Surprisingly, Arunachal Pradesh has a good connectivity and you can easily travel using local and shared transportation. The government has identified 12 tourist routes. On these routes, buses and shared sumos are readily available. Let me share my experiences with the local transportation along with the cost.
Entering Arunachal Pradesh
Depending on which route you take, you will have to decide the entry point in Arunachal Pradesh. Generally, Tezpur or Guwahati works as a good entry point for the western routes; the ones covering Tawang and Ziro valley. For the eastern routes, Itanagar works best.
Guwahati – Tezpur – Bomdila
As I had opted for the Tawang route, I decided to start from Guwahati itself. Now, Guwahati has a direct bus till Bomdila, which is in between Guwahati & Tawang. Reaching Tawang in one day from Guwahati is a difficult task. Anyways, it is not possible by using local or shared transport. However, you can try reaching Tawang in one day if you are traveling in a personal vehicle, still not recommended.
I didn’t get the direct bus from Guwahati to Bomdila. So, I took the bus till Tezpur and from there, I headed to Bomdila in a shared Sumo. The bus from Guwahati to Tezpur cost me Rs 200 and the shared Sumo’s cost from Tezpur to Bomdila was Rs 500. Now, it is possible to reach Tawang from Tezpur directly in one day. But, the Sumos and buses start way early in the day and I had reached Tezpur at 11 AM.
The bus from Guwahati to Tezpur took around 5 hours. I reached Bomdila in 8 hours from Tezpur. Generally, I would have been able to reach in maybe 6 hours, but there was construction work going on the roads, which caused the delay.
Bomdila – Dirang – Tawang
From Bomdila, you again have two options. One local bus starts at 5:30 AM from Bomdila and costs around Rs 300. Shared sumo starts at around 6 AM and cost Rs 500. The Sumo takes around 8 hours while the bus can take upto 10 hours. While going from Bomdila to Tawang, you will cross Sela pass. The 13,700 feet high pass is draped in a snow blanket most of the times. Due to that, a lot depends on the weather also.
Now, you can take a stop in Dirang, which is 130 KMs away from Tawang and would cut 3 hours in the journey. But, the road from Bomdila to Dirang is pretty smooth so it’s okay to stretch from Bomdila to Tawang in one go without taking a stop at Dirang. Also, personally, I didn’t like Dirang that much. It had a lot of construction work going on and there were no noteworthy attractions that attracted me. Reaching Dirang from Bomdila cost me Rs 150.
Also, the Sumos charge Rs 500 from Dirang to Bomdila. So, by taking a stop in Dirang, you wouldn’t save any money in traveling. In fact, I spent Rs 600 for nothing, Rs 150 extra for Bomdila to Dirang and Rs 450 for a night’s stay in Dirang, which was no good.
Crossing Sela pass in a shared Sumo
Tawang – Lumla – Zemithang
Now, on the tourist route, Zemithang is not present. None of the tour packages sold by agents includes Zemithang. This little town tucked away in a horde of mountains between Bhutan & China, is comparatively untouched. Due to my penchant for offbeat and untouched locations, I decided to visit Zemithang. I preferred bus to reach Zemithang as I had a lot of time on hand and the shared Sumos were scarce as compared to the popular routes, but you can still get those. It would cost Rs 300 to reach Zemithang from Tawang in a shared Sumo.
The Zemithang bus starts around 11 AM. The road is not that difficult, hence there is no need to start early morning. It took a good 6 hours for me to reach Zemithang and cost Rs 170. Another offbeat destination where you can reach using public buses from Tawang is Bleteng. Close to the Bhutan border, Bleteng is even smaller than Zemithang in terms of area and population. Zemithang atleast had two lodges, Bleteng had none.
The bus to Bleteng also starts around 11 AM and charges Rs 170. I had planned to visit Bleteng and enter Bhutan from there. But, I figured it’s not possible after meeting the deputy commissioner. The Indo-Bhutan border at Bleteng is not a recognized border entry point from a diplomatic standpoint. Hence, only Arunachal Pradesh residents holding Voter’s ID can enter for religious and trade purposes.
If you are planning on taking the bus for this part of the route, it is recommended that you be flexible with your itinerary. There is only one bus dedicated for the Tawang – Zemithang route. On Tuesday or Wednesday, the bus is scheduled for maintenance. So, the bus service is cancelled for that day. Now this maintenance day can occur on other days of the week as well, depending on the bus & road conditions. There is no way of telling if you will get avail the bus service on the day you want to. You can only know the status of the next day upon inquiring about it at the Tawang Bus stop’s ticketing counter.
Same applied for Bleteng as well.
Summary of my Transportation cost
The local and shared transportation cost was pretty decent and I didn’t have to shell out islands to pay for the same. I am mentioning a summary of my cost which is attributed to local or shared transportation. Whenever Sumo is mentioned, it represents the shared Sumos which ply on the route.
Guwahati – Tezpur (Bus): Rs 200
Tezpur – Bomdila (Sumo): Rs 500
Bomdila – Dirang (Sumo) : Rs 150
Dirang – Tawang (Sumo) : Rs 500
Tawang – Zemithang (Bus) : Rs 170
Zemithang – Lumla (Sumo) : Rs 150
Lumla – Tawang (Sumo) : Rs 150
Tawang – Bomdila (Sumo) : Rs 500
Bomdila – Guwahati (Bus) : Rs 300
All in all, I spent Rs 2,320 on transportation. This only includes the transportation cost to reach one destination to another. I am not including any transportation hired for sightseeing. For example, when I went for a day trip to Bum La pass and Madhuri lake from Tawang, it cost me Rs 1500 to share a Sumo with 4 other guys. However, it was still a good deal because if I had to hire the entire Sumo for myself, it would cost around Rs 5,000 as I was traveling Solo.
Similar to the route which I took, the other routes also have a considerably good connectivity by local buses and shared Sumos.
The local bus which took me from Bomdila to Guwahati. Don’t expect a lot of luxury if you are traveling y local or shared transport.
If you want to travel in Arunachal Pradesh using only local and affordable transportation, it is totally doable. However, you just need to have a relaxed schedule and readiness to travel in cramped vehicles. Sometimes, my shared Sumos were so cramped, I was not able to keep my head straight while sitting in the last corner seat. Thank God the Sumos here had a front facing last row and not the side seats. Otherwise, it would have been even worse.