The next day was mainly a traveling day,
Rubul told me it would be the longest journey of our trip. First we had
to backtrack 60 kilometer towards Guwahati before we took a road to the
right, straight toward Arunachal Pradesh. We passed small villages, some
towns with busy markets and large rural areas filled with rice fields,
typical Assam scenery. Then we crossed the Bramaputhra river on a 4 km
long bridge. The tide was low but I could see the space it would fill
during rainy season.
Not much later we arrived
at Arunachal Pradesh, I was not allowed to continue my journey before my
passport, visa and inner line permit were thoroughly checked.
Fortunately all was I order so we could go ahead.
Not only did we change
state but the landscape changed dramatically as well, immediately after
we crossed the state border we left the Assam plains and started
climbing up into the foothills of the Himalayas. The road was in bad
condition (understatement) so we hardly could drive faster than 20
km/hour, everything faster seemed irresponsible and excessive speeding.
The valleys were covered in fog so I could not see how far down it went
next to the narrow road, and maybe that was for the better for my ease
of mind. The roads were soaking wet, making driving a slippery and
tricky affair. Roadworks caused some delay every now and then but each
time we were allowed to proceed after a short while.
And then the fog became
very dense and thick. We could hardly see 10 meters ahead and at times
it became so dark I could hardly see the difference between the road and
the air. On a couple of occasions we came dangerously close to the
abyss and my heart skipped a beat or so more than once. Closing my eyes
did not help either as I was to restless to do that. Memories came back
from our trip to Ladakh in 2015 but this time the fog added to my
Of course we were stopped
by the inevitable, more roadworks. The military had blocked the road and
we were informed we were only allowed proceed after five pm…a 3 1/2
hour wait. Just before this obstruction Rubul had told me he was eager
to arrive at our destination before sunset. Well, we could forget about
that right now. There were some vicious conversations between the
drivers now impatiently cueing, and the military staff. Unfortunately
the last ones were carrying impressive guns so there was nothing to do
but to obey their orders. One cannot accuse the Indians from proper
planning, allowing batches of cars through at a time, in between the
roadworks, that would’ve been far to logic.
It did not take long
before young kids showed up selling boiling hot tea, cookies and snacks.
It showed the real entrepreneurship of the youngsters and I could only
laugh whilst zipping a nice cup of tea.
That afternoon went by
slow but finally we were allowed to move on… At least beyond this
barrier as less than a kilometer further on we were stopped again as
down the road explosives were being used for widening the road. The
explosions were deafening but fortunately this delay did not take to
long. So on we went, at least until we met the oncoming traffic, which
was also impatient after being held for hours at a go. With the narrow
roads chaos was predefined and chaos it became…
After we finally took this
hurdle we could make up for some lost time. Fortunately the fog had
settled down so it was easier for Rubul to maneuver over the narrow
road. I was getting rather cold by now so I asked to turn up the
heating. Unfortunately that was only working when it’s warm outside! How
could I have expected anything else. With almost five hours delay we
made it to Dirang but before we made it to the hotel there was one final
surprise… A blocked road. We had to backtrack a couple of kilometers
and find an alternative way to our hotel. 280 kilometers and 13 hours
after departing we arrived.
The hotel was massive and I
cannot recall a lobby being that big. Neither can recall a lobby that
cold, I felt myself shivering during checkin. I had a late dinner, with
my cold feet in front of the moderately warm electric heater. Suddenly
all lights went out, so did the heater, fortunately not too long. By ten
I went to back to my room. It was time to unpack my thermal underwear, I
was going to need it.
Although I had not
expected it I slept well that night. I was ready for another adventure,
first we would have to climb till 4176 meter before we could descend
into Tawang. I could only hope for a less problematic ride than
After breakfast we started
our journey. Climbing from Dirang, Arunachal’s most perilous road
seemed like an endless series of bombed-out zigzags, which crossed
several army camps and landslide zones. Fortunately the road was in much
better condition than the stretch the previous dat so we proceeded
very well. We made a short stop over at the Jaswant Gawh war memorial to
pay homage to those who fell in the Chinese-Indian war in 1962.
Fortunately the Chinese withdrew, but for my liking they should have
withdrawn much further, past the Tibetan border to be precisely.
Finally we reached Sela, a
windy 4176m pass that breaches the mountains and provides access to
Tawang. It was cold, very cold and in spite of being dressed in layers I
wished I had bought an additional set of thermal underwear. Normally at
this time of year the pass would have been covered in snow but not this
time, it did make the crossing less complicated. It was the first time
during my trip I saw blue air instead of the the ever present fog. The
views were definitely worth my suffering from the cold but it did not
take me long before I got back into the car, sheltered from the howling
From the pass, the road
plummeted down the mountainside into the Tawang Valley. We enjoyed a
very tasty lunch in a road side restaurant after which we continued our
journey to the Nuranang Falls, which were cascading down the steep
cliffs and continued as a streak of silvery rivulet down the gorge. In
spite of the fact the water was only at 10% of it’s volume it reaches in
the rainy season I thought they were extremely beautiful and
Another war memorial had
stunning views over snow topped mountains and was erected for a brave
officer who got missing during the war but is still believed to be
alive. As so he is still on the payroll of the Indian army…
Not much later I checked
in at my hotel, overlooking the 400 year old monastery. After checkin I
asked Rubul to bring me to a wine shop and I got my first bottle of old
monk rum, 2 weeks after I arrived in India. The coke was more expensive
than the rum (1,50 euro) and I could not wait until my first zip.
Of course electricity
dropped but I was able to update my journal before dinner. Ordering from
the extensive menu card seemed to be a problem as the first five items I
choose were not available. So sorry sir… Still managed to select some
tasty items. Not much was going on and it was bitter cold I returned to
my room for yet another early night. But no complaints, with my lack of
afternoon naps on this trip this was exactly what I needed. My bed was
cold, very cold and I was shivering for about thirty minutes to get
reasonably warm. It reminded me of the old days where we had no central
heating and single glazing was the norm.
circumstances I slept reasonably well. Breakfast was fine and I was
ready for another day. Fortunately the sun was shining and the skies
were magnificent blue. Our first stop was the Tawang monastery. When I
entered the courtyard an old monk waved at me and showed me the museum. A
large collection of Buddhist artefacts were on display here, some even
going back centuries.
The courtyard was covered
with prayer flags which were in beautiful contrast with the blue sky.
The main payer hall was of a very familiar architecture to me as I had
already seen plenty of those. Still every time I am hit by the
atmosphere, especially after I removed my shoes and entered the prayer
hall. The colors were striking, the fabrics, the fresco’s. Once again my
mouth dropped open. The serenity, the atmosphere, so serene, so
I could go the the balcony
at the first floor which gave me a different perspective of the
impressive hall. The vibrant colours, the cushions where monks would be
seated during the daily Puja. My imagination went in overdrive and I
could even hear the chanting, the trumpets and the hypnotizing drums,
even though the hall was empty…
The fourteenth Dalai Lama
had searched refugee in this monastery on his flee for the Chinese after
they illegally and aggressively had taken control over Tibet. He
returned in 2016 and many signs on the road were still commemorating
Once I left the prayer
hall I strolled at ease through the premises of the monastery, watched
monks doing their daily routines and turned some prayer wheels in
respect to Buddha and Buddhism in general. From all the religions in the
world this simply seems the most appealing and correct one for me, not
that I will become a convert though but it’s philosophy brings a lot of
valuable lessons for life.
Next stop was a nunnery,
it was much smaller in scale than the massive monastery but I did love
the tranquil atmosphere. The small, but beautiful prayer hall was a
delight for the senses and in front of it a little girl was extremely
motivated learning the holy scripts.
When in Tawang one cannot
miss out on a massive Buddha looking out over the valley and that was
where we were heading next. Unfortunately the interior was closed but I
still could admire the exterior. I had to move away though to admire the
Not much further on was a
smaller display of statues with Buddha preaching to four monks. On the
lower parts of the statue there were panels which described Buddha’s
life from being born as prince Siddhartha till becoming the enlightened
As we were very close to
the Chinese border army camps could be seen everywhere (somehow there
seemed to be more military camps than villages around). The only camp I
was allowed to enter housed another memorial to commemorate the 1962 war
with China. Photography rules were extremely strict, only the memorial,
pointing the camera at the camp was an absolute no-go.
Tawang is famous as it is
also the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama. It was a modest place but
beautiful in it’s simplicity. For Buddhist of course a place of extreme
importance. After the sixth Dalai Lama left his birthplace he made a vow
to return but it took him eight reincarnations to do so.
Our last stop was the old
market in Tawang. I strolled around a bit and enjoyed the activity. As
it was Sunday there was not much going on in town. The craft museum was
closed and as one of the most beautiful lakes in the area was too close
to the Chinese border I had no permission to go there.
So I had a late lunch,
listened to some music and updated my journal while soaking up the last
sun rays of the day which were lovely and warm. Actually it was warmer
outside on the terrace than inside of the hotel.
It was a slow and relaxing
afternoon but as soon as the sun had set temperatures dropped
considerably and I had to prepare myself for another long and cold
Next morning it was time
to leave Tawang and backtrack the road of eternal zigzags. Still loved
the scenery whilst we slowly climbed to the Sela pass. Shortly before we
reached Sela we had a lunch stop in a road side restaurant. I sat
around the stove with a number of locals, a cozy atmosphere. The
ambience might have been extremely basic, to be politically correct, but
the noodle soup was perfect. Exactly what I needed for the onward
Outside the freezing cold
wind was howling therefor we decided not to make another stop at the
Sela pass but continued our journey. The views were simply breathtaking
but gradually the blue skies were covered by a layer of fog. We were
back at the valley.
As we skipped the Dirang
monastery and it’s old village on our way to Tawang due to the road
blockage Rubul asked me whether I wanted to see them now. Of course!
The Dirang monastery was
extremely modern and had quite some Chinese influences, still I liked
it, although it was a far cry from the other monasteries I had seen.
The old village,
approximately 5 km from the new village, was like being in a time warp.
Small narrow paths meandered between the traditional houses. People were
busy preparing bread and noodles the old fashioned way, or skinning
some beef to be dried afterwards on a washing line. What a completely
different world, I could see why the younger generations moved out to
enjoy a more modern lifestyle, to be honest I could not say what the
better option was.
Our final destination for
the day, Bomdila, was only another hour drive away, and we arrived mid
afternoon. Time enough to visit the Bomdila monastery before going to my
hotel. On arrival I witnessed a group of monks playing a match of
cricket. Apparently the worldly pleasures are no strange thing for the
monks. I kept on watching the game for a while and enjoyed the
enthusiasm of both the players and their spectators.
In front of the modest
prayer hall a big piece of fabric, with an eternal knot sawn on it,
blocked the entrance. Fortunately a monk spotted me and rushed to remove
the barrier so I could admire the prayer hall. Having seen so many
already I noticed I started to focus on the smaller details.
After checking in at my
hotel I strolled through the small city centre after which I returned
for what must have been my first hot shower since days (the last couple
of days I limited myself with a quick wash as no hot water was available
and I could not face a freezing shower in an even more freezing
atmosphere). Then it was time to update my journal, have dinner and
return to my room for another early night. It had been a brilliant day.
After a good sleep I
enjoyed breakfast and prompt at eight o’clock in the morning Rubul
picked me up. Today we would have to cross that bad piece of road again
where we got stuck for 3 1/2 hour on the way up to Tawang. As we did not
feel like waiting that long once more we left early. The first part of
the road was fine but quickly it’s condition detoriated. Everywhere road
workers were busy with their hard labour, cutting rocks, making cement
and freeing the road as much as possible. With the simple tools they had
available this seemed to be a job with hardly any progress but time
over here simply has not the same value as in the west.
And then it hit me hard, I
had seen numerous of these road side improvised villages. spartan
houses made of straw mats, flattened oil drums and plastic foil. But not
until this time it came to my full realization. These houses were what
one would expect in the slums of Mumbai or Kolkota but here they
provided shelter from the elements for the laborers during the long and
freezing nights. Water was available from a stream across the road and
improvised kitchens made it possible to cook extremely basic and ever
repeating food. With salaries of approx. half a euro a day it looked
like a life without much future, without much hope. Still there were
plenty of children around, the smallest ones carried on the back of
their mother whilst she was cutting rocks. This was another side of
India, the rough touch.
At once I felt privileged
with my lifestyle in the west and was grateful to be born over there,
with all opportunities available, without being condemned to a harsh
life cutting rocks, generation after generation. But I also noticed it
was the first time I was really shocked, a thing that even Kolkata had
not managed to do so. It wasn’t the first time whilst this trip my eyes
became humid but it was the first time because of sadness and
Around midday we arrived
at my hotel, the sun was shining and my room looked out over a gentle
flowing river. By now I could feel the tiredness of a week of non stop
traveling so I released Rubul from his duties for the rest of the day,
changed into shorts and found a wonderful place in the garden for lunch.
That afternoon I listened to music, had a long afternoon nap and did do
absolutely nothing. It might still have been early but for me the
program for the day was over, it was chill out time, time to relax and
After sunset light started
to fade, as it does every day, but with no electricity in the hotel it
became dark, very dark, even before it was six o’clock. Nobody seemed
impressed by this so I decided to go along with the flow and wait until
the generators were finally started and provided light in the darkness.
As it was cooling down a
bit (but nothing compared to Tawang) a bonfire was lit for me and when I
saw Rubul sitting in the car I invited him to join me for dinner.
Obviously I choose for momos again and they were as lovely as during
lunch time. By eight it was time to return to my room. It had been a
lovely evening with an interesting conversation but once again days
finished early in India.
Continue to the Meghalaya Experience