The year was 2007 and I had to travel to Tawang. I had never heard of this name before. I was told it was in Arunachal Pradesh, about 400 Kms from Assam, by road. With a little anticipation, I started for that mysterious road-trip. Little did I know that I am about to unfold the secrets of nature that will leave a lasting impression on my mind.
The journey begins:
Nestled at a height of 7000+ ft, Tawang is a small town at the very end of Arunachal Pradesh. Precisely 392 Kms from Tezpur, Assam, Tawang is a small town not known to many, except for the people of North East India, who are familiar with the region. For the rest of India, Tawang seems to be one of those many places that exist on the Indian map. But not many know how it changed the course of Indian History. For me, it was a surprise waiting to be unfolded.
I cranked the engines of my jeep from Mission Chariali (Square), in Tezpur, from where Tawang is a two-day journey by road. This was also the first time I was heading for the majestic Himalayas, and this made the trip even more thrilling. As the wheels rolled ahead, I could see the edges of the mountain tops inching closer. The scenic views around seemed to engulf me into a beautiful anonymity, something that the traveler in me yearned for long.
Far ahead on the mountains, I could see the clouds setting up for a rainfall. Yet, everything on the plains behind me was so sunny and bright. It was afternoon when my vehicle headed through the gates of Bomdilla, where I took a brief halt. The rain drops had already started to pour now. I got down the vehicle and looked on the other side of the Bomdilla gate, and I could see no rainfall on the other side but a clear sunshine, while it rained on the side where I stood. Nature had begun to play upon its magical ways.
I drove further ahead and took a sharp left turn. A splash of water fell on the windshield and I instantly ran the wipers to clear out the water. I turned around to see where it came from and what stood in front was simply magical. Towering tree lines, hushing sounds of natural springs, birds chirping loudly and a clear stream of Brahmaputra river flowing down in the valley. It was worth taking a slow drive rather than hurrying up all the way, as you do not want to miss out on all those splendid views on the way.
Halting at Tenga-Chu:-
After a long-distance run through the splendid mountains, it was time to take a break for the day at Tenga valley. A small touristy town, Tenga lets you take a relaxing evening break from the long drive and helps you recoup for the drive next day. It is also a good idea to overhaul your vehicle here, while you try some refreshing tea and Maggi. I rested at a local lodge which was not as stylish, but was good enough to spend the night.
Tenga gets cold at nights and it is a good idea to keep enough woollens and sleeping bags to remain warm at nights. And once you get through the night, the morning will come to you with a refreshing surprise. It was 4:00 in the morning when I woke up. I didn’t even realize when I slept the night before. I stepped out of my room to take a look at the mountains. On the horizon in the east, the sun rays waited to wish me a good morning.
The entry into Arunachal Pradesh is at the ‘Sela Pass’, at an altitude of 14700 feet. It only keeps getting chillier as one drives up. As I entered through the Sela gate, a majestic view of this lake welcomed me in. After traveling for almost 150 Kms straight, I was feeling tired, but this view was amazingly refreshing.The air had a feeling of tranquility and calm.There were hills all around as far as I could see and there was no measure of the vastness of nature..
On the way to Tawang:
The journey to Tawang from Sela pass only gets better with every mile. The zigzag routes, the sun shine simmering through the misty clouds that cover the gigantic mountains, the valleys filled with cotton-filled clouds, the crystal clear spring waters and the lush greenery. There are places that God has taken his time to create, yet we sometimes forget to take out our time to appreciate them.
Approximately 10 kms ahead of Sela Pass, I halted at Jaswantgarh to pay homage to the martyrs who laid down their lives in the service of the nation. Jaswantgarh is a salute to Rifleman Jaswant Singh, who sacrificed his life during the Sino-Indian Conflict in 1962. Outnumbered against the massive Chinese Forces, Rifleman Jaswant Singh chose to hold the line rather than retreating, and gave a nail biting fight to the Chinese forces for two days until the Chinese realized that they had lost almost 1000 men to his machine gun. As I stood at the memorial, the winds whispered in silence the stories of this true legend.
Sometimes, I think what makes an ordinary man so weak and frail? Why does he not stand and fight against the wrong? Why does he continue to keep his eyes closed to adversities?
When I look at such men, I realize they too are the same ordinary men from among us. They too came from similar ordinary families with as ordinary dreams of life as ours.
But it is their choices that made them extraordinary. Choices they made on the face of adversity that made them legendary! They chose honour over death, and that’s what made them ‘the Extraordinaire’!
Just 500 meters from Jaswantgarh memorial, I came across a vast vacuum of Jung valleys filled with fluffy clouds. The clouds rise up the infinite depths of the valley and almost seem to overflow the bowl. I walked to the edge of the valley to feel the clouds pouring out of the bowl.
This is what you call ‘Clouds at your feet’…
It was evening when I finally entered the small town of Tawang. The ‘wow’ from my lips was almost instantaneous. There was no time to rest. I just checked-in to my stay and threw my bags at a side; splashed my face and was back on the wheels. I simply didn’t want to miss out on any part of this experience.
3. Tawang (Nehru) Market:
Don’t get carried away by the size of the Tawang market. It may seem to you that you can live through it over a day’s walk, but there is more beneath the surface. A rather very uptown market with a high sense of taste and modernity, you can find almost everything here, from gifts to souvenirs, enticing food, electronics and computers, clothes and all that you can shop in a metro city, yet retains the mysterious simplicity of a life on the hills.
A giant bell stands at the corner of the market, constantly in motion depicting the auspicious chants ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’, which as per the Tibetan tradition is believed to continuously accumulate wisdom and positive energy. I wrapped up the evening after bidding a goodbye to everyone here. There was still more to explore the next day.
4. Tawang Monastery:
The best part about traveling farther East is that the sunrise time keeps rising earlier than before. I woke up early again to peep out of the window of my cozy room. The sun enveloped the mountains in front as the white mist floated between the tiny houses at a distance.
Today, I was driving down to Tawang Monastery, to uncover the mysteries of Tibetan culture. The second largest in Asia, the Tawang monastery is a home to more than 700 monks and students and is the pride of the town. The monastery has a statue of ‘Lord Buddha’ towering approximately 30 feet. The statue stands to a height of three storeys with balconies on the either side from where the statue can be overlooked standing over the balconies.
Sitting in the lotus position, Lord Buddha is also seen to be holding a bowl at the centre. The monks here believe that if you make a wish and toss a coin over the balcony and it falls straight into the bowl, your wish comes true. As I stood up there on the third floor balcony, one of the monks asked me to try tossing a coin into the bowl. I tried a few times, well..I guess it was not this time my wish would fulfill. What did I wish? Let it come true, and I will tell you soon…. 🙂 🙂 I guess I will have to give it a try another time.
The best part is the craftsmanship of the monks as they make intricate decorations with wax and colors inside the temple. The Lamas spent hours patiently chiselling out this wax pattern on the floor.
I bid adieu to the monastery and moved further ahead to an even more unheard place – the Sangetsar lake aka the ‘Madhuri Lake’.
5. Sangetsar Lake:
The mystical Sangetsar Lake lies further ahead, 40 km from Tawang. Nestled between the mountains at a height of 15000 feet, this serendipitous lake is nature’s own way of painting its canvas.
Numerous tree spikes jut out of the water surface, as the mist gently floats through them. Far behind, the thin rays of sunlight filter through the mist creating vivid shades on the canvas. If there is a moment you want to search for the meaning of true inner peace, you will undoubtedly find that moment here.
My journey here had come to a close for this time, but not forever. I would drive down again to be among those mountains, and get enchanted once again. I guess once you travel to them, you cannot stay away from them for long.
This journey had unfolded secrets I had never thought of before. Finally, as I made my way back out of Tawang, I was left with an experience unforgettable..My camera was full with all the glimpses of the nature that I could ever capture, and yet there was urge for more…And the urge still remains! To turn the wheels and go back to one of the best places I have ever traveled for it connected me to my true inner spirit.