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.

The North East Blog Series
Part 1 - Kaziranga National Forest
Part 2 - Journey To Tawang
Part 3 - The Stunning Bumla Pass