"Sailing away upon the sea of wonder, drowning in the things you say
Learning to fly with broken wings, In the skies of my illusions" - Humsadhwani, Advaita
I never thought that the illusions of my mind, which I rejected as mere fantasies existed in the midst of virgin mountains of Arunachal Pradesh. My solo backpacking trip started from the industrial town of Jorhat, Assam, towards the east of Kaziranga. Because of the turbulent political situation of Arunachal Pradesh, you require an Inner Line Permit (ILP) to enter the state through any of the check gates. My Inner Line Permit was made in a matter of 10 minutes, with two passport size photo and an official ID as a proof of my Indian citizenship by Mr.Karmakar at the ILP issuing office in Jorhat by paying Rs. 20/-. He was kind enough to help me with my itinerary as well. The ILP can be made for a maximum of 7 days by paying Rs.20/, which can be extended further by 15 days at any District Commissioner Office in Arunachal Pradesh. The inadequate information available online, made me question my decision to travel solo in this state a number of times. However the talk with Mr.Karmakar proved to be very encouraging.
I left for Tezpur early in the morning. There are private buses that ply between Jorhat and Tezpur. I boarded one, paying a fare of mere Rs 130/-. The ride through Kaziranga National Forest was filled with lush green forests with occasional ponds where migratory birds flocked for their morning fishing gimmicks. After a few kilometers into the forest, I realized that the sight of elephants casually strolling on the roads although quite amusing, is not an extraordinary phenomena there. The four hour bus ride ended at the heart of Sonitpur on the banks of the mighty river of the seven sisters, Brahmaputra.
There is regular cab service to major towns in Arunachal Pradesh(Bomdila, Dirang, Seppa, Tawang) from Tezpur. Unfortunately I did not get a cab to Dirang on that day since a lot of drivers had taken leave to celebrate the festival of Bhaiduj. I booked my seat in a shared cab to Bomdila, which comes 40 Km before Dirang.
Earnest Hemingway had said, "It is the journey that matters, in the end." I must admit that I could completely resonate with these words as I wandered across the plains of Assam into the hilly terrains of Arunachal. The first checkpost of the state is 56 Km from Tezpur, Bhalukpong. The town is famous for the archeological ruins of King Bhaluka, grandfather of King Bana of Mahabharata fame. The cab stopped for lunch here, which offered me a chance to break the ice among fellow travelers. With a full stomach and stories from locals, army & tourists, we made our way inside the ‘Land of Rising Sun’.
Thanks to BRO (Border Road Organization) and the impending visit of Dalai Lama to Tawang the next year, there has been rapid construction of smooth roads along the way. The first glimpse of Kameng River mesmerized all of us. After spectacular sights of waterfalls, evergreen forests and orchids in Tippi & Sessa, the roads started ascending through steep twists & turns to the highest point of West Kameng District, Nechiphu(5690 feet). From Nechiphu, the sight is truly astonishing. Towards the south you can see the hills till the view of plains announce the beginning of the territory of Assam and towards the north, you can see the Himalayas spreading its arms open for you to explore the valleys and peaks.
From Nechiphu, we descended the hills to Tenga valley. It was one of the large towns along the way to Bomdila, with a huge military base and a well established market area. It was sunset by the time we reached Bomdila. It was very difficult to get a cab to Dirang valley since the entire market closes very early.
A local from Bomdila, Tenzin Dorgyal helped a few of us rent a cab to Dirang. After bargaining for about half an hour, the driver settled for Rs. 1800/-. The roads between Bomdila and Dirang barely qualified as roads in the urban context. The only thing which kept me sane through the 3 hour drive was the eclectic playlist of the Ashwin, our driver who also happened to be our savior for the day. His collection had a wide range of artists, from Eminem, Avril, Death Metal to Honey Singh,with a surprising inclusion of Nepali songs.
I spent the night at Hotel Moon, which charged me Rs.600/- for a double bedroom. Although the hotel didn't suit my taste, I was compelled to take up the room since I couldn't find anything else open in the middle of the night. I woke up early the next morning to explore the place and started walking towards the hot spring. A natural hot sauna in the midst of a forest along the Kameng River seemed irresistible to me. It was quite a long walk of 3 Km, but the effort was worth it. I was dumbfounded by the sights on the way. I ended up finding a perfect homestay along the way, a warm house with a room overlooking the whole Dirang valley. Away from the commotion of the market, I decided to savor the peace offered by this place and lay my backpack here.
Energized with noodles, I made my way to the hot spring. Though not maintained properly, a hot pool of water with outside temperature in single digits is quite appealing. After a refreshing dip and a filling lunch at the homestay, I started the 6 Km walk towards Old Dirang Monastery. Although my mind was cluttered, I went into went into harmonious state of tranquility as I opened the gates of the Gompa. The mural paintings created with colors of perfect balance transported me to another world, far from what I thought was real.
I got a lift to the market from a friendly local, who told me about the construction of a modernist monastery above the market area. A 15 minute walk from the market to the monastery offered me a panaromic view of the entire Dirang valley. Since the construction was still in progress, I couldn't enter the gigantic monastery. There was a wide football ground, adjoining the monastery. I ended up spending quite some time, enjoying the game between the locals.
After wandering in the market for a bit, I spent the evening sharing stories across the lands with Mr.Tse tin and his wife from the homestay while gazing at the fields of Dirang Dzong.
The next day I was up at the crack of dawn and trekked down to Kameng River for a stroll around the rocks. There is a lesser known hot spring at the bank of the river, which is quiet popular among the tribals of the area for its medicinal qualities to help against stomach ailments.
The morning sky looked clear and the shining sun was an omen to fly off to a new destination. It was time to leave for the magical town of the mysteries, Tawang.