As I mentioned, moving from west to east in Arunachal is difficult because of lack of a trans Arunachal road from west to east and one needs to plan meticulously to break the trip so that you have enough time to come to Assam plains and have time in hand to manage uncertainties of Arunachal. Our plan to was to cover the more touristy western part first mainly because of two reasons, this region is highest and can snowbound anytime after December, so earlier we could cover it is better, second reason is obviously we wanted to avoid the Christmas/New Year crowds in these tourist locations. So we booked an early flight to Guwahati from Kolkata which reaches Guwahati by 7.20 in morning. This is again a little gamble during December in North East as fog may ruin your plan but anyway many times I have seen fog started to become heavier after 6 and fortunately for us it was a clear morning. We arrived Guwahati little late as Guwahati had a foggy condition and flight was delayed by 30mins there. Our first destination would be western Arunachal covering Tawang. No need of much planning required here as this circuit has tourism infrastructure developed already. We contacted Rampal who was once associated with Gayki Khang Hotel in Tawang but now a days shifted his base from Tawang to Guwahati. The person is helpful and in at least in 2 occasions he saved us from ridiculous cheating attempts which are common in this sector. Our requirement was a car like Bolero and driver who at least won’t drink while driving and know how to behave with passengers (this is very difficult to get in this circuit as I have seen many trips here ruined simply because of drivers). Rampal ensured that would happen and introduced me to Dipankar who would be around his late Twenties and drives a Bolero. The rate of car in this circuit is extremely high mainly because of the bad road the car has to encounter through its journey till Tawang. It can vary between 4500 to 5000 a day if you hire it from Assam. If you get a Tezpur line cab (regularly plying between Tezpur and Tawang), you might get it in 3500 range but might face terribly conditioned cars and an extremely unfriendly driver who might start charging you for even a diversion of a km. The Guwahati cars charge you more but if you can manage a good driver (from some contacts) at least your trip would be peaceful. You can take them for any sightseeing in Tawang (which usually takes 2/3 days) but if you travel in winter months, my suggestion would be spend few bucks more but keep your car idle in Tawang and take a local cab for sightseeing on high mountains like Madhuri Lake / Bumla where you would reach a height of 15K ft. The Assam drivers badly lack confidence in high hill driving in snow condition, (and this is generic, don’t think it’s a specific case that happened with me) would elaborate this in depth later.
As we arrived Guwahati, Dipankar, our driver for next 7 days was there with a small token gift from Rampal. The things started well, we left airport and drove through Assam plains in a misty morning. Our first stop was to take breakfast and fill up diesel but before that at the junction where we touch NH52, a truck suddenly took a bad turn and fortunately missed the Bolero by fraction, the tail light was gone, Dipankar stopped the car, found the backlight needed replacement but considering our delay in reaching destination, he didn’t chase back the truck, we felt bad but appreciated his professionalism that he considered about his guests. The journey till Tezpur is non-specific, it’s just like a drive in any Bengal’s highway, the scenery is very same but road conditions are certainly better in Assam. We reached Tezpur in 5 hours from Guwahati with all stops and from there I called up the manager of Nameri Eco Resort, where we are scheduled to stay our first night. From Tezpur we continue through NH52 till Balipara, where we leave the NH and took the straight road towards Bhalukpong. From Balipara to Nameri Eco Camp is 17km out of which last 10km is extremely bad due to road construction. You have to take right just after the board of Nameri National Park to a unpaved road which is difficult to spot if you reach there after sunset. Another 2 km on that unpaved road would take you to Nameri Eco Camp. We reached there around 3.00 in afternoon but during this time sun sets in this part of India around 4.00, so we didn’t have much to explore and neither we planned for that. We kept a full day in Nameri during our return trip and planned to explore the area on that day. The Eco Camp is setup by Govt, Forest Department and local people and very nicely located and provided us excellent warm welcome and we were surprised by the quality of foods and helping nature of their staff in that remote location. There around 13 tents and 2 huts in Eco Camp, we booked the hut and was happy with the arrangement. We were tired, had a nice dinner and retired early for another long day.
Nameri Eco Resort:
We woke up early and Dipankar was ready and we started around 7.30 after taking breakfast in Eco Camp, today our destination would be Bomdila. Now while going from Nameri / Bhalukpong to Tawang, people usually break either at Bomdila or Dirang, Dirang is more beautiful than the small and little congested Bomdila. But we chose Bomdila primarily because Bomdila is at 8000+ ft height would give us better acclimatization before Tawang (10500 ft). Till Bhalukpong check gate the road is bad and once the permit is checked and Arunachal is started, next 20 km road was simply pathetic, you can hardly go at 10kmph speed. The mountains started just after the check gate but it was lush green forested mountains all around, the journey was pleasant except the bouncy road. Till Sessa the road was very bad. From Sessa you would find the road diversion towards Seppa, the district Capital of East Kameng District, we gone straight and the road suddenly became much better and the landscape has started changing, now we realized we were entering high hills, small valleys, fast streams, waterfalls started appearing in both side of the road. But this region would certainly give you a mixed feelings of mountains and rain forests due to its unique nature. We skipped Tipi Orchid Sanctuary, which is another known destination for tourists as it was closed for some reason on that day. The next big town after Sessa would be Tenga and road between Sessa and Tenga is probably the best stretch in the whole Tezpur – Tawang section. We had some snacks at Tenga as we reached there already very late for having dinner and then we started for Bomdila. As I mentioned sunset happens around 4.00pm during this time, we reached Bomdila when almost it’s getting dark and the place was all surrounded by clouds, mists and fogs. We accepted the wet welcome to Arunachal gladly and decided to stay at Bomdila Monastery GH, which might not be the best in town but certainly most value for money. At Rs. 1500 we got a suit with hitting, clean bath room with geyser and balcony. Absolutely loved it, much smaller rooms are being sold in 2000 there and the location of monastery GH is better as it’s slightly out of the main town. We had our dinner (You only could get Veg there) it was indeed tasty and then retired for the day.
Bhalukpong by the side of Jiabharali:
On the way to Tenga:
Bomdila Monastery Guest House:
A Misty evening in Bomdila:
Next day we had a long road to cover, especially Sela Pass, so Dipankar wanted to start by 7.00 in morning, at 6.30 we all were ready but found Dipankar still sleeping, may be it was a hectic day for him back to back. Anyway he was very co-operative and got ready very quickly and we started from Bomdila on a foggy morning. The roads were not at its best but good I would say in Arunachal’s standard. The vistas were nice, all green mountains around covered with fog and clouds, river gushing through deep gorge below, sometimes the valley got opened up suddenly and you would find farming activities in place. It was nice start in a chilly morning, in couple of hours we entered Dirang, another nice valley and we found much sought after Sun for the first time in the day there. Dirang is indeed a gorgeous valley, looks much beautiful than Bomdila but it’s at a much lower altitude (at least 2K ft lower than Bomdila), we already had a plan to stay here during our return journey, so didn’t wait much, we proceeded further and the nightmarish road started just after we crossed Dirang. It was almost a no road condition for almost next 40km which would take at least more than 2 hours. The road widening was going on and it was being completely re-laid and with heavy flow of tourist vehicles, local vehicles and army convoy this was hell of a journey, it was all dust if dry, all mud if wet. The situation changed after Senge where the road condition significantly improved until Baisakhi, an army station before Sela Pass. Now the road started gaining height significantly as we could see the ice beside the road and the snow covered trees just before the Sela. Sela is at almost 14K height and Dirang side always clouded and covered with heavy fog and mist but the Tawang side located in rain shadow was having a clear sky but Sela is notorious for its high wind in the afternoon. We really couldn’t stand the wind for more than couple of mins with heavy woolens, it was so cold. Sela lake was awesome, it was partly frozen and we couldn’t resist to spend some funny moments there, my daughter was super excited as it was her first experience to jump on a frozen lake. But the wind chill and the long road yet to be traveled, couldn’t allow us to wait there for long. We started our downward journey from Sela and after some magnificent vista, we reached Jaswantgarh. Road in this side of Sela is relatively better than the other side. The army war memorial and an army canteen were the points of attraction. The Canteen serves tea free of cost and one of the most delicious Samosa I ever had in my life for just Rs. 5/- I bought one nice army jacket at a throw away price of Rs. 500/-. Some more break and we started further towards Jang, the waterfall there was a major attraction which we decided to cover during our return journey as the light started turning poor by then. Another 40km of tedious journey finally brought us to Tawang and by that time it was completely dark and the road before entering Tawang was really horrible. Anyway as Rampal arranged Hotel Gayki Khang for us, we straight away gone there mainly because of 2 reasons. First was we didn’t want to search hotels with good heating system after such a tiring day and secondly Rampal assured us he would do the needful to get me a Bumla Pass. To get to the Indo-China border at Bumla, you need 2 permits, one from DC office at Tawang and then same has to be produced and countersigned by Army Brigade at Tawang. The first thing after checking in our room, I called up Pabitra who was supposed to get us the permit as per Rampal. He came and collected documents like one photocopy of ILP and one photocopy of any of the Govt issued Photo I-Card like Passport, Voter Id etc. for each one of us. I was surprised when he asked for Rs. 600 for getting this done especially when DC Office was just next to the hotel and the entire process shouldn’t cost much. Anyway I agreed as I had complete trust on Rampal and I really had no time to spend an entire day to do this activity in Tawang, if you have time, especially for those who would keep a day for local sightseeing, may easily do it for themselves. About the hotel, I would say it was clean and nicely located slightly out of main city, you could have a good glimpse of Tawang Monastery from the hotel itself and the quality of food was really good but truly not that value for money, it’s one of the costliest hotel in Tawang. We had a nice dinner and retired for the day.
Bhalukpong – Tawang Road:
Things turn more white as we approach Sela:
Sela Lake from Pass:
Frozen Sela Lake: