Tawang is inhabited by the Monpa tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. The monastery at Tawang has importance in the context of Tibetan Buddhism. The region has both spiritual as well as political significance. Tawang is the place where the 6th Dalai lama was born. It is also where the 14th Dalai Lama stayed for a while as a part of his escape from Tibet in 1959.
As I stood on the edge of a hill overlooking the valley on a clear morning, the entire town appeared before my eyes along the slopes. The Tawang monastery was at the right end of the 180 degree view that was at my disposal. Our schedule for today was to visit Bum la, a pass at 4600m (15,200 feet) above the sea level on the Sino-Indian border. It is only about 37 km from Tawang, but the gain in altitude was significant. One requires a special permit to visit the Bum la pass and we made sure to acquire one in addition to the general permit to visit Arunachal Pradesh. We started off for Bum la after breakfast. As soon as we left Tawang, the road started winding up the slopes and vegetation started to thin out. We had to present out permit documents at multiple army posts on our route. Gradually, we had to let go of the luxury of traveling on a formal road as now our vehicle was simply jumping across the boulders on the uneven terrain. Maintaining an upright posture was proving to be increasingly difficult as our heads frequently collided with the roof of the vehicle. However, all that were merely operational aspects as the terrain was changing drastically as we moved up the slopes. Bushes and shrubs waded out and it was all rocks and boulders. Patches of snow started to appear on the higher mountains and such patches came closer to the ground as we gained altitude.
The patches of snow that initially interspersed the black and brown terrain of boulders, now converted to entire swathes of snow covering the entire slopes on all sides. We were reaching near to Bum la. The vehicle continued to move up and after the final ascend of a slope, we entered a flat plateau with a vast stretch in front of us. the road suddenly became level and we could see the border posts. Finding a level stretch after a bumpy ride made our driver ecstatic and he pressed the accelerator pedal and the vehicle whistled along the road that slit through the snow-covered mountains on all sides. That’s when we heard shouts from behind asking us to stop. Only then we realised that we were almost about to enter the Chinese territory and had to pull back. At the far end of the slope, we could see the fences and posts on the Chinese side of the border.
Strong winds greeted us as we ventured out of our vehicle and crystals of snow lashed at our faces. The road continued to the other side of the international border into what official is “foreign territory”. That’s when one realises how futile are the political boundaries, which are nothing but divisions created by humans.
Neither the mountains nor the flora and fauna care about it. Nature doesn’t discriminate, but humans do. The attack on the Indian territory in 1962 started from the north of Bum la. What appears as a vast and silent stretch, became a boiling pot on one fine morning. As we saw around us, we could see army posts on top of every surrounding peak on both sides of the border. The army personnel who were posted there, shared their experiences at the border. In such sub-zero temperatures, they continue patrolling the border 24 hours a day, 365 days in a year. The soldier who chatted with us had his home in the distant state of Haryana in north-western India. He was on his 2nd year of posting at Bum la.
After sometime we were advised to leave the place, primarily because of the cold and cloudy weather and because my daughter was only a little more than a year old. We went back to our vehicle and headed down the bumpy slopes on the way to reach Tawang. After a lunch with momo, our next destination was Tawang war memorial. The war memorial was erected as a mark of respect to the Indian soldiers who laid down their lives in the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962. Many remains of the materials and arms used in the conflict are preserved in different enclosures with descriptions explaining the context of their usage. As we moved around the different sections of the memorial, we found innumerable names inscribed on the murals.
Models are kept at the memorial that depicted the troop movements during the days of the war annotated by dates of the key events.
The next day, we visited the Tawang monastery. It was situated at one end of the Tawang town. We visited the main place of worship that had a large statue of Gautam Budhha and a big portrait of the 14th Dalai Lama. Then there were the hostels where religious students stayed. There was a museum with antiques from the days when the monastery was first established.
Our final day at Tawang ended with a dinner at a local restaurant with a menu of squash curry and momo.
Our return journey the next day, we spent some time once again at the Nuranang falls, purchased some vegetables at the local market at Dirang, enjoyed the views of Se la pass and finally ended our journey at Bomdila. On our way down, we were obliged with views of distant Himalayan peaks lying in Tibet in a clear sky.
The next day, we started off from Bomdila and the road descended through the familiar terrains. We spent some time besides the Kameng river at the beautiful Tenga valley.
Our second stay was at the border town of Bhalukpong. Just before Bhalukpong, we entered the area of the Pakke tiger reserve. Pakke was actually an extension of the Nameri forests of Assam into Arunachal Pradesh. When we reached Bhalukpong, the sun was already preparing to bid adieu. Bhalukpong is a place surrounded by forests. The hotel offered magnificent views from its balcony of the Kameng river as it descended the mountains to enter the plains of Assam where it is called by the name of Jiavarli.
The next day, on our way back to Guwahati, we paid a visit to Nameri with the hopes of a jungle safari, but were disappointed to find that safaris were not yet allowed at Nameri because the monsoons were yet to subside from the region. We went on a small trail till the banks of Jiavarli river. The river flowed through the plains of Assam with dense forests on the opposite banks of it which climbed up the distant mountains of Arunachal and merged into the forests of Pakke tiger reserve.
We all felt that at sometime in future, we will make a trip to Nameri along with Bhalukpong. Hopefully that time will come soon but till then, with a heavy heart, we bid good-bye to Nameri and the distant hills of Arunachal as we headed towards Guwahati.