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.

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]