Vijoynagar is an outlier. This hilly, forested region in Arunachal Pradesh is the easternmost settlement of India. It is also one of the remotest parts of the country, bordered by Myanmar on three sides, and the thick jungles of Namdapha National Park on the fourth. There are no trains connecting the 16 villages of Vijoynagar, nor are there buses, taxis, or any kind of public transport. In fact, there are no roads at all. The closest town is Miao, 157 km and a six-day walk away even for seasoned locals.
On the other hand, this isolation is a boon for the region’s wildlife. The protected landscape of Namdapha National Park covers an area of 1,985 sq km, encompassing dense tropical jungles, high mountains, and freshwater riverine habitats. This Eastern Himalaya ecosystem is invaluable to the thousands of species that live here.
The landscape of Namdapha is familiar to locals of Vijoynagar, many of whom belong to the Lisu tribe. The Lisus, also known as Yobin, are an indigenous people that have lived in and around Vijoynagar since the 1930s — much before the boundaries that created India, Myanmar, and Namdapha were drawn. Like many forest communities, they looked to the forest for food, building materials, fuel for warmth and cooking, and medicine.
Today, the locals of Vijoynagar grow much of their food but have to walk through Namdapha to get to Miao, for access to modern medical care, and rations such as grain, sugar, and oil. This flow of people through the reserve causes disturbance to the park’s more reclusive residents, such as hoolock gibbons and white-bellied herons, both known to be extremely shy and highly endangered.
Will the government create a road connecting Vijoynagar to Miao — a plan that was first proposed in 2013 — or will the locals continue to walk through the reserve? Namdapha offers a sober reminder of the true nature of conservation: a delicate balance of information, resources, awareness, and care for habitats keeping in mind all its inhabitants, human and animal.