The Road Less Travelled
…….This title is not original but was perfect for this travelogue….
The beginning of this year i.e 2005 I had made up my mind not to go with YHAI for Himalayan treks, so I was full on and excited for searching new routes in Uttaranchal and had spread the word across my trek group. Myself and Ashish thought of doing Tapovan near Gangotri and made plans and worked out the estimates etc. But this plan was strongly opposed by yashada and mrunal who were tired seeing “the same types of rocks, same type of trees and the snow”.
I am a snow lover and wondered how can anybody living in Mumbai say such a thing. Anyways, then came the plan for Arunachal Pradesh and I could never forget the expression of yashada ” WOW Rainforest”. The destination for trek was decided …it was Arunachal Pradesh…..i confess I was not very happy…but still said yes to it as I did not want to stay in Mumbai during summer vacation. But today I am glad I went there “thank you both of u’ll”. Then the search for routes began. As I started reading information about Arunachal my interest developed. We came up with Thembang trek. Now the hurdle was getting people. As of now we were 6 and we were given a package for 12 people. All of us were desperate for getting people and did what not things to convince them. I even changed my nickname to ” PLZ come with me to Arunachal”.
Somehow we managed the number 12 and the date was fixed 13th May. The program was for 11 days Guwahati- Guwahati.
The sad part about the entire trip was getting to Guwahati. It takes 3 long days to get there…3 days of train journey just to get to Guwahati…was too much….
And that too it was a break journey Mumbai- Calcutta – Guwahati in second-class train compartment… the journey from Mumbai to Calcutta was awful …
But the one from Calcutta to Guwahati was quite pleasant. Green paddy fields, the white sand, palm trees in Jharkhand and the tiny ponds next to bamboo trees…I loved it …
Calcutta is so not a good place to be and same goes for Guwahati…a highly unplanned city with lots of cockroaches and bad roads.
After a night stay at Hotel Sheroy Lily we left for Nameri National Park. Nameri is near Arunachal border and it takes 6 hrs approx but we took 8 hrs. The drive from Guwahati to Nameri was lovely. Assam is a mix of Kerela, Maharashtra plus it has some of its own flavors. The colorful trees along the roads were a must see sight…wish I knew the names of those trees … I only remember Gulmohar ….but the flowers were in all colors..i loved the pink ones…Oh!! how could I forget the cute huts and the bamboo caps…. they were a wonder to see….
On the way to Nameri come’s the mighty Brahmaputra…ohh its so huge almost like a sea.. You stand at one end and you don’t see the other end. The bridge was 3.5 km long.
It was getting dark and had started lightning…our car entered the nameri jungle…its a thick forest and there was nobody on the road …we were told that this place has an history of dacoits.. by that time lightning had started.. and we could hear the thunders….. silence in the car…and the jungle is full of glow bugs( I don’t know the exact name in Marathi we call it kajwa, the bug glows like indigo)…the scene was reminding me of flicks from ramgopal varma’s movies..hhehehe.. I wasn’t scared but very attentive and serious..
As we reached nameri eco camp it started raining the authorities there gave us these lovely wide bamboo caps which were sufficient enough to protect us from rains. The moment we saw the eco camp every one of us started dancing …it’s an awesome place…. absolutely plastic and dirt free…even the dustbin was of bamboo…what a place…. we lived in shacks… and the veranda had bamboo coaches sitting on which I enjoyed watching a huge tree lit with indigo bugs…
As we went in the month of May the jungle safari was closed…so we went for river rafting the next morning which then we found was like boating in rafts with very few rapids..(One cant compare it with Rishikesh)
In the national park I could only spot a pig.. no other animal…sad..but we went there only for a night stay and not for a safari actually…
After lunch we proceeded for Bomdila in Arunachal. On the way comes Tipi. Tipi is said to be Asia’s second largest Orchid’s Sanctuary but the sad part to all this was that it wasn’t the blooming season. So there were very few orchids, but we got to see Pitcher Plant(the insect eating plant),lily’s etc….( I am bad with names). Tipi was a place where I got to experiment my photography skills with my new SLR camera.
The plains of Assam were now replaced by hilly terrains of Arunachal. The Rain Forest had begun… it is dense and a mixture of coconut, banyan, pine, rhododendrons, ferns and much more. I was astonished to see banyan and coconut trees in Arunachal (never expected them to be there). The roads here are empty. The driver was managing to drive at the speed of 60km/hr through the hilly terrains. Late evening we arrived at Bomdilla. It was raining and the weather was chilly cold.
Bomdilla also known as Bomdilla Dzong (Dzong stands for administrative headquarters) is a Tibetan cultured town. Most of the people in Arunachal are Buddhist, very few Hindu’s . I dint find any church or mosque so have no idea about existence of any Christians or Muslims. I was also wondering how much British penetrated in this area because I dint find any British architecture or history reference given by the locals. Bomdilla town does not have much to see except a Monastery.
Our trek was scheduled to begin after the sight seeing and breakfast but due to blasting taking place in that area we drove up to Thembang through a kaccha road and skipped a day of trekking. As it is, the trek was for 5 days now it came to 4. . Must say that this trek was the luxurious trek I had ever done
Thembang is a Tribal Village nowhere on the map of Arunachal. The village is beautiful and so are the people. I had heard so much about Arunachal being a under developed state but it dint really showed any signs of that. Most of the younger lot was studying till 12th arts (since there are no science college around) and many of them are pursuing bachelor’s degree. Every tribe that we visited had a school. Most of the young men either worked for the army or worked in the farms. I dint find them poor and women were at par to men. I was impressed.
Thembang village has a nice age-old entrance. The people from West Kameng and Tawang District are from Monpa Community(Tribe). There is some history behind the Monpa Community that our guide was explaining but his accent was very diffcult to interpret. I could understand the shorter lines that he said but was unable to get the paragraphs. There is no property business in these villages i.e no ownership. Everything is controlled by the panchayat(they have a different name for it). Another interesting fact is the way the funeral of Monpa people takes place. They cut the head of the dead and then cut the rest of the body in 108 pieces and then immerse the head along with the body parts in a river. When I heard this I was stunned for a moment. We visited a local house in that tribe to see how they live. There was Yaks meat hanged in one of the corner of the living room. They dry the meat and eat it throughout the year. What was surprising that it dint stink. A cute looking old woman offered us a drink called Chang. Chang is rice beer and it smells awful. No need to raise your eyebrows I dint drink it but the locals drink it like water…. I think that’s what gives them energy to live the day.
There is so much to write about thembang but I think I should limit here. Its just a small tribe but it touched me…. don’t know why.
The next day we proceeded for Pangma. This time I wasent carrying a sack, we had hired Khacchars( mix breed of horse and donkey). I must say this trip was getting luxurious day by day because road to Pangma was actually a road and not a trek route. But that was where we first got close to the jungle and saw rhododendrons and ate wild strawberries. It took us approx 2 hours to reach Pangma and we complained to the guide “is this a trek” and he went mad.
Pangma campsite was amazing just like a paradise. A nice view of the valley (wasn’t that deep as it sounds) , clouds running in and out and what made the day was a perfect semi circled rainbow. I was overjoyed when I saw it.
In the evening we went for a walk to Semnak Village. It wasn’t a kaccha road this time. Semnak is a congested tiny tribe. A very nasty incident happened in Semnak when we were posing for photographs with the locals and suddenly god knows what happened the lady sitting next to me just ran off and a ugly looking old man popped in the picture and took hold of my shoulder and held it real tight and posed for the picture with all his teeth’s out. For a second I had no idea what to do. My face was worth seeing (guess someone from my group has taken a picture too). I was trying to get off his hands from my shoulder but his hold was getting tighter and tighter. I somehow managed to run away from that place. That man might not have brushed for years. Since then I was keeping distance with the locals. That incident was the hot topic for couple of days and we laughed hysterically whenever we remembered it.
It started raining heavily in the night. Morning we decided to drop Chander(our next destination) because it was at a higher altitude( 3000 mtrs is not much but at that height it rains very heavily and Chander is known for its view of Gorichen Peaks which we could not have seen due to the foggy weather). So we decided to traverse the mountains and reach Namshu which was scheduled to be after Chander.
Now this is what I call trekking. ….
Our guide was mentally preparing us for the roughness to be faced ahead. The jungle was dense and dark with shoot of trees hanging all over the place and we had to climb up hill. This jungle is known for Leech’s (leech is a blood sucking worm, it enters the vein and sucks the blood…. not a good sight). They were plenty in number. You place your foot on the ground and the leeches will climb up your shoes. They were quite annoying. And removing them from your body is even more pain, if they are on the cloths or shoes we had to pull them and they don’t come in your hands that easily.
Touching them was another yucky experience. And if they are on the skin we used salt or tobacco to get rid of them (people planning for Arunachal trek keep this in mind). There was no scope for us to halt or take rest at any moment so till lunchtime no break. Post lunch the route was pretty plain and less of leeches.
Another remarkable thing about the mountain routes in this area are the stone benches made for resting.. You can find them after every 4- 5 kms and they must be approx 100 years old or even more than that. Buddhist chants and some signs are engraved on the stones. At the entrance of every village there is a prayer wheel and a rotating water turbine (again an age-old one). The locals say that it keeps away the evil spirits.
Namshu is again a very nice village. Here we got a chance to live in tribal house and taste their food( not the yaks meat). It’s way to different than what we eat and very hard to describe what it is like but it was eatable( very few bites).
Namshu has a very old monastery build during the early period of Buddhism flourishing in this area. I love going to monastery’s , they are very colorful. I always try to interpret the painting on the walls, they all have some hidden meaning. I never got an opportunity to study them deeply either because there is no one to explain or time constrains.
Last trek destination was Dirang. Going to dirang was the best route up till now. The jungle we crossed was said to be Moon forest a forest that is impenetrable. Well our guide gave this information when we were in Dirang. It’s a lovely route, what a forest!!! Simply amazing. It was fun getting down through the maize fields on the slope of the hills. Oh I must have slipped in the mire countless number of time. My attire was worth seeing. We landed in Namthung village and crossed the Suspension Bridge. After a long walk through the muddy kaccha road we found a vehicle that took us to Dirang.
The trek was over and the after effects were evident. Keen pain , back pain , toe pain . My cloths were full of mud so washing them was another pain.
Now the leisure trip was from Dirang to Tawang . ohh what a drive….. sitting in the dickey of tata mobile (it’s a jeeps name) and a drive of 145 km was certainly not pleasant. On the way we gave lift to an army soldier. Courtesy to him we got to see an army camp; it was a small one though, having 6 IFG (Indian Field Guns). Since we dint have time to take lunch with them they packed Kerela Parathas for us to eat it on the way. Now that’s a new dish I had heard of. I guess most of the army men from that camp were from Madras Regiment and henceforth the name.
Enroute to Tawang comes Sela Pass. Its on 13700 ft. We got plenty of snow here. It’s an amazing place. This place is generally foggy but we were lucky enough to get a clear and nice view of the Paradise Lake and the Sela Top. Snow is my weak point and I am glad we got it.
We arrived at Tawang about 7.00 in the evening. That place looked like 2 in the night. There was no shop open, not even a restaurant. I had heard that Tawang is quite a developed town but was quite surprised seeing it. The place where we stayed clearly mentioned Fooding and Lodging but he refused to serve us. Somehow we managed to get a restaurant. It looked quite a neat hotel but well there was only one waiter and what a hard time he must have had serving 12 of us.
The breed of people in Tawang was way different than that of the tribes we visited. There’s no sense of tourism there. The shopkeepers are least interested in you. You buy a thing or don’t buy it makes them indifferent. The room service people in the hotel where we stayed loved to play carom. Whole day they would just sit and play carom along with the owner of the hotel. The only room service guy who ever attended our room was so bland, you ask him anything and he would take a minute to answer. “Chai milega…….Chai…tohhhhhhh………………….nahi milega”, his name was Chottu ” very amusing guy. Similar were the people of Tawang. Earning money is not very important for them I guess.
It was Buddha Pournima when we went for sight seeing of Tawang. I wanted to shop around but there were hardly any shops open and the ones which were open had nothing to offer us. Still window shopping was fun.
Tawang has the second largest Monastery in the world. It’s also called as Gompa. The Gompa is pretty huge and beautiful too, the monastery is normal though but the campus has schools and hostels for monks. The Golden Buddha Statue looks splendid. . The food offering (Prasad) to Lord Buddha was of Biscuits and Chocolates!!! That’s cool. Because it was Buddha Pournima we got to see the locals dressed in their Monpa costume.
Some 35 kms from Tawang is Jung waterfalls. Oh what a fall!!!. Its looks like a fraction Nigara( though I have not seen Nigara). I was trilled to see that.
Now we were on our way to home. Generally my trips end very boringly and so was this. A bad hotel at Tezpur and Calcutta, unpleasant encounters with cockroaches, heavy traffic and tiring train journeys though this time Calcutta – Mumbai train travel was in three tier A/c and though it was Holiday Special Train, it surprisingly served good food.
Cottages at Nameri orchids at Tipi Orchidarium
Thembang village Monastary at Namshu Party at Sela Pass
Second Tallest Buddha statue at Tawang