It’s an old story shared only with near and dear ones. Maybe because I only wanted to keep the beautiful memories of my three month long sojourn to North-East India. But, I guess it’s time that I let it out to the world and share with you all. Firstly, because terrible experiences happen while traveling and we must acknowledge. I see all insta posts and blogs sugar coating and romanticizing travel showing only the lovey dovey, beautiful stuff and comfortably skipping the uncomfortable, difficult parts of travel. Secondly, I want you all to prepare for things that can go wrong and then look beyond to millions of great experiences traveling brings to us both internally and externally.
How do I define a terrible experience?
During long term travel on a budget you would come across difficult situations such as bad food that can give you food poisoning or the times you miss your train or the hotel that doesn’t have hot shower while it is freezing outside or day when you have to walk with 15 Kgs of backpack in sunny afternoon. But, I am not the kind of person who would call these “Terrible experience” because when you are traveling long-term these things are way of life. Little hiccups that we face in our daily lives in the form of car breaking down, missing deadlines or groceries running out. Terrible experience is something that I am going to share with you all now.
(Even though I am sharing a negative experience here still I want to remind you all of the beautiful experiences I had during the journey. Hence, I would be sharing glimpses of my journey in the form of photos through out the article yay 🙂 )
(Also read Hacks to travel on shoestring budget)
Ferry Ride, Crossing Brahmaputra – Majuli, Assam | Time: 5:00 am
Let’s go back in time to month of Sep’2016. Ina (Romanian friend I met through facebook) and I were traveling together for awhile. We left Majuli (second Largest river island in the world) early morning to reach Ziro via North Lakhimpur. Even though distance to north Lakhimpur was small but still it took us 4-5 hours to reach given the fact we had to take a Sumo to the ghat (bank of river), a ferry to cross the river, an auto for another 4-5 kms and then a bus to reach North Lakhimpur. We had a lunch there in a local dhaba (it was worth every penny, I must say through out Assam you will find delicious food at very nominal cost).
(Check more stories about North-East India on my instagram page)
Soul satisfying Food, Sumo tickets – North Lakhimpur, Assam | Time: 12:00 PM
From North Lakhimpur we took a shared Sumo to ziro for 300 Rs per person which is the only public transport to reach Ziro from North Lakhimpur. Our seat numbers were 1 and 2 (beside driver). So, basically two people adjust in one seat but it’s your best bet since the Sumos are fully packed. Front seat is still a relief (least chances of motion sickness). Ina and I mutually agreed to switch window seat after half journey. Sumo started at 12.00 pm in the afternoon and was supposed to reach by 5 pm (Almost at the time of sunset as sun sets early in entire North east).
Uncomfortable poking and nudging | Time: 3:00 PM
We had already booked a place to stay. One of the traveler I met in Tawang told me about this hotel named Valley View run by an assamese couple in Ziro. We planned to stay there. Since, it was a long journey all the passengers including me and driver started chit chatting with each other. The driver, a Nepalese fellow, shared various stories of his time spent in Arunachal Pradesh and how well he knew the place of Ziro. Roads were quite bad but that wasn’t a surprise. Till now, I had spent quite good time in Arunachal which included covering parts of Anini circuit, Tawang circuit and Ziro was the last one. Roads were same almost every where in Arunachal.
I was sitting sandwiched between driver and Ina. During the turns, driver would poke his hand placed to switch gear on my lap. But, I gave him the benefit of doubt putting all blame on bad roads. This continued for few hours till I switched the seat with Ina.
Drained out phones and bodies | Time: 5:00 PM
I inquired about hotel valley view from the driver and he confidently said yes I know where the hotel is. Hearing this, I took a breath of relief because it had been a really long day. I started the day at 5 am and were travelling through ferry, bus, auto, sumo, etc since then. Clock ticked 5 pm and we were still two hours away from Ziro. My phone’s battery and the power bank had all died. Unfortunately, Ina’s too.
Sun had started to touch the horizon and soon it started turning dark. All the fellow passengers were locals except me and Ina. They all took a drop before Ziro which left me, Ina and the driver in the vehicle. It was 7 pm or maybe little more than that by the time we reached Ziro. Roads were all deserted, there were very few houses and very few shops in the town. Half already closed and half about to close.
Deserted Streets, Forgetful Driver – Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh | Time: 7:30 PM
We asked driver to drop us at the hotel but now when we reached the town, he started pretending that he couldn’t remember where the hotel is. I kept my cool and asked him to stop the vehicle which he advised against saying the locals are all young, drunk tribal folks. If they will know where you are staying, they might follow you etc, etc. Having shared 7 hours journey I believed him. He got off the vehicle and asked (or pretended to ask) about the hotel from a nearby shop. Meanwhile, I tried to switch my phone on using the power bank. I saw a school/church/hostel outside the window and ran towards it. Few school students and their warden came out and told me that the hotel is 5 kms back on same way from where we were standing. I asked myself to stay calm knowing that we possibly left the hotel back.
Drama, Pretentions, Lies – Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh | Time: 8:00 PM
Till this time the driver had come back and repeated his same story of how I shouldn’t believe them. And that they are all bad unfriendly people with bad intentions of not telling us the right way. By that time I had an idea that something was wrong and if I were to reach hotel safe I should play smart and last thing would be to panic at that moment. Clock struck 8 pm and we were on those terrible roads for last 15 hours. I had really bad head ache but in that moment all I could think of how we would find the hotel safely.
Driver started complaining endlessly that how because of us he is late? How he would have thrown us on the street if we were guys? Also, amidst complaining he would say if we won’t find the hotel, we can all sleep in the Sumo. And sometimes he would say “I am really tired of driving. Would you let me stay with you in your hotel room? I will sleep on the floor”. In short, he became all dramatic, creepy and someone from whom in a favorable situation I would have instantly run away.
Call of the hour, Jumping off the vehicle – Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh | Time: 8:30 PM
I saw another open shop outside and I literally jumped off from the slow speed Sumo (Because he wouldn’t stop the vehicle or let me ask anyone, anything). The shop keeper repeated the same thing what the hostel warden did. That confirmed everything and I knew somehow I had to go back without reacting. All our luggage was on the top carrier. Now when I knew the way, I asked him firmly to turn around. He would intentionally turn right when the way was left. I had lost it by then and angrily told him to follow what I was saying. Maybe he was taken aback by my anger and did what I said. But was still shouting at top of his voice. I didn’t care, I just wanted to reach the hotel and lie down.
Success, Destination, Extremely aching body, Sleep – Hapoli (5 mins drive from Ziro), Arunachal Pradesh | Time: 9:00 PM
Soon we saw hotel, the lady was eagerly waiting for us. I got off from the Sumo, took my luggage and didn’t even look back. Later that night, the lady came to our room and handed me the driver’s number in case we needed the tour or something. She told me that he was very insistent to come to the room but they turned him back saying it’s against hotel’s policies. I thanked the lady.
My entire body and head was aching by then. First time during the trip I learnt a lesson of how we can’t trust everyone. How kindness of Sumo driver in Tawang who made sure I reached hotel safely can’t be generalized to driver in Ziro. But, then again traveling has given me enough reasons to believe in kindness of strangers. And I wouldn’t let one bad experience to change that.
Anyway, I was in disbelief of what had just happened. Surprisingly, I didn’t cry. Maybe because the tiredness took over me. It was all hazy after that since I quickly dozed off to sleep. During the course of next few days, I got to know how almost each and every person in Ziro knew about Hotel Valley View. It was that famous, the driver just pretended to not know where it was. Later on, I could connect all the dots. I don’t know what his intentions were by misleading us. Moreover, I don’t even want to go in the zone of knowing those intentions. But, I knew I escaped from something bad that might have happened.
Speaking about the good things, the next few days in Ziro valley were absolutely fabulous. I explored some of the hidden gems of their culture which I will share in another blog post or maybe series of blog posts because there is so much. I hitchhiked and explored all the neighboring villages. Aah it was so much fun! .
To all my fellow travelers and especially female travelers, there’s only one advice- ‘Always trust your gut. It never lies. Stay safe, have fun. Explore more. Share your stories with the world. Most importantly both the good and the bad ones’
Also read how I backpacked solo for three months in northeast India!