May 21, 2014

Tawang @ Arunachal Pradesh

Arunchal Pradesh is said to be one of the most beautiful parts of India but because it is so very remote I have never had the opportunity to visit it in the past. This summer, when Calcutta was sweating at 43 Celsius, we decided to pay a visit. Arunachal is a vast state with an extreme diversity of culture. The western end, around Tawang, shares the Buddhist culture of Tibet / Bhutan while the eastern end is primarily tribal and animistic. Unless you have a lot of time and energy it is better to stick to one end. We chose the Tawang end -- the scene of the great 1962 debacle, where an under prepared and ill equipped Indian army was badly bruised by China despite many instances of personal bravery by our Jawans.

We started off from Guwahati / Tezpur and this was the route that we took


We followed the Kameng River



and spent the night at Prashanti Cottage, Bhalukpong, a beautiful resort on the river bank


where from the watch tower attached to the restaurant, you just might get a glimpse of elephants and other wild animals in the reserve forest located just across the river




The next day we entered the land of the clouds



and every tree was dripping wet



but we saw a very beautiful waterfall on the roadside.



and then we entered Bomdila district



but we did not stay in the town of Bomdila but pressed on to the lovely little town of Dirang



where we stayed in this lovely hotel



and explored the river that flowed nearby




It was a bright and sunny day and the views were breathtaking




even though dusk was fast approaching



next to the hotel was a local Buddhist shrine



with an excellent mural on the wall



and Buddhist religious texts on stone tablets



After spending a pleasant night in Dirang, we finally entered the high country and passed through some of the most rugged roads on our journey



that went on ...



and on ... till we spotted Sela Pass



and finally arrived at Sela Pass -- the Gateway to the fabled district of Tawang




the Altimeter app on my Android phone showed the height to be a little lower, but not much





Sela Pass and Sela Lake is a spectacular place. Till March it is totally covered by snow, though the engineers of the Border Roads Organisation do keep it open throughout the year but even in May the place is very, very cloudy. However we were lucky that for us, the day was bright and sunny and we could enjoy the spectacular scenery



..




some of the peaks around were still covered in snow



but this was the peak that caught our attention



because it is associated with the legend of Sela, a local tribal girl, who with her sister Nura (more about her later ) loved the heroic and valiant Jaswant Singh Rawat, of the Garhwal Regiment, who fought the Chinese with amazing bravery and was martyred here. On coming to know of Jaswant's death, Sela killed herself by jumping off this very cliff.

Just after Sela Pass, is the place where Jaswant made his last heroic stand, where the battle of Nuranang was fought to the last man, last bullet. The Indian Army has renamed this non-descript bunker as Jaswant Garh or Fort Jaswant



and this how the place looks now



but you can still see the lonely bunker where Jaswant and his comrades fought so bravely



here is a statue of Jaswant Singh Rawat





(btw, the message beneath says NO DONATION PLEASE )

Jaswant's memory is lovingly preserved by the Indian Army along with his personal effects, his kit and his shoes that are still polished every day



we read about the exploits of Jaswant and his comrades



and paid our respects to the heroes of the war by signing our name in the visitor's book kept at the memorial



and then we moved on through the Yaks grazing ..



on wide meadows covered in yellow flowers



and reached a gigantic waterfall named after Nura (the second of Jaswant's lovers and Sela's sister)



this is a HUGE waterfall whose size can only be appreciated if you walk closer




and the mist that is thrown up is stupendous




and really drenches you if you venture too close




the rains had not yet started but even then the volume of water was very high



as you can see from these photographs



here is another one.



The song Tanhai Tanhai in the movie Koyla, featuring Madhuri Dixit and Shahrukh Khan was shot at the Nuranang Falls and this video clip will give you a better view of this thundering mass of water.

Leaving Sela (Pass), Jaswant (Garh) and Nura (Falls) with their memories we pressed on to our destination Tawang that is the home of the second largest Buddhist Monastery in the world ( after the Potala Palace at Lhasa) and this our first view of the same



Inside the monastery



there is a huge statue of the Buddha, among other historical and religious artifacts




and a giant prayer wheel




Here is a general view of Tawang, with our hotel visible as the big building at the extreme left



But the really exciting part of the trip was the journey to the PTSoy lake ! that took us through some of the roughest roads which were totally obscured by clouds. It was so dark that let alone take pictures, the driver could barely see 10 feet in front of the car and we repeatedly ran into army vehicles and earth moving equipment but just as we reached the lake ... the clouds lifted, the fog cleared and a weak sun showed its face




and we could take a few pictures




in a great  hurry



before the clouds rolled in again



and blanked out the lake.



On the way back to Tawang town we passed some 1962 era bunkers now abandoned by the Indian Army



and I stepped into one of them to get a feel of what it would have like to see the Chinese Army coming down this road



we ended our stay in Tawang with a visit to the Martyrs Memorial



dedicated to the



and to the most heroic of them all, Joginder Singh, who was posthumously awarded India's highest battle honour, the Param Vir Chakra



for fighting till his last bullet and then charging at the enemy with only a bayonet fixed to his rifle and Sikh war cry of "Jo Boley So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal" on his lips.

Here is a map of the places that we visited on this trip

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Arunchal Pradesh is said to be one of the most beautiful parts of India but because it is so very remote I have never had the opportunity to visit it in the past. This summer, when Calcutta was sweating at 43 Celsius, we decided to pay a visit. Arunachal is a vast state with an extreme diversity of culture. The western end, around Tawang, shares the Buddhist culture of Tibet / Bhutan while the eastern end is primarily tribal and animistic. Unless you have a lot of time and energy it is better to stick to one end. We chose the Tawang end -- the scene of the great 1962 debacle, where an under prepared and ill equipped Indian army was badly bruised by China despite many instances of personal bravery by our Jawans.
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