Lately every single mail popping out with the sender CTC got my heart racing, because every single mail seems like an invite, a call to wilderness, freedom from monotony and importantly a chance to breathe fresh air. Amidst feeling helpless on missing out on such calls, came ‘THE CALL’, the call from the Emperors backpacking, the call to the untouched sapphire of North-east – Arunachal Pradesh. Have you felt sometimes, when you read a book, you tug to some lines so close that you truly wish it be true? I have. Among such many lines is this famous quote from ‘The Alcheimist’ that goes
“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
That is exactly what the mail meant to me, with words like “Hurry, Time is running, don’t even think of dropping out” flashing all over the mail, my mind roared to grab this chance of shedding the office monotony and jump into unknown.
Tickets booked: check. Take out my camera from its deep slumber: check. Begging for sleeping bags and rucksack and finally left to buy: check. Permits and tonnes of ID proofs: check. After counting every single day, minutes, also seconds to April 7th; at the Central Railway station, standing outside Shalimar Express, the journey, The DREAM DESTINATION BACKPACKING (D2B, I never knew the full form until I reached AP though :P) to Arunachal Pradesh thus began!
Our first 3 days of the trip spent only in travel, thanks to pack of cards that kept us alive and also introduced us to Subhash, who remained our source of laughter (at least for me and my organizer Vinoth) we were on our way to Bomdila, a town in Arunachal Pradesh. Never in my dreams, not even while I was napping in the car’s front seat that I thought I would wake up to roads (or so to say) with nothing except for thick fog and a car still prodding. With my sleep effectively vanished and seeing roads again being only death wish for that time and silently building a statue for our taxi driver in my mind, on 9th April around 7 p.m we pulled up outside a motel, Hotel LA in Bomdila.
With sun shining bright on us by 5’O clock and we managing to step out by 7, our first stop was a fascinating, nativity brewing village called Thembang. So when Vinoth said it is one of the World Heritage Sites from India selected by UNESCO, it sure made my curiosity all spiked up. It also stands as an oldest testimony of traditional Monpa architecture (Monpa being the native language over there), with stone forts and wooden houses, but living standards in a pretty bad state. You can pledge your support to this village in its run to UNESCO’s WHS site by visiting
Sometimes disappointment comes with pleasant surprise in disguise. That’s exactly what happened at our next stop Sangti Valley. When we expected an aerial view of a beautiful valley with mountains adorned, at least that is what our organizer pictured, our driver brought us back to the ground, literally. Hence we were in the valley.
The pleasant surprise happened on our way back, when all of us decided to stop by a stream, not fortunate enough to be famous though. What started as a sight-seeing and nature call pit stop, suddenly turned an adventure to fellow CTCians with one after another crossing and reaching the other bank.
With the groupfies and vetri kuri & Maan Karate poses taken, it was time to move to Dirang for our night stop. Our stay at Tourists Lodge at Dirang was unexpected for two reasons – a) It was way too decent for our dingy, smelly group. b) We had met the bikers we had seen along our way up. Unexpected part was to find that of the three bikers two were women all the way from Australia and Amsterdam (a little voice pops in my head “You thought you were the boldest woman here, duh :/” and I died a little there).
Today was an important day, not for me, for one of our organizer Vinoth, coz it was the day that his dream destination and hence the genesis for the whole trip to be seen, SELALake.
On our way up, we passed through a military station- Baisakhi. This place which was supposed to be a refreshment place turned out to be a Shoppers’ Stop :O. For all those people who think only women go crazy for shopping, visit the army shop here and you will find men go shopaholics!!
While the animated talks on who got best deals went on, Sela was there to greet us.
This lake has got a little history which we shall learn in the next stop, but now its time to soak in its beauty.
I would not debate whether this lake is largest or the widest, but it sure was bewitching.
Basking in the nature’s glory, we had now reached Jaswanth Garh, a memorial for the war hero Jaswant Singh, who had single handedly stopped the advancement of Chinese soldiers for almost three days. While fighting, two local girls helped him with food, namely Sela and Nura. Hence the lake named Sela Lake.
Had I learnt this in a history book sitting at my home, I might have brushed it aside as another story, but at an altitude, when even breathing normally seems like a herculean task, fighting hard meant like a supernatural act of bravery. With our heart-filled salute to this great hero, it was time to descend down.
This night to be spent at Tawang, a town that greeted us with snow-filled roads and over-loaded momos. Sadly this place of Arunachal witness landslides more too often. Even one of our cars got stuck in a huge mud slit, that had Raghu (he had actually jumped barefoot into the muck, saviour!) and others show their muscle strength in bringing it out and us duly video-graphing it :P
It was a holiday for our emphatic taxi drivers from Assam, since Tawang has a strict drivers association that makes local cabs indispensable for touring. Had you looked closely on my check list, you might have found permits and ID papers. Arunachal Pradesh being a military controlled area, permits are the lifeline. Applying for an online permit and keeping it ready even before setting on travel, will save you a lot of time once there. Huge thanks to Sindu, we could get a local reference, who had saved us from horrendous task of waiting outside DC office. Coming back, on this day, our first destination Bumla Pass also needed a permit beforehand. Knock, Knock! Lham, the coveted Chukku Mama’s friend stands outside with permits for all 13 to Bumla pass. Talking about hospitality in North-east, what do you say when a total stranger goes to local office at 5 in the morning and gets permit for a bunch of 13, who he had not known existed before. If that’s not enough, how about touring with us the whole day, getting us the best taxi deal and be an unpaid tourist guide and translator, and most importantly tolerating last night bought momos’ smell, everytime Subhash and Arul stuffed them in their mouth. I thought he owed a Huge Thank You!
To call the roads or rather the trails to Bumla pass bumpy would be an understatement. The local drivers cruised along like you go on an ECR long drive, such easiness and confidence. Our taxi driver was particularly very cool. This I knew when he was asked to park on an uphill by an army man, he says “Nahi karoonga, handbrake nahi hai na, peeche chal jaayega”( I couldn’t because the vehicle doesn’t have a handbreak) *that little smug gave me a heart attack*
Stepping out of the car, a harsh or rather nail biting wind blew through us announcing Bumla Pass. This was the pass through which Dalai Lama had escaped to India, when China captured Tibet and the subsequent starting point of Indo-Sina War of 1962. At temperatures easily close to -3 degrees on a summer morning, two army men explained us the borderline and the various army bunkers stationed at different hill points around, with his hands bare and his voice with no cognizance to his environment, such tough souls I wondered!
Sungester Lake or the famous Madhuri lake at an altitude of 3550 metres was our next get down. The lake was particularly fascinating (Not for Madhuri or Goyla film of course), since it was once a little hill that had plunged down due to an earthquake.
The lake had a Jai Hind bench too, on which our CTCians rightfully made their presence felt (which gradually turned a nuisance with our video director calling shot after shot :P).
Some of us also happened to take a lonely walk all round the lake, with me remembering Frost ‘Woods are lovely, dark and deep’ and wondering why name such fascinating lake on Madhuri, just why!
Without further delay our cars zoomed to stop at this beautiful village called Zemithang. If one thought roads are bad in Arunachal Pradesh, the roads to this village proves you so wrong. We were in fact amazed by the serene pakka roads which were devoid of even pit holes throughout.
With our plans of roaming around the lanes of beautiful village effectively ruined by incessant rains, the wait for the bhaiyya of the Inspection bungalow, the place where we decided to nestle that night began. After a series of manhunt and doves sent, our bhaiyya had returned with the magical key of the place. One look at his face and we knew why he was scared. Our guys do look little bayangram, but when hunger screams out of every single person’s eyes it sure is a scary evil dead sight :P So me being the food co-ordinator directed all the boys to help our bhaiyya in his kitchen and too many cooks thankfully didn’t spoil the broth this time :D
In the morning my first thought ‘Its strange how this place of India has water everywhere except in their bathrooms!’ Leaving our hardships on that front aside, as suggested by Lam (the Arunachal kind guy) and our uber cool cab waala, we decided to stop at Stupa called Guru Padmasambhava Stupa. FYI Stupas are not monasteries, while the former is a memorial of sorts latter is temple alike. Having had my morning dose of spiritual peace at this place, and the photographers taking all crazy shots possible outside, we headed to another Stupa called Gorsam Stupa.
This Stupa was a little disappointment for most of us, since the doors are opened only once in 3 years on a special occasion. Idhu theriyama naanga sevurulam egiri gudhichu ponum *facepalm*.
When I had lost count of the number of falls I had seen along the way, Tawang was ready to welcome us again (or so we thought). A trip to Tawang has no worth without seeing the famous Tawang Monastery. This World’s second largest monastery has history on almost every single wall and a brief consolidation is found at the museum right outside the monastery.
It is fascinating how every single sculpture in a religious place symbolizes simple truth of life and a Bhikku (monk) was kind enough to shed some light on monastery and Buddhism.