When you read, you travel to a new destination. But as a writer, when you write and talk to people, you travel more than just the destination – you live the experience. This is exactly what I experienced when I spoke with Dr. Sunita Rajani, a Paediatrician who is currently pursuing her super specialisation in Paediatric Gastroenterology in London. What’s interesting to note here is that I met her when she was terrified of writing. Ever since we’ve studied together online as a part of The Lifestyle Portal Online Writing Program, she’s been on a writing spree. It has been an absolute pleasure reading and bringing out her story for all of our readers to enjoy.
Ever since I can remember, I have always had a fascination for visiting offbeat places and maybe because of that, I like to plan my own travel itinerary. On a previous trek, I had made friends with a few people as we all shared the common passion for travel and adventure. In 2015, our new found group decided to visit an offbeat destination in the winters. We wanted to do something exciting and different, and since Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh had been on my list for a few months, I got the perfect company to go on a much-anticipated trip.
I must admit that this was the most difficult trip that I have planned on my own. It took me a while to get oriented to the places and to figure out the various permits required for travel in the North East of India. Fortunately for us, Afroz (our driver for the trip) agreed to help us in this matter, so we sent our applications along with photographs and the fees by post, and he did the rest for us.
Our journey started with a flight to Guwahati from Mumbai. Afroz picked us up from the airport and we drove to our overnight halt at Tezpur. The next morning, we left for Dirang which lay about 156 kms away. On our way, we visited the Sessa Orchid Plantation at Bhalukpong. Sessa is home to a vast variety of orchids and is a treat for people who love flowers. The journey to Dirang was very beautiful, with mountain peaks and streams keeping us engaged all along. Our hotel in Dirang was situated in a wonderful location, providing good views of the mountains all around. It was freezing cold but we couldn’t resist being outdoors. Our request for a bonfire in the garden was accepted by the hotel staff and we spent a relaxing evening, happily chatting while enjoying the warmth of the bonfire and dinner.
For the next day of our trip, we had to travel to our main destination Tawang, across Sela Pass. The climb to Sela Pass was steep, amidst fog, and the drive was thoroughly exciting along the zigzag roads. We reached Sela Pass at around noon and saw that the nearby Sela Lake was completely frozen. Although Afroz advised us to not step on the lake, we went down closer to the shores of the lake and saw that many people were walking on the frozen surface without any problems. We decided to carry out our own checks on how strong the layer of ice was by using sticks and stones to prod the surface. After being satisfied with the safety of the frozen expanse, we stepped onto the Sela Lake and indulged in a once-in-a-lifetime experience of taking a mesmerising walk on a frozen waterbody. The fun continued with a feast of freshly made piping hot Maggi and momos that complemented the weather.
During winters, it starts to get dark by 3:00 p.m. itself and we had to rush towards Tawang. As we crossed Shaheed Jaswant Garh in a hurry, the history of the place filled us with passion and sorrow. We finally reached Tawang by a late 5:00 p.m., where we learnt that Tawang doesn’t have electricity for most part of the day. We were in luck as the hotel where we were staying had a generator, and so thankfully we had at least some light to move around. After a hearty breakfast at a small joint the next morning, we set out to see the Tawang Monastery, the War Memorial, the Craft Centre, and other places of interest. Lunch comprised steaming momos, noodles and soup with a special spice which gives a soothing flavour and much-needed warmth to the body. We wrapped up for the day by relaxing and preparing for the grand travel of our trip that had been planned for the next day.
At last, the day came when we were to head out to Bumla Pass. We had collected our Inner Line Permits from Tawang itself (already arranged for by Afroz), and with our personal ID cards handy, it was around 8:00 a.m. by the time we left our hotel. As the temperatures were hovering in the minus zone, we were dressed in four layers of clothes – the first being a full sleeved layer to maintain the core body temperature, a warm top next, a warm sweater as the third layer, and finally a jacket to make up the top layer. We went past a lot of checkpoints along the rocky road and we all kept talking about witnessing snowfall as my friends had never seen snowfall before. Our fortunes turned out to be in our favour, for shortly thereafter, we were able to experience snowfall for a short period of time.
The scenic drive finally ended as we reached Bumla Pass, located at an altitude of 15,200 feet, surrounded by frozen lakes, snowcapped mountains and ice-covered narrow paths. We started walking from the parking area and went into the complex through an entrance gate to reach the reception area. Some personnel from the Indian Army welcomed us with a much-needed cup of tea, after which they took us further inside the complex and gave us information about the region and how the Indo – China War took place in 1961. It was freezing cold despite our four layers of clothes and it made us shiver furthermore when we were informed that in a few days the temperature would drop to -20 ºC. The altitude also made all of us realise how we have to be careful about Acute Mountain Sickness in such places owing to the high altitude where oxygen levels are low. The best way to prevent high altitude mountain sickness is by keeping yourself warm, physically active and well hydrated.
After the awe-inspiring interaction with the Indian Army team, I went out and took a stroll towards the Indian Border Checkpost. There was a pair of binoculars to see the Chinese Checkpost, although well-made roads right up to the border were visible with the naked eye itself. A white painted rock designated the last point of India where I got a strange unearthly feeling of being in my country, and yet in another one too. We learnt that on certain fixed days of the year, army personnel from ‘both sides’ get together and celebrate events. It was a wonderfully warm gesture by the India Army at Bumla Pass to welcome and interact with tourists. They even give certificates with the name of the visitor, signed by the Commander of the post, certifying that one has visited the Checkpost on a particular day. We were glad that they even allowed us to take pictures with them.
On our way back, we got down at a good patch of snow near the old military bunks used for war. Here we spent some memorable time, playing in the snow like kids, falling and rolling over, hitting each other with snowballs, and even making a tiny snowman. As the amazing trip was drawing to a close and we were packing our bags for the gruelling two-day return journey to Guwahati, my own personal experience was also culminating with thoughts about the famous quote by Ibn Battuta – “Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”