Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Road to Tawang - NE Trip Part 2

The first 3 days of the North East Trip, were spent in Kaziranga, and the next on the itenary was Tawang.

The Route to Tawang would be a two step plan or spread over two days. Again, for two reasons -

  1. Its important to get acclimatized by going up a higher altitude step by step.(15,000 feet) 
  2. The road to Tawang is pretty bad in some stretches and not really feasible to do in a day.
The road we had to choose was via Tezpur to Balukpong. Balukpong was important, as we had to get the Inner Line Permit (ILP) to get into Arunachal Pradesh. Though we had asked to get it ready earlier, but for some reason, they asked that we should be available personally. 

The plan was to reach till Dirang in one day and halt for the night there. The following day, it would be a trip till Tawang. The route above was the plan to travel till Dirang.

Day 4 - We planned to start early from Kaziranga, around 5 am. The first halt planned was to reach the Brahmaputra River  and take a boat ride in the same.  After having a nice tea in a road side we continued towards the Brahmaputra River. We reached around 7 am and there weren't many boats at that time. We found one, who took the opportunity to charge more than the regular price, and finally settled for Rs 1000/- for the one hour boat ride.
Apart from the spectacular views of the Brahmaputra River, the early morning activities in the river side was really interesting.

Prasanna and Vijay In the Brahmaputra River

There is something magical about these so called pillars, for the High Tension Wires. They are really huge and they look awesome, seeing the complete spectrum, using just our eyes.  We also saw a lot of Dolphins.

One must take a Boat Ride in the Brahmaputra River. A definite must to do

Once done, we resumed our journey towards Bhalukpong. It took around an hour or so and had our breakfast there. It was the regular Chana Batura which we had been having last two days.
We were told to contact a local person in there, by our Resort Owner in Kaziranga. He quickly took our documents, ie Aadhar Copy  and one Passport Size Photo , and came back with the Inner Line Permits.  We could have probably gone and done it by ourselves itself though, which we learned a bit later. But its not really a huge task, and even though it was a Early Sunday morning(9 am ), there were no issues for getting this Permit.

Now comes the interesting part of the drive. The first part of the drive was simply beautiful. Nice roads, river flowing by the side and nice clear blue sky. Couldn't have expected more. And then we also had trucks, which wanted us to Honk at them :)

But after a while the roads were simply missing. They were under construction and lots of dust and very bumpy ride. The good part was that, since it was a Sunday, the road was not blocked. On other days, it would be blocked for a quite a few hours for construction. That did save us a few hours. Roads did improve as we moved closer towards Bomdilla.

Bridge Near Bomdilla

Once we were near Bomdilla, there is a lot of High Security Area due to the presence of Indian Army.

For the same reason, though there were many picturesque points, we had to enjoy them only using our eyes and we didn't document anything.

We then stopped at Bomdilla and visited the Monastery there.

Once we crossed Bomdilla, we got this breathtaking view of the Gorichen Peak, which is based in Arunachal Pradesh.

Entering Dirang 
Finally we reached Dirang around 3:30 pm and had a quick snack. We did check for hotels in the main town area, but didn't quite find anything to our liking. We finally headed to the homestay which one of our friends had recommended us. The 'Gonpalak' Homestay.

The Gonpalak homestay was a brand new one, which they have 3-4 rooms which can accomodate around 2-3 people each. It was neat and clean. I think that day, there were more guests than usual and they ended up buying new blankets for us. They also provided with a portable room heater, which was a necessity. Vijay made himself comfortable, just next to the heater :) The food there was average, and the real complain there was in delivery of the food. They really took a long time. On the outside, they had a small farm, where they grew Kiwis. We tried a couple of them and they were good. I would highly suggest staying in this homestay, even if you are going with family. Hope they maintain the quality.

We retired for the day, having a nice bath in the nice and steaming hot water, followed by the daily evening update call to our wives.

Day 5 - Drive from Dirang to Tawang
We woke up a bit late that morning, ie around 7 am. We did plan it like that, so that alternate days, we should get proper and full quota of sleep. Since the trip was for longer period of 12 days on the run, the body needs proper rest as well as time to re-energize and get used to the different weather conditions and oxygen levels which changes due to the height.

The breakfast was delayed but it was good, aloo parathas and nice tea. Finally when we actually got into our Vehicle, it was almost 9 am. We were late for sure. But we didn't mind much as the distance to travel to reach Tawang wasn't much.

This is the route we travelled on Day 5 -

The initial part of the drive was quite good, with winding roads as you can see below. Reminded us of the arial shot from '3 Idiots'. If we had a drone camera, we could have probably got one :) But on a serious note, taking pictures can be tricky. You don't want to capture anything related to army bases anywhere, and there is very high chance that a small area does come into frame. So, we had to skip taking pictures at many places, and these exotic views are captured safely in our minds.

A few kilometres ahead, we saw the Nyukmadong War Memorial.  This memorial is  dedicated to all those who fought the war against China in 1962. These monuments, remind us, that due to the sacrifices of these brave men, we are living safely in our country. Something, which we have taken for granted.

The road ahead towards Dirang was again not really great and we had a lot of patches like this -

In this area, the signal for the mobiles was also very bad. Up until now, we didn't face any issues due to mobile connectivity. Even 4G signals were easily available. But after Dirang, it seemed to be a little difficult.
When we got a place where we had good signal, we all quickly completed our daily stand up call with our respective wives.

As we were moving up, it was very mountainous terrain, and cold getting worse every passing moment.

Around 10:40 am, we reached Tawang's, entry point, which is called the 'Sela Pass'

When we reached at this point, it was shivering cold due to the heavy breeze. I was just in my t-shirt and that really hit me hard. Finally I had to quickly get into our car, and wear all the warm clothes. That helped a bit, but not completely.

Just after crossing the entry point, we were greeted with a beautiful, frozen lake, the 'Sela Lake'. 
Sela Lake

The photos above don't really make justice to the colors and the overall view which we had. It was the perfect blue, and the magical sheet of ice, made it feel, as it someone had drawn a line and where the ice formation should stop.

The Sela Pass is like a lifeline to the people of Arunachal. Its the place which connects Arunachal, via Tawang to the mainland India. 
Just after crossing the Sela Lake, we saw quite a few Yaks.  And then a small bridge, which had a small water fall. We took some pics with slow shutter speed

The water flows below, into a low lying area. The views are very pretty when seen with naked eyes. The camera's can't do any justice to the actual views.

What we saw next, was one of those moments, which we will remember for long time. These stalactites kind of formation from ice. Just plain water with no minerals. I am not sure, if these formations from pure water are called stalactites.

The below photo kind of indicates that a waterfall has suddenly stopped and frozen into ice. Reminds of the movie 'Mask', "FREEZE" :)

They were sharp and very strong. There was water on the roadside also, which had become ice and even when I stood on that, it didn't break.

Jaswangarh Memorial Area from Distance

According to the legend, Jaswant Singh Rawat, an Indian army sepoy fought alone against the Chinese soldiers near the Sela Pass during the Sino-Indian war in 1962. A tribal woman named Sela brought food and water to him but killed herself on seeing his mutilated body. The brave Jaswant Singh was later posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra.

The War Memorial here is dedicated to the brave sepoy, who fought against the Chinese. We did hear, he fought alone for 3 days or so, and finally he died. Visiting such places, where the actual war was fought makes one feel that, we owe so much for them and their families. They fought for us, so that we can live safely, without thinking, who is at the border protecting us.

Just across the road at this war memorial, there is a Military Canteen, which we all visitors can also use. They have a nice view point, and sitting there and having a cup of tea is a different experience.

When we went to order food at this canteen, it was obviously the army folks who were serving us. There was free tea available for all. Only for the eating stuff, we had to pay and order. The first person whom we met, asked us, where we were from. We replied them, 'Bangalore'. He started to speak to us in Kannada.  Vijay spoke to him with fluency and me in broken kannada. He was happy to hear kannada , and even though we had ordered only idli's , we had a free vada on our plate. On further discussions we learnt that he is from Belgaum,  Vijay's home town and so the bond become even stronger.

Just because we are from a place close to his hometown, he felt so much at home for those few moments. 
After having the idli's we saw that they were also having some bakery items. The army currently stationed at this border area is the Maratha Regiment. The regiment, from what I learnt, changes every two years. So we heard these two persons talking in marathi. We also spoke to them in Marathi. When I told him that my wife is from Satara, he was very excited and told me that he too hailed from Satara. I got two extra pieces of cake though we had ordered for 3 only. I paid him in full, but he simply refused to take money for those two extra pieces. He mentioned that, he is from a place between Satara and Karad. The smile and the happiness which we saw during this interaction was priceless.

Both these interactions, one in Kannada and one in Marathi made us feel, how much they miss their people back home and all they are doing is protecting us by sacrificing their personal lives, and probably many more things. These small moments probably make their days slightly different from the otherwise regular day. Something to talk about at the end of the day, when they speak to their families back home.

Slowly we moved from there and moved towards Tawang Town. We had a contact, whom we were told to meet. Once we met him in Tawang, he got our passes for visiting the Bumla Pass. Technically the passes are issued upto 4 pm, but since most of the tourists reach late, they have officially have permission to get the passes till 6 pm.

We then went to the 'Tenzin Homestay, which was again recommended by our friend. We found that place too, very good for the stay. The food was also good. The only complaint was that the heater was not effective at all.

This comes to the end of day 6. The plan next day was to go to Bumla Pass.

The two days here, were more of travel to a higher altitude. So we took it slow. The first days drive was around 177 kms while the second days only 54 kms. But due to the terrain and the kind of roads almost took the whole time of around 6 hours to reach.

Another day and interesting moments, especially with the army folks. When I updated these stories back home, there was another sense of joy within. Small things do make a difference in everyone's life, not necessary expensive ones.

Thanks for reading and please leave your comments.

Rex Movie Theatre Closing Down

It wasn't a great news to start the Sunday. The iconic Rex Theatre was finally being shutdown so that a new mall and multiplex screen's can be built. That is the trend in Bangalore these days, with the single screen theatre's shutting down and new multiplexes come up in its place.

Lido, Galaxy, Plaza  all of these theatres were the ones which we used to frequent. But I think we had most of the memories with Rex theatre.

I do remember once, we had asked our close friend to buy the tickets of the movie 'The Bachelor', and all of us ( around 5 of us) went and sat for the movie to start. When the trailers started, one of them was of 'The Bachelor' and that's when we looked at each other figuring out what really happened. No had seen the posters outside and it turned out to be another movie 'The message in a bottle' . We gave a stern look at Pravin, who had booked the tickets :) . Thankfully this movie, 'The message in the bottle' wasn't bad and the memory of this incident is still fresh in our minds even after 17 years or so :)

One of our dear friend had got a job of a manager at the Domino's there. It was fun those days, and we used to get brownies from him, once in a while. He had learnt to prepare them and had got it for us :)

There was even an incident, when we as a group planned for a movie. When I landed there, I realised that my ticket was not booked. So I booked another one, but couldn't get a seat adjacent to them.. and ended up sitting in another part of the theatre, all by myself. Thats another incident that I can't seem to forget :)

There are innumerable movies we have seen in that theatre, the last one probably around couple of years back. It was still a good experience watching there, and cost of the tickets, being quite less than the regular multiplexes.

Its indeed sad that an iconic movie theatre is going to bite the dust, but is probably part of life and economics of trade.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Rhino Sightings at Kaziranga National Park

Finally the tickets were booked for the trip from Bangalore to North East India; which in-effect acts as a commitment to the trip and the start of the actual preparations. A plan for a few days of exploration trip on a high level was laid out few months back, but would only be taken seriously only now.

The Inception of this trip was during the Rainy season, where we had narrowed down for a short trip to Northern India. More specifically, Tawang. With the passage of time, this short trip somehow got translated into 12 days trip, and as a consequence, the toughest part of the readiness ended up getting permissions from our better half's.

When put on paper, we realized that, we are going to cover 3 states and touch 3 Countries (at the border only).

We didn't intend to book and mark the places to the T, where we would be each day , but  we intended to keep it dynamic. Only for the first couple of days, we booked the Resort in Kaziranga  and also the Jeep Safari's. ( We are kind of against the Elephant Safaris).

Here is the high level plan which we had chalked out - and I have to admit, we kind of  ended up following this quite well. Bit of changes, as you would understand, from the blog.

Day 1
Guwhati Airport (Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport)
Kaziranga National Park Hotel
Day 2
Kaziranga National Park Hotel
Day 3
Kaziranga National Park Hotel
Day 4
Kaziranga National Park Hotel checkout
Tezpur(47km) --> Bomdila(153km) --Dirang(42 km)
Day 5
Sela pass(62km) --> Tawang(68km)
Day 6
Local Sight seeing
Day 7
Dirang and Local sight seeing
Day 8
Phutang --> Kalkatang --> Guwhati
Day 9
Umiam Lake(82km)--> Shillong(16km)
Day 10
Double Decker Living Root Bridge(60km)--> Mawsmai cave (26km) --> Shillong
Day 11
Chirapunji and near by places - Dawki
Day 12
Guwahati Airport --> Bangalore

Day 1 - We had to catch the flight at 7 am from Bangalore , and were supposed to reach Guwahati, Assam  by 10:15 am and as for the the rest of the day, we planned to drive down to Kaziranga and also buy some supplies for the trip on the way.  One SMS from the airline on the previous day, indicated that the flight has been delayed by 7 hours and will now depart at 2 pm. That was the first set back, but on a positive note, that also meant that we could have a good sleep before we leave in the morning. In hind sight , whatever happens, is for the best.

The next day, we three, Vijay, Prasanna and me boarded the flight at the KIAL airport, Bangalore at 2 pm and landed in  Guwahati at 5:30 pm, only to find that, its very dark at this hour.   We found our cab, a Mahindra Xylo, which was already booked, and the driver, who didn't quite look up to the mark, helped us to get our luggage inside and headed for Kaziranga.
Around  midnight we reached Kaziranga after driving close to 200 odd kilometers and quickly got settled into the resort rooms, after all, we had to leave early for the Safaris...

Day 2 - The day started early, with sunrise here , earlier than in Bangalore. We didn't need the alarm to wake us up.  All the folks from the neighboring rooms, made all the noise enough to wake us up and the early morning sunlight had lit up our entire room.  We quickly got ready for the first Jeep Safari, and got all our camera gear , trigger ready. Though the Jeep arrived a little late, we managed to reach on time.

The first Safari was in the Central Zone of the Kaziranga National Park. This is around 2 kms from the place where we were put up, ie Kohra.  Most of the resorts are in this area only.

Note: I suggest reading this blog and viewing the pictures on a bigger screen like a Laptop or so for better experience

The first spotting which we had was this wild Elephant. It was a treat to see at such the huge animal at such a short distance.

But the real search was for the coveted One Horn Rhino, for which we had come all the way!  After a spotting a lot of deer's and enjoying the fog, we finally managed to see a Rhino , which was indeed way too far. The camera lens didn't quite help to get a good image nor to see it clearly. I resorted to using my pair of binoculars and that's when I really appreciated the beauty of the this huge animal. The One Horn Rhino
So, this was all that, we had to be satisfied with, in the morning safari. But to summarize, the highlight of the morning safari was the fog in the national park, and the drive through it.

The 2nd Safari of the day, was in the Western Zone , which is called the Bagori Zone.  Since we hadn't managed to have a decent breakfast, we quickly managed to gobble up a quick lunch at the neighboring resort. The food was sumptuous and tasty, and at the same time, quite simple. Rice, Dal , Roti's and couple of Veggies. Though it was afternoon, there was still a chill in the air and I was simply loving it.
The drive to Bagori Zone was not as quick as Central Zone. It must have been close to 15 minute drive. The views on the road were really pretty, and we hadn't manage to see it the previous night, while coming from Guwahati.

Now, when we reached at Park, I have to admit that, it was much more professionally managed than the Central Zone. Not that there was any chaos or mismanagement at Central Zone, Bagori simply felt more organised. Lot of security to show you the right way to go in and checks at the entry gate. We had to pay for the Camera's extra, If I am not wrong around 200/- INR for each camera. For some good reason, only SLR's are considered as Cameras. Vijay's mini camera, which did all the video recording, never qualified as a camera at least from billing perspective :)

Vijay and Me before the Start of the Safari at Bagori - Picture by Prasanna

Just as the Maruti Gypsy rolled into the park, we had a close view of one Rhino. We were able to see very clearly with our naked eyes.

As we moved ahead, we only realized that, there would be many more Rhinos which we would see.

Now if this was close enough, what we saw next was even something unbelievable. And now, I really don't want to make a long story short. It will be a long story. The picture below, is of the Safari Jeep, which was ahead of us. Little did we know at that time, that, this Jeep standing there, would be instrumental in making life long memory of this Kaziranga Safari.
Hence its imperative to have a classic shot of this Jeep.

Anupam, the Photographer on this jeep, just stopped the jeep in the middle of the road. They signaled to us to stop. We are just behind them, and we took this picture of the jeep( Just to give the idea, of where we are ). They could see a Rhino, which was just about to cross the trail. We patiently waited. And waited. A few minutes turned into 15 minutes, just standing still in our jeep. We had no line of sight of what the Rhino is doing. Only Anupam and his team could see. The jeeps coming from the opposite direction were also made to stop. Soon there was a huge pile up of these Vehicles, but Anupam was not ready to give up. Our Guide and Driver told us, finally after some 25 minutes, that, if the Rhino hasn't crossed till now, there is almost no chance it would cross now. We had crossed our threshold limit of waiting in there. Finally were started the engine of the jeep.. and what!!! The Rhino just starts to come onto the Road. WOW!!! That was all we could say. I am sure, Anupam and his friends had the same expression.

The sweet sound of high speed shutter didn't seem to stop for quite some time. Kindly note the pile up of the Vehicles on the other side , in the interim. But then things were about to change. We knew that, for some nice reason that, the Rhino would move towards Anupam's Vehicle. After all, he did all the ground work.

But then the unexpected happened and the Rhino turned towards us 😊. The cameras didn't get a break this time, and the continuous sound of the shutter, wouldn't have sounded any better.  Though we initially we had completely zoomed out the lenses, his every step closer to us meant reducing the focus length of the lens, up until, we reached the minimum focal length and finally had to move the jeep in the reverse gear. Every moment, of this is still etched in our minds, including the background music of the shutter.

The marching Rhino, which was in our wish list, eventually came to be true

At one point the majestic animal, was so close, that we had to stop shooting and spend those moments completely enjoying the view with our naked eyes. Now, those moments can never be captured or documented. They can only be remembered and the words here, might just help go back to that day and time.
Sometimes, these pictures don't even make justice to what we see in the wild.
While the Rhino, finally deciding to move into the bushes, we kept our camera's down and sat down, just wondering, what just happened.

Finally, as it was starting to get dark, we managed to get one Mother and Child Picture. Not the best, but definitely one for the keeps.

A few other shots

Kindly note the Rhino's in the background. 

Vijay finally decides that he needs horns after seeing so many One Horn Rhino'

As we drove back towards our Resort, we stopped for tea, only to meet Anupam there. We couldn't thank him enough for his effort to get us that perfect Rhino shot. He was pleased to see our pics and was happy nevertheless and that's when we actually got to know of each other, and also his name :)

For the evening we had tickets for the Assam Cultural Program, which was organised by the 'Kaziranga Orchid and Bio-Diversity Park. This program is held everyday and it costs Rs 200/- towards the entry fee. The show was incredible as we got to see the various dance forms from Assam and the other North East States. The play of the percussion instruments by the young people was simply mesmerising.

Here are a few pictures, but they will not really make any justice to the actual program.  You can check in Youtube for the dances and I am sure you will love them.

With such variety of songs and dances,it was an evening to remember. Please make sure to visit this place during your trip to Kaziranga.

Once back to the resort, it was time to enjoy sitting next to the bonfire in the cold weather. It was a welcome relief. We enjoyed a nice tea, which we got from the shack outside the resort, it was really nice. It was probably the first time we really enjoyed the tea, after landing in Assam.

There we met some other folks, who had come from West Bengal. The two guys were working in the Railways and we had some interesting discussions. Some of them were related to the changes in the Railways, in the past few years, mostly after the Modi Govt has come at the centre. They did mention that, it was a very welcome change and the ease of doing work is much much better. They do feel that, they are doing something better for the country, which didn't feel anytime before in their careers.
It felt good to hear such comments from the people at the grass root level.

After having a nice Assamese dinner, we retired for a well earned sleep.