The best thing about making a trip to Tawang is the proverbial journey. It starts from the plains of Assam which is at sea level and ends at an altitude of 14000 ft above sea level, hence we stand to witness the serenity of the country side and the aura of the snow clad Himalaya. This variation in altitude gives birth to a difference in your imagination and to your immediate surroundings – paddy fields turn into dense forests, Yaks replace cows and the weather turns from moderate/hot to cold/extreme cold. The need for change in weather was one of the most motivating reasons of our trip to Tawang.
I have never been much of a summer guy. The Indian summer is much like anything else Indian – abundant. It is sweltering. On one such summer day I was perspiring profoundly and just when I was contemplating suicide, my good friend came along with a map in his hand and wearing the look of a man who is riddled with heat and indignation. Together we planned our escape route. We drove from Dibrugarh to Bhalukpong on our first leg of the journey. Bhalukpong is situated at a point where Assam stops and a promise which is Arunachal Pradesh begins. There is an Orchid sanctuary located a few kilometres from there. I had never been much of a plant person but the beauty of the many rare Orchids blooming there mesmerized me. I suddenly fell in love with these plants and I am planning on having a lifelong affair with them.
The next day we started early and immediately the air was cooler, as if God forgot to switch off the air conditioner! My joy was boundless and my faith in God reinforced. Driving in the mountains is nothing like driving anywhere else. You can’t drive fast because of the narrow roads, blind turns, numerous waterfalls, hovering mist and the always present edge beyond which lies the free fall. But driving slowly also has its gifts. The gift of absorbing the impeccable beauty of the majestic mountains, of surreal valleys overlapping at a distance, rivers flowing and carving the earth effortlessly. I come to realize that the only thing flawless is nature. With every rise and fall of the mountains, with every flow of the river, there is a touch of perfection.
After some slow driving and limitless accumulation of a picture perfect world, we reached Dirang: a small town lying in a lost valley of the Himalayas. River Kameng serves as a lifeline for the people living there. We decided to hold the night here and so checked into a hotel. My friend was tired and told me it was relaxation time for him. So I bid him farewell and started my stroll around town. It is amazing how popular liquor is around these parts. I went to a very subtle if not shabby looking joint for a cup of tea and upon entering on my right there were shelves and shelves full with liquor. Indian, Foreign; they even had Budweiser. I couldn’t believe it at first. Was it fatigue hysteria or was it real?! I couldn’t believe my luck. I felt like Columbus searching for tea only to find Budweiser. I was contented that night and slept like a dead log.
We started early again next day and half way into the journey the scenery began to change. We learned from our driver that we were entering the high Himalayas and undoubtedly the most scenic part of our journey to Tawang. The lush greenery gave way to alpine vegetation. We were no longer driving through the clouds, now we were above them. It was getting increasingly cold and soon the presence of the left over snow gave us a hint that we were reaching the Sela Pass-the highest point of our journey. Sela Pass stands at an altitude of 13700 ft. There is a Shiva temple and a tea stall that sells rum. It was summers in mainland India and here we were, shivering. The rum did seem to be like a healing potion. I let out a small chuckle and thought to myself that God does reveal himself in mysterious ways, sometimes with a sense of humour. There is also a small structure erected paying homage to the Indian soldiers who fought and died in the Indo-China war of 1962. But the most magical part of Sela Pass is the two beautiful lakes; considered holy by the local people. These lakes seemed to have an aura of spirituality, and surrounding them were thousands of Tibetan prayer flags. All we could see of the lake was a meter and beyond laid a thick blanket of never ending mist. Along the way we sighted many abandoned bunkers, army camps, army schools and soldiers. I tried to imagine the war but gave up in fright. We also passed a massive waterfall called the Jung falls; it was one of the highest we have ever encountered.
In a couple of hours, we sighted the monastery of Tawang and smiles dawned our faces. The journey was over and we had reached the hill town of Tawang, the dream was realized.