Arunachal Pradesh, India literally the land of dawn-lit mountains, is a Paradise for the casual tourist and a delight for the adventure seeker. Home to more than 20 tribes, the land offers immense opportunity in terms of adventure activities specially for cycling and trekking lovers.
Tawang, historically and naturally endowed, is the smallest district of Arunachal Pradesh. The 17th century Tawang Monastery, the second largest monastery in Asia, and housing a massive gilded Buddha statue is among the many attractions along with the Penga Teng Tso Lake which attracts migratory birds in summer.
The trip aimed to cover around 520 kms in 10 days amidst breath-taking views of magnificent mountains and valleys and forests that remind one of Frost’s ‘lovely, dark and deep woods’.
THE STAGE IS SET
We waited with utmost enthusiasm as the flight from Indore reached the Gopinath Bordoloi Airport and we received Vivek. Soon followed Akshay and Sunit from Mumbai. Welcomed with small brass ‘xorais’ and traditional ‘gamusas’, the three arrived to finally make us realise that the much awaited trip was actually on.
A visit to Kamakhya temple, atop the Nilachal Hills of Assam and one of the oldest of the 51 Shakti Peeths, was on the cards before the Ride as the deity’s blessings were a must. The night before the journey was to start, we had dinner together and as we were discussing the details of the trip, Vivek suddenly announced that he was not feeling too well. The change of weather had perhaps affected him and it did not look good at all. All of a sudden there were doubts being expressed regarding his fitness and ability to take the trip on this occasion.Fortunately, a visit to the doctor the next morning allayed our worst fears and he was declared fit to undertake the journey.
We were to travel till Bhalukpong, approximately 220 kms from Guwahati, by car and start our ride thereon. Our cycles followed on a TATA XENON. With all official formalities being completed at the Check Gate at Bhalukpong, we arrived at our hotel that evening. Energised by hot soup on the table, we later assembled our bikes for the Guwahati – Tawang Cycling Expedition as we liked to call it. We were all too excited to sleep but sleep was a must if we were to be fit and ready for the morn.
RIDE STARTS AMIDST DRIZZLE AND APPREHENSIONS
An early breakfast and we were set to hit the road. Our bags were loaded on the Back up Vehicle and we were egged on by ‘High Fives’ and ‘Thumbs up’ alongwith each other’s ear- to- ear grinning faces. On the first day of the Ride, we had to cover 60 kms out of which 80 percent was uphill route.
Soon the group broke away as each pedalled according to their comfort and ease and the distance between the riders widened. Consequently, our plans for lunch at Seppa had to be shelved and instead each grabbed lunch at different locations. However post lunch; there was a change in scenario. When we were about to reach Zero point, it had started drizzling. Initially, it added to the charming scenery and made it all kind of romantic. However, soon it turned into a heavy downpour and with no option; we decided to get into the back -up vehicle. However, cheers to Vivek who had already reached the destination for the day, the resort at Jamiri.
The rain sort of subdued us all and filled us with apprehensions. We retired for the night each with silent prayers of our own.
WEATHER LOOKS UP AND SO DO WE
Our prayers were answered, confirming that the Gods were with us and we woke up to a pleasant weather in the morning. As it was raining the previous evening, we hadn’t got an opportunity to view the surroundings. However, the beautiful sunny morning saw us admiring white clouds atop blue hills all around. We vigorously nodded our heads to agree to Sunit’s remark that we were indeed in ‘Jannat’. We spent some time looking around and at around 0900 hours we started our cycling towards Bomdilla. On the way, we decided to pay a visit to the Nag Mandir which could be seen from our starting point.
The route till Bomdilla after Tenga is an uphill ride and to ride continuously on such terrain is not at all easy. However none of the cyclist was ready to call it quits. Besides, the sight was so amazing. On one side we had the magnanimous mountains filling our hearts with munificence as well, while on the other, quietly flowed the Tenga river, echoing the brimming thoughts of contentment and bliss in our hearts.
It took more than four hours to cover the distance and finally in the evening, we managed to reach the site of our planned Home stay near the Bomdilla Monastery. It is run by a very amiable lady, Tsomu. It looked comfortable and clean and what more could 5 exhausted riders seek at that moment.
Next morning, we decided to visit the Bomdilla Monastery before resuming our ride. The Monastery was well decorated and the colourful prayer flags magnified the beauty of the landscape manifold. The decorations were in view of His Holiness The Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal at that time. Empowered by the traditional white scarf, Khada, around our necks, a token of respect here, and offered by Tsomu as we left her hospitable Home Stay, we rode on.
The road to Dirang was mostly downhill and we could cover certain sections with a speed of more than 50 km per hour. It was an exhilarating ride in the real sense.
After reacing Dirang, Vivek and Akshay decided to attend The Dalai Lama’s Sermon at the Dirang Monastery. Others decided to stay back at the river bank near the diversion to Sangti Valley from Dirang. We were carrying a portable gas and decided to cook some snacks to munch on. Soon we were on the road again. The tall hill ranges seemed to flow along the roads and the ride was mesmerising. It was hard to keep our eyes on the road. There is this other worldly kind of feeling, so difficult to explain but a blessed experience at the same time, explicable to the mind’s eye only. At Sangti Valley, we were greeted by Letro, our host for the day and next. He was gracious enough to greet us a few kilometres ahead of his house to guide us to our Home Stay.
We arrived to a lot of warmth, in the house and in the hearts. Letro arranged a bonfire in the evening and we prepared a barbecue for ourselves and were also complemented by Letro’s store of refreshments. The feast, the talks and the laughter continued well into the night. The next day was supposed to be a rest day and we were in no hurry.
DAY OF REST – OF PRAYERS AND BLESSINGS
Rest day meant getting up late, late breakfast and lazing around. But one cannot afford to laze around with so much beauty to explore. The day started with a visit to the nearby villages, inhabited by the people of Monpa tribe, on hired bikes. We later decided to cook our own food by the riverside at Sangti Valley.
The banks of the Tsomkha Amjha river seemed like a setting in some poem of Wordsworth with beauty’s smile easily discernible all around. I just lay on the grass and gazed upwards towards eternity. I could again perceive those familiar shapes in the clouds, shapes associated with my carefree, lazy childhood days. The infinite expanse all around and our own insignificance amidst it all…..the thoughts would have continued had not the nostrils been hit by a wonderfully familiar aroma associated with life and living.
Supu was the Master Chef in the group and with Letro’s help, he had arranged a feast of barbequed and curried meat to be downed with the local wine, Aara which was quite a delight. We did not require any invitation to dig in. Later, at the end of the day, we returned to the Homestay, after filling our tummies and our hearts as well.
Next morning we decided to drive towards the Dirang Monastery. The local people were busy in cleaning the arena post The Dalai Lama’s visit. We decided to spend some time there. Vivek was soon immersed in Meditation. Earlier at the Bomdilla Monastery when Vivek was in a meditative mood, Akshay had remarked that this must actually be the secret behind his energetic mind and body. We had nodded in agreement.
Letro and his friends had accompanied us to the Monastery and it was finally time to thank our wonderful host and bid him good bye. We then decided to go for a trek to the Hot Spring below. As we resumed our ride, we found the roads were mostly well maintained. We were not surprised to find the area dotted by many army camps. Though the road is really steep at places but overall the ride is quite a comfortable one. We called it a day at the PWD IB.
STRONG WINDS AND A SAGA OF BRAVERY
After a good night’s rest, we were staring at the significant day of the expedition- to cycle through the Sela Pass, the highest point of the ride, 13,700 feet above sea level. We were a bit worried due to the strong winds blowing in the entire region since the previous night. It meant only one thing for us – hindrance in cycling in the form of strong head winds. Supu was particularly worried of being blown away, so strong were the winds. I had asked him not to worry and joked, it will take stronger winds to blow away those 85 kilos of fats.
Despite this, we started our ride by 0800 hrs. The first thirty kilometres was tough as the cyclists had to gain more than 13,000 feet to be at the Sela Pass which meant an uphill ride. Gradually the winds subsided as well though not completely. Against all odds, we managed to reach Sela Pass by 1300 hrs.
Exhaustion was clearly overweighed by our sense of triumph as we spent a few minutes at the pass clicking pictures, taking videos to add up to the library of adventure . The downhill ride from Sela Pass was mostly off-road due to the recent landslides and the repairing work in that region.
We visited Jaswant Garh War Memorial- a tribute to the brave soldier, Veer Jaswant Singh, who single-handedly tried to hold the Chinese army for 72 hours during 1962 Indo-China war. We took a moment to fathom what would be the depth of patriotism in such souls who render themselves immortal through execution of their duty towards the nation with utmost dedication.
The downhill ride to Jung thereafter had almost nullified the muscle pain of riding up till Sela Pass and we happily speeded on to reach Jung where our accommodation for the night had been arranged at a local Lodge.
GOODBYE SERENITY – TILL WE MEET AGAIN
The final day of our expedition found us getting nostalgic already. We had all come to the mountains seeking adventure, thrill and perhaps some moments of peace to be stolen from our usually burdensome days. We got …..but so much more. To leave it all and get back to the humdrum of life…wish we could stall that a bit more.
The mountains always have this effect on me. Makes me a dreamer.
We decided to start early on the final riding day of the expedition. We were to visit the Jung or Nuranang falls on the way to Tawang. It’s a 100 meter deep falls and is located near a small hydroelectricity plant that helps in generating electricity for local use in that area. One has to climb down multiple steps to reach the base of the falls. Water splash, the wind and sparkling rays of the sun shining above the falls added mysticism to the whole scenario.
The route to Tawang is mostly uphill from here but gradually pedalling becomes comparatively easier and our body gets used to it by then.
As we rode nearer and nearer to Tawang , it appeared busier than expected. It was more crowded compared to normal days as His Holiness The Dalai Lama had finished his sermons and Believers were returning back from the event to their respective places . As we entered the market of Tawang, we were welcomed by a colourful sight of people dressed in their traditional attire. In fact, the whole market was decorated with prayer flags and a welcome gate. It was one remarkable scene, an experience of a lifetime. I’ve always found tradition and beliefs quite humbling and assuring at the same time.
Amidst people in traditional attires, we must have stood out in our cycling gears. The local people stared at us wide eyed and the rubicund kids smiled at us with all innocence. Somehow it felt quite positive as if Champions had arrived home after triumphing against all odds. We checked into a hotel at Tawang at around evening time. We did explore the surrounds a bit, on foot.
The next day, we started our journey to Guwahati by car. As we made our way down from the land of dawn-lit mountains, we were all lost in our own thoughts.
A lot of memories had been made, a huge step, for me, Supu and Natventure. And indeed, Hemingway was bang on. As I bid the serene mountains good bye, I resolved to be back, to experience it all again……let my hair be ruffled by the wind, taste the rain, absorb the warmth of the sun, let serenity pervade, feel one with my surrounds….FEEL ALIVE.