Over Se La to Tawang

dirang

The morning was bright and cloudless. By now we had got used to waking with the sun. Just before we left, the sun came up over the mountain and began to light up the Dirang Chu and the bazaar next to it. Dirang is at a height of just about 1500 meters. We would climb rapidly to 4100 meters at the Se La and coast gently down to Tawang, whose altitude is about 3000 meters. Se La is reputed to be cold always, so we were prepared to put on four layers of clothes each. We barely needed two on the warm and sunny morning when we started.

raven

The road climbed rapidly. The surface was quite bad in patches. As we approached the pass we saw the first ravens. We stopped the car. The deep cry of ravens carried in the air and we saw them flying above the cloud covered peaks around Se La. In a tree near us one of the jet black birds sat. It turned to look at us, and then flew off. Se La is a hidden pass; you need to come pretty close to it before you see it. The Family was in front next to Avatar, and Avatar pointed out a random peak to her and said that Se La was next to it. She was quite cut up when the road went elsewhere. Avatar had this ability to completely cut out everything except the road right in front of him. That’s why he was always afraid of getting lost.

fog

As we approached Se La the magnificent peaks around it came in view. The dense fog would sometimes cover the whole range and reduce visibility to a point where everyone except Avatar noticed. Then it would lift partly to reveal a slope plunging a kilometer down. selagateThe clouds seemed to be drifting to the right. I had put on my third layer when we got out to see the ravens. Now I shrugged on a jacket. The road turned, and turned again. Suddenly we went through a gate. Avatar would have driven on, but we pleaded with him to stop. I zipped up the jacket and stepped out. Although there was little snow, there was a keen breeze. I had to fumble for my gloves.

canteenJust north of the gate is a lake, which is probably called Paradise lake. The slopes on either side can be climbed. I pulled on a covering for my head and started up the slope on my right. I wanted to do a short, controlled climb to see whether I got tired or breathless. I got to a hut at the top of the ridge and looked down at the blue lake surrounded by meadows with grass dried to a bright yellow. I was ok; happy, but a little cold. I went down and joined the others in the canteen run by the army. The cosy room, samosas, bread pakoras, and tea warmed us all up.

We drove on down. The slopes were covered with a red bush which we would see all through the region north of Se La. A little less than an hour later came to Jaswantgarh. This is a memorial to a battle in the 1962 war where the Indian army held off the invading Chinese army for 72 hours. Jaswant Singh, a rifleman who captured an enemy machine gun and was killed in the process, was awarded a posthumous Mahavir Chakra for his role in this battle. Across the road from the memorial is an army canteen which serves very good samosas and free tea. There is a little platform which juts out over the valley of the Nuranang river. The Victors took their record shot here. We met a couple who were on the way back from Tawang. Talking to them we learned that the road to Bum La is open and not as long as some sources claim.

nuranang

rainbowThe downhill road got worse as we proceeded: bumpy and dusty. We passed the strung out town of Jang a little past one in the afternoon. Immediately after this town we saw a sign pointing to a side road which would lead to a view of the Nuranang waterfall. Avatar took this road only after registering a formal protest about the possibility of getting lost. Nuranang turns out to be a high waterfall, at least a 100 meters. The afternoon sun set up a lovely rainbow in the spray. Nuranang waterfall is sometimes called the Jang waterfall after the nearby town. This is the spot where the Nuranang river falls into the Tawang river. In the photo above, you can see Tawang Chu flowing down the valley. A hydroelectric station is just visible in the lower right corner.

We found our way back to the highway easily, and proceeded down to the Tawang river. At a bend in the road we found a small roadside restaurant where we stopped for lunch. I had a mild headache which got worse as we came down. Since it was past two in the afternoon, I figured this was due to hunger. We ordered two thalis: a vegetarian thali for The Victors, and a chicken thali for the two of us. Either the food was very good or we were more starved than we had realized. The thali came with unlimited amounts of rice, dal and two vegetables, so we were surprised that two people were allowed to share one. Avatar also looked pretty satisfied with his meal.

tawangchu

We hit the road again, and crossed the Tawang river pretty soon. The bridge was just wide enough for a single truck, and was festooned with prayer flags. The river gushed over rocks at this point. It would take a pretty skilled white-water rafter to do this stretch. Avatar was happy to indulge us in our desire to get back on the bridge to take photos. We had to dodge trucks pretty sharply as we did that. Strange how the highway looked quite empty as we drove, but now three trucks passed in rapid succession. This was a strategic bridge during the 1962 war. When the Chinese army occupied everything north of this bridge, the Indian army demolished this, and prepared Se La for defense. The destruction of this bridge halted the Chinese advance for three weeks.

We didn’t know it yet, but we were pretty close to Tawang now. The road surface improved. In about an hour we had reached Tawang. The sun would set only after we were settled in our hotel rooms. It had taken us about 8 hours to cover around 130 Kms. We’d covered the distance from Guwahati to Tawang in three days and two nghts, if you subtract the two days we had spent in Nameri and Dirang.

My headache got worse and I began to get the sniffles. I took a gram of vitamin C, a doze of zinc, and settled in front of the room heater. The Family and Mrs. Victor decided to go off to the nearby bazar. I was going to stay warm and enjoy my access to the wifi. My attempt to make a blog post was disastrously unsuccessful; the bandwidth was just not enough to upload photos. It didn’t help that the power kept shutting off. Every time this happened, someone would switch on a diesel generator manually. The connectivity would come back only after the town power supply was restored. I’d shut down the laptop by the time The Family was back. We had dinner and went to sleep. The temperature outside had fallen below freezing, and I was keen on a long sleep to recover.

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Author: I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

2 thoughts on “Over Se La to Tawang”

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