Short and Sweet Journey to North-east

Tripoto
29th Apr 2017

It was a hurried day. The day before was Friday and had to go to the office. I took the print out of the ILP of Arunachal Pradesh. ILP stands for inner line permit. You need to have until and unless you want to get caught while going to Arunachal.

The sheer allure of beautiful Mountains had already captivated my minds since long, I mean very long. I don’t know how I had got to know/first heard about Tawang, but the majesty of the place as I had seen from the photos on the internet has been etched in my mind for the past 4 years.

Tawang is a small district in Arunachal Pradesh sharing border with China on the south and Bhutan to the west. Tawang has been in dispute, with China claiming it to be a part of the autonomous region of Tibet; India denies it. This also created curiosity and interest in me to visit the place and see for myself.

Here is the brief Itinerary we had planned:

We landed in Guwahati on the 29th of April and headed to our Hotel in Kaziranga.

Day 1 – Jeep safari in Kaziranga National Park

Day 2- Elephant Safari in Kaziranga.

Day 3 – On the way to Tezpur via bus, On the way to Dirang via Cab (Shared Sumo)

Day 4 – Morning Thopsung Dhargeyling Monastery visit in Dirang

Day 4 – Cab to Tawang

Day 4 – Visiting the famous Tawang Monastery in the evening.

Day 5 – Bumla pass, P Tso Lake, Shungetsar Lake, War memorial and all the beautiful mountains.

Day 1

Day 6 – Return to Tezpur.

Jeep Safari in Kaziranga National Park

Kaziranga was on my list of the places to see; especially the much famed and always in the news One – horned rhinos. They are endangered since there numbers decreased due to massive poaching in the areas for its horns which is a precious product. Now with government initiatives these beautiful animals have found a safety zone. You can read much about Kaziranga and its geography on the internet. It is situated on the banks of the Brahmaputra.

Panoramic view of the Kaziranga nestled in the mountains on the sides and the Brahmaputra

Photo of Kaziranga National Park, Kanchanjuri, Assam, India by Raja

Whatever you would read would be unmatchable to the thrill you will get when you see the animals real time in front of you. It’s exciting and mesmerizing. I saw many Rhinos and yeah the famed one-horned ones. We could spot the Hog Deer as well as the Sambar deer. Exciting feeling!

We spotted herds of Elephant, Wild buffaloes, boars etc. We could also spot the Hornbill which is basically found in the North-east.

Photo of Kaziranga National Park, Kanchanjuri, Assam, India by Raja

They say the best time to visit Kaziranga is before the start of Monsoon which would mean that the park closes after May. I would also suggest the same.

The Jeep safari would last about an hour and a half and it will stop at points to let you see the wilderness and the animals. The jeep can be arranged easily from the hotel itself (hassle free).

We took the central range.

Apart from the amazing sights of the animals and birds, the entire Kaziranga is nestled on the sides with Mountains, which gives a breath-taking view, A paradise for wildlife photography I guess

Hog Deer

Photo of Short and Sweet Journey to North-east by Raja

I was literally loving the peace and silence that prevailed in the Park. Those chirpy sounds will create sensation. Going from a humdrum and busy city life to be in the nature is a massive relief for the mind and body. It’s worth an investment to visit Kaziranga. Elephant Safari

I would say this one is much more exciting than the Jeep Safari. Both have their charms.

Next day, we took the Elephant Safari. Typically, an elephant can carry 3 on their back for the safari with the Mahout being the fourth one. Elephant safari took us into the fields and we could get views of the animals from close by. This is an amazing ride as we could capture some beautiful phots close by.; The best one being mother Rhino with her young calf, a truly beautiful sight.

We had the usual sightings of the group of Deers and other animals as the Elephants traversed the fields.

Photo of Short and Sweet Journey to North-east by Raja

Elephant Safari

I would say this one is much more exciting than the Jeep Safari. Both have their charms.

Next day, we took the Elephant Safari. Typically, an elephant can carry 3 on their back for the safari with the Mahout being the fourth one. Elephant safari took us into the fields and we could get views of the animals from close by. This is an amazing ride as we could capture some beautiful phots close by.; The best one being mother Rhino with her young calf, a truly beautiful sight.

We had the usual sightings of the group of Deers and other animals as the Elephants traversed the fields.

Day 2

Elephant Safari

Photo of Kaziranga National Park, Kanchanjuri, Assam, India by Raja

Tezpur to Dirang by Road

I would proudly say that my soul always longs for the mountains. I have found a love/penchant for mountains. It is as if they are calling me. I have travelled through India and many mountainous regions of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim. It’s the magnanimity of them, how small you feel in front of them and the greatness of the nature. You can just respect mother Nature for the vastness.

From Tezpur to Dirang is 7 hours’ journey. Through the mountainous terrains, the speed of movement becomes slow; hence the time taken is high.

We had to get our ILP checked at the Bhalukpong military post. Bhalukpong is a little town on the border of AP and Assam and is the gateway to the pristine land of Arunachal. For reaching Dirang one must take this route.

The weather was very nice, a gentle cold breeze flowed for the entire journey. Though in the night and evening it became very cold in the mountains. So, you need to have proper warm clothes when visiting any place in the mountains.

With this longing, we headed for our next destination Tawang. We had planned to stay the night at Dirang and proceeding the next day to Tawang. It’s a journey of 12 hours by cab from Tezpur to Tawang for 319kms.

Dirang falls under the west Kameng District, and Dirang is one of the subdivisions in Bomdilla. Bomdilla is a place where people generally make a halt to stay over-night and start for the journey to Tawang the next day.

Kameng river is the life line of the valley. It creates beautiful scenic valleys. The path to Dirang you can see the amazing canopy of trees on the mountains as well as the mist surrounding the mountains. It’s heavenly to pass to through the mist in the mountains at intervals.

Mist in the Valley are breathtaking

Photo of Tezpur, Assam, India by Raja

When you see, the people living in small tents and houses by the road side along the mountainous road, one would think how can these people live. The point is life is hard but they have adapted to the environment/mountains through generations.

We had to stop for some food along the way at some small hotel on the mountains. We had some light food and proceeded to Dirang. We got our driver to arrange the night-stay in Dirang. The town is small but has its own peaceful charm. We had room with two double-beds which was comfortable enough for sleep.

Buddhist spirituality runs through people’s heart in the town. We got up at around 4 am in the morning and then proceeded to the Thopsung Dhargeyling monastery. I have seen that monasteries are always made at a higher ground than where the entire town lives. The monastery itself is majestic and big enough. The monastery itself overlooks the mesmerizing view of the surrounding valley.

The town’s economy, one could easily guess, is run mostly by tourism. You could easily see hordes of tourist going to Tawang. This is good for the local people, as they can run their business and is means of livelihood. The entire Arunachal is heavily guarded by the Indian CRPF and the Army because of the constant threat/tussle from China. As I told earlier, China claims Arunachal to be its own. So, in the town you could see the movement of Army jeeps and trucks.

Day 3

Thopsung Dhargeyling Monastery

Photo of Dirang Village by Raja

Dirang to Tawang

After our sojourn to the monastery, we didn’t waste much time and since we were four we easily shared a private cab to Tawang. There are also shared cabs running , you can easily search for the operator. I will give some contacts in the end. From Dirang to Tawang is another 5hours in the hilly terrain.

On the way, you will find the beautiful Sela Pass. This has the beautiful Sela Pass

Photo of Sela Pass, West Kameng by Raja

The Sela Pass (more appropriately called Se La, as La means Pass) is a high-altitude mountain pass located on the border between the Tawang and West Kameng Districts of Arunachal Pradesh state in India. It has an elevation of 4170 m (13,700 ft.) and connects the Tibetan Buddhist town of Tawang to Dirang and Guwahati. The pass carries the main road connecting Tawang with the rest of India

Photo of Short and Sweet Journey to North-east by Raja

Legend has it that a sepoy of the Indian Army named Jaswant Singh Rawat fought alone against the Chinese soldiers near the pass during the 1962 Sino-Indian War. A tribal woman named Sela who had brought food and water to him is said to have killed herself upon seeing the dead body of Jaswant Singh Rawat. Singh was posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra for his courage and devotion to duty.

You can keep on admiring the region and the beautiful lakes and the snow-capped mountains. It is your time to take some breath-taking pictures and keep your camera running. One just can’t get enough absorbing the natural beauty.

After Sela you will pass the Jaswant Singh War Memorial. He fought the Chinese in the Sino-Indian war of 1962. You can google more on this place. Jaswant Singh has been elevated to the position of a saint and the local believe that he protects the valley from disaster. This war memorial has on the outside beautiful quotes engraved on the walls and the stones. One thing in Buddhism is that they have heart touching quotes.

Jaswant Singh War Memorial

Photo of Tawang by Raja

You must give Kudos to the Border Roads Organisation for making it pretty much a smooth journey from Tezpur to Tawang. The cabs make stops at regular interval for refreshment and to stretch yourself a bit

I would like to mention that our driver was an enthusiastic guy. You can gain so much perspective talking to a local. You get to know the life style and the current progress of the area. Some interesting thing is that Arunachal also suffers from the effect of Corruption. Not much has been done to the locals in terms of Education and development. They are mostly poor. It’s now in government interest to develop the native people and education will play a primary role in this.

One more interesting point from Sumit - Yak milk products like butter (Mar) and wet cheese (Churpy) form an inseparable part of the ethnic food of Monpa tribe in Arunachal Pradesh. Dried yak meat (Sah Sangbu) is also highly relished by them. These products are exclusively prepared by the Brokpa community, yak pastoralists belonging to the Monpa tribe. They have traditional ways of processing and preserving yak milk and meat. The brokpa economy mostly rotates through trading of Yak products. This paper is an attempt to document the traditional ways of processing and preserving yak milk and meat in the Brokpa community.

Because they eat the churpy the local men don’t grow the beards. It has some effect on beard growth. In my head, I was like feeling strange and curious at the same time.

Tawang

After 5 long hours of driving through the hilly terrain we reached our elusive destination Tawang. Tawang is synonymous with the Tawang Monastery, the mammoth structure very easily visible from far away in the hills. It is the soul of the Tawang hill people. Spirituality flows from here. The monastery is the 2nd largest in the world after the Potala palace in Lhasa.

Photo of Tawang by Raja

Tawang is a small town and one of the heavily guarded regions in the country due to its border with China and the sensitive issue of Dalai Lama visiting the Monastery. The town is beautiful, hills on all the side and the beautiful monastery and the giant statue of Buddha overlooking it. Tourism is again driving the city here. Lots of tour operators to Tezpur and Guwahati and many places in Arunachal.

We took up our stay in the Thunderbolt Guest House near the parade ground in the main town. We had already called up the place before our trip started. It’s a nice easy place to stay and a budgeted one. The owner of the place Dehra Lama is a friendly guy. He himself has served in the SSB (Shastra Seema Bal) and has travelled well in the country. He also owns a cute little wine shop Devil’s Wine Shop. I asked him why the name Devil? He explained because it is supposed to get you high and people behave devilishly after consuming it. He is quite famous in the town.

Photo of Tawang by Raja

In the evening, we did the trek (walking on the road itself is a trek because of its elevated terrain) to the famous Tawang Monastery. It was around 3 kms from our stay. The monastery is huge with prayer mostly 3 times a day. You could local Monpa tribes dotting the hills. Through my interaction with the one of the monks, I could see that they enjoy whatever they are doing and are happy with whatever they have. The remarkable thing is that these people do so much of walking daily and have little qualms about their daily life. The life in Tawang is one peace and relaxation. The day normally starts 4 am in the morning and goes to mostly 8pm. Then the shops are closed, except for some restaurants and wine shops. You could eat at one of the many restaurants in the Market Area or your hotel can arrange for it. But I would suggest to go out and explore a bit and meet people.

After our tryst with the monastery, I bought some souvenirs from a local Tibetan shop. I always do that as part of my collection habit for the places I have been to. Now, I think I have made huge collection from the different places I have been to.

Bumla Pass, Shungetsar(Madhuri Lake), P Tso Lake etc

The previous day we got in touch with a local tour operator (you can find many) to take us a tour to the Bumla Pass. Next day, our driver Javed arrived positively by 7AM. Many lakes are on the way to this pass. You will see a grand vista of snow-capped mountains and military bases dotting the path to Bumla. Again, Bumla is heavily guarded. It takes around 3 hours to reach Bumla from Tawang. On the way, you will find the P Tso Lake. It is one of the many lakes in the region due to the glacial activity and snow melting. It’s extremely cold. Suggestion would be to have nice warm clothes, sunglasses are a must because of the glare, binoculars can be had to focus on some points on the mountains. The roads are a little slippery, so one could see that the tyres are normally wrapped with chains to prevent skidding. Lots of military trucks and the cabs do it. It has also been seen that sometimes the roads may be blocked.

P Tso Lake

Photo of Short and Sweet Journey to North-east by Raja

Bumla pass visit was amazing. There is huge influx of tourist coming to the place. Bumla is the Indo-China border. One could easily see the Chinese army post in the back ground. Every two years Bumla is under the command of some Military regiment. This time the onus was on the Bihar regiment.

Day 4
Photo of Bum La Pass by Raja

There is hotline runs between the Chinese and the Indian Army to interact if there are any issues. Also, they have biennial meetings to discuss matters of importance. You feel for the soldiers who stay there in treacherous terrains protecting the border and the country. They are the real heroes. Once you see it in front of your eyes, your respect for them grow even further. It gets very cold in the night.

On the return from Bumla we made way for Shungetsar lake in the valley. The history is that the lake was created due to earthquake activity in the region in the 1950s and I must tell you, it has created a beautiful lake. The calmness and panorama is soothing to the eyes and peace to the soul. It is here that the famous song “Tanhai Tanhai” from the Hindi movie Koyla was shot. Since then this place has attracted hordes and hordes of tourist to the place.

Photo of Sangetsar Lake by Raja

We took millions of pictures of the pulchritudinous vale.

Wrapping Up

Day 5

Since I had to return the next day, I got in touch with the one of the local tour operators for my return to Tezpur. Next day morning I boarded the cab from the guest house and said good bye to our beautiful host Dehra Lama and he wished me all the best in his own unique gesture of folding the hand. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture with him (forgot to take one).

Being a curious guy myself to know more about the places and people. I had good interaction with the migrants here (mainly Bengalis and Biharis) and how they have come to be here and doing business. Also, interacted with ITBP personnel and his experience. All these talks gives us a fresh perspective into a life outside ours and changes our thinking in some way or the other.

I stayed overnight in Tezpur at one of the guest house nearby the bus stand. Next morning, I took the Volvo to Guwahati and then reached airport in a cab to board my flight in the afternoon.

My journey ended with lots of beautiful memories which I have tried to put above. I would suggest to go out and explore. Life is meant to be enjoyed and experienced and what better way than travelling and meeting people.

I am now locating a new place to visit. Signing off. Inbox me for contacts and any suggestions if you want visiting these places.

Photo of Tawang by Raja