In the land of Dawnlit Mountains
Amidst much skepticism due to political/insurgency related problems and don’ts from people around we set out for Land of Dawnlit Mountains……..Arunachal Pradesh, far flung in North Eastern frontier of India. It is one of the active disputed territories of world. It is one of India’s most sparsely populated, little visited and least spoken of province. It comes to headlines (rather to any news story) during wartime or China making and India denying territorial claim over it. It was the theatre of Sino-Indian War of 1962 when China invaded Arunachal over disputes with validity of McMahon Line drawn in 1914 during Simla Conference to trace the northern border of Indian Subcontinent along northern most rides and peaks of Great Himalayas. Our journey was along the trail of Chinese in reverse i.e. westernmost sector of AP, Bhalukpong-Bomdila-Tawang circuit.
We started from Tezpur, the city of immortal love, in the banks of mighty Brahmaputra, Assam towards Bhalukpong, the gateway of Arunachal in this area. The road from Tezpur to Bhalukpong is beautiful. It runs through historical Balipara Frontier tract and then through the forest of Nameri National Park towards the foothills of Himalaya. After showing Inner Line Permits we started our Himalayan sojourn. Road to Bomdila, HQ, West Kameng district meanders along Kameng River, a tributary of Brahmaputra and Tenga river which is a tributary of Kameng. Thick, unexplored, virgin tropical rainforest started to engulf us as road moves up the hill. Lush green mountains, gushing mountain streams, numerous waterfalls looked so charming. It is an Indian mountain road least visited by tourists, mostly used by Indian Army and Border Road Organization (the creator of the road itself). So this area is not so polluted and studded by hamlets, Dhabaas, tea stalls, hotels, resorts. Here Nature rules her empire with her pristine glory. As we moved up negotiating dense fog and blind hairpin bends, Himalayan chill started to make us feel its presence. Taking welcome lunch, tea breaks at small stopovers like Tenga, Rupa valley etc we reached Bomdila (8500 ft) at dusk. Natives of Kameng are mainly Monpas, & Sherdukpens though settlers from Indian Plains, BRO and Defense personnel are outnumbering them causing a demographic imbalance which can turn into another insurgent political activity in decades to come whose roots I foresee in ubiquitous display of Monpa Autonomous Region demand. There is a Buddhist monastery in Bomdila located in a scenic backdrop.
Next day we set out for Tawang, HQ of Tawang district which is surrounded by Tibet in North, Bhutan in West and W.Kameng and E.Kameng in south and East. Tawang tract is the root of territorial dispute between India and China in Eastern Sector due to strong presence and past association with Tibetans throughout history both politically and culturally. Tawang houses the second largest Buddhist Monastery of the world, second only to Potala, Lhasa. Tawang hosted exiled Dalai Lama after China invaded Tibet and annexed it in 1959. HH Dalai Lama fled through high mountain passes and took refuge in Tawang and hence moved to Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh which is de facto seat of Tibetan Govt in Exile and caused much anger and provided excuse to Chou En Lhai, the Chinese Premier then to attack and invade India ripping apart “Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai’ perception of JL Nehru. Then despite gallant, courageous combat by Indian Army, lack of manpower, infrastructure in NE sector due to Nehruvian perception and cowardly
war planning and approach of Nehru-Menon duo overruling plans of Indian Army curved the tragic and only shameful defeat of India in protecting her boundaries since independence. The road to Tawang is one of the most scenic mountain road of the world.
It gradually climbs after crossing Bomdila ridge towards Sela Pass(13700 ft) and then goes down to Tawang valley (10000 ft). Alpine Coniferous vegetation, numerous waterfalls can be seen alongside the trail. Some parts of the road are landslide prone and semi metalled. So the scenic splendor comes along with some boneshaker rides. Though BRO is active 24*7 and 75% of the roadways are in excellent conditions. En route beautiful Dirang and Sangti valley provides a grand stopover. Then road climbs steeply embracing the high cliffs through the chilly winds and fog to Sela. Sela is one of the few highest motorable passes of world. There are two tranquil lakes near the pass namely Sela Lake and Paradise Lake. There are also cenotaphs of those bravehearts who made the supreme sacrifice to build and protect the road. From November to May Sela hides her face under vale of snow. Then onwards one loses altitude to reach Tawang. Soon after crossing Sela a pilgrimage for Indians especially Armymen comes along way…....Jaswantgarh. Named after Maha Veer Chakra (Posthumous) winner Jaswant Singh of Garhwal Rifles who laid down his life protecting his post despite being outnumbered by enemy and ordered to leave the post. He held Indian flag high alone for almost three days before succumbing to his injuries and foiled Chinese designs with herculean courage and valor. Battle of Nuranang thus curved its saga to history. Jaswant Singh’s golden bust statue has been erected there inside a cenotaph. His armaments, badges are preserved with great care and he is worshipped there as a great martyr.
As we traversed down the slope grays of higher ridges gave in to lush greenery of lower valleys. Jang is a small settlement situated in a beautiful location near the foot surrounded by high mountains offering a grand view of an unnamed snow peak. Nuranang Falls is a place worth of visiting from Jang. The falls just mesmerizes the spectators with its sheer size and ethereal beauty. We trekked down to the plunge pool of the falls through slippery rocks and dense vegetation. View from the bottom makes one speechless. The deafening sound of the rolling water and mist originated from flying droplets of water makes this place a real paradise though fewer people goes down to its base. We reached Tawang at night. Next morning we drove to BumLa( Indo-China Border) and PT Tso and Madhuri Lake en route. This stretch gets even higher to the northernmost highest part of Himalaya i.e McMahon Line(15800 ft). It is called Twang – Lhasa highway and goes above treeline. Only bushes and shrubs along with unknown Himalayan flowers can be seen. The entire highway is mostly used by army as this area doesn’t have any human settlement. As we gained altitude towering cliffs and boulders encircled us. There are a handful of glacial lakes. PT Tso is one of them. Madhuri Lake is situated at an altitude of over 14000 ft in heavenly surroundings. One can define solitude here in Madhuri Lake…..no human settlements, no pollution, no sound except of a small stream nearby…..its only Himalayas with its serene, ethereal splendor and the solitary visitor mesmerized. As our tyres expired much earlier we got an extra dose of solitare. As no spares were available except Tawang we hitch hiked an Army Truck to get back to Tawang. It was a thrilling but horrific journey back to Tawang. Horror got a new synonym as army truck as the truck hurled through the rugged unmetalled road with millions of jerks and trillions of dust particles. With least space to sit, no object to hold or support we were being thrown from one side to another continuously for 3.5 hours. Each second was like an hour as we finally reached Tawang being completely worn out. We took rest the next day and visited only famous Tawang Monastery and Ani Gompa in Tawang.
Next day onwards our ordinary trip turned out to be an extraordinary adventure due to continuous mechanical failure of our car. We got stranded at Jang for 26 hrs and started for Tezpur with only 24 hrs in hand to reach Guwahati to catch train. We drove as fast as possible throughout targeting to reach Tezpur by night. Mechanical failures dogged our journey though we kept moving. But as dusk fell in our car refused to move an inch still 130 Kms from Tezpur. Soon blinding darkness caved in. We were stuck inside mountains and virgin rainforests. What looked a beauty in day, turned out to be horror at night. We were stuck amidst ocean of darkness banking on our four wheeler as island. The lamps of the sumo were the only source of mad made light apart from trucks or vehicles passing after long intervals. Driver kept on doing his best to go ahead with a dimming two cell torch inside unadultered darkness. We learned how dark darkness can be, with no clue what lies ahead beyond the range of our Sumo’s lamps. The sky above looked like a canopy studded by millions of gems. I never saw so many stars that too shining with twice luminous flux. Milkyway was clearly visible. Road through the plains and jungles of Nameri were frightening also. Driver advised us not to make a sound on switch on any light when we shall drive through the forest as it is the hideout of Bodo and ULFA rebels and Army is also on hunt. So getting into crossfire or in hands of insurgents was not at all a rare chance. Moreover, elephant and rhinos are active too on that road. Getting to Tezpur that night was a daydream, as we were preparing for ultimate adventure. Kudos to the driver, his hard work and courage got us into Bhalukpong at least a safe locality by midnight. Then next morning it was race and race, proving our trip stranger than fiction as we got both our tyres punctured even in plains in national highway. Lost 1.5 hrs to repair and arrange another car. Finally, we flew with our car negotiating congested localities, other vehicles and reached the station half an hour late. Luck finally smiled on us as the train got delayed so we could board in. Thus our great Himalayan thriller came to an end.