Racing the earth

As the earth rotates, the zenith shifts almost half a kilometer westwards every second, if you are at the equator. Even in Tawang, this is close enough to the truth. It was also close enough to the truth to assume that dawn broke when the zenith was 90 degrees to the west of the sun and sunset was when the zenith moved 90 degrees to the east of the sun. A little correction, and that gave us 10 hours to cover the relatively small distance from Tawang to Bomdi La. The earth itself presented us with tall barriers, but we also handicapped ourselves by losing the first four hours of sunlight to the slow process of waking up and having breakfast. In terms of actual movement our progress was rapid: three and a half hours from Tawang to Se La, including breaks, another two hours to Dirang, and a final one and a half hours to Bomdi La. If we had really tried to race the earth, we could easily have reached Tezpur between dawn and sunset.

But it was nice to stop now and then. At Jang I spotted an ATM and stopped to get some money. In Tawang my card had crashed one ATM, another refused to accept it, and a third had long queues. The the Avatar spotted a petrol station and insisted on topping up an already nearly full tank. This gave The Family time to do some useful birding. Then further on we stopped to look at a frozen stream. The temperature had fallen due to the snow fall near Bum La the previous night, and even at 11 in the morning the temperature was just a little above freezing. The edges of the stream had formed ranks of icicles, with ice stalagmites reaching up from below each (photo below). The stream itself looked frozen. If you looked closely, then below these plates of ice you could see the slow trickle and flow of the stream. For people like us, from the steam-bath of Mumbai, this was a fantastic sight.

frozenstream

We stopped at a point just below Jaswantgarh for a last look at Tawang. Far below us the Tawang Chu flowed in its valley, and in the distance we could see the sloping plateau on which Tawang town rests, the monastery perching on the highest ridge on the plateau. A couple of bends in the road on, we were at Jaswantgarh. We stopped for the samosas. The free tea warmed us. Half a week ago there were as many tourists coming south as going north. Now we saw nobody on the way north; perhaps they would arrive later in the day.

From Jaswantgarh it was a steep climb to Se La. A wind blew up the valley of the Nuranang river as we climbed. When we reached the tip of Paradise lake, I asked Avatar to let me off. I wanted to walk the rest of the way and meet up with the gang at the army canteen at the pass. This lake looks like an artificial lake created by damming a stream. Reading the histories of the India-China war of 1962, it seems to me that this must be part of the old effort to fortify the pass and use it as a fall-back position. This strategy had failed in 1962. One hopes that the rivalry between India and China never reaches a stage when it has to be tested again.

Although we had reached the edge of the Tibetan plateau in our trip, I had the feeling that I had not walked enough. Now, as a cold wind blew up from the valley behind me I had a wonderful walk. I was at a height of over 4000 meters, and the only vegetation around me was sparse grass. The sky was blue and nearly cloudless. Around me circled a mass of large black birds; crows, I thought first. But their calls were more musical. As a small part of the flock landed near me I recognized them as yellow-billed choughs. I walked on in the cold breeze, the desolate landscape, the absence of people, the call of the choughs. I wished I had had more time during this trip for such walks. My hour was soon up, as I arrived at the army canteen to meet up with The Family and the Victors.

roadside

It was a little warmer on the other side of the pass, but still cold in absolute terms. Work gangs were repairing the monsoon damage to the road. The lack of technology was remarkable; and it meant that there were people working at jobs which did not need them. More than anything else, this drove home to us how poor and underdeveloped this part of the country remains, in spite of the pious hopes we read about in newspapers. Later in the day we passed a small village, and when The Family saw a pretty young girl walking along by the road she wondered aloud what this girl could expect out of life. A little below Se La I saw this group of women from a work gang taking a little rest. It was so cold that they had covered their faces. Life in India is hard for many people, but it seems much harder up here. The pursuit of happiness is a luxury here.

lastlight

We reached Dirang before sunset, and stopped at the market for a samosa chat at the bazaar’s most popular spot: Sanjay Hotel. The public toilet in Dirang bazar turns out to be very clean, and a boon to travelers. We pressed on. The sun set before we reached Bomdi La. It became dark very quickly, but as we climbed it got a little lighter. I stopped to take a shot of the last colours in the sky. Trucks were passing by, headlights blazing. I managed to catch one such headlight painting the vegetation by the side of the road a lovely yellow to go with the dark hills and the fading sky. We drove into Bomdi La in time for tea. We would have an early dinner and turn in, because there was little to do after dark in this little town. The next day was a short drive down to the plains. Our holiday was almost over.

Dirang Bazaar

punters tyresome

After a listless trip to Sangti valley we spent the rest of the day playing at being tourists in the bazaar of Dirang. According to the 2011 census there were 3750 people in the town. The number of army and para-military people probably swells the population a little beyond the 4000 mark. For such a small town, the center is bustling with activity, even on a Sunday.

shoes wool

During the day there was a continuous stream of visitors to Santosh, the most popular eatery in the bazaar. Seeing the turnover we went there and found that the popular thing to eat seems to be a samosa chaat. It went well with the tea. Santosh agreed to start up his jalebis for us. After that we walked around looking at the shoe shops. The relation between Arunachalis and shoes probably merits a separate post. So does the relationship with knitting wool.

superman monk

The idea of going to Dirang dzong did not sit well. We walked all the way to the end of the town where the garages and body-work shops were, and then waked all the way back to the other end where our car was parked. Instead of walking up and down the drag again, we took the car and went off to see the Gompa. The old gompa, Kalachakra, was closed. I got shots of the kids playing there. Most of them were happy to pose for the photos. We went to the new gompa, still under construction. A monk sat out in the cold lawn making an elaborate cement sculpture. I guess the old technique of wood-carving is no longer used; wood is too costly and has to be renewed too often.

We saw no state transport buses. The road had several "travel agents" selling tickets for a Sumo ride to Bomdi La, Bhalukpong, Tezpur and Guwahati. The Sumos all leave at 5:30 in the morning. The Victor asked about the trip to Tezpur and found that it takes Rs. 450 and eight hours. We had seen some of these Sumos on the way: about ten to twelve people packed into a vehicle which we would normally think of as holding no more than six. The price of the ticket seemed high compared to the price of food. Between this ticket and the lack of state transport buses, it seems that Dirang is pretty isolated.

market wineshop

We came back to the bazaar after sundown. The snack-sellers had gathered by the road. In spite of the cold there was a dense crowd around the guy with the pani puris. In contrast, the number of people buying at the "wine shops" was miniscule. We called it an early day. Our day’s stop had been meant for bird watching. Instead we spent the day people watching. It was a look into the life of one of India’s smallest towns: a completely foreign experience for us. The next morning we would cross the Se La into the high valleys.

Sangti valley

Across the Dirang river and over the hill that we could see from our hotel room is the Sangti valley: famous as the wintering spot for the endangered black necked crane (khroom khroom karmu, ख्रूम ख्रूम कार्मु). Before starting on our journey I’d found that it arrives in early November. We should have been able to see it in a normal year. But this is a high El Nino year; the weather is warmer than normal. Vikram, who manned the reception in our hotel, more or less said that we were out of luck. A decade ago we’d missed them by months in Phobjika valley in Bhutan. In any case, we started too late for birding.

motherandchild

Avatar Singh had never gone to Sangti Valley before, and he was petrified of losing the way. Vikram explained the route to me, and then again to Avatar. It was easy: reach Dirang bazaar, turn left and down at the main cross road, turn hard right immediately, cross a bridge across the river, turn right and go on. Contrary to Avatar Singh’s fears, this was not a gritty adventure. We drove over a smooth black-topped road to Sangti valley in less than half an hour. The Family spotted a grandmother with a child and asked her about the cranes. As she told us they hadn’t arrived yet, I took a photo of the pair. See the stacks of firewood behind her? We found every house in Arunachal has huge stacks of firewood hoarded up for the winter.

sangtiWe drove through this village which straggled through the long valley. The road was a little way up on one side of the mountain, above a sudden drop to a very flat valley. Maybe the river floods in the monsoon; that could be one reason why the people here cultivate and eat rice. We drove past the village to a chhorten at the far end. The Victors took their usual record shots posing in front of the chhorten. We turned back towards the village.

maniBuddhist prayer technology was everywhere in the valley. There were many of the small square stupas along the road, with tall prayer flag fixed on poles near them. We came across this collection of prayer wheels called a mani. When I read the inscription on it, I realized how deep the conviction in nirvana went here. This was a little glimpse into an aspect of belief that one doesn’t usually discuss with strangers.

rice

As we got to the village, I hopped off the car because I wanted to take photos. I agreed to meet the others across the river near the bridge we’d seen. My first stop was to photograph this family group as they separated the chaff from rice. My attempts to talk to them were not successful. They lived too far from the road to understand either English or Hindi (if the idea had struck me then, I would have tried Assamese or Bengali). Further on I met a bunch of teenagers sitting and chatting at a store. They understood my request to photograph them perfectly; the girls refused and the boys posed as if for a fashion shoot.

villagehouse

A typical village house looked something like the one above. Most of the living seemed to occur on the upper floor. The lower was reserved usually for firewood. The living space and as much front space as is available is covered with flowers. The flowers and the beautifully chosen colours on the walls made the whole village look very picturesque. The need for a two-storied house was not clear to me: the valley is low (maybe a little over 1000 meters high) and snow should not be an issue. The village was raised so far above the river that the danger of flooding was non-existent. Could it be that the style in housing was brought by the locals from a higher altitude as they wandered down?

girls

I passed through the village and found the road leading down to the river. Avatar was napping in the car parked by the road. I followed my fellow travelers on foot. The village was less picturesque along this lower road, although the houses were larger. Children were at play all the way to the river. As I came to the bridge a group of three young girls came tripping across it. They were willing to be photographed; they formed up in a row and smiled for the camera. The Victors and The Family were waiting for me at the edge of the water on the far side. I walked down there and dug into a backpack for an apple. The sunlight was warm, although the air held a chill.

boys

The Victors wanted to get back to the car. The Family and I followed them slowly without exploring the river. On the way back we saw a bunch of boys playing together. They agreed to be photographed. But the gender difference was stark. As you can see from the photo above, they were not going to sit still for a photo. They tried out various poses. I especially like the child in the middle, who’s got distracted by what he can achieve with his fingers. We got back into the car and drove out of the valley. We had hardly seen any birds; in fact we’d hardly stopped for any. On the road we found a couple walking: one with a large scope, the other with a camera. I stopped the car to talk to them. They were from Spain and were there to look for ibis bills and other water birds. Clearly we had missed out completely.

Bird list for Dirang and Sangti (8 November, 2015)

unknown

  1. Oriental white eye
  2. Long tailed shrke
  3. Long tailed minivet
  4. Mountain bulbul
  5. Common kestrel
  6. Yellow-billed chough
  7. Bank mynah
  8. White collared blackbird
  9. The unidentified bird in the photo

The Family and I want to go back to Dirang and Sangti valley, perhaps late next November. We are now officially in search mode for a pair of birders who might want to join us.

Into Arunachal

Nameri is very close to the border between the states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. In fact, the protected forest of Nameri (in Assam) is continuous with the protected areas (in Arunachal) of Sessa Orchid Sanctuary, Pakhui Tiger Reserve and Eagle’s Nest Wildlife Sanctuary. The last three together make up the Kameng Protected Area Complex. The Kameng, which flows through this biodiversity hotspot in Arunachal, is the river which is called the Jia Bhoroloi in Assam.

Entry into Arunachal requires the so-called Inner Line Permit. Fortunately we already had it. As we reached the border crossing in the little town of Bhalukpong, we realized from the long line of waiting trucks that we had a wait ahead of us anyway. It wasn’t yet 8 in the morning. Avatar Singh parked the car near the bazaar and went off with his car papers and our passes to the checkpost. I walked through the bazaar looking at the vegetables displayed by vendors. The variety clearly showed that we were in a biodiverse area: about half the vegetables on sale had been foraged from the wild. There was an incredible variety of chilis. Even the green leaves included some which I’d never tasted.

chilis sag

It took about half an hour for the check of the papers, and then we were off. The two-lane road remained close to the Kameng river for a while. We passed through a part of the Sessa Orchid Reserve as we climbed. A few kilometers from Bhalukpong was the town of Tippi. Just a couple of kilometers past Tippi we spotted an Orchid Research Center across the road; we would stop there on the way back. The road wound between hills and river. This was the road down which the invading Chinese army had travelled in 1962. Today we passed Indian military trucks ferrying people to the frontier or back. It was a bit of a sight to see army trucks pass below the Buddhist banners of peace on this beautiful jungle road.

tigereyesSoon we left the Kameng behind and began to climb. As we climbed we hit occasional patches of very bad road. The going was slow. The Family sat next to the driver, trying to spot birds from the moving car; she was the best spotter among us. No navigation was needed, because the road was well marked, and Avatar knew where to go; but The Victor kept track of distances and times. Soon he estimated that we were zipping along at an incredible 25 Kms an hour. Our speed was also limited by the fact that we stopped every now and then for photos or birds. We stopped at an army canteen by the roadside. There was a truck parked nearby. As we had our masala chai, we admired the artwork on the truck.

kameng

The next landmark on the way was the village of Tenga, named after the river which flows past it. A particular landmark for truckers and regular drivers along the road is a Naga temple just outside Tenga. Avatar Singh tried to get us to finish our lunch at his favourite restaurant here, but we balked at lunch before noon. At some point after this we passed a little village next to a picturesque suspension bridge across the river, and stopped to take photos. After this, the road left the Tenga valley and climbed for a while. Around 2 in the afternoon, as we were drooping from lack of food, as we entered the town of Bomdi La. We expected our Avatar to stop for lunch, but he sped through town. We had to force him to stop and turn back to find a restaurant.

2015-11-07 14.25.52 2015-11-07 14.39.40

The town of Bomdi La seemed to be charmless, at least the part of it which the highway passed through. It is on a mountain pass at a height of 2200 meters above sea level. A fog blew about the town, which seemed deserted even in the early afternoon. A bunch of dogs seemed to constitute that part of the population which was up and around. We found a little restaurant in a basement below some shops. The Nepali cook who ran the place was clean and had a cap and mask on as he cooked. One of his helpers hummed a Nepali song from the 1971 Dev Anand and Zeenat Aman movie Hare Ram Hare Krishna. There was only a vegetarian thali to eat with an optional extra plate of chicken. Avatar ordered a plate. Between the four of us we ordered two. The food was decent, but the town had a hopeless and beaten air about it. I guess if the day were sunny or we had visited the Gompa, we would have had a different opinion of Bomdi La.

We drove on. The sun set behind mountains at about 3:30, and it got gloomy. By 4 we reached our target for the evening: Dirang. The hotel looked well-painted, but we realized it was an old hotel. Like all old hotels in small-town India, the maintenance was not as good as it could have been. The furniture was a little scarred, there were no clothes-hangers in the wardrobe, we had to ask room-service to find cleaner towels. But the restaurant was decent, and most of all, we were well inside Arunachal. Outside our windows we could see the Dirang river. The next day promised to be good.

Himalayan Kiwi

As we drove up from the plains towards Tawang we realized that Edmund Hillary was not the only Kiwi in the Himalayas. There is also Kiwi, the fruit. As we crossed the first pass on the way, Nechi-Phu La at an altitude of 1708 meters, we began to notice bags of Kiwis being sold. The explanation of this wonderful collaboration between New Zealand genes and Himalayan climate came when we reached the beautiful valley of the Dirang river.

The road to Tibet passes through the crowded Dirang bazaar. If you drive down towards the Dirang river from the cross roads at the center of the bazaar, and take the first turn right immediately after, you’ll come to a stilt bridge across the river. Cross this, bear left, drive on until you think you are lost. Then drive a little longer, and you suddenly see an orchard full of Kiwis sloping down the hillside.

A harvest was on when we arrived. Crates of Kiwis were being loaded on to a truck. The workers were happy to talk to us. We were told that the crated fruits were harvested before they were ripe, so that they could ripen as they travelled. If we wanted good Kiwis, we were welcome to walk through the orchard. One of the ladies at the harvest told us that ripe fruit would have fallen off the branches, and we would do well to look for freshly fallen fruits.

We walked through the orchard, looking for ripe fruits on the branches, or on the ground. The Family found lots of small Kiwis on the ground, but they were not ripe. We saw a couple of large ripe ones, but they had been lying there for a while and insects had discovered it before us. As we returned, the workers told us that we could walk up to a house above the orchard, and could perhaps get some ripe Kiwis.

The four of us walked up to the house: clearly someone’s private bungalow. The Family and Mrs. Victor walked in, found a distinguished looking Monpa gentleman and asked him whether they could get some ripe Kiwis. The Victor and I stopped eyeing the fleet of SUVs which went with the house and followed the ladies. The gentleman farmer was very gracious, and told us that he could not sell us any ripe Kiwis, but invited us to sit down. He was proud of the fact that he had introduced Kiwi farming to the region. As we chatted about Dirang, Arunachal Pradesh, the roads, and Kiwis, a plate of peeled and sliced Kiwis appeared on the table.

I’m not very fond of Kiwis; each and every Kiwi I’ve eaten has been sour. So I did not reach for the plate. The Family tasted a slice and told me I should try it out. I did, and for the first time in my life I tasted ripe Kiwi. It was sweet and had the flavour I associated with Kiwi, but something about the consistency of the sweet green flesh reminded me of bananas. This was a Kiwi I could get to like. The conversation continued to the difficulty of getting crops across the mountains over the bad roads, the increased vagaries of the weather in recent years, and the interesting monasteries we would see on the way. Eventually we thanked the gentleman, and got up to leave. He wished us a good journey, and saw us off to our car. His two strong men had followed our conversation silently, but did not come down the steps with him.

We bought a bag of the fruits in the bazaar. They were the usual sour mess. I guess I need to visit New Zealand or go back to the same gentleman’s house to get a taste of real Kiwi.

5 kilometers up?

ArunachalOn Thursday we leave for our annual pilgrimage to the Himalayas.

This year’s trip is to a region full of the history of a half-century old conflict. We trace the lower end of the route which the Dalai Lama took to escape to India in 1959. Then, in 1962, the Republic of India had its biggest military defeat when the Chinese army came down this route, and then withdrew.

Four of us will fly to Guwahati, in Assam, and try to drive to the Chinese border crossing in the Bum La. On the way we cross the Brahmaputra river, drive past Tezpur, cross to Arunachal Pradesh at Bhalukpong, drive along the river which changes its name from the Jia Bhorloi to Kameng as we cross a state boundary, have lunch in Bomdila, touch Dirang, cross the high Se La, and rest for a while in Tawang.

I was looking at distances and elevations today. Our plan involves driving about 200 kilometers to Nameri wildlife sanctuary in a day. This involves a net climb of 10 meters. After a couple of days, we drive another 160 kilometers to Dirang. This little town is at an elevation of 1497 meters. That’s not much, but on the way we cross Bomdi La, which is at 2217 meters. We spend a couple of nights in Dirang. The rare Black-necked cranes winter here, and we hope we are lucky enough to see them.

On Monday morning we do a 30 kilometer drive to Tawang, over the Se La, which is at a height of 4114 meters. I hear that the pass already has snow, but we plan to get off the car and walk to the nearby lake. This will test our altitude readiness. Tawang is at a height of 3048 meters, and should not present a problem. In any case, we plan to spend at least a night and half a day in Tawang before moving out. Our main objective, Bum La, is apparently fairly snow bound. The last 65 kilometers’ drive will take us to a height of 5029 meters. I want to take it slow, so that I enjoy the pakoras and tea which one can get there.

The last time I went above an altitude of 5 kilometers, I was unable to enjoy the view. This time we are taking frequent breaks, and giving ourselves time to rest and walk. I hope the snow does not prevent us from reaching Bum La, and I hope this time I can walk around without getting sick.

Wish me luck.

[Note added later: the experience was better than our expectation]

So much to do, so little time!

The distance between Guwahati and Tawang is supposed to be about 570 Km. Not much, you would think, but we are informed that even in good weather it would take us at least 14 to 15 hours to do this trip. Clearly, this is not something that we should try to do in one day in November. We need to break this journey up, so that we do interesting things on the way, and still have enough time at Tawang.

My friend, The Victor, is great at planning road trips. He figured that Nameri National Park, which is almost halfway, 220 Km from Guwahati, should be a 5 hour drive. We reach Guwahati at around 11; so we should be in Nameri at five in the afternoon, allowing an hour’s stop for lunch on the way. Since sunset is just after 6 in this region in November, we might get in an hour of birdwatching in Nameri on our first evening, provided we do not dawdle over lunch. If we are a little delayed, then we might do our birdwatching on the way, and reach Nameri after sundown.

We plan to spend two nights in Nameri, so we should get one morning and one evening of birdwatching for certain. Then we leave for Dirang, where we plan to spend the night. This is a 165 Km stretch which begins to climb, and should take us 5 hours to do. Since a check for permits is involved as we leave Assam and cross to Arunachal Pradesh in Bhalukpong, there might be queues which eat up time. Still, it would be safe to give ourselves 6 hours of driving. It should be enough to leave by 10 in the morning, which means we might be able to get in another quick morning of birdwatching in Nameri.

There may not be spectacular things to see in Dirang. It is supposed to be good for birdwatching, probably also in November. Although a dzong (monastic fort) is mentioned, the descriptions do not sound great. There is a mention of a gompa (temple) and great views on the way to the dzong, Since this is very close to Dirang village, we might do it in the morning before we leave for Tawang. The road distance is about 200 Kms, although the straight line distance is about a fourth of this. The road is full of switchbacks, so we should expect to take around 6 hours if the weather is good. This is reputedly the most unpredictable part of the journey.

We plan to spend three nights in Tawang. Half a day will go to see the monastery, which is the largest Gelugpa monastery after the Potala palace in Lhasa. I wonder how much it has changed since the Dalai Lama was welcomed here in 1959 when he finally left Tibet. We’ll take a day’s trip to Bum La and the Shangetser Tso (lake). I’ve read about a Takhtsang Gompa in this region, if this is anything like the Dzong which goes by the same name in Bhutan, then we must try to find it. We could try to find the Nuranang waterfall on the way, although it seems to lie a little away from the main road. I’ve seen some lovely photos of the Pangateng Tso, so that is another place we could try to visit. But really, the place The Family and I would like to go to is the Eagle’s Nest wildlife sanctuary. Our three nights in Tawang may not give us time to do everything in this list. We’ve heard much of Monpa food, especially the thuppa and the fish. We should be able to find this kind of food once we start climbing.

We return by the same route. The first day we plan to spend seven to eight hours on the road and halt at night in Bomdi La. The Sessa Orchid Sanctuary near Bomdila is supposed to be wonderful; in November we may not see too many orchids, but we might spot a red panda or two. Bomdila is the gateway to the rest of India, as the Indian public learnt when this town fell to the Chinese in November 1962. From Bomdila the drive to the Brahmaputra is short. Unlike the Chinese army, which pulled back from this town after declaring an unilateral cease-fire, we will press on southwards. We’ll probably take a look at the Bomdila monastery before we start on the drive back. We’re planning to stay in a small tea estate for a night before getting back to Guwahati to catch our flight.

The great unknown in all of these plans is the state of the road. We don’t drive very hard on most of the days. In spite of that, mountain roads are unpredictable. There’s only so much planning that you can do. Once you are on the road, things tend to change. That’s part of the fun.

A time to plan and a time to travel

Arunachal

The October holidays are in November this year! Every year during the Diwali break, The Family and I try to go somewhere interesting for about a week. Diwali is often in October, but occasionally, it is in early November. This is one such year. We started discussing plans with friends, and quite suddenly decided to go to Arunachal Pradesh.

This is a huge state, as I realized when I opened up the map above. We need to fly in to Guwahati in the neighbouring state of Assam, and then take the road. We could go east to the border of Myanmar or north to the border of China. The road east would take us to Namdapha national park, which is supposed to be great for wildlife, birds and insects. This sounded good. But our friends suggested going north towards Tawang, the second largest monastery of the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan buddhism, and the largest outside of Tibet. We have had a trip to Tawang on our minds for a long time, so this was an easy decision.

Now the details. Tawang is disputed territory, the 1962 war with China was essentially about Tawang. So it turns out that we need permits. This may be the least of our worries. Tawang is at a height of roughly 3 Km above sea level, and it begins to get cold in November. We have to cross Se La; at an altitude of more than 4 Km above sea level, this is one of the highest passes you can drive across. It could well be snow-bound in November, although we hear that it is never closed for very long. We might have to wait an extra night in Bomdila or Tawang if the pass is closed.

The Pakke tiger reserve lies just off the Tezpur-Bomdila-Tawang route. The Pakke river descends to meet the Jia Bhoreli (what a lovely name) near Nameri. It is tempting to make a halt in Nameri or Bhalukpong to make a couple of trips into the jungle. I have a wonderful memory from Nameri: a sky full of hornbills at sunset, the deep bass of their powerful wings the only sound as we stood transfixed and watched hundreds of these birds settle on to treetops to roost. But that was in May, not November. It should take 5 to 6 hours to get to Nameri from Guwahati. After a night or two at Nameri we could make the 5 hour drive past Bomdila to Dirang. The next morning we would drive on to Tawang: another 5 or so hours away. The distances are small, but the roads are slow.

We’ve been thinking about Tawang for years. Now suddenly we have only months to plan this!