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This is no Doklam!

By Abhijit Masih
Last updated on: February 17, 2018 15:15 IST
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The end of a 2,000 km road trip brings Abhijit Masih to Bumla Pass -- at the India-China border in Arunachal Pradesh.

Part 1: How we drove through UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam in 3 days

Bumla Pass

On the Indian side of the border at Bumla Pass.
Photograph: Adnan Abidi/Reuters.


The best stretch of the journey, which began in Uttar Pradesh, is the last leg from Dirang to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh.

From Dirang Valley you climb up to 13,700 feet at Sela Pass and then down again to the Tawang valley at 8,700.

Do not be surprised by the road going from really bad to holy@#$@! The Border Road Organisation have done a brilliant job, but in land slide prone areas, all the paving and tarring goes downhill, literally.

However, all the roads are motorable.

When we finally reached Sela Pass, it was -2ºC and windy.

Inclement weather notwithstanding, Sela Pass is a treasure. The warm coffee at the military cafeteria and the fresh momos were like manna from heaven.


Snaking up to Sela Pass

Snaking up to Sela Pass.
Photograph: Abhijit Masih.


You might want to stop again at Sela Lake, which is just as beautiful and was slowly freezing up when we reached there.

Among the other pit stops that you will surely take is the one at Jang, just short of Tawang.

The Nuranag Falls at 100 feet high is one of the most breathtaking falls in India but unknown to many. There are steps that you could take to walk down to the bottom of the fall, where it meets the Tawang river and forms at least a Class IV rapid.

It is no surprise that there is heavy deployment of troops all along the route.

As a mark of respect, every person in uniform or without, stops at Jaswantgarh, the memorial to Rifleman Jaswant Singh Rawat MVC, who sacrificed his life but held his post during the Chinese aggression.

Some of the pit stops you won't be able to resist.
Photographs: Abhijit Masih.


The road from Sela pass to Tawang is all down hill and gives you scenic views of the valley and the town from various vantage points.

A giant statue of a seated Buddha dominates the view, besides the glittering Tawang monastery in the setting sun.

It took us eight hours to reach from Dirang to Tawang with all our stops and we had quite a few.

Tawang monastery

In Tawang, a giant statue of a seated Buddha dominates the view, besides the 400-year-old monastery.
Photograph: Abhijit Masih.


Tawang is beautiful, with the clouds over the valley somewhat obscuring the views of the mountains surrounding it, the Tawang monastery standing guardian like over the town and the snow capped peaks glistening in the light of the setting sun.

Amongst the many things to do, make sure to visit the war memorial in the evening to pay homage to the 2,420 soldiers who laid down their lives fighting a better equipped enemy with flint guns. Unlike any other war memorial I have seen in India, a soldier gives you a guided tour of the memorial regaling you with the heroic stories and martyrdom of Subedar Joginder Singh PVC and Rifleman Jaswant Singh Rawat MVC.

A sound and light show is held behind the memorial every evening, which is also worth a watch.

How long this journey takes depends entirely on the weather at any given point of time (click on the map for a closer look at the route).
Photograph: Courtesy Google Maps.


The drive from Tawang to Bumla Pass, which would have normally taken half a day turned into a full day's adventure thanks to the heavy snow fall on our way back.

The trip to Bumla Pass, India's border with China, requires a special pass issued by the military. Present your photo ID, Inner Line Permit and ₹500 for the pass. There is a military post at 'Y' Junction where you need to present your pass.

The pass is at a height of 15,200 feet and you feel the lack of oxygen and the abundance of chill. You can make use of the military cafeteria and buy some army jackets and boots at the cafeteria. Thankfully, we did or else we would be skiing back on our rears to Tawang.

Madhuri lake

Shungatser Lake is now better known as Madhuri Lake after the song Tanhai Tanhai from Koyla -- featuring Madhuri Dixit Nene and Shah Rukh Khan -- was shot here.
Photograph: Abhijit Masih.


From the 'Y' junction, the road splits.

One goes to the Shungatser Lake, better known now as Madhuri Lake after the actress shot there for the film Koyla. The lake is in a valley, which sits at an altitude of 13,000 feet.

The other goes to Bumla Pass.

India China border at Bumla Pass

China stands across a white line painted on the ground.
Photograph: Adnan Abidi/Reuters.


Bumla Pass seemed more like a reception center for the flag meets that are held there four times a year between China and India than a volatile International border. No barbed wired fencing or big iron gates, just a white line painted on the ground. There was no one on the other side.

This place is certainly far from Doklam.

But we had reached the farthest point of our destination and it was glorious.

From the first sprinkle to getting caught in snow.
Photographs: Abhijit Masih.


It had started to snow the previous night, but it was light -- just sprinkling the trees and making for picturesque backgrounds. But we were in for some heavy snow artillery on our way back.

What took us 2 hours in the morning took us 5 in the evening. The snow came in hard and covered up the road. Sans snow chains on the tyres, it was difficult to keep the vehicle from skidding off the road. Even military and BRO trucks were sliding off the road.

We had to get off the car and walk beside it, pushing from both directions to keep it on the road.

The local Arunachal women riding on the BRO trucks found it pretty amusing and could not resist needling us a bit -- mazaa aa raha hai?

The answer: A resounding yes!


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Abhijit Masih in Arunachal Pradesh