Arunachal Pradesh - the mystic Northeast

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April 29th 2017
Published: January 5th 2018
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Arunachal Pradesh – one of the seven sisters of the mesmerising north-east India. It is the eastern most state of India that allures everyone to explore its breath-taking destinations. Arunachal Pradesh till a few years ago eluded most of the travel enthusiasts, but with the government’s efforts to promote tourism, it now has 12 tourist circuits.

Arunachal Pradesh has been blessed with abundant natural beauty with the green eastern Himalayas covering most of the region. From mountains to valleys to monasteries to orchids, this state takes pride in being one of the top three greenest states of India with almost 80%!g(MISSING)reen cover.

Of the 12 tourist circuits, we chose the ‘Tezpur-Bhalukpong-Bomdila-Tawang’ circuit and off we went in summer to explore the mystic land.

Since most of the commercial airlines do not fly into Arunachal Pradesh due to non-feasibility, one can fly to the nearest airport in the state of Assam. So, we flew into Guwhati and then took a pre-booked taxi to see around Arunachal Pradesh.

To enter Arunachal Pradesh , an Inner Line permit is required for Indian nationals and PAP(Protected Area permit) for foreign nationals. Permits can be applied for and obtained online and also at certain Government offices in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. It is better to obtain the permit before we step into Arunachal Pradesh.

We had arranged to get the permit in Bhalukpong (the first Arunachal Pradesh city located at Assam – Arunachal Pradesh border). When we reached Bhalukpong from Guwhati in our taxi, we got to know that due to negligence of the agent, he had not arranged for the permits!! It was late in the evening and we were stranded on the state border. The agent assured that he would get the permits done first thing the next morning and helped us check-in into a nearby hotel.

The next morning, anxious about the permits, we got ready and were waiting for the agent’s call. He called and told us that the permits had been obtained and he would come down to hand them over. Ah! What a relief!

We then headed straight to Dirang. Though Dirang is just 140 kms from Bhalukpong, it takes close to 5 hours to reach that place because of the mountainous terrain. We stopped by the Orchid garden cum museum on our way. Arunachal Pradesh is home to around 500 varieties of Orchids.

We drove through hairpin curved roads passing some stunning scenery of the green clad mountains. We checked into Hotel Pamling in Dirang and had this superb view of the valley from our room’s balcony. While in Dirang, we drove to Sangti valley in the evening and spent some time in solitude. I have always loved finding solace in nature’s company.

We headed to Tawang the next day. Tawang is 130 kms from Dirang and takes about 5 hours to reach. Tawang is approximately at an altitude of 10000 ft. As we ascended driving through some picturesque landscapes, I was in awe looking at the green Himalayan range so gigantic but yet so humble. That’s why they say ‘Mountains make you feel humble’ – No matter how rich or poor you are or how strong or weak you are, you are just a speck in front of the mountains and this makes you feel lighter with all your worries and fears dumped behind you.

As we ascended, we could see more and more of Indian army camps as we were nearing our neighbour - China’s border.

A giant arch doorway with words – ‘ Welcome to Tawang’ embossed on it, pleasantly welcomed us at Sela Pass. Sela Pass is at an altitude of 13,800 ft. The misty mountains, patches of snow, a holy lake and the fluttering prayer flags made a perfect picture.

We stopped at this small tin-shed restaurant that served hot tea. That cup of tea came to our rescue in helping us survive the cold at that altitude.

The terrain to Tawang is challenging. We made our next stop at Jaswantgarh war memorial. This memorial commemorates the lives of India soldiers that were martyred in the 1965 Indo-China war. Bunkers can still be seen where the soldiers fought from.

Half way through our journey, nature’s spectacle awaited us. Our driver parked the car and we walked down the pathway to witness her. And there she was, in all her beauty, gushing down the mountain in her purest white attire – the Nuranang falls. We stood there speechless for a moment. We walked down to the hydel power station at the foot of the waterfall to see her from close vicinity. We couldn’t hear ourselves in the roaring of this spectacular nature’s creation.

Reached Tawang in the evening and settled down in our hotel room as it was already dark and cold outside.

Next day, we set out to see the famous Tawang monastery. When you think of Tawang monastery, it’s the picture of a monastery with typical yellow roofs sitting on the top of a mountain overlooking the city and surrounded by the mighty Himalayan range that comes to mind. A monastery with white walls and brightly coloured windows and doors that adorn the walls makes this monastery one of my favourites. The prayer hall , the centre courtyard and the amazing view of the city and the valleys from one of the balconies in the monastery makes it indeed special. The serenity inside and surrounding the monastery makes you want to get lost into it.

The War memorial in Tawang is dedicated to all the bravehearts that sacrificed their lives during the Indo-China war. Reading the transcripts in the memorial gives a picture of how bad the war was. I left the war memorial with a sad feeling thinking of all the people and their families that laid down their lives in the war.

We also visited the Khinmey Nyingma Monastery in Tawang. Nestled among the mountains, getting to this monastery or gompa is one amazing scenic drive. When we reached there, it was noon time and the monastery was closed for lunch. A monk seeing us waiting, went and got the keys and unlocked the doors for us. Such kind gesture! The entrance hall is painted in bright colours that tell stories of Buddhist monks and the gods. There is a big door which leads to the main prayer hall. There were also children monks sitting on the monastery lawn and studying / reciting verses from the holy books.

Later in the evening, we walked down to the war memorial for a ‘light and sound’ show that celebrated the Indian army, navy and air-force contributions and sacrifices.

While walking towards the war memorial, we were on the look out for a restaurant which would serve tea. Most of the shops /restaurants in Tawang shut shop as soon as it gets dark and it gets dark by 4:30 – 5 pm. We spotted a shack on the side of the road and since we saw a kettle on the shack window, we assumed that tea would be served. We walked up to the door and asked the lady there if we would get tea and she said yes. She was also making hot bhajiyas and we couldn’t resist them either. She said the bhajiyas would take a while and we agreed to wait. While we were waiting for the bhajiyas and tea, we saw a small room behind with few men seated inside and realised that it was a bar kind of thing where liquor was served. This lady was helped by her 10 year old son who was serving bhajiyas to the men in the adjacent room. This lady also had a two year old baby tied to her back the traditional way ( women in the north-east and mountain regions of India tie their babies to their backs with a long cloth while they work in fields) and was making bhajiyas , tea and serving alcohol to those men – all in those two small rooms of the shack. Her 10-year-old son was also helping her by washing glasses and bowls in the freezing water that was flowing through a pipe. I was deeply moved by this scene. I asked the kid if he went to school and he said since the school was off for couple of months , he was helping his mother at the shack, otherwise he studied in 5th standard. And we think we have all the worries in life ☹

Since the past couple of days had been cloudy with short stints of rain, we were unsure of getting the permit to Bumla pass for next day. Bumla pass is at an altitude of 15000 ft at the Indo-China border. One must get permits before going there as it is heavily guarded by the Indian army. And permits are only issued if the weather is favourable. Our hotel had agreed to arrange for the permits on providing the required documents. And only vehicles with permit to drive to Bumla pass can go till that point.

Fortunately, we woke up to a bright sunny day and were hoping to get the permit. And it was so! The driver with the permit vehicle and our permits came to pick us up in the morning and we set off. We started ascending and could see the beautiful Tawang city below. We spotted several beautiful lakes on our way. From warm and green, it slowly started turning cold and white ! The number of army camps also increased gradually. Hats off to the Indian army that braves everything to guard the country.

We were finally there – at the Indo-China border. Visitors are allowed to walk in batches accompanied by a soldier on a designated path until a certain point. Beyond that, after a certain distance, is China border. We were told that there was some firing incident from the Chinese border in the early hours and visitors were not allowed to stay there for a long time. There was a heap of stones at the border gate of which some were coloured, which signified the increased friendship between the two countries.

There were small boards of each Indian state on both sides of the pathway. The boards had pictures of cultural and architectural significance of that particular state. Also, the Indian army had placed water and tea steel pots with steel glasses on the side for the visitors to help them keep themselves warm. Visiting Bumla pass was a kind of experience in itself.

Next, we headed to Sangetsar lake also known as Madhuri lake named after the famous Bollywood actress Madhuri Dixit. To reach this lake, we had to drive down the hill. It’s a calm place to sit and enjoy silence. Thankfully, the weather remained pleasant throughout the day and we could enjoy the drive.

We reached Tawang by noon and headed out to Arunachal Pradesh handicrafts emporium to buy souvenirs. Later that evening, we started packing as we had to bid good bye to Tawang the next day.

Next day morning, we started from Tawang and headed towards Bomdila on the same route that we had taken on our way to Tawang. We checked into a guesthouse in Bomdila and walked up to Bomdila monastery . The monastery was closed and we just strolled around until it got really cold and we walked back to the guest house.

Next morning, we drove to Tezpur in Assam, stayed there overnight and made our way back to Guwhati to board our flight back home.

I sincerely hope the mesmerising North east retains its natural beauty without budging down to this crazy urbanisation.

Additional photos below
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16th January 2018
Sela Pass

What a stark but stunning landscape! :)
18th January 2018
Sela Pass

Thank you RENanDrew ! Arunachal Pradesh is definitely breathtaking.

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