Close your eyes and picture yourself in a place surrounded by lush green forests with the rays of the sun breaking free from the branches of the trees, miles away from civilization and the only sounds you can hear are the chirping of birds and the gurgling of the stream that flows gently below. That’s Talle Valley for you.
Located at an altitude of 2,400 metres, around 30km from the town of Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh in India’s remote north-east, Talle Valley offers the perfect escape from the everyday hustle of the urban life. Far from the maddening crowd, it is perhaps one of the last few places that offers a truly secluded experience to those willing to make the 22km uphill trek, gaining more than a thousand metres in altitude along the way. And while there are many places in the state and indeed the Northeast where one can cut off from the trappings of modern life, Talle Valley is unique in the sense that it is well and truly cut-off from a life that we have become used to. The trade-off? It’s not an easy trek.
Bobby Hano, one of the people behind the annual Ziro Festival of Music, organised a hike to Talle Valley in May as a launch-pad for his new travel company, Tour de Himalaya. Having never done the trek himself, Hano brought with him his friends, most of who either run their own travel companies or work as tour guides… and me.
Having heard a lot about the rich biodiversity of the valley for years, I jumped at the opportunity when the offer was made.
The first day of the trek would be spent on the trail from Monipolyang town in Ziro valley to Pange, 7km away. A steady climb, this section of the trek is not a difficult one. What does compound the issue is the unpredictable weather.
It had been raining for the past few days and as a result, trees had broken off of the face of the hills and blocked the path on several locations. Fortunately, we were equipped with daos to chop off the smaller branches and clear the path. Even so, riding the one motorcycle carrying our food supplies proved to be a bigger ask than anticipated. Again, we were lucky to have in our team Mobing, the loud gregarious one (isn’t there always one?) who was more than apt with the dao.
Another problem that we faced was the motorcycle kept getting stuck in the mud on the trail. Overall though, it is an easy trek and didn’t throw up many challenges along the way. After about five hours of slow trek, we reached Pange where the state forest department has an office, a guesthouse and accommodation for the staff. There is also a traditional house of the Apatani tribe made from bamboo which serves as the kitchen, where we settled in after freshening up.
Having gobbled up a simple but tasty dinner, we retreated for the night to collect our energy for the 15km trek to Talle Valley the next day.
Unlike the first day’s trek, the walk to Talle Valley was much more arduous. Not only is the distance doubled, the surface of the path is often muddy and almost completely uphill.
The first section of the trek is when we had to be extra careful, watching each step carefully to not step into the leech-infested mud. We had to constantly scrape away the slimy devils that were out for our blood. It is only after crossing the first four km does the true wealth of the valley begin to unfold.
Our destination is actually part of the Talle Valley Wildlife Sanctuary which is spread across an area of 337 square km and lies roughly between the Subansiri, Sipu and Pange rivers. The sanctuary itself is again part of the Talle Reserved Forest (515.875 square km).
Although the state government has declared these forests as protected areas, as in other tribal areas, they are actually community-owned forests. All along the trek to Talle, boards declaring the ownership of the forests were clearly visible. And while we did not meet any other people on the way, we did encounter mithuns (the semi-domesticated bovine that is highly valued by most tribes in the state) which indicated that people did occasionally visit the place. We were told that villagers from Ziro Valley do in fact trek up to gather their mithuns during the Myoko festival that is held annually in March.
The path to Talle certainly isn’t an easy one. A steady climb combined with the distance and the change in temperature begins to slowly creep in on you. Adding to the difficulty is the many ‘shortcuts’ that are marked along the way. These ‘shortcuts’ however, are not easy to tackle and the sheer steepness of some will leave many gasping for air. What is encouraging is the chance to catch a glimpse of the many birds that call the place home.
Binoculars help and having a good camera at hand is certainly handy to capture the beautiful birds. Even so, just the sounds of chirps and hoots can be an exhilarating experience.
Along the way, the rains had shown effect again with large fallen trees blocking the path. Since we had ditched the motorcycle in Pange, we did not need to clear much of the path this time around.
Benches that have been built with locally available products along the way allowed us to grab some rest as we rose higher in elevation. It is at the higher reaches that the true richness of the forests begins to unfold as various species of rhododendron flowers coyly show themselves and the birds begin to sound closer. While records about the exact number of species of birds and animals and rhododendron flowers found in the area remain unclear, it’s not difficult to guess the ecological importance of the place. But not all may be well with the valley.
Bengia Mrinal aka Bully, a travel agent and birding enthusiast who was with us, was coming to the valley after two years. Having visited the valley before on many occasions, he noted that the birds had “become shy”.
“Earlier it was easier to snap a picture of the birds since they used to be out in the open branches,” he told me and speculated that perhaps logging activities on the edges of the forest had led to a change in their behaviour.
There could also be greater changes taking place in the valley due to human interference that could adversely affect the sensitive ecology of the place.
Logging aside, illegal extraction of various medicinal plants such as the Paris polyphylla, used extensively in traditional Chinese medicines, is said to be taking place in the valley.
Before heading out to Talle Valley, at our camp in Pange, we met three young researchers from the Bangalore-based National Centre for Biodiversity who had been there for three months. They told us that they were collecting data on how climate change is affecting the vegetation of the area which in turn is affecting the population of prey animals on which small wild cats are dependent for their food.
Currently, there are four species of wild cats found in the valley including the clouded leopard that is listed as ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. If human interference of nature does not stop, these animals may not have a place to call home soon. Now is when you one should visit Talle Valley before time runs out.