Tawang Tales

Prologue

College get together are hard to come by. And if it’s more than three years since you have left college, the probability of having a get together is quite bleak. Only a miracle can make a get together under these circumstances possible.

In our case, we had a determined glue who made us come together and experience a place which was untouched by dynamically changing culture of metro cities in the country.

Our team comprised of eleven members from three different cities namely Bangalore, Pune and Hyderabad. Some of us were working under critical deliverable projects where getting some time off was also considered a luxury. After a tough phase of convincing people to be available for this trip, things started to come together in one place. Travel tickets were made as early as six months prior to the week long trip. The stage was set for us to put the travel mode on and keep aside our regular day job for a period of one long week.

The Journey

The day was dated 28th April 2017, 23.00 hours, I left home to reach the Kempegowda International Airport, Bangalore to catch my early morning flight to Guwahati. My flight took off at it’s scheduled time of 7.20 hours, 29th April. The course of the flight had a layover at Kolkata. I could see happy and smiling faces boarding the flight at Kolkata as I sat waiting for my flight to take off. At 12.40 hours, my flight touched down at Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport, Guwahati. Around the same time, I was joined by two of my friends travelling from Hyderabad at baggage collection conveyor belt. One of our friend from Pune was waiting at the airport to give us a warm welcome. His flight had landed way to early at 8.30 hours. In the span of three more hours, we were joined by three other members of our group from Pune and Bangalore.

We boarded a Force Traveller to reach our next stop at IIT Guwahati. Here we were joined by four other friends who had reached Guwahati the previous day. We were hosted by one of our college mates who was pursuing his masters degree at IIT Guwahati. We had a great time talking to each other after almost a gap of two to three years.

At around 17.00 hours in the evening, we set out to travel a stretch of 206 KM on road to reach Bhalukpong, Arunachal Pradesh for our night stay. We reached Bhalukpong at around 20.30 hours. We had now reached a place where we needed to start putting up our moderate warm clothes. Geographically, this place is situated on the foot of the Himalayan terrain. We took our night stay at Hotel Koshy Residency. I was way too impressed by the hospitality and the wholesome food provided at this night stay. The food comprised of boiled rice, dal and locally grown vegetable curry which tasted much like home cooked food with lots of love.

Dirang river

On the morning of 30th April, we left for Dirang. On our way to Dirang, we witnessed beautiful countryside with the back drop of Kameng river and mountains. The roads through the terrain had tough curves showcasing the massive rain forest cover. Temperature was dropping as we moved up the altitude. The terrain roads took it’s toll on me and I was down with motion sickness during this travel from Bhalukpong to Dirang.

We reached our destination for our night stay in Dirang at around 19.30 hours in the evening. Temperatures here had gone sub 20°C. We explored the local market to have our evening’s light meal. The hunt was on to find a place to fill our hungry tummies with Momos from this part of the country. To our luck, we had tough time finding chicken Momos and had to settle with vegetable Momos. There was abundance of Beef Momos but not chicken Momos. Dinner was served at our night stay Hotel Snow Lion. Here too, we were served with wholesome food comprising of boiled rice, dal, chicken curry and locally grown vegetable curry.

Sela Pass

We left for our ultimate destination Tawang in the early morning of 1st May from Dirang. Tawang is situated close to 8,757 ft (2669m) above sea level. The road connecting to Tawang from Dirang was one of the toughest terrain and mountainous roads that I have ever witnessed. This disputed territory is extensively militarized. We found multiple Army camps deployed across this territory. We halted for lunch at a small road side hotel named Hotel Samjhana, we were provided with wholesome Veg thali meals. It was a welcome refreshment after a tough experience on the road. On our course to Tawang, we came across Sela Pass which gave us our first glimpse of snow. Sela Pass is located at an altitude of 13,700 ft (4170 m). This place had a splendid view with backdrop of Sela lake and snow capped mountains. The high altitude started to take it’s toll on us. Most of us started to feel breathlessness in the event of running and climbing steps.

Amidst rocky terrain and tough road, we halted at Jaswantgarh War Memorial, Nuranang. This memorial was built to honor the exemplary bravery shown by RFN Jaswant Rawat during the Sino-Indo war of 1962. The Army Jawans have established a wet canteen which served tea, samosa and veg Momos to travelers at this place.

Just before reaching Tawang, we stopped at Jung waterfalls. Movies like ‘Koyla’ (1997) were shot near the backdrop of this waterfall.

We reached Tawang late in the evening. We stayed at Hotel Mandala. And again, wholesome dinner was served at this place too.

The surroundings of Tawang Monastery

On 2nd May, late in the morning we left our home stay to visit the second largest Monastery in the world, the Tawang Monastery. The Monastery is surrounded by picturesque mountains and waterfalls. The Monastery houses residential, school, museum and prayer halls.

In the evening, we paid a visit to the Tawang war Memorial. This Memorial was built to honor the sacrifices made by soldiers of the Indian Army in the 1962 Sino-Indo War. The major attraction of this memorial lied in the audio-visual show, showcasing the tales of 1962 Sino-Indo war.

Glimpse of Tawang Monastry. Photograph by Kiran Kumar Sahoo

On 3rd May, early in the morning, we left for Bum-la pass. The Bum La Pass is located about 37 km away from Tawang, at the Indo-China border above 15,200 ft above sea level. The roads connecting Bum-la pass and Tawang were heavily militarized with Army camps deployed at around every two kilometers. The roads through these terrain were rough and we had tough time travelling these roads. At around noon, we were at the Indo-China border. This place was surrounded by snow and snow caped mountains. We interacted with our solders at the border who were guarding this place under harsh weather conditions. While returning to Tawang, we took a detour to pay a visit to Shungatser or Madhuri Lake. This lake was formed due to an earthquake in 1950. This lake was featured in ‘Koyla’ (1997) movie. The lake is picturesque in nature.

Shungatser Lake. Photograph by Kiran Kumar Sahoo

We reached Tawang in the evening. The evening was well spent with shopping in the local market. We took souvenir of Tawang for our friends and ourselves. We had our dinner at Dragon restaurant. This place provides authentic and delicious local food. My personal favorite was Hakka noodles from the entire menu. As the day ended, our stay at Tawang was coming to an end. We didn’t want to leave this place which is trying to retain their cultural heritage this soon.

Tawang Town as seen from above. Photograph by Kiran Kumar Sahoo

The native women and kids here have natural red cheeks. None of the people in Tawang looked over weight with bulging tummy. This part of the country will also be remembered for their great hospitality. The spirit of people of Tawang was instrumental in retaining their culture and heritage. This is something unusual for people like us who work at metro cities, which changes dynamically over a period of time.

Jung waterfall

On 4th May, with a heavy heart, we left for Bomdila from Tawang. Our Force Traveller had tough time overcoming the sub 10°C temperature which led to dysfunctional battery and frozen engine oil. With the help of locals, we managed to get our Force Traveller going.

On our way to Bomdila, we halted to take a closer view of Jung waterfall. This place has mesmerizing waterfall.

We halted to have lunch at hotel Samjhana and traveled across rocky mountain terrain to reach our night stay at Bomdila. We stayed at Toshi Homestay for the night. Wholesome food was served at dinner here as well.

Bomdila Monastery’s Prayer Hall

Next day on 5th May, early in the morning, we left for Tezpur, Assam. Before leaving the city, we paid our visit to the Bomdila Monastery. The road covered extensive rain forest with curvy mountain roads. There were times when the roads were covered with dense fog and visibility on road was very limited. Our skillful driver maneuvered through these roads with ease under these griping circumstances. Late in the evening, we reached Tezpur for our night stay. We stayed at Hotel Koshi Residency. We were back into civilization and got to see crowded city for the first time in five days. Our one week trip was finally coming to an end.

On 6th May, way too early in the morning at 7.30 hours, we left for Guwahati. I had my flight scheduled to leave the earliest among all of us. We made it to Guwahati city by around 12.30 hours. But unfortunately, we got stuck at snarl paced traffic in the city. This led us to reach Guwahati airport by 13.40 hours. I boarded my flight at 15.05 hours and took off for Bangalore with a layover at Kolkata.

As I flew amidst the clouds, memories of this travel crossed my thoughts. The picturesque scenery of mountains, lakes and rivers were all over my thoughts. The warm hospitality of the locals had made a place in our heart. I scrolled through some of the photos and fun videos captured during this memorable trip. As we started making emotional commitment of meeting again for another such trip, we all knew deep in our heart that it would take a massive effort to bring all of us together again.

Acknowledgement

We appreciate the efforts of Kiran Kumar Sahoo, who acted as the glue of the group and organised this trip with vital inputs from Srinath Satapathy. I thank Sindiri Amarnath, Soumya Ranjan Bishi, Biswajeet Pruseth, Pragyan Behera, Shimlee Sengupta, Sankalp Panda, Goutam Das, Abhishek Panda, Siddanth Rath from bottom of my heart for being such an amazing and fun company during this trip. A special mention of Shimlee and Pragyan for taking the initiative to play fun games like dumb charades during our trip. I thank Amarnath to bear my interests and accompanying me in creating Boomerang and Dubsmash videos. I also thank all those, who captured moments during this trip to keep a record of this incredible journey through mountains, lakes and rivers.

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