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Friday, April 28, 2006






As the Bolero inched ahead gingerly on the narrow road the huge boulders loomed above, threatening to reduce us to a puff of dust if dislodged.
The view was surreal and breathtaking, it was nature in its raw without any frills, the mountains were huge and intimidating closing in on the road, black granite melded into white at their peaks, icy winds and powdery snow made patterns in our windshield, our Assamese driver wrinkled his forehead in concentration as he used his skills to perfection . We silently blew a thanks to the Border Road Organization who maintained the road excellently and kept it cleared in the event of the frequent landslides, they were indeed the country's pride and neighbors envy, their proud proclamation read " Builders will die but Road will survive " .
We wheezed up behind a convoy of army trucks carrying men and horses,there were four horses and two or three men in each truck, the horses were tethered inside and their heads peeped out on the left side, contently chewing their cud unmindful of the cold or the scenery .
Chatting up the jawans during one of the several stops due to road blocks we learnt that they were the supply convoy going to Tawang and then till the road ended and further by horse back till it was possible to and finally the men themselves had to carry the loads to reach the farthest heights and the border of our country with China . Humans and animals would then begin their arduous journey down to the plains .
The rigors of our army can only be understood if we visit such places. When we decided to holiday in far flung Arunachal Pradesh this summer all we got were strange looks, but it turned out to be one of the most exiting and exhilarating trips ever.
The land of the rising sun so called because it receives the first ray of sunshine before any other part of the country is virgin land not yet touched by the podgy fingers of tourism, earlier called as NEFA or north east frontier agency this was where the incursion from the Chinese took place in 1962, precisely to put it in eastern Arunachal Pradesh, and it wasn't an easy place to reach.
We began our journey from Guwahati the boisterous capital city of Assam and the gateway to the northeast ,Gawa means arecanut and Hati is market ,the name thus derived from its activity ,the mighty river Bramhaputra caresses Guwahati and is vast and flowing. At places the river is huge .One of the bridges leaving Guwahati towards Kaziranga spans to a length of some 4 km ! In a small hill overlooking the city is the ancient Kamyakya temple said to have originated in the spot where a piece of goddess Sati fell after she was dismembered by an angry husband! The temple was ancient and gave a great view of the city and the river.
At 4 am the sun was up and Paltan bazaar where we stayed was all bustle and din with buses raring to be on their way to the hills. We too left the confusion and speeded on the NH 52 , Assam has to be praised for its straight well kept roads, it was green and neat and the small towns were an eyeful, in many ways it resembled Kerala, even the women were petite in their white national dress. we passed places like Mangaldeo, the Nameri wildlife sanctuary , and finally reached the border town of Balukpong where the inner permit required by every Indian citizen to visit Arunachal Pradesh is checked . This can be obtained from Guwahati.
Balukpong by itself is a quaint little picnic spot with a flowing river and stone strewn rocky bank; our driver cleaned his vehicle as we sauntered in the cool stream before we began our journey. The moment we entered the Himalayan state the topography turned dramatically, the plains just disappeared and we started climbing up and slowly, it became cooler and more pleasant, after some time we reached a haven of flowers the famed orchid sanctuary of Tipti, the bewildering array of colors flooded our senses with wonder for the fruits of nature, Soon we were climbing again and rapidly reaching heights, the valley below was lost in a haze and the shimmering plains were slowly moving away. Huge pine trees bordered the roads, waterfalls were of different kinds, tiny brooks that playfully entered the road so that vehicles splashed their way through, massive falls cascading with a thunderous spray of mist, gushing rivers foaming at their surface, in winter many of them would be frozen some even in action as icicle droplets, which would be a photographers dream . The temptation to stop and gaze at these natures delights was difficult to restrain but the need to reach our far destination made us avoid that .We had to reach Bomdila at 8500 ft our halt for the night by dusk as fog would get us in trouble .
At Sessa the army command was named "Ball of fire ." We passed the 238 Transit camp of the army at Dahung ,one of the posters in the roadside read " it is better to bleed now than die later "We stopped for chai at Munna ,the friendly shopkeepers and their red cheeked children were as hearty as their tea and piping mommos ( steamed dumplings with several fillings vegetable or nonvegetarian as you like it .one had to be wary of the fillings as once yak mommo surfaced in front of us ,the other possibilities too were immense ).
We filled up gas at Dhirrang one of the high altitude petrol bunks ,one could play a game of carom there as a convenient board was kept near the office shed ,carom in the cold was something unique indeed . The National Yak research center was also in Dhirrang By 3 pm we were in our room at Shipiyang pong the only decent hotel in>Bomdila, just opposite was a huge stadium with an arch as in a monastery,it was windswept and a drizzle had left the place wet and cold, descendingdown> we explored the bustling little market full of woolens and other sundry articles, the tiny shops were lit with glittering lamps which shimmered in the cold evening, walking back proved to be a Herculean task to our obese selves and by the time we reached shipyang lobby we were panting like werewolves . The next day dawned pretty early and it was bright when we started, the whole place was freshly washed by the drizzle of the previous night and was picture postcard like, we went to the local monastery and turned the prayer wheels for a safe journey to the pass. The second highest motor able pass at 13750 ft was no easy task to reach, after interminable turns and twists which reminding us of our driving test eights, and churning our early breakfasts in our tummies, flitting past shimmering peaks and deep culverts which were dizzyingly steep our roller coaster ride touched several landslides on the way, snow had slowly taken over the landscape and white was the predominant background with a sprinkling of brown or black, it had become quite cold and we were feeling a bit breathless because of the rarefied air at that height ,the Bolero took a sudden turn and whoosh there was the elusive Sela pass labeled so by an oriental arch with a BSNL board just below ,strangely our mobile with BSNL had full range even at that remote corner ,their pride justified indeed !
We plodded down to the snow and dutifully threw snowballs at each other,our actions recorded by the camera for posterity, there was one small chaishop> we went in after closing the door and snow behind us, the room was warm and huddling in it were several army jawans crouched over their cup of warmth's .we joined them for sometime and then went on our way down to Tawang. We touched the Jaswant Garh Margh in memory of Jaswant singh of the 16 Garhwal Rifles who bravely fought back the invading Chinese with nothing but his bare hands and kept them in bay till reinforcements came from below in the famed battle of Nuranang , he was instrumental in changing the battle, all soldiers stop at this point to pray at his memorial. TheTawang valley is at 11500 feet, was made famous by Mere lama a Buddhist monk who lived 500 years back. In those days even monks had to fight for their clans, probably they were experts in martial arts, Mere lama fed up of constantly being on the chase took to remote Tawang to build his fort and a formidable one at that now known as the Tawang monastery. The misty silhouette of this artistic building against the backdrop of Blue Mountains can be seen from all parts of Tawang when the fog clears, in many ways it resembled the famed Potola of Lhasa. The monastery had an old building which was said to have been destroyed in a fire and reconstructed, this was ancient, smaller and shaky with the newer and bigger version inaugurated by none other than his holiness the Dalai Lama. The dominant colour was red, festoons hang from the high roof of the hushed hall, prayer seats and wheels were everywhere, a huge Buddha presided over it all gazing benignly at the handiwork of his devotees. Tanga paintings depicting Buddhist way of life and after life adorned the walls, the soft carpets shushed our footsteps to a serene silence, and the ambience was spiritual and satisfying. We came out into the light, the feeble sun could barely beat the chill of the morning and we huddled around an adolescent monk who was directed to show us the museum and the library, books made of clothes painstakingly bound together were neatly lined and the museum had so many artifacts including some weapons used by the ancient monks for the protection of their clan, we asked the youngster how long they studied and he replied all through life. With that comforting reply that all was well when such monks lived in our world we bid farewell to Tawang monastery.
Tawang town was just a frontier shanty with a small market, we wisely avoided the hotel which had looked promising in the net and listened to the advice of a locals and headed for the Tawang Tourist lodge run by the Arunachal Pradesh tourist Dept and bagged the prized suite where celebrity star Sharukh Khan had stayed for the shooting of the movie Koyla ,(a nice opportunity for name dropping). The lodge was well maintained and tariff was reasonable, a resident cook came over and asked us our menu for dinner,our hunger pangs made him rush to the market for buying essentials likechicken to feed the southern gluttons who had descended on his turf, it looked so promising,and we wetted our lips in anticipation though the actual dinner was a tepid affair because the cooking skills of our cook didn't meet his shopping skills. Next morning saw us climbing the road to Madhuri lake as this was where the shoot of the movie had said to have taken place, 40 km above the town near the Chinese border ,this required special permission from the Army which we obtained, we soon encountered army camouflage sheds by the dozen theirsnow covered roofs rising above the ground, many lakes some half frozen lay on the sides of the snow bordered road, there were also small concretebunkers which were nothing but cubbyholes, these were the places our ill equipped jawans fought the Chinese . We almost reached 20km; by then we were clearly uncomfortable with the cold, height and the stark whiteness. The vehicle turned around to return, we got out to savor the cold and crunch in the knee-deep snow, this being the summer month of May we couldn't fathom what it would be in December! We rode into the War Memorial in Tawang a fitting tribute to our brave soldiers, the names of all those who gave up their lives are inscribed in black granite, each and every name carried so much of pride for this nation they are our real heroes, A burly sardar jawan briefed us on the details,he was there for a short march past to welcome a senior officer who would arrive in a helicopter in the evening, we were lucky to see a rehearsal of the event, it was mesmerizing indeed. The night was uncomfortably cold and the heater hardly helped our slumber but fatigue took over and in no time the sun was streaming into our rooms with our unskilled cook waking us by bellowing chai saab. The next day we descended 12 hours to Tezpur in Assam and thus back to the plains after our trip to heaven, well almost !
Dr N.Harimohan. MBBS DMRT.

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