Arunachal Pradesh, the ‘land of the dawn-lit mountains’ is in the northeastern corner of India. The state is entirely hilly, with the Himalaya dominating the western and central parts and the Patkai hills lying in the southeast. Arunachal borders the floodplains of the Brahmaputra to the south and shares international borders with Bhutan in the west, Myanmar to the east, and Tibet to the north.
Formerly known as the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA), Arunachal’s history has always been tumultuous. With over 26 main tribal groups, and with some tribes encompassing a huge diversity of sub-tribes, disputes between neighbouring tribes were not unknown in the past. However, most tribes did not come into regular contact till recently due to the steep hilly terrain. The British faced stiff resistance from some of the hill tribes, and were unable to establish complete administrative control over Arunachal, which was an important buffer between Tibet and British India. Following India’s independence, China claimed some areas of the state as part of south Tibet, and invaded Arunachal in 1962, following which they withdrew unilaterally after claiming victory. China still claims almost all of Arunachal as its own. Today, although the state is largely peaceful, various insurgent and terrorist outfits operate in two eastern districts. Some of these groups, such as the National Socialist Council of Nagalim, run parallel governments with their own ministries, departments and military units.
Map of Arunachal Pradesh showing the different districts and their resident tribes
Arunachal Pradesh currently has sixteen districts, each with a more-or-less distinct cultural identity, language and resident tribes. However, more broadly, the area can be divided into five distinct zones based on the origin, affinity, language and cultural traditions of the tribes. The western and northern areas are home to people of Tibetan origin, such as the Monpas and Sherdukpens, who are Buddhist. The central area is the Tani area peopled by some of the major tribes such as the Nishi, Adi (with several subgroups and subtribes), Hill Miri, Tagin and Apatani. Most people in these parts still are animistic and follow the shamanistic-animistic religious tradition of Donyi-Polo (sun-moon worship), however many among the Nishi and Adi have converted to Christianity. Further east are the Mishmi group (Idu, Miju, Digaru), The Buddhist Khampti migrated from Thailand and are culturally and linguistically distinct from other tribes in Arunachal. They are the only tribe to have their own script apart from the Monpa who use the Tibetan script. The Singpho and Tangsa in the same area migrated later from Myanmar and mainly follow Theravada Buddhism, although some subtribes of the Tangsa have largely converted to Christianity in recent times. The last groups are tribes such as the Nocte and Wancho that reside in the southeastern most part of the state bordering Nagaland and have cultural affinities with the Naga tribes.
Tourism in the state is based primarily around the magnificence of Arunachal’s landscapes, the beauty and diversity of its natural habitats, and its unique cultures. Tawang in the west is well known for its historical Buddhist traditions and Himalayan landscape. Central Arunachal, with its fertile valleys, forested mountains and deep river gorges is spectacularly beautiful. The Mishmi and Patkai hills in the east are among the most biodiverse areas worldwide, with visitors, especially birdwatchers traveling to the national parks in the area. For the past several years, visitors have also been coming to the annual cultural festivals which showcase the history and traditions of the area.
Arunachal at a glanceArea: 83,743 sq. km.
Population density: 13 per sq. km.
Major ethnic groups/languages: Adi, Nishi, Monpa, Apatani, Mishmi, Khampti, Tangsa, Nocte, Wancho
Major religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Donyi-polo