Saturday, November 14, 2015

Breathtaking Tawang

In my last post I had written about my Journey upto Tawang via the magical Sela Pass. After a long drive we finally managed to reach Tawang. It was cold and raining. We checked in our hotel and went out for a stroll. The life in hill stations generally comes to a standstill after the sun sets. Though there surely was a little buzz about the Tawang Festival that was going to start the next day. We got into our cozy room and dozed off as we were extremely tired after a day long journey.

Next morning was the first day of festival. Woke up in the morning and peeped out of my window to a beautiful view.

View from the Hotel Room
There were lot of activities happening on the street. People cleaning their shops, decorating them with flowers and flags and security forces getting instructions and much more. 

Almost all the houses, rich or poor, are decorated with such
flower arrangements
We had our breakfast and first thing we decided to do was, to visit Asia's second largest monastery, The Tawang Monastery. We hired a taxi and we reached at the right moment. The monks at the monastery were singing prayers, and were heading to the festival ground. It was a beautiful sight.  We decided not to follow them and rather explore the monastery. It was serene. One could feel the calmness and a sense of contentment. I kept watching the monks, especially the little ones moving around the monastery. One could spend the whole day just staring at them. But we had little time. The Buddha statue inside the monastery is absolutely divine and there was light falling on the face of Buddha from one side, which made it look mystical.    

Tawang Monastery

Inside the main monastery building

Divine Buddha Statue

A little monk with his conch

Musical Instrument

A very cool monk

We headed back to the festival ground. Participants were practicing for the procession that was going to take place later in the afternoon. Dancers were busy in getting their movements right for the Aji Lamu Dance, a traditional form of dance of Monpa Tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. Others were busy clicking pictures. We moved to the main town, where the procession was to take place. It was great to see the enthusiasm of the locals and as well as the visitors. Everyone had lined up on both the sides of the street to cheer the dancers and the other participants. Such wholehearted participation of the citizens is surely motivating for the performers.

A dancer in traditional attire

In the evening we went to the festival ground to see the performances. Unfortunately it was raining, raining and raining. The whole venue was messy and one couldn't even walk. But thanks to our gum boots that we managed to walk around. Rain gods were not going to show any pity. I took out my umbrella and was holding it for at least 3-4 hours to watch the performances. My back and legs were hurting now and decided to head back and sleep as we had much more planned for the next day.

It just wouldn't stop

Dancers from The Tibetan School of  Performing Arts.

A model in traditional attire during a fashion show
Next morning, we decided to go to Madhuri Lake, popular name for Shungatser Lake. The lake got its popular name after a part of Bollywood movie Koyla (starring Shah Rukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit) was shot here. I must tell you hiring taxi in Tawang is a pretty expensive affair. So be ready to shell out some cash especially during festival time and tourist season. We took a taxi and left for Madhuri Lake. On our way we were stopped by the army. We were not the only ones; all the vehicles going in that direction were stopped. The army was not ready to open the entry gates as Defence Minister was suppose to arrive in sometime at the festival ground. Everyone was getting really impatient and super irritated. Most of us were tourists, with limited time in hand wanted to continue with our journey. But army was adamant. After a lot of requests and begging from almost everyone, they decided to open the gates, but only after each taxi driver entered the car and passenger details in the visitor's register. It was quite annoying as we lost almost 2 hours. In between we actually went back half way, but came back because heart was not ready to accept this.

On the way to Madhuri Lake is the P-Tso lake (Pangateng Tso Lake). It's a beauty. Its located at a distance of around 10 kms from the Town of Tawang. We also saw many bunkers that were built during 1962 Sino-Indian War.

P-Tso Lake

Bunkers built during the Sino-Indian War
Most of the journey from Tawang Town to Madhuri Lake was covered with snow. Roads are quite bad, but the view of the snow covered mountains, and numerous little lakes on the way made us forget everything. It was just perfect. One would never want to go back. We finally reached Madhuri Lake and it was breathtaking. The strong winds and chimes making a wonderful music made it a perfect setting. We got over bored with clicking pictures. The place is so awe-inspiring, that you want to click everything. EVERYTHING.

Numerous little lakes on the route

Prayer flags at Madhuri Lake

Stunning view of Madhuri Lake
On our way back we stopped again at P-Tso lake and were offered free boat ride by the army. It was especially arranged for the tourists visiting during the festival time. I also tried my hands on making a snowman. It was a disastrous attempt.

Our boats at P-Tso Lake


Disastrous Snowman - more like a scare crow 
We reached Tawang Town and went directly to Manjushree Orphanage. One can sponsor a child at this school. We were shown around by a student named Deki and interacted with few kids. It was great to see them smiling.


View of the School
We spent rest of the evening at the Tawang Festival watching the cultural events and waiting for Bollywood Actor Arjun Rampal to arrive. During the festival he was declared the Brand Ambassador of Arunachal Tourism.

Thats it from Tawang. It was an absolute mesmerizing trip. This trip made me realize that no beauty can be better than nature's beauty. Period.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Tryst with Snow

My celebrity friend Siddhartha Joshi is the inspiration behind my visit to Tawang in West Arunachal Pradesh. He had visited Tawang some years back and shared his pictures; and instantly I was like, if one place I want to go before I die; it has to be Tawang. 

Finally after procrastinating and contemplating all these years, day finally arrived when I embarked on my journey with a friend to the much talked and heard about destination. Another incentive was the Tawang Festival.

Tawang is approximately a drive of around 16-18 hours or more from Guwahati. But it is not suggested. One can drive from Guwahati till Bomdila, around 10-11 hours drive. Bomdila is almost midway between Tezpur and Tawang. Tezpur can actually be called the gateway to western Arunachal Pradesh. Tezpur is located around 3-4 hours drive from Guwahati. But before travelling to Arunachal Pradesh one needs to make sure to have Inner Line Permit (ILP for Indian Citizens) and foreigners too need to have their permits.

We started from Tezpur around 5.30 am in a shared Sumo. And as soon as we crossed the boundaries of Tezpur town, the surroundings started to turn greener and fresher. We reached a small town called Bhalukpong, around 1-1.30 hrs drive from Tezpur. Bhalukpong is the place where all the shared taxis hault for morning snacks. We bought some chips, water bottles, gums for the journey ahead. 

On the way to Bomdila
On the way to Bomdila
A passing Army Convoy 
After a drive of approximately 6-7 hours we reached Bomdila. Bomdila is a small town, and it mostly acts as a transit point for people travelling to Tawang and beyond. We decided to stay over in Bomdila at Lungta Residency. It's a family run hotel and with very good service; though it's priced on a little higher side. After we dumped our luggage in the room, we decided to take a stroll in the town. We couldn't do much, as it was raining and getting dark.

Monastery at Bomdila

Fresh mint tea at Lungta Residency

Evening in Bomdila

We got up next morning to a brilliant BLUE SKY.

We had booked a cab for 5.30 AM, but as usual it was late. If you are travelling to Tawang for the first time I would say don't take a share cab. It only stops at its regular places and for a very short time. Thus, you won't get an opportunity to stop at some of the great spots on the way and click some breathtaking pictures. We hired a cab; being festival time in Tawang it was damn expensive. We had to spend Rs. 5500 for a Maruti Alto. But generally the taxi prices are very high in hill stations here in north-east as roads are mostly pathetic and therefore it calls for quite a high maintenance cost.

We were pretty excited about the journey ahead. I was very very excited as I heard from some of the locals that it had snowed in areas near Tawang last night. In anticipation of heavy snow, our driver stopped in Dirang to pick up stuff that could get us through if we were stuck. While the driver was shopping I decided to take a walk and was able to get some nice pictures. Dirang is a cute little town.

A street in Dirang
A general store in Dirang
After a drive of almost five hours (don't remember it exactly) my excitement knew no boundaries. I could see some snow at a distance and higher we went it was getting whiter and suddenly snowflakes. It was snowing. WOW! WOW! WOW! that's what I screamed. Literally. I was super duper thrilled, it was my first ever tryst with SNOW. I was over the top and my friend couldn't stop laughing looking at me. But I least cared. Had waited whole my life for this moment. I couldn't control, asked the driver to stop the car, got down and went crazy. It was end of April, which made it even more awesome.

Wannabe SRK :P
We started again after some 20-30 minutes of playing with snow, posing for some self obsessed pictures. After driving for 30 minutes approximately we reached SELA PASS, one of the highest motor able passes in the World. SELA Pass is located at an elevation of 13,700 feet, 78 kms from Tawang and is the main road connecting Tawang with rest of India. We got down from the cab, and first thing I saw was the SELA LAKE and my instant reaction was "if there is heaven, this is it, this is it, THIS IS IT".

I think the post is getting too long, more about the trip in the next one. VERY SOON.

Friday, October 9, 2015

I am BACK :P

Thanks to the motivation from some of my close friends I have decided to blog again. Now on it won't be gossip about college days, the reason why I started this blog; but about my travel experiences that inspire me every now and then in my creative activities and gives me much needed break. 

I have been born and brought up in Assam, lived in Dibrugarh during my childhood days before I headed out to India's capital city for my higher studies. I finally returned to Assam due to unavoidable circumstances. But I feel it has been a blessing in disguise. Returning to Assam has helped me build my own brand and has given me the opportunities to travel the north-east which I hadn't explored all this while. But as they say, it's never too late. 

I start blogging again with my trip to Cherrapunji, allegedly the wettest place on Earth. I have had heard and read about Cherrapunji all throughout my formative years, but never bother to visit the place. If I look back now, I regret it. Anyways. Finally a sudden outburst of emotions gave me an opportunity to travel to Sohra (popular name for Cherrapunji) on weekend trip with my cousins. It was peak of monsoons in North-East India, and I would say best time to visit Meghalaya, as its LUSH green and waterfalls in full bloom everywhere. 

We drove directly to the town of Cherrapunji, about 4-5 hours drive from Guwahati. The drive was breathtaking. The view of the open lands was mesmerizing and absolutely romantic (unfortunately I was with my cousins).

Umiam Lake
On the way to Cherrapunji
After reaching Cherranpunji, we started with typically typical tourists spots. We went to the Seven Sisters Fall, The Caves at Sohra, The Eco Park, and a couple of more places, which I don't remember as we didn't find them exciting enough. Seven Sisters Falls is a good spot for clicking a selfie, a view point at the Eco Park gave an awesome view of the neighboring Bangladesh and caves were just ok, over-crowded. I always prefer doing all touristy stuff first and then explore further. 

Seven Sisters Fall
View of Bangladesh from Eco Park in Sohra
As the sun sets early in this part of the world, we had to call it a day. We drove back to the resort we were going to stay that night. It's about 25 kms before Sohra. The resort is called Cafe Cherrapunje and we were pretty impressed. As it was full tourist season we had to stay in the tent outside. Tent was pretty decent, but we couldn't sleep much as the drizzle during the night made noise on the tent surface. But one has to be prepared for this as it rains mostly during the nights in Cherrapunji. 

Tent at Cafe Cherrapunji
Next morning we decided to go to the Double Decker Root Bridge (DDRB), which I had recently heard about from a friend from Mumbai. She had recently visited. Such a shame on me. During our drive to the village of Tyrna, from where the trek to the DDRB starts we got to see some stunning skies. We started our drive at 4.45 am from the resort and it was bright day light. Village of Tyrna is located about 1-1.30 hrs drive from town of Cherrapunji. In the northeast mentioning of kms don't really give you a time estimate of a journey, as roads are hardly well kept. 

Morning Sky
The Morning Sky

On the way to Tyrna Village
The trek from Tyrna to the Umshiang Double Decker Root Bridge is about 3000 steps, a couple of swinging bridges, one or two single deck root bridges and lot of stamina. Luckily as we started early, the sun was not harsh and it was not raining, basically a great weather. If it was raining it would have been tough as steps would have got really slippery. We were able to reach the DDRB in not more than 2-2.30 hrs if I remember faintly. But not before some scary moments for me. We had to cross two swinging wire bridges, first one was not that frightening but the second one almost made me cry and I thought of returning. I am scared of heights. But encouragement from cousins did it for me. I was somehow able to cross it. 

Scary Swinging Bridge, it is scarier than it looks. Trust me
We finally reached the now world famous living root bridge. It is considered to be a natural cum man-made wonder and one of its kind in this ever depleting planet. These root bridges are formed by roots of very old rubber trees with the help of the local Khasi tribes of Meghalaya. The roots are channelized by the locals in such a way that they form natural bridges over rivers and streams. The Double Decker Root Bridge is definitely one place that everyone should visit during their trip to North-East/ Meghalaya. As it was peak of monsoon, the bridge and the area surrounding areas were LUSH green. One could only hear the water flowing and that's it. It was very peaceful and a kind of much needed break after a hectic city life. 

The Double Decker Living Root Bridge
Now comes the real tough part. Climbing back. It was almost mid day and sun was as hot as it can get. In the hills sun is always much stronger than the plains. We were biggest fools, we didn't carry any water bottles or food to munch on. If anyone of you ever go trekking there please don't make a mistake like us. During the trek you won't find any shop as such to buy some food or water. We somehow found some taps with water in it. That was the only savior for us. We took much longer to climb back. It was extremely exhausting. EXTREMELY. But on our way we spotted a few pretty butterflies. Whatever said and done, the trek was worth every step we took. 

Butterfly spotted while climbing back
Another one
Everyone visits Cherrapunji to see the rains. We were in Cherrapunji for almost two days now, but hardly got to see any rain. I was a little disappointed but not for very long. While returning from Tyrna village till most of our journey till Shillong, we drove almost in the clouds. It was a little risky as we couldn't see anything beyond 20-30 metres, but who cares. It was INCREDIBLE. 

Literally couldn't see anything