Reverie of Arunachal-the Tawang Circuit

One fine late afternoon while relaxing on my porch and sipping coffee, I was wondering the various moods of nature, watching the golden hues of sun peeking through the foliage. Staring for long, at these streaks formed by the soft setting orange sun with an assistance provided by the long branches of the trees, I entered a Utopian world. Many treasured memories flashed through my mind. And thus happened the recollection of my Arunachal Pradesh trip, taken a few years back. With the Sun in its name, the place radiates joy in every heart of dwellers as well as travelers.

Near Sela Pass
Near Sela Pass

This is how I managed my Travel Essentials. With this secluded easternmost state of India in mind and last minute leave approval from office, it was difficult to arrange for the Inner Line Permit (required to visit the state). With a very short notice. After many visits to the permit office and utmost request to the officials there, I managed to get through the process. The process was also helped by a private tour operator present there with a hope to get a patron, in a place very less visited. With all the primary requisites met, we started off for our destination. Via Guwahati we reached Tezpur. The permit of this place is based on various circuits. With permit of all the three circuits (Tawang, Itanagar, and Tezu), I was in great hope of traveling throughout the state not missing a single possible spot. I made a plan to start from the western part and then moving to the eastern part while covering the middle part en route. When we contacted an owner of a car rental service in Tezpur, he made it clear that my plan was not practical. As there was no straight motorable road running through the state. One has to return back to Tezpur, travel through the state highway in Assam running parallel and enter Itanagar through Banderdewa. That would take a much longer time, than the leaves allotted to me.

Kameng Valley
Kameng Valley

Parshuram Kund! How can I leave my longing to visit here? This place near Tezu was in my Wishlist for long. I have heard of my father’s adventures while on a failed trip to Parshuram Kund (about 30-40 years back). Back then it was an extremely remote place with no proper transportation and infrastructure. His stories had an adventurous interesting encounter with a tribal group. Beholden feeling for the boatman who provided him with food and shelter for the night while on his venture to this forsaken land. Though he had to return disheartened. This time, I had absolute urge to make it happen. Thus, we let the middle part go and opt for the western and the eastern part only, keeping the rest for a later visit.

Bhalukpong Orchidarium
Bhalukpong Orchidarium

And now our journey begins. We started off for the western part, from Tezpur on a Mahindra Bolero, as the road required vehicles with high ground clearance. A rugged looking middle aged Jibon chewing ‘tambul’ (a raw beetle nut soaked to prepare a smelly chewable addictive) was out charioteer. His first sight was not impressive, neither did the rest turned out to be. As lord Krishna had the control of the epic war of Mahabharata. So do I believe that the journey is in the hands of the motorist. Which I realised later through our trip. We started with chit chats to get familiarized with the person who was our companion for the next few days. Initial chats seemed that he was not so eager to show us all that we thought of. Now, my story will have a lot of ‘Jibon’. Meandering through the uneven dilapidated roads, we moved on to our first destination.

Flowers in Bhalukpong Orchidarium
Flowers in Bhalukpong Orchidarium

Bhalukpong had its famous Orchidarium and the Nameri National Park on our list. The non-flowering season deprived us of the glorious sight of the majestic Orchids. Though the parasitic pitcher plant did not dishearten us. There were also few other species in bloom. Jibon was in a great hurry to reach the next destination and go for a night halt, saying the roads are dangerous and night driving will be risky. He made us skip the National Park saying that it was closed for some reason. We moved on through the less trodden rough hilly road rocking and turning every minute with the intoxicating smell of tambul within the car. While the view outside was marvelous. Moving to higher altitudes through the evergreen forest we had the Kameng river flowing along, below the gorge. I have always been in love with these swift flowing mountain rivers. The admirable natural ambiance outside the car kept us distracted from the unbearable irritation within. By the time we reached Bomdila it was 5.30 pm and it was dark.

Pitcher Plant in Bhalukpong Orchidarium
Pitcher Plant in Bhalukpong Orchidarium

Bomdila was a tiny, sleepy village with few houses and fewer shops, that too closed. By then it was chilly. With the deserted streets and no human in the vicinity, it created a late night scenario. We were made to stay in a hotel chosen by Jibon. With no prior booking and him not cooperating to look for other hotels we had to retire there. We came to know of the highly alcoholic nature of Jibon that night. With the cellular services’ limitation in that region, we were totally out of contact with the outer world and had no option to inform the car owner. Disturbed and concerned for our remaining trip we entered the world of sleep.

The radiant sun on a pristine blue sky invited us for a new day. All our worries of the trip vanished in a blink of an eye. We came out of our room to be greeted by the dazzling blooms in the hotel courtyard, which we missed the previous evening while checking in. We realised how anguish can take away beautiful moments of our life. In a joyful mood, we started off for Bomdila Monastery. Situated on a verdant hilltop enclosed within a vast open area, the monastery was a resplendent architecture. Even though it was a manmade creation, it got blended with the natural surrounding in a unique oneness. After spinning the huge prayer wheel, we entered the lamasery. This was an eternal sense of divinity. The mystic tone of the young monks seated in rows, chanting hymns, reverberated in the sanctum. It was an unusual perception of spirituality within this vastness of the altar, along with the aromatic smoke of the incense and the sing-song recitation of the monks. While coming down the steps of this holy abode, we saw the vast grassland descending down to the gorge of evergreen forest leading to the small village. We turned back to see the monastery again within thick pine grove in the backyard. It was a remarkable experience to behold for the lifetime. The tranquility of nature and the humming sound of the monastery infused with the frigid breeze in an ultimate harmony. It reminded me of:
“I stood tip-toe upon a little hill,
The air was cooling, and so very still,
That the sweet buds which with a modest pride
Pull droopingly, in slanting curve aside,
Their scantly leaved, and finely tapering stems,
Had not yet lost those starry diadems” – John Keats.

Huge Prayer Wheel at Bomdila Monastery
Huge Prayer Wheel at Bomdila Monastery

We were on the roads again rocking and jerking on our seats. Thanks to the damaged roads. Today Jibon tried to be little friendly. He spoke a little more with us, he told us of his family comprising of his parents, wife, and son. Thus chatting, bouncing and rolling through the rough roads, we reached Dirang.

Bomdila Monastery
Bomdila Monastery

Dirang, a name, musical enough, right? Our first spot here was the hot water spring. We spotted few locals dipped into the warm water, enjoying the spa. The gushing Kameng river was still with us a few steps below. Jibon with his usual antics urged to move fast and skip the Dirang Dzong, which he described to be just some uninteresting ruins. He was in a great hurry to cross the Sela pass before 2 pm. According to him after 2 pm the weather turns worse. With snowfall and poor visibility due to mist, driving becomes treacherous. We were worried as well as excited. With the gradual ascent of altitude, the weather changed its mood from cheerful to gloomy. The track was more wrecked with huge potholes and exposed rocks and pebbles and patches of snow scattered on either side.

Mom on her way to work, carrying her child
Mom on her way to work, carrying her child

As we soared higher the air was soaked in mist and the chill was bone rattling. The visibility was turning low. With a mixed feeling of excitement and apprehension, we were in Sela Pass, at a height of 13700 feet.

Sela Pass
Sela Pass

Sela Pass is the world’s second highest motorable road. We passed through the beautifully made gateway and saw a welcome sign board. By then the snowfall started. It was my fist experience of snowfall. We stopped by the Sela lake (or Paradise Lake) to cherish and capture the moment within our heart as well as the camera. It was dandruff like flakes on my hair then shoulder and then all over me. Looking up to the sky and spreading my arms I wanted to embrace the moment and keep it alive in my heart forever. It was blessings showered on us from the heavens.

Sela Pass
Sela Pass

Here we came to know of the legend of a soldier, named Jaswant Singh Rawat, who fought alone against the Chinese army, near the pass for a couple of days. A tribal woman, named Sela (known to be his lady love), supplied him with food and water. She is said to have killed herself upon the sight the martyr’s body. Singh was posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra while this place was named after Sela. Paying tribute in Jaswant Garh, a memorial dedicated to the Vir sepoy Singh, we moved on. Beyond this point, it was white all around and we were in the snowy land. We took a short tea and Maggi break in a small shack. Sitting beside the warm hearth and slurping the steaming hot Maggi made it taste the best Maggi of my life. Then again moving down through a valley and crossing a small stream and climbing again we reached the Nuranang Water Fall. It was a large waterfall amongst a lush green habitat. We reached Tawang by afternoon. It started raining heavily. The weather was at its worst mood. With heavy shower outside and severe cold, we had to restrict ourselves to the hotel room beside the room heater.

Tawang episode began with an unpleasant night drama. First tipsy then completely inebriated Jibon, bothered us throughout the evening as well as night. He drank, gambled, lost all his money and repeatedly kept asking for money. However, when informed, the owner regretted and promised for a better driver on our Tezu trip.

Nurenang Waterfalls
Nurenang Waterfalls

Next morning was dazzling with the bright sun on the clear blue sky. The nightmare melted down in this gleaming new light. We were off to Tawang Monastery with Jibon in an apologetic mood. It was a huge monastery with an adjacent big library of early Buddhist manuscript and a museum of Buddhist artifacts. The tall white walls resembled purity. The nameless green climbers with small orange flowers, enclosing the wooden windows stood out as if signifying life in this resilient environment. The hardship of life here was predominantly evident through the wrinkled face of an elderly lady in her traditional attire, who walked pass us spinning the small prayer wheel in her hand. I gently requested her for a click, which she fiercely refused. However, an old monk with his little grandson agreed to our polite request. Then came the War Memorial, speaking about the brave-hearts, who laid down their life fighting for the nation in the Indo-China war.

Tawang Monastery
Tawang Monastery

Our next destination was Boomla Pass, the last civilian point, towards Indo-China border. En route we were supposed to cover Pankang Teng Tso Lake and Shonga-tser Lake famously called Madhuri Lake.

War Memorial
War Memorial

We started a steep climb through a narrow road. As we ascended up the altitude, so did the snow stretched its sheet on everything around us. Rocks, slopes, grassland, trees, all were dressed up in white. Then it was time for the roads to join the surrounding. The thin lining of ice on the road was making the drive slippery and perilous. We reached the P-T Tso Lake. It seemed to be a picture postcard or an image from some fairy tale.

The Christmas Trees
The Christmas Trees

The lake was partly covered by snow, the prayer flags by its side were fluttering in the strong gust of freezing wind. There was a small guard room by one side while the grove of Rhododendrons, Pines and other coniferous species on the other side. As we stepped down the car, we felt the soft snow beneath our shoes. We kept walking through the snow making deep footprints. The white mounds all around resembled a pile of cotton. They were similarly soft and flaky. A small rhododendron sapling had melting sugar crystal like snow on its leaves. The pines behind, with the jacket of snow, were featuring as Christmas trees lined up with the gift of happiness heaped up, all around its trunk. The serenity, the whiteness, the uniqueness of this place, aroused the inner childishness in my parents too. We played with the balls made of snow, daring the icy cold wind. We filled ourselves with utmost pride and satisfaction and left the place.

P. T. Tso Lake
P. T. Tso Lake

After few kilometers, the road was under thick ice. While taking a hairpin turn, our car slipped. Jibon skillfully tackled the situation. Disheartened but safe, we had to return, as driving further was not possible. On the way back he took us to a nunnery (the Ani Gompa), as a compensation for the places we missed. It was a small monastery for ladies, here gents are not allowed to enter. We spent the afternoon strolling around the town and the market place. Soon did we retreat back to our hotel before it was dark. There were clouds all over, flowing past us. The Late evening had heavy snowfall.

Sugar Crystal like Ice on Rhododendron leaves
Sugar Crystal like Ice on Rhododendron leaves

Now it was time to say goodbye to this icy land. This morning was different from the previous, this one. It had snow layer on everything visible. As someone said, ‘for some its boon, for others its doom’. Similarly, it’s fun for the tourists but tough for the residents. This was an exclusive, ever memorable adventure of my period. Much loved and treasured, I shall venerate this memory in a corner of my heart. Remembering and rejoicing it on every recollection. Today I relived those moments and my heart was overjoyed with the glory of the past. I believe this will bring me pleasure throughout my lifetime:
“For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills” – William Wordsworth and flashes back from the memory mills.

Arunachal Pradesh at a glance with travel information.

Flowers in Bhalukpong Orchidarium
Flowers in Bhalukpong Orchidarium
Jaswant Garh
Jaswant Garh
Near Sela Pass
Near Sela Pass
War Memorial
War Memorial
Sela Lake
Sela Lake
War Memorial
War Memorial
The climbers with orange flowers
The climbers with orange flowers
Young monks waiting to start the daily prayer
Young monks waiting to start the daily prayer
Tawang Monastery
Tawang Monastery
Thangka on the wall of Tawang Monastery
Thangka on the wall of Tawang Monastery
Ani Gompa
Ani Gompa
Sela Lake
Sela Lake
Snow Land
Snow Land
Flowers in Bhalukpong Orchidarium
Flowers in Bhalukpong Orchidarium
Flowers in Bhalukpong Orchidarium
Flowers in Bhalukpong Orchidarium

Arunachal Pradesh at a glance with travel information.

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