For many years even the most avid travelers have regarded Arunachal Pradesh a mystical beauty to be admired only from afar. Who is not aware of this majestic place sitting in the lap of Himalayas, our very own land of rising sun, but few have tried to experience its splendor. We, as offroaders, launched ourselves for some true offroading to Tawang, the north western part of Arunachal, which historically was a part of Tibet and still remains an alluring beauty eyed by several and scrupulously guarded by India.
There is something spectacular about northeast of India. As you make your entry into Guwahati, Assam, the gateway to Northeast, you feel you have entered a different world altogether. Although, it is not totally unaffected by the glitz and glamour of the modern urban India but it still has that touch of rustic charm. It’s humble, rooted to the culture, ethnic and fresh. Rain Gods have been generous towards this part of the country and that makes it, as if by default, natural and green. The modern architecture has not been able to spoil its homely simplicity. The unassuming cottages that you see on either side of the road have been able to retain the old world charm. People are unassuming too and sync beautifully with the surroundings.
As you go deeper into northeast the charm gets deepened. Leaves take a deeper shade of green, mountains get more deeply shrouded in the mist and valleys become a deeper mystery. You know you are about to experience something extraordinary as you enter Arunachal on Tezpur -Bomdila Road. The sound of gurgling stream welcomes you to Arunachal and becomes a constant companion. There’s no way you can remain slouched on the seat of the car. You are compelled to sit up and notice the gushing waterfalls, the misty mountains and valleys that make the experience so surreal. It could actually be the paradise you heard about but did not know existed .The beauty can’t be explained in words and somehow you feel, describing it may diminish or undermine its magic. The Nature here poses a challenge to photographers and poets, because no amount of technology in your hand and eloquence can capture what you experience here.
Driving on the winding roads, painstakingly constructed by Border Roads, gives you the feeling that probably you are the first one to venture onto them. They look so isolated that on many occasions we felt we were going to reach nowhere. Yet, suddenly you find some delicate looking damsel, pristinely beautiful, breaking a rock here, fetching water there, or gallantly performing the most arduous tasks. Men are almost conspicuous by their absence at work sites or very seldom seen. What catches your eye is the way these women are turned out. Their outfits will get eyeballs even from the swanky designers of fashion arena; their boots seem to be from Milan fashion ramps and makeup like it’s been given a retouch every other minute. What makes them so fashion conscious, while they live in these remote hills, remains a mystery.
We reached Army Cantonment of Tenga after spending eight hours on the road. We were faced by some of the toughest driving challenges and the drive can’t be termed as easy by any standard. Tenga valley is situated at an altitude of 6,500 feet above sea level and is a beautiful town in Eastern Himalayas. Bomdila, which was a town that followed, offered us some splendid views to behold. It also has a ‘Nag Temple, built by Army. The venomous God is revered deeply by all the Army personnel posted here and it’s a taboo to kill them. One of the Jawans gloriously told us that there has been not a single case of snake bite in the region.
Next day we set course for Tawang. Out of 110 odd kilometers that we needed to cover, first 10 kilometers were a breeze but gradually the condition of the road deteriorated and to our horror we realized some long stretches had total absence of motorable road. To give us respite there were some small army units every 20 kilometers on the highway. Their presence reassured us that we still were a part of civilization and the right road. Owing to the rich tradition of the army they were extremely hospitable towards us. Maggi noodles were available everywhere with some Samosas and Hot tea. By the time we reached Tawang every bone in us was paining and we decided to call it a day, but not before admiring the colors of the rainbow which sprouted from some valley giving us the most magnificent sight as a balming effect.
Next day we were literally woken up by the brilliant sunrays while the time as per the clock was just 5 o clock in the morning. We did not waste any time and soon got ready for our very ambitious plan to scale Bumla Pass, the much coveted Indo-China border, that has been a witness to the bloody history of 62 War. We were warned by our host about the driving conditions and health issues owing to the high altitude of 15700ft. But determined as we were, we soon started excitedly onto our mission. As we crossed the hustle and bustle of the lively city of Tawang, we realized our host was not exaggerating. There was no road and the uphill drive was as steep as can be. The drive was definitely not for frail and weak-hearted. People with motion sickness should avoid it but still it’s an experience that should get priority in everyone’s bucket list. Every moment, during the journey, was breathtaking and a photographer’s delight. We were in no hurry and our cameras kept clicking. There were unbelievable lakes, snow peaked mountains and valleys full of flowers of unimaginable colors. We
needed to pinch ourselves to believe it was not a dream. In contrast to this dreamlike beauty there were sounds of gunshots, Jawans in olive greens, canons and camouflaged tents, customary in border areas. Also the place is abuzz with stories of martyred soldiers who have become legends and their stories folklores. One cannot help but think philosophically about the decay we have brought about to this innocent, unconditionally giving nature because of our selfish motives. The feeling became more profound when we reached Bumla pass. We saw the defense post of our neighbors and the hardships faced by our soldiers. What astounds you is the ‘Josh’ of our army Jawans. They remain happy and spirited against all odds and there is never any dearth of pride they take in their uniform and country. Surprisingly, the movie ‘Koyala’ was also shot in a nearby lake and has been rechristened ‘Madhuri Lake’ as a tribute to the dancing diva.
Next day, we planned to take a city tour and visit the 400 years old Monastery.
Tawang is inhabited by the Monpa people. Their culture does not seem any different from the other regions of northeast (at least to the people who do not belong to the region). What surprised us was their language ability. They all spoke fluent Hindi and some spoke fluent English. There are many restaurants that offer Chinese and
Indian cuisines but I would stop at that because I would not be able to write gloriously about our gastronomical experiences, although it cannot be termed as bad. The city is very vocal about its Buddhist faith and the centre of the city is adorned by a magnificent idol of Buddha sitting in his famous lotus posture. The shops, mostly run by women, have variety of Chinese goods and some local handicrafts on sale. People are friendly and simple and by the look of it, their life seems to be a celebration of faith and simplicity. Their houses are beautiful small cottages and, whether rich or poor, they all have small flower pots decorating the façade of their homes. It’s a riot of colors with poppies, gladiolus, orchids and other genus of perennial flowers.
Our six days sojourn into Himalayas came to end like a flick. On our way back our awe and surprise had not diminished one bit. The nature’s canvas looked even more splendid with the growing familiarity. I wanted to make storage of the magnificence and the grandeur of nature in my eyes knowing our DSLR will not be able to do justice. While I was reading the very romantic and suggestive road sign by Border Roads “Be gentle on my curves” I thought to myself, it’s a boon that not many tourists come visiting Arunachal. It’s their absence that should get the credit for this unspoiled beauty. Much of the natural beauty in our country got desecrated because some irresponsible tourists decide to leave their non-degradable mark by littering the place with empty chips packets and bottles. I felt a slight pain in my heart…was it because I was about to scramble onto the real world or…