Monday, November 24, 2014

North of Northeast Part V

After entering Arunachal Pradesh, I was expecting the road would start climbing up immediately with a simultaneous drop in temperature. To my surprise, we are actually descending downhill, towards a valley bottom, surrounded by tall mountain ranges covered with semi-ever green tropical rain forest vegetation. Weather also is turning warmer. Car driver says that this is how the weather is in the Tipi valley, during this season of the year. We stop near the gate of a neatly laid out large property with number of single storied buildings spread well apart.

Picturesque campus of Orchid research station


Bamboo Orchid

This is the Orchid Research centre at Tipi, a Government of Arunachal Pradesh endeavour. The research centre, located about 6 Km from Bhalukpong is spread over a large tract of about 11 hectares of flat land, something rare in these narrow wooded valleys here. It is supposed to have a large collection of orchids as Arunachal Pradesh is known to have more than six hundred species of Orchids. I start walking towards, what looks like a glass house. On my way I see some bamboo clusters with beautiful blue and purple flowers. These are actually not bamboo clusters but something rare, Orchids that look like bamboo .

The glass house

A beautiful orchid blossom

The visit to the glass house proves to be generally disappointing. Very few of the orchids are blooming in this season. Probably we are there at the wrong time of the year. I was actually expecting something that compares with Singapore's Orchidarium, located in the famous Botanical gardens. It may be that my expectations perhaps are set too high. I do see some unusual flowers but nothing much to describe. Being a Government institution, the staff is also not particularly helpful. As a little consolation to my general disappointment, the scientist in charge suggests that we have a look at a plant kept in a wire meshed shed towards the entrance. The plants in that tin shed, turn out to be “Pitcher plants.” An insectivorous variety. These plants are endemic to Khasi and Jaintia hills of Meghalaya. The leaf tips of this plant are shaped into a jug like structure called pitcher. The lid of the pitcher attracts insects like ants and bees. When an insect moves on the mouth of the jug it slips inside. The toxic liquid at the bottom kills the insects and digests the proteins. Having recently seen couple of such plants during my visit to Kaas Plateau, near my home town Pune, watching this plant is really interesting. Sadly, I find it difficult to get any snaps through the wire mesh, though I make some efforts. As walk along, the campus of the centre looks well developed in a way conductive for research work. The facilities include a glass house, museum, herbarium and so on.

Kameng river in Tipi valley

A waterfall on way to Bomdila

Soon we are back on the road and in no time start climbing towards the top of the first mountain ridge or rather foot hills. It is just 2 PM, but the sun has already disappeared beyond the Himalayan foot hills. We cross few waterfalls on the hillside, water drained out from pipes buried under the road to the valleys on the other side of the road. We decide to break for tea at a roadside dhaba. There is a little and neat temple by the side. A very comforting place for many people.

Tea Break

Dusk has started falling and there is not much to see. The enthralling green forest of the morning is gone now; its place now taken by woods that look dark, grim and reserved. We keep driving through the spreading darkness. I see a village name signpost flash by, which says the name as “Dedza.” After this, the road again starts descending into a valley and I doze off. I wake up again as the car stops at a checkpoint, somewhere in one of the valleys at a place called “New Kaspi.” After this, we are passing through series of military camps one after another. After “Tenga” camp and a direction signboard that says “Rupa” camp, the road starts climbing again. There seems to be some major road widening work going on because the road is in very bad condition. It has been a very long drive and I am feeling quite tired. At long last we reach the top and I see a board welcoming us to Bomdila. I know we have arrived.

Situated on a Himalayan ridge known as “Piri,” Bomdila is a typical dusty hillside town of about 8000 people, with houses built on sloping grounds, narrow and bad roads with sharp bends. The car stops near a hotel and I get out. After the warmth of the valleys, I am hit with the chill outside with temperature already in single digit Celsius. Perhaps I am feeling it more so, because I have been travelling throughout the day, through the warmth of the valleys and the change is too sudden. I rush to the hotel, find my room and switch on the heater. I am too tired now to think about anything else. It is time for a warm dinner and sleep.

I wake up and peep through the curtains. Outside, the hillside town is bathing in brilliant sunshine. The terraced houses, continuously curving roads and all pervading green simply enchants me. Regardless of what I thought yesterday night, Bomdila is a beautiful place. The green foliage around however, looks quite different. Yesterdays's semi-tropical rain forests have all disappeared and have been substituted with groves of conifers with their sharp pointed leaves. I get ready, have a quick breakfast and step outside in the warmth of the sunshine. The cool brisk air has a magical effect. Gone is the tiredness of evening and I am ready for another day's sight seeing.

Bomdila Monastery

Our first stop is the Bomdila monastery. One needs to climb up more than 200 meters to reach the place. As we climb up, I see a little road sign on left that says “Circuit House.” This was the very place, where two tanks were stationed by Indian army during 1962 war for defence against Chinese infiltrators attacking Bomdila from a pass near the monastery high ground. The road to monastery is of good quality and leads to the forecourt, where enough parking places are available. I alight from the car and walk towards the main prayer hall. The monastery is actually a modern institution founded in in 1965-66. It is believed to be a replica of Tsona Gontse Monastery in Tsona, south Tibet. On closer look, I find that instead of usual wooden construction, it has been built from RCC concrete pillars and beams, though shaped to look like wooden beams. For Bomdila's monks, modern construction probably means much better comfort and ease but for visitors there is lack of interest as there is no antiquity or old world comfort around. Since the main prayer hall is closed for construction work, I just go around, turn the main prayer wheel few times and enjoy the fabulous views of Bomdila.

The south valley; Bomdila

As I look at the south valley, it becomes crystal clear to me, why fall of Bomdila on 18th November 1962 to Chinese, was a huge disaster for Indian army. The “Piri” ridge is the nearest major Himalayan ridge, that separates the Tezpur plains from hilly areas in the north. Bomdila pass, (roughly at an altitude of 2600 meters) is one of the lowest passes in this “Piri” ridge, where rest of the passes are at much higher level. Bomdila is therefore the easiest gateway to Tezpur plains. Whosoever controls Bomdila, would control the entire area up to Brahmaputra river. (There is actually another road, which starts from “Rupa” village situated near about Tenga camp on the road to Bomdila and goes through “Manda La” pass to connect to the Bomdila-Se La road at Dirang. But this route is longer and not so well developed as reported by a source.)

 Hills behind Monastery;  Rib La pass is located in these hills

After enjoying the views, we decide to leave. The actual Bomdila pass is about 2 Km north of the town. It is actually at an lower altitude than the town. While passing through, we see a glimpse of a snow clad peak, which our drivers says is the mountain ridge near Se La. The other route in to the Bomdila town is from the west and enters the town from another pass known as Rib La, which has a higher altitude of about 2900 meters. Though no one uses this route now, Chinese had attacked Bomdila from both the routes. Th e westerly route enters the town from near abouts of Bomdila monastery, we had just visited.

After passing through Bomdila pass proper, the road descends all the way to a deep river valley and runs along the river lowing at the bottom. The road is undergoing major reconstruction and is in a fairly bad condition. The valley of Dirang is perhaps one of the best tourist spots in this sector. I am not sure about the name of the river flowing next to us. It is being commonly referred as Dirang Chu or Dirang river in commercial literature, but the maps describe it with various names such as “Khouma River” or “ Tommapka Chu.” What is certain is that this river originates somewhere near Bhutan border and is called as “Pubrang Chu.” there. It flows eastwards through Dirang town and ultimately merges with “Kameng river.” taking several names on way. In Dirang valley itself, several rivulets such as Sangti, Dampu and Chouhhow join this river from both north and south. Another rivulet flowing from south has been indicated in one of the maps as “Dirang Chu” making the confusion supreme. I would therefore just call this river as Dirang river (whatever may be the correct name!) and leave aside the controversies.

Dirang River

The driver points out to a road branching off towards left. He says that this road goes through a pass known as Manda La and directly connects with the Tezpur road near “Rupa” village, signboard for which I had seen yesterday. I immediately recollect something about this road I had read earlier. This road was also infiltrated by the Chinese soldiers in 1962 war and they had taken positions at a monastery known as Lagyala Gompa near the village of Morshing about 20 Km from here. They had turned the direction showing road sign in opposite direction at a road branching to mislead and confuse retreating Indian soldiers so as to ambush them. An army column lead by Lt. Col. Bramhanand Avasthi had reached this spot and sensing something wrong, had split themselves in two groups. Group led by Lt. Col. Avasthi had taken the wrong route towards Gompa and they were ambushed by Chinese. What followed was an epic, hand to hand battle in which all of the 126 Indian soldiers including Col. Avasthi ,were killed along with 200 Chinese. Perhaps Chinese might wanted to use this road to Tezpur plains subsequently. We shall never know the truth.

 Dirang town

As we approach the river bed, I can see crystal clear Himalayan spring water rushing through the river bed making a roaring sound. The river bed is filled well rounded stones and the rushing water creates heaps of white foam at every obstacle in its way. Though the river appears to be rather shallow and perhaps may not be suitable for water sports.

Dirang Basti

The first signpost on the left says that we have passed “Munna camp” obviously an army camp. Dirang valley is stretched over a distance of about 15 Km to from here to another army camp known from another signpost as Sapper. The valley is at a much lower altitude of 1497 meters/4911 feet as compared to Bomdila. This ensures that the weather of this hill station is placid, breezy along the river valley besides being very comforting and pleasing. I see number of small picturesque villages situated by river side till we arrive at a bridge. The cars stop and I get out. As I look towards the other bank, I see some old dwellings. This habitat is known as Dirang Basti. This was a township established by tribal Monpa people, who had migrated here from Tibet some 400 years back. There is an old fortalso, known as Dirang Dzong on the hill but we just do not have time for it. Behind me is the Dirang town.

Confluence of Chouhhow and Dirang rivers

A Kiwi Orchard

We move ahead. The car stops near the confluence of Chouhhow and Dirang rivers. The view from here is just superb. As the blue waters of both the rivers meet and mix, the bright yellow and yellowish brown, paddy and corn fields in the vicinity, dazzle in the blinding sunlight. The crops are ready for harvesting and look at their best from this distance. Upstream is an old steel bridge and beyond stands the huge elephantine mountain branch projecting out from the “Se La” ridge. Behind me are some orchards that look very similar to grape orchards with their tubular steel support frames. They however turn out to be Kiwi fruit orchards. I buy a bagful for Rs. 70/-, an unimaginably low price. We proceed further. Since the old still bridge is under repairs, we take a detour and go through the Dirang town, a buzzing marketplace. We also face even a major traffic jam. On way, I see many signposts such as National Research Centre on Yak, The Regional Apple Nursery, Orchid centre and some monasteries. Dirang with a population of 4000 people, appears to a busy little place complete with traffic jams even.

An old steel bridge

A wooded valley near Dirang

Soon, we are out of Dirang town and are on highway NH229. We cross over the river to the other side after travelling about a distance of 8 to 10 Km. Road now passes through a beautifully wooded valley with Dirang river on the left and the mountain side on the other. Our car comes to an halt. On the steep slope to the right, I see a board saying we have reached the “Nyukmadung” war memorial. A stop we must have, to hounour the brave Indian soldiers, who died in 1962 war.

(To be continued in part VI)

24th November 2014

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