A trek through the mountains is a way of life in land without roads

For Nikiong Miji, 51, Chagam Miji, 66, and others in Lada, a village in Arunachal Pradesh 6 km from the China border, falling sick means using traditional herbs or medicines prepared by the illiterate village elder, who got the knowledge from his parents.

Going to the doctor is not an option for the seriously sick. It would involve a foot-march across the rugged mountains of the eastern Himalayas, one that might take three to four days before they reach the nearest government health centre.

"We do have a primary health centre here at Bameng, but it got a doctor only recently. For people living in the remote villages that do not have road links to the outside world, you either get cured with the traditional medicine, or die," said P G Dodum, himself a practitioner of traditional medicine still popular in most remote areas of Arunachal Pradesh.

While Dodum's primary interest is research and propagation of Donyi Polo, the local faith, almost every cluster of villages has a nyubu — who gives traditional medicine to Nyishi, Puroik, Miji and Sajolang tribals.

Even in Bameng township, a revenue circle headquarters headed by an additional deputy commissioner, serious patients have to be driven for nearly eight hours to the nearest hospital at Seppa, or 16 hours to Tenga, if not 36 hours to Tezpur in Assam.

Education is equally hard to access. "We have one middle school and one Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya and a government high school, but the nearest college is at Seppa," said Tope Bam, deputy commissioner of East Kameng. Villages such as Marjingla, Rawa, Pangiia, and Lada have middle schools, but finding teachers is the problem.

Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh has stressed construction of roads linking every habitation in Arunachal's remote mountains as early as possible. "Road links to remote habitation are a must, and for that we will have to amend the norms for funding if required," said Ramesh, who on Tuesday laid the foundation stone of a 55-km rural road under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana that will link Bameng to Lada on the China border, on the way touching at least seven villages — Lengriang, Rangtewa, Paksa, Upper and Lower Liyak, Wablong and Salong.

Ramesh also laid the foundation stone in Changlang district in eastern Arunachal for a 157-km rural road that will link Miao to Vijoynagar on the Myanmar border. "This will be India's longest rural road, of which 100 km will pass through the 1,985-sq km Namdapha National Park," he said.

Like people of villages close to the China border in East Kameng district, residents of Vijoynagar and Gandhigram too have to trek over 80 km to reach Miao to collect various items other than essential items like rice, pulses and salt that the government airdrops with the help of Indian Airforce aircraft.

"People trek five to six days from Vijoynagar and Gandhigram up to Deban inside Namdapha National Park to catch a jeep to Miao. They usually barter among themselves, like a full-grown chicken for a kg of salt. Sometimes they pay up to Rs 100 for a kg of salt," said Kamlung Massang, legislator of Miao and a minister.

Vijoynagar is the only administrative circle HQ in Arunachal without a road link to the outside world.

In Itanagar, Chief Minister Nabam Tuki says only about 1,500 of the state's 3,880 habitation have been linked with fair-weather roads till date. Of these, 1,000 are located within 10 km from the international boundaries with China and Myanmar. "Roads have been our priority in the past couple of years," said Tuki.

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