North East - The Unexplored : Delhi-Guwahati-Bomdila-Tawang-Tezpur-Shillong-Guwahati- Delhi (Part I)

Tripoto
29th Sep 2019

Paradise unexplored

Photo of North East - The Unexplored : Delhi-Guwahati-Bomdila-Tawang-Tezpur-Shillong-Guwahati- Delhi (Part I) by Ashish Kapoor

A trip to North East was perhaps the most challenging, intriguing and adventurous trip I've ever had and I must confess that it was totally worth it.

My wife and I were planning a trip to celebrate our wedding anniversary in a place which was talked about by few and was unexplored in real sense. It was after hours of internet surfing and suggestions of our friends, we realized that a trip to the North East can be something which fits our criteria in every sense.

Once the destination was fixed, we started booking the tickets and hotels/home stays for the trip. Our return flight tickets from New Delhi to Guwahati costed around 16,000 INR for the both of us - thanks to Makemytrip. The next thing which we did was to book a Zoom Car for our 10 day trip. Though I didn't have prior experience of driving in the mountains, but I was sure that I'll be able to manage. The car costed us around 38,000 INR (excluding fuel) for the km range of upto 2,100kms. I guess the prices were a bit high as it was festival time with Dussehra and Durga Puja around the corner.

I want to add here that there are other ways to reach Tawang than taking a self driving car, like on a helicopter (Pawan Hans) which flies from Guwahati to Tawang , shared Sumos and private taxis. As the seats in the helicopter are only confirmed a day before you fly and we didn't want to base our entire trip on that last moment surprise of confirmation/rejection. The other reason was that we didn't want to miss the beauty which the nature has to offer along the way so we chose the self driving car.

The last thing which we booked were the rooms in hotels and home stays as it takes a significant amount of time in finding the right room at the right price. With their pay at the hotel option and 0% cancellation charges (if cancelling within the time frame), Booking.com made me their lifetime customer.

For tourists entering Arunachal Pradesh or few other states in North-East which share their borders with neighboring countries, they need to apply for an Inner Line Permit. It is a permit issued by the government to keep a track of the tourists entering and leaving the state (as A.P. shares it borders with China and Bhutan) so it's mandatory to obtain the permit. The permit can easily be obtained by applying online at eILP and making a nominal payment of around INR 100 + taxes per head. You'll be intimated by SMS and will be able to download the permit within next 2-3 days.

Since there is no mobile network available throughout the trip except in few major cities/villages along the way, it is recommended to download offline google maps and your playlist before you leave. They will be your best friend throughout the journey.

For the sake of keeping it concise (although it's long enough already) and not burdening you with a lot of information, I've decided to keep this blog limited to New Delhi-Guwahati-Bomdila-Tawang-Tezpur only in Part 1. For the remaining part of the trip (Part 2) from Tezpur to Shillong, Krang suri, Dawki, Mawlynnong, Cherrapunji and Guwahati you can click here.

That being said, we should now take you to our journey of the paradise - Tawang.

Day 1

View Inside Guwahati Airport

Photo of Guwahati Airport (GAU), Borjhar, Guwahati, Assam, India by Ashish Kapoor

We took an early morning flight from New Delhi and managed to exit Guwahati airport after collecting our checked-in luggage at around 9.15 a.m. Outside the airport was our Zoom Car as we opted for the car drop. The zoom car guys took us to the nearby zoom car station where after mutual inspection of the car and the documents, they handed us the keys of Ford Ecosport - Diesel car which was going to be our partner in the trip.

Because the Guwahati to Tawang journey can't be completed in a day, therefore we planned to first take a break at Bomdila. Around 10.00 am we got the fuel tank full and left from Guwahati towards our final destination of the day - Bomdila.

Journey from Guwahati to Bomdila

Photo of Bomdila by Ashish Kapoor

We took the following route to reach Bomdila:

Guwahati-Sipajhar-Rowta-Bhairabkunda-Kalaktang-Shergaon-Rupa-Bomdila

Route from Guwahati to Bomdila.

Photo of North East - The Unexplored : Delhi-Guwahati-Bomdila-Tawang-Tezpur-Shillong-Guwahati- Delhi (Part I) by Ashish Kapoor

The route we took was an amazing one and was one of the best roads to drive on the mountains. A major part of it was NH-15 highway with tree covered mountains on one hand and lush green forests on another. However, there were no tea-stalls, dhabas along the road sides throughout the highway. So, you need to fill yourself up before starting the trip. You would be lucky to get tea or snacks even after 70-100 kms of straight drive. There were some bad road patches which might have got a bit slippery due to the rains after NH-15 but nothing dangerous or risky,

Found a place in middle of somewhere to relax after a long drive

Photo of North East - The Unexplored : Delhi-Guwahati-Bomdila-Tawang-Tezpur-Shillong-Guwahati- Delhi (Part I) by Ashish Kapoor

We had our ILP checked at Bhairabkunda check post and were told by the cop on duty that Bhutan was just on the other side of the mountains. We even received the message from our network carriers saying 'Welcome to Bhutan'.

Finally, we reached Bomdila just before 5.30 pm and had enough time to relax and prepare ourselves for the other part of the journey starting the next day. We spent our night at Anu Homestay with possibly one of the best hosts we've ever met. The food was also delicious and at a very reasonable price. The room price was INR 1,600 per night.

We realized that sun sets pretty early in the North-East but on the other hand, it rises early too, so we planned to get up as early as possible so as to make to Tawang in time. Infrequent rains were also of concern but we planned to sleep early so as to get up and leave as early as possible.

Due to rains, we were able to leave around 6.30 in the morning.

Day 2

Bad weather combined with wet roads - not exactly a perfect day to start our journey with

Photo of Bomdila by Ashish Kapoor

The trip from Bomdila to Sela pass was bit steep with some rough patches in between. Since, we left at 6.30 am, there were still clouds on the road level, thereby, reducing the visibility to as low as 5m combined with sporadic rains. The roads were good for a major part (thanks to BRO), except for some places where the construction work was going on. Construction material combined with rains, formed a slurry, which made driving a bit difficult. The car was skidding at some places and so we were able to cross them at slow speeds only. However, the roads are very safe with frequent commutation of BSF soldiers going to and fro the Bum-la pass. The soldiers were very supportive and co-operative of the tourists and the locales. They themselves provided us pass to overtake their trucks as and when the space was available.

It took us around 3.5 hours to reach the Sela Pass including our small breakfast/maggi halt.

Enroute Sela Pass

Photo of Sela Pass by Ashish Kapoor

Amidst clouds and some rough patches, with a driving speed not exceeding 30-40kmph, we entered Sela Pass. The pass is at a height of 13700 feet, and the temperature was not more than 4-5 degrees in September end.

The view of Sela Lake was breathtakingly beautiful. Everything was calm.

Sela pass gate - entry to Tawang

Photo of North East - The Unexplored : Delhi-Guwahati-Bomdila-Tawang-Tezpur-Shillong-Guwahati- Delhi (Part I) by Ashish Kapoor

Sela lake

Photo of North East - The Unexplored : Delhi-Guwahati-Bomdila-Tawang-Tezpur-Shillong-Guwahati- Delhi (Part I) by Ashish Kapoor

However, right after crossing the Sela pass, the road conditions deteriorated, or if I must say, there were roads missing for the span of next 15 kms. Rains combined with practically no roads and less visibility, was something we have not expected. However, we've found the key for crossing such patches and that was by driving slow. We were successfully able to cross that patch in 45 minutes without getting our tires punctured (Thanks to Zoom car for providing us a car we could totally trust on). Never at any point during the entire trip did we feel the need for a 4 Wheel Drive. In fact, we saw many Maruti 800 also, throughout our trip. I would recommend any car with a decent ground clearance and engine capacity of around 1200 cc or above will be good to go. In all, if you are decent driver, you'll be able to make it without much difficulties. However, if you're not confident about your driving, I'll suggest you take a private taxi.

Road conditions just after Sela pass

Photo of North East - The Unexplored : Delhi-Guwahati-Bomdila-Tawang-Tezpur-Shillong-Guwahati- Delhi (Part I) by Ashish Kapoor

The remaining journey to Tawang was a happy ride as we were descending and were also able to see the sun now around 11 am in the morning.

Before reaching Tawang, we went a bit off track from our route to see Nuranang (Jung) waterfalls. We've never seen such majestic waterfalls as huge as 100m from such a close distance before:

Nuranang Waterfalls

Photo of Nuranang Waterfalls, Cona, Shannan by Ashish Kapoor

Soon after seeing the waterfalls, we headed towards Tawang and reached around 3.00 pm, tired from a very long and tough drive . We stayed at Shangri La Serene which was priced at around 3,500 INR per night. The hotel was a newly constructed one but had all the amenities. They had room heaters installed in every room along with a portable heater too. The staff was very co-operative and prepared delicious food. We were told that a special permit is required to go upto Bum-la pass which our hotel manager arranged (we had to give him our IDs and the ILP).

The local markets in Tawang close around 7 pm so we preferred to have our dinner in the hotel only thereby calling it a day.

Day 3

Next day, we woke up relaxed, had our breakfast and planned on doing the local sight seeing starting from Tawang Monastery which is the biggest monastery in India and the second largest monastery in the world.

Tawang Monastery

Photo of Tawang Monastery, Cona, Tawang by Ashish Kapoor

We went on to see the Giant Buddha statue near Circuit house

Giant Buddha Statue - Tawang

Photo of Giant Buddha Statue, near Circuit House, Tawang by Ashish Kapoor

And then went on to see The War Memorial, where we saw memorabilias dedicated to the war of Sino-India war that took place in the year 1962.

War Memorial - Tawang

Photo of North East - The Unexplored : Delhi-Guwahati-Bomdila-Tawang-Tezpur-Shillong-Guwahati- Delhi (Part I) by Ashish Kapoor

We then returned from our excursion and enjoyed delectable lunch at Mon Valley Restaurant in the old local market of Tawang. It was recommended by Tripadvisor and trust me, it was totally worth it . For tea lovers, you can try butter tea here, which is also a unique experience. Overall, the food was very good and the prices were reasonable.

Mon Valley Restaurant

Photo of North East - The Unexplored : Delhi-Guwahati-Bomdila-Tawang-Tezpur-Shillong-Guwahati- Delhi (Part I) by Ashish Kapoor

Local cuisine - Tawang

Photo of North East - The Unexplored : Delhi-Guwahati-Bomdila-Tawang-Tezpur-Shillong-Guwahati- Delhi (Part I) by Ashish Kapoor

After that we strolled around a bit, got the diesel tank full again, and went back to the hotel, relaxed in the sun, had our dinner there only and ended our day.

Day 4

Next morning we woke up early, had our breakfast and waited for a private taxi (arranged by hotel) which was going to take us for the sight seeing around to Bum La, P T Tso lake, Shungatser lake etc. We were told that the journey ahead is not permitted on private vehicles and the local experienced drivers are the only ones who can take us there (I can't confirm if it is true or not, but, I anyway didn't have the nerve to drive up to the Bum La pass, so I agreed). We were charged 5,000 INR for the trip. The driver had already got our entry permit to Bum La and we went straight ahead to the taxi.

Road for Bum La pass is mostly good except for some patches. However, the scenic beauty along the entire route is beyond belief.

Photo of Tawang by Ashish Kapoor

We also saw P.T. Tso lake along the way, which we planned to visit later but couldn't due to the rains.

P.T. Tso lake

Photo of PT Tso Lake by Ashish Kapoor

For Bum La Pass, there were army check posts and our permits were checked half an hour before we reached Bum La. After around 1.5 hours of drive from Tawang, we reached the destination. It was chilling out there. Army has made arrangements for tea and snacks (on nominal charges) and have also arranged oxygen cylinder for the people who were facing lack of oxygen at 15200 feet. We were taken to the Indo China Border (which is a friendly border) and the soldier accompanying us showed the extent of Indian borders visible to naked eye. We were not allowed to take our cameras till the border so had to leave them in our taxi only. It was freezing out there but still we couldn't see any snow in Bum La Pass either. There was no snow in the entire trip which was disappointing, but the positive side is that the roads and weather were in a better conditions.

Made it to 15200 feet

Photo of Bum La Pass by Ashish Kapoor

Next, we started our journey towards Shungatser Lake. We descended from Bum La and took a right turn towards Shungatser (left turn leads back to Tawang). The roads to Shungatser lake are missing for the entire stretch of 40 kms. The entire to and fro journey is a trauma which one has to go through. The speed doesn't increase more than 20-30 kmph and there is not even a single stretch of road which is in good shape. It took us 1.5 hours and a lot of frustration to reach Shungatser.

However, what we saw after that, was something which can't be described in words. A lake amidst the mountains, with clouds all over it, seemed like we were in paradise. It was beguiling.

Shungatser /Madhuri Lake

Photo of Madhuri Lake by Ashish Kapoor

After Shungatser lake, we started our journey back to Tawang as it started raining again. Along the way, we saw Sun coming up and I got a chance to click few more pictures, which will give you a glimpse of how beautiful the landscapes were throughout the way:

Enroute Bum La Pass

Photo of Tawang by Ashish Kapoor

View of Tawang Monastery

Photo of Tawang by Ashish Kapoor

Look for Giant Buddha in the far center

Photo of Tawang by Ashish Kapoor

Shungatser lake's view

Photo of Tawang by Ashish Kapoor

We reached hotel around 4.00 pm, spell bounded with the sight we had seen during the 8 hours trip. It's not possible to forget the pristine beauty that was witnessed after 3 days of journey, 20 hours of travel, and 2 months of planning. With only few people around, we almost had the entire beauty to ourselves. It was calm, serene and untarnished by us humans.

I don't have an iota of doubt to admit that this place indeed is the 'Paradise which is unexplored'.

We were tired from the journey today, so, we planned to stay in the hotel only, watched T.V., packed our stuff, had our dinner and went off to sleep, as we had to start our return journey, early morning the next day.

Day 5

Early morning, to our surprise was a sunny day, with no rains at all. It seemed that the weather was also in our favor today. We bade farewell to the hotel staff, who treated us very well and started our return journey for Tezpur.

The view during the return journey

Photo of Tawang by Ashish Kapoor

As per our plan, our next destination was Shillong, but we couldn't complete the entire journey in a day, so, Tezpur was the best place for us to break the journey. It was indeed a very long drive on Day 5 (around 400 kms), but we were ready for that. You can break the journey in Bomdilla also, if you have an extra day to spare.

We left around 6.00 am in the morning with Sun above our heads, and took the same route for Bomdilla, crossing Sela pass etc. The view of Sela Pass during a sunny day was something to spend a few minutes on.

Sela Lake on a sunny day

Photo of Sela Pass by Ashish Kapoor

We reached Bomdilla at around 11.30 am and continued our journey ahead. We planned on taking the Bomdila-Rupa-Singchung-Bhalukpong-Balipara-Tezpur route which was a shorter one and would have saved us some time. However, on reaching Rupa, we were told by the police and locales, that Bhalukpong road is not in a good condition and construction works were also going on in the route. So, it would not be advisable to take that route but to go with the other route which was a longer one, and would increase the duration of our journey by another 2 hours. However, we didn't have any other option but to trust them, so we changed our route and followed the other one:

Bomdila-Rupa-Shergaon-Kalaktang-Bhairabkunda-Rowta-Orang-Tezpur

Alternate route for Tezpur from Bomdila

Photo of North East - The Unexplored : Delhi-Guwahati-Bomdila-Tawang-Tezpur-Shillong-Guwahati- Delhi (Part I) by Ashish Kapoor

We knew that it will not be possible now to avoid driving after the sunset (which we try to follow as far as possible), so our only target was to cross the mountain region before the sun sets. Once on plains, I'll be in my comfort zone and could drive more confidently even during the night.

We also struggled with the traffic jam on a bridge in Rupa, which delayed our schedule by another hour. We knew now, that we don't have any time to sit back and relax, so we stuffed our car with packed food and chips, so we don't have to halt much along the way.

After a straight drive for the next 4 hours and at around 5.30 pm, we were able to cross Bhairabkunda and were almost in plains heading towards Rowta. Once in plains, our confidence level boosted up again and we drove upto Tezpur, reaching at around 8.00 pm in night where our friends and the dinner were waiting for us.

We were extremely tired after around 14 hours of driving and wanted to relax and eat now. The journey next day was for Shillong which was again a 7 hour drive but we were not ready to think about it now. It was a big day today, and we totally deserved to eat and sleep well now.

Kindly click here for Part 2 of the trip.

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