editor-in-Chief Nishiraj A. Baruah catches up with the Hindu college alumnus.
Mechukha is so inaccessible – it takes two days from Guwahati or Dibrugarh to reach here by road; this after flying all the way from, say Delhi or Mumbai. Why would anyone come here?
I see that as a blessing in disguise. It’s too remote for ordinary tourists to come. At the same time, it’s too remote to tempt the adventure seekers. While its inaccessibility help us keep away the mass tourist – the kind who spend only Rs 20 and then litter the whole place around, it also helps get us few but eco-sensitive high spenders.
The annual adventure fest is one of the ways to attract them?
Adventure@Mechukha festival is a way to make people aware that yes, when you think of adventure, Mechukha is the place. It’s a beautiful village for sure, but after the usual sightseeing that can be done in a day, the big question is how to keep the tourists occupied so that they can spend a few more days here. That’s how the idea to build up an adventure hub striked. As you can see, the terrain is just right for adventure sports.
That sounds cool. But how do you think this year’s fest compares with the previous ones? It has been five years since it started.
This year we introduced new sports such as para sailing. Mechukha surrounded by high mountains is just right for that. We had been doing microlight flying and para motoring last few years. But had to stop that because the defense forces this year restricted the use of their landing strip.
We also had a better turn-up, though we will never get the exact figures. There are many visitors who stayed in unregistered homestays and many came with their camping gear to camp out. The adventure crew who came from different parts of the country alone would number around 300-400.
There had been a severe power crisis in the Mechukha village during the fest. Locals complained that power had been diverted to the festival grounds leaving the villages where most homestays are located in the dark. Isn’t that self-defeating?
I am aware of that. But these are challenges we hope to overcome soon. You see, Mechukha runs on hydro power and in winter the volume of water in the rivers reduce significantly to generate enough electricity. This is also the season when thanks to heating requirements, the demand for power is at an all time high. But then again, without power the festival couldn’t have happened at all and it was important.
So what’re you doing about it?
We are distributing wind and solar hybrid power kits to various villages where each unit can generate 5 kw. We’re also planning a solar and wind park.
The roads are also in shambles…
That’s because we are building them up from scratch. That’s why you see construction material all over the place. We are also in talks with various mobile phone operators to start services here (as of now only VSNL works). We’re also doing away with the ugly overhead electrical wiring. They are going underground. Other beautification measures include painting the roofs of all the houses in the town area, maybe in one single colour. It will offer a pretty view from the hills or when your chopper lands.
You have roped in adventure experts from different parts of the country for the festival. But how can you make adventure sports self-sustainable?
The adventure crew we are getting from outside are also training our local guys. The festival has opened up the minds of the local youth who have started seeing in it employment opportunities. The Arunachal state govt. has introduced a Paryatan Vikas Yojna whereby subsidies are given to interested locals to buy adventure equipment such as quad bikes, mountain bikes and para sails and to get training. We have also written to the government of India to set up an adventure training institute here.
John Abraham flew in a chopper, said a few words about the festival and flew away the next day. Has he been doing enough as a brand ambassador of Arunachal Pradesh?
It’s all about money. One pays more, one gets more. But yes, we are working on a comprehensive promotional package to promote Mechukha in particular.
Is it just going to be adventure sports or are you also trying to attract the luxury tourist?
Mechukha is so beautiful that the luxury loving tourists deserve to see it. For them, we are planning a golf course. We have invited a course designer from the US and he said out of the 170 destinations where he developed golf courses, Mechukha is the best. The entire valley is a golf course, he said. A ropeway is also on its way.
From your travels abroad, any ideas you saw there that you would like to implement here in your hometown?
Oh, you want to implement everything if you had the funds. But a clean and green environment is something I would definitely like to implement. Apart from our thrust on clean power, we are working on an efficient garbage disposal system. Talks are going on with a company from abroad.
And something you would rather not copy?
I have been to New Zealand and saw Maori people all dressed up in traditional gear ready for tourists. I was in Colorado and there were the Red Indians again standing like mannequins for tourists to see. So was with the Aboriginals of Australia. It is very artificial. Very commercial. It’s not like that in Arunachal. Here people are still living the traditional tribal life. It’s a living breathing thriving culture and not made up for tourists.
And that’s the reason you should skip New Zealand and come to Mechukha?
Yes, and adventure sports, of course.