Ola Sho Sho

May 15, 2008 at 9:25 am (Travelogue)

This phase of our trip can be described in three parts – the sudden planning, the journey to Arunachal and the brief stay at Bomdila. It is slightly hard for me to capture the entire experience in words. Nevertheless, let me attempt my best by starting at the beginning. (For pictures of Arunachal Pradesh, click here)

The plan

As already mentioned at the eco camp in Nameri, we met a Major who almost convinced my friends to go to Tawang come what may. Later that evening, as we considered our plans after the eco camp, we had the option of either enjoying the entire rafting experience the next day and then spending the next one day in and around Tezpur before heading to Kaziranga or cut short the rafting time and try to work out the inner line permit (ILP) for Arunachal Pradesh at Bhalukpong, which represents the border of Assam and Arunachal. We decided to atleast give the ILP a shot at Bhalukpong on 10th March since the point from where we begin the rafting is right at the border. I must say that the people at the camp were extremely cooperative and the gypsy driver who took us to Bhalukpong made our job easier because of his local knowledge. When we reached the border, a huge arc with a Yak sign on top greeted us. The guards at the security check-post allowed only one of us to go in to get the permits made. Iyer was the one who went in while the rest of us just stood at the border loitering around on the Assam side. It took almost an hour and a half for Iyer to get the work done and book the cab for that afternoon. The cab was the only one leaving for Bomdila that afternoon from Tezpur. The next one would leave only at 5.30 AM the next morning. While we were already late, since we were paying for the rafting, we decided to atleast experience it and the helpers promised to take us through a shorter route and reduce the amount of time. It was almost 12 Noon when we left Bhalukpong to start rafting. We went back some bit of the way in the gypsy and instead of rafting from the 18th Mile, we started from the 13th Mile. Through all this confusion, we were hoping that it will all be eventually worth it. As we stood at the check-post, we read a board which said “Introduce yourself to this unique destination and you will be destined to come back again”. It only made us keener to see the place once and in hindsight, its one of the best decisions I have made in recent times!

The journey

After packing up from the camp, we boarded the cab from ‘Hathi Gate’ around 3 PM and reached Bhalukpong just after 4 PM. Being one of the eastern most regions of our country, it was already getting darker by the minute. All of us were quite excited at the thought of entering a new state, that too one which we never realistically expected to see. After a quick round of tea and snacks, we set forward for one of the most memorable journeys for more reasons than one. When we stood at Bhalukpong, we could hardly have guessed how close we were close to some of nature’s beautiful gifts. Most people we had spoken to told us that there isn’t much up to Bomdila to see. Dirang onwards were supposed to be the real attractions of Arunachal. Due to our time constraints, we could only manage Bomdila this time around.

Thus, with a lot of excitement combined with mixed expectations, we left Bhalukpong. Within a matter of 15 minutes, the road started winding around the hills and we could see thick vegetation whichever side we turned. The river Bhorelli was giving us company on one side (It’s the same river where we started the rafting further down from Bhalukpong to the camp). As the road suddenly sloped upwards, we were left speechless by the height we reached almost in no time. We were covered by mountains on all sides, each of which was lush green with vegetation. As the road twisted and turned around the mountains, we lost track of how many mountains we’d have gone around. The trail of mountains continues this way all the way to Bomdila with hardly few stretches in the middle where we got a clear run on the road. About an hour after leaving Bhalukpong, we were at Nachefu Pass – height of 5694 Ft – which was the highest point in this trail through the mountains.

 En route to Bomdila

Throughout the journey to Bomdila, we were all travelling with a really fast heartbeat, partly due to the incredible heights we seemed to be travelling and more so because the driver Raju was driving at what seemed to us like breakneck speed through these hill roads. He was no doubt maneuvering the vehicle expertly following strict lane discipline but sitting in front with the driver, I and Viggy were constantly seeing the height of the mountains as the Sumo seemed to go right around the edge of the road at each blind curve. Apart from probably one instance during the onward journey, we were not really close to any accidents though that fear remained with us almost the entire distance. The 101 km journey took nearly five hours through Sessa, Nachefu, Nag Mandir and Tenga including passing many army settlements like the Jat Regiment, Fikar Not 14, etc. The roads actually seemed to be a lot smoother around each of these army areas. Our driver Raju also seemed to know every single person on the way and kept chatting with people wherever he stopped. In fact one of the things that strike you about Arunachal is the general friendliness and helpfulness of the people.

Bomdila

We reached Bomdila at around 8.30 PM and immediately settled into a very cheap lodge called Himland Lodge. The weather was biting cold and the owner of the lodge (Suresh is his name if I remember right) informed us that the summer had almost kicked off there now. In January and February, apparently one can find snow till ankle height at Bomdila itself. Though all the shops close in Bomdila by 6 PM itself, this chap Suresh got one of his friends to open his restaurant for us. So there we were at a remote corner (Mind you, Bomdila is the headquarters of West Kameng District!) in our country, with dinner being served by two sweet ladies and a smooth round of drinks. One of the women chatted with a couple of us which of course prompted the others to make fun of us. But I thought it was really sweet of them to make an exception for us on the request of the lodge owner.

After a peaceful sleep at night under two thick blankets, I called home the next morning from a local STD booth as none of our cell phone networks work in Arunachal. Only BSNL (local) lines work there. After a quick breakfast, we were on our way to the Bomdila monastery with the same driver who brought us from Tezpur. The Bomdila monastery was the first Buddhist monument I was seeing. It was quite big, nicely decorated with a very peaceful look and feel about it. The main hall at the monastery seemed like a perfect place for recital of hymns as well as meditation. Every single idol seemed to have seven bowls of water and rice in front which are apparently the offerings made to them, to be changed every day. There were 2 drums hanging in the middle of the hall, with “Om Mani Padme Hum” inscribed on them in Tibetan language. If the drums are rotated in the clockwise direction, it is equivalent to reciting the verse and is supposed to give power to the devotee. After hanging around the monastery for a bit, we went further up the hill to RR Tower, the highest point at Bomdila. We could see the chain of mountains all around and learnt the general direction of the road leading to Tawang as well as the Bhutan border.

From RR Tower, we went to another hill-top which is apparently used as a helipad sometimes. We got to see the place from a different viewpoint, no less beautiful than the previous one. The air had a really fresh feel to it without the pollution associated with any place with huge human settlement. It was quite foggy that day which affected the visibility to some extent. As we travelled all around Bomdila, I was really in love with the place and told myself that I have to plan an extended trip to Arunachal next time covering Dirang and Tawang as well. We also heard some local music and decided to get a couple of CDs. One of the songs – Ola Sho Sho – was particularly nice with a nice hymn-like feeling to it, perfectly in line with the atmosphere. I also walked around the streets of Bomdila to get a feel of the place and spoke to some of the local people. The women in Bomdila were really cute and simple, unlike some of the more ‘hep’ places in the north-east where you would get to see really trendy people. Even though we spent hardly 16 hours in Bomdila, the journey, the place and the people really captured all our imagination and made the entire trip to the north-east worthwhile.

Bomdila

On the way back, we went to Rupa – about 10 km from Bomdila and visited the monastery there. The people there were quite friendly and told us some of the Buddhist traditions to us. There were two small kids (one named Arjun) who had been left at the monastery by their parents to groom them as monks. After some pictures there, we headed back to Assam with a brief halt at Nag Mandir for lunch. We met some chaps from MDI who were heading to Tawang there. It was quite a smooth drive almost all the way to Bhalukpong. About 20 km before Bhalukpong, we stopped for some pictures and would you believe it, the nearest shop was a Malayali tea kadai! Our driver managed to get himself into a driving competition with one of the trucks and after about 10-15 kilometres of a proper driving lesson to our driver, the truck driver finally let our man have his way.

It was about 4 PM on 11th March when we reached Bhalukpong. The last 24 hours had left all of us in a trance and the weather, the mountains, the dense forests and vegetation, the clouds, the people and the natural beauty made us endorse the tourism department’s claim about this unique destination. I for one am definitely hoping that I am destined to go back to that place atleast once in my life.

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