Heinous/Hellacious/Atrocious/Bodacious: The Roads of Arunachal Pradesh

As life gets longer,

awful feels softer.

Well, it feels pretty soft to me.

If it takes shit

to make bliss

then I feel pretty blissfully.

Modest Mouse, “The View”

Questions to ask oneself before cycling on a given road:

1) Is it in India?

2) Is it in Arunachal Pradesh (one of India’s most remote and mountainous states)?

3) Is it in monsoon season?

4) Are there “danger” or “road closed” or other foreboding signs?

5) Have your more experienced cyclist friends abandoned you?

6) Have more than 50% of locals scoffed or told you that it’s impossible?

7) Do the switchbacks on the map look like seismometer readouts?

If 2-3 “Yes” responses, not going would probably be the prudent choice.

If 4-5 “Yes” responses, it’s probably a really stupid idea to go.

If 6-7 “Yes” responses, you and your bike will both break, and you deserve it.

Then again, there might be other questions to consider, such as:

8)  Do you have either an inferiority complex or slightly masochistic tendencies?  Maybe both?

9)  Have you been looking forward to Yak cheese, Salt Butter Tea, and Barley Flour?

10)  Do you wanna see old women with face tattoos?

11)  Wouldn’t cycling up to the little pocket where Tibet, India, and Bhutan converge give you serious bragging rights?

Yes, yes, yes, and yes!  Let’s go!  It couldn’t possibly be as bad as they say.


On with the photos!

Control: A Standard Road in Assam

2014-07-01 to Bhalukpong 012

The sort of road that makes you wish the day would never end.

Arunachal, Part 1: Kimin to Ziro

(89km, max altitude 1773m, total gain 6400m, two full days)

Chris 2014-06-21-080b

This is clearly a road, and so is better than I had expected.

Sure there are some potholes, but “if it’s like this the whole way, we’re in pretty good shape.”

Famous last words!

   Chris 2014-06-22-086b

Hold breath, cross fingers, say prayer, knock on…any wood except that tree.

 2014-06-22 to Yachuli 043

Shaky, with his superior grimacing skills, managed to zip right on through this mud slick.

2014-06-22 to Yachuli 040

But only because I and a few cars had gone through just before him, spraying the calf-deep mud out of the way.

Oh, my poor rim and brakes!

Part 2 – Backtrack to Potin, then to Itanagar and Gophur

(151km, max altitude 1773m, total gain 6970m, 1.5 riding days)

2014-06-26 to Midpu 012b

Whatever, cars and trucks and even scooters are coming in and going out.   How bad could it be?

2014-06-26 to Midpu 013b

Even the most perfect roads must have looked like this once.

2014-06-26 to Midpu 019b

 2014-06-26 to Midpu 023b

 2014-06-29 to Behali 004b

Good thing I learned how to fishtail properly in Myanmar.

Chris 2014-06-26-102v

The landslides start before the roads have even been completed.

2014-06-29 to Behali 007b

This is about where we lost faith that there would actually be more road up ahead.

Part 3 – Bhalukpong to Tawang

(280km, 20,800m total altitude gain[!], max altitude 4,200m)

[6 riding days, 2 voluntary rest days, 2 forced rest days because of a general strike]

Chris 2014-07-02-040v

Day one of who knows how many.

2014-07-02 to Nichiphu 004v

 Chris 2014-07-02-042b

How I learned to stop worrying and love switchbacks.*

2014-07-03 to Bomdila 003v

From a sign on the side of the road

“BRO [Boarder Roads Organization]

Making Broader Roads…

Until Tenga”

 2014-07-05 to Dirang 008v

After Tenga.

2014-07-05 to Dirang 018c

Altitude: 100m —>up to 1800m—>down to 1000m—>up to 2600m—>down to 1400m—>up to 4200m (!)—> down to 2000m—> up to 3000m —> turn around and do it again backwards.

2014-07-07 to Sange 007b

2014-07-07 to Sange 009b

The start of the climb up to Sela Pass, the highest mountain pass road in the Northeast and possibly among the top 5 in India.

 2014-07-07 to Sange 019b

Distance from base to top, as the crow flies: 7km.

Distance via road: 40km.

 2014-07-07 to Sange 017b

In Manipur, we met a grandpa who had been with the army engineers working on this road…in the 1960s.  It’s still not done.

2014-07-07 to Sange 018b

 2014-07-07 to Sange 021b

 2014-07-07 to Sange 023b

 2014-07-08 to Jang 030

Fog, another natural hazard.  One of the few times I’ve ever felt grateful for Indian airhorns. 2014-07-08 to Jang 009b

The road had clearly been paved at one point.

 2014-07-08 to Jang 020b

A brief reprieve from the mud.

2014-07-08 to Jang 023b

Pictured right: Monpa rock-breaking ladies taking a nap on the side of the road.

2014-07-08 to Jang 026b

As the elevation hit 4000 and above, I started to get a little lightheaded and woozy.  Just gotta hold out for a few more kilometers…

2014-07-08 to Jang 027b

The last are generally the worst.

 2014-07-08 to Jang 028b

 2014-07-08 to Jang 033b

The final approach

Chris 2014-07-08-077v

Chris 2014-07-08-083


2014-07-08 to Jang 040b

Personal altitude record!

(rabbit glove picked up off the street in Vietnam.)

Chris 2014-07-08-084

Left to Bhutan, Right to China.

2014-07-08 to Jang 035b

2014-07-08 to Jang 041b

Congrats, you did it!  Here’s a view of a Yak.

*Photos of me and others marked with an * courtesy of Chris Buchman at http://www.fromatobe.com.

This entry was posted in India, The Road and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Heinous/Hellacious/Atrocious/Bodacious: The Roads of Arunachal Pradesh

  1. wd says:

    I was just thinking today, hmm, I wonder when Mike is gonna do an update. And voila! You did one! I willed it into existence!

  2. myra says:

    What an accomplishment. Perfect perseverance.

  3. Daniela says:

    AWESOME, you guys!!! Good thing we had some training in Myanmar….was this worse??? Where are u guys now???

    • Michael Roy says:

      Hey Daniela, long time no see! How’s everything in Swissland?

      It’s hard to compare Arunachal to those couple of crazy jungle days Myanmar. I feel like the Myanmar stuff was tough because we didn’t really see it coming, and because the weather was so crazy hot. In Arunachal the already bad conditions were exacerbated by fog and rain, but the temperature was mostly pleasant…even a little chilly in some spots. Arunachal definitely did more damage to the bicycles (subject of a later post)…but then again we covered something like 600km there, whereas that rough spot in Myamar was only 150 or so, right?

      Boy, don’t you miss life on the road???

      Chris and I visited the root bridges at Cherrapunjee and then rode through a good chunk of Meghalaya, now we’re just a couple days away from Sikkim. Finally!

      Hope all’s well, keep reading!

  4. Matt D says:

    Incredible, Mike. The commentary at the top gave me a good laugh. Way to kill it dude!

  5. Ralph W. Morton says:

    Mike: You are really showing some determination, and I admire you for it. When are you coming home, or are you there already? LOL!!!

    • Michael Roy says:

      Hey Ralph you kinda hit the nail on the head! I’m a little too well-suited to the vagabomd lifestyle, I can’t imagine doing much else right now. When locals ask me where my home is, I usually point at the bike…

  6. julio kim says:

    No matter how terrifyingly you described those mountain roads and switchbacks, you certainly seem to be enjoying them so much. You look so much better than in college teaching great english skills or in the North gate area of KNU wandering around finding more liquor and saying “I really like being here.”