Dense forests, a light monsoon drizzle, exotic birds that interrupt your passage occasionally, steep roads that escort the gushing Kameng River wreathed in mist, Indian army camps, mountains standing tall are part of the thrill of riding through the second highest motorable road on earth—the Tezpur-Bhalukpong-Bomdila-Tawang circuit.
The journey begins from Tezpur in Assam and goes past Bhalukpong, Bomdila and Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. The best time to visit Bomdila and Tawang is in the winter when the region is blanketed by snow or during spring when the orchids bloom. Monsoon is discount time for the backpacker. The time when tourists keep away and icy-cold raindrops hit one’s face at 14,000 feet.
The traveller begins his journey from Tezpur, along a 52-km road to Bhalukpong—one of the gateways to Arunachal, going past the Nameri National Park located in the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas.
The smell of fermented bamboo shoots, a popular dish in these parts, welcomes you to Bhalukpong. The trek down to Kameng is smooth, but through an overgrowth of tropical plants. Across the river lies the huge forest range that forms the border of the Pakhui Wildlife Sanctuary.
The journey hereafter gets excitingly vertiginous with steeper roads and sharper turns. After Bhalukpong, it continues to climb to reach 5,500 feet. The ascent is through dense jungle. It gets cold. The monsoon fog is like an lazy shroud. If you are lucky, you may even spot the pride of Arunachal Pradesh, the hornbill bird. Most of the traffic along the road is army vehicles. The hungry stop over for food corners at wayside shanties. It’s easy to get a drink in a teaglass here. The next halt is Bomdila, the headquarters of West Kameng district that is home to the exotic Bomdila monastery that overlooks the town and offers a pristine view of the surrounding mountain peaks. The monastery welcomes visitors to stay over for a modest fee. Take an afternoon stroll around the monastery and you meet lamas studying to become full-fledged monks; they come from
different corners of India.
The journey to Tawang goes past the high-altitude Sela Pass at 14,000 feet. The memorial of soldier Jaswant Singh Rawat, who died bravely fighting a lone battle against the Chinese invasion in 1962, guards this road. Legend has it that he didn’t die alone, and took with him the lives of 300 Chinese soldiers. After a seven-hour journey, you drive into the quaint town of Tawang. It is situated on the Chinese border—the outpost on the eastern fringes. It is also home to the Tawang monastery, the largest in India.
The last leg of the journey from Tawang to Bumla Pass (India-China border) and Sangetsar Lake is the breathtaking part. The 1990s’ Bollywood film Koyla starring Shahrukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit was extensively shot in and around Tawang; since then many refer Sangetsar as Madhuri Lake. Tawang is Arunachal’s lake district—P T Tso Lake at around 10,000 feet, followed by smaller lakes. The area in unpopulated. There are few tress, but the hillsides are dressed up in pink flowers.
The descent from Sangetsar Lake is abrupt. It is under army control, due to the active presence of the Chinese
military around, but the lake is open to tourists. The origin of the lake is lost in the mist of history that still continues to
envelop the hills, and lore says it was formed out of a natural crater. For a change, the armymen here don’t carry guns, but are happy serving piping momos to
tourists. Magic has many homes, but it seems to have settled down in these remote and wild Shambhala guarded by the eternal Himalayas.
Nearest airport: Salonibari, Tezpur. You can also fly to Guwahati, which is well connected by all major carriers and then travel by road to Tezpur. An inner line permit is required to enter Arunachal Pradesh. It is available at the Resident Commissioner office at Arunachal Bhawan, Delhi, or Deputy Resident Commissioner’s office in Kolkata and Guwahati. Special permission from Tawang is required to visit Bumla Pass, which borders China.