How it all started:
It all started one fine late autumn afternoon. Four of us, all colleagues and friends, were sitting over a cup of tea and discussing different tourist spots in India. Suddenly one of us, Mohit, a computer engineer, casually passed a remark on the virgin beauty of Arunachal Pradesh. The other three, all police officers, namely Debu, Amit and yours truly Naseer, quickly picked up the idea as none of us had ever seen Arunachal Pradesh. Within minutes a plan was mooted out and we all decided to have a first-hand view of Arunachal Pradesh sometime in mid-December which was hardly a fortnight away. We decided that Mohit, the youngest among us will plan the journey and do all paper-works required.
Necessary permission from the concerned authorities for entering Arunachal Pradesh was duly obtained and on 15.12.2016 the four of us boarded a train for Guwahati, an over-night journey from Kolkata followed by 4 hours journey by bus which landed us at Tezpur in Assam round about midday on the 2nd.day.
Note: All tourists including Indians require ILP (Inner Line Permit) which can be acquired from any of the AP Houses situated in New Delhi, Kolkata and Guwahati. The ILP is provided for each of the sectors (1. Bomdila, Dirang, Tawang; 2. Itanagar, Ziro; 3. Namdapha, Changlang). One can get the ILP for any one of the above sectors by providing necessary documents.
Tezpur is a nice little sleepy town with a beautiful park from where the setting sun beyond the River Brahmaputra was a treat to watch. The next morning all of us packed into a hired Bolero with Tawang as our goal.
At this point I want to go astray from our journey and want to say a few words about us. All of us were different from each other in various ways. I am being the senior most, commanded respect from the others and all the planning though conceived by Mohit, final decisions were ultimately left to me. I was also in charge of the videography. Mohit, who was small built, was the playful type and was up to all sorts of pranks. He was also carrying his prize possession, a Nikon D-90 camera. He was our treasurer too. Amit perfectly fitted into the gang and seemed to enjoy every joke, prank, etc. But the special type was Debu. He was the jester in the pack. His every innocent move brought forth a peel of laughter from the others. He was tall, averagely built and very dark in complexion. He was bald with a small mop of hair on his head, but every now and then he would take out a comb from his pocket to comb his prized possession. Quite often he was caught on the lens doing this. All said and done, we all mixed with each other freely and enjoyed every moment to the brink.
Coming back to the journey, by 10 o’clock in the morning we reached Bhalukpong, the border town of Arunachal Pradesh where we had to pass the check post. Just beyond Bhalukpong we stopped at ORCHID RESEARCH CENTRE, TIPI. More than 600 species of orchids are found in Arunachal. The ideal climate and diversity of habitat have favored the growth of orchids in abundance, making the state an “orchid paradise” of our country. We were spell-bound to see the beauty of some orchids at full blossom.
From Bhalukpong we proceeded further north towards Bomdila which was about 75 km away. We saw innumerable waterfalls and brooks. At one of the waterfalls we stopped to rest and feast our eyes on the beauty of nature. At this juncture Debu came into play. Suddenly without any warning he ran down the hill to go to the rocks where the water was cascading down. Somehow, he lost his foothold and slipped into the chilled water. We helped him out of the water and he, putting aside his modesty, had to change his wearing apparels in the open, a record of which was mischievously captured in Mohit’s lens and my video. We jokingly and fittingly christened this waterfall as ‘DEBU FALLS’.
Leaving behind ‘DEBU FALLS’ we soon came to Saddle Point (though its written as SAIDDLE on the mile-stone) which was at a height of 5100 ft. The view of the hillside was breathtaking. By late afternoon we had reached Bomdila. Here let me enlighten the readers that during the last Chinese aggression in 1962, Bomdila and Bhalukpong came under Chinese occupation for a brief period.
The evening found us at Dirang. It was quite chilly then. We booked into a hotel overlooking the panoramic view of the Dirang valley with all its hills, streams, trees and flowers. As night closed in, we all crept inside thick blankets. Debu, Amit and I started playing cards. In fact, whenever there was nothing to do, we passed the time by playing cards; such was our addiction to it. Mohit during this time kept himself busy by examining his camera from all angles. He also kept account of the traveling expenses being the treasurer.
Early next morning we took a quiet stroll around the hotel and befriended some local boys and girls. Every word of ours set forth a burst of laughter from them. They were so innocent and charming.
The journey between Bhalukpong and Tawang (350 km. approximately) was the longest drive undertaken by us on mountainous terrain. All the aches and pains were however compensated by the breathtaking scenery which met our eyes. There were lots of snow laden hills and mountains. On one occasion, we climbed a small snow-covered hill and slipped down the snow. At innumerable places the mountain stream while cascading down the mountain froze into ice while in motion and looked like sparkling cut glasses. Snowy white stairs were also formed at lots of places. The glistening of the sunrays on this ice was something to be seen. At some places, the hills were covered by black rocks. Quite often we came across Border Roadways Organization clearing away the rocks and debris accumulated on the road due to landslides which were frequent in these areas.
We soon reached Sela Pass (Height-13,700 ft) in the afternoon and had lunch in the only hut we saw. Here the combination of low flying clouds, valleys, mountains, fog, etc. presented an ethereal atmosphere. We met some Jawans of Indian Army and shared some of our experiences. We also saw yaks aplenty.
An hour from Sela Pass brought us to Jaswantgarh Memorial which was built in memory of a legendary soldier Jaswant Singh Rawat who bravely fought a Chinese battalion and managed to keep them at bay and ultimately gave the supreme sacrifice. Everyone passing Jaswant Garh stops to pay respect and have complimentary snacks and tea served by Indian Army. Even truckers while passing blow their horn as a sign of respect. Just before entering Tawang we came across a magnificent waterfall which was cascading down the mountain from a great height. The sunrays had turned its colour to different hues because of the refraction phenomenon.
Ultimately, on the 4th.day of our holiday, in the evening, we reached our destination Tawang, the last town bordering China and put up in a hotel. We stayed at Tawang for about three days. It was really cold there but Mohit seemed to be the worst sufferer and was perennially shivering. On the second day, we went to Sangster Lake (ht.1200 ft) right at the border of China. We took the Lhasa Highway. The whole area was like a celestial paradise at its best. This lake as well as several lakes that we passed by were frozen. Even the road leading to the lake was laden with snow. We all walked and played like children on the frozen ice. At one place Mohit while pulling Debu like a Trolley over the crystal ice slipped and fell flat on his bottom. Unfortunately for him, this scene was caught on the video lens. The name Sangster Lake has been corrupted by some people as Madhuri Lake because the Indian actress Madhuri had danced at this site in a sequence to the film “Koyla”. This corrupted version had caused some resentment amongst the local people. On the way, we assisted some jawans in transporting their ration from a shop at Sangster Lake and off-loading these at their camp. The jawans were very hospitable and made us take lunch with them. In no way could we refuse such a kindly offer. It was really an hour to have lunch with our brave jawans who are spending time in such inhospitable terrain for defending our motherland. On the third day we paid a visit to the famous Tawang Monastery. We also befriended some local people including the Anchal Pradhan who had been bestowed with immense power to prosecute the guilty as per local tradition. The womenfolk of the area are really hard-working and in no way lag behind their male counterparts. We also had a tour of the War Memorial site in Tawang.
On the 7th.day of our journey, we started for Nameri Forest in Assam. It is midway between Bhalukpong and Tezpur. Though we had decided to halt for the night at Dirang, but ultimately pushed on and reached Nameri Forest at night. On the way, we saw plants covered with ice and with the blowing of the wind the ice was falling slowly to the ground. We also came across a bridge which had been destroyed by the Chinese and hadn’t been repaired. It bore a mute testimony to the Chinese aggression.