September 30, 2009

Driving through Arunachal

Filed under: Arunachal,Transport — loggers @ 1:20 am

Since the northeastern part of the country has limited rail connectivity and expensive air transport, we decided to drive into Arunachal Pradesh via Tezpur. We halted in Tezpur as we had to get our innerline permits made to enter Arunachal. The DC’s (District Commissioner) office makes the passes upon the presentation of 2 passport photos, a photocopy of an address proof and a form with credentials. The fact that Indian citizens need a visa-like permit to enter an Indian state is vexing. Additionally, the processing is contingent on the officials’ mood and extraneous factors such as the magnitude of Durga pooja donations.

Tawang, a serene hill station, was our base in Arunachal. While on our way to Tawang, we halted at Bomdila for the night. The 160km drive took 8 hours as the state of the roads changed along with the topography as we left Assam for Arunachal. What was a concrete roadway became a dirt track and the lush green plains of Assam gave way to the denser rainforests among the hills of Arunachal. A punctured tire in the midst of the damp, dark forest made matters worse.  Our dawdling driver added to the woes by doing the unthinkable – he induced passenger road rage by consistently under-speeding. The 180km drive from Bomdila to Tawang took another 9 hours as the condition of the roads – or lack thereof – deteriorated. The bouncy traverse reminded us of the Leh – Manali drive.

While in Tawang, we visited the monastery – Dalai Lama’s first stop in the country when he left Tibet for India in 1959. Compared to the monasteries we saw in Ladakh, the Tawang monastery complex was grander as it had a learning center and a residence complex for the lamas. We also visited the Tawang War Memorial – a site which recounts the 1962 battle and commemorates the victims of the war. The town is an interesting milieu of local residents – Bihari laborers, Marwari shop-owners and diverse army regiments coexist peacefully. While we were there, Tawang was readying itself to welcome the influx of tourists from Bengal who prefer the calm of a hill station over the shrillness of pooja festivities.

Tawang Monastery

Tawang Monastery

Having covered the Indo-Pak border on the western front, we were keen to visit the Indo-China border at Bumla, 38km from Tawang in order to compare the two boundaries. We spent a day trying to secure the permits required to visit the border – shuttling between the DC office and the army verification center. Next morning, our hired Toyota Innova took a severe beating as it negotiated the uphill, rocky terrain while SUVs drove up relatively comfortably. The 3-hour drive was entertaining, thanks to BRO’s (Border Roads Organization) creativity.

On our way back to Tezpur we rested overnight at Dirang, a beautiful valley, about 140km or 6.5 hours from Tawang. The drive to Tezpur via Bomdila took another 7 hours drive as election campaign and army convoys joined the incompetent driver and the cruel paths to keep us on the road for a record time. The experience was also stressful for those trying to get in touch with us on our non-BSNL mobile phones.

View from lodge in Dirang

View from lodge in Dirang

That Arunachal follows a matrilineal system was conspicuous as we drove through the state. Women were performing labor intensive tasks such as road leveling and water collection while men were probably looking after domestic chores. Most villages we passed through had wooden residences, NREGS advertisements and a convenience store. Notorious kids with toy guns gesticulated at us at every turn. The toy guns were pooja gifts and, perhaps, symbols of aspiration in an area where armed sentry is ubiquitous. We passed by several functional army camps, setup after the 1962 defeat, which reminded us of the security cover we saw in Kashmir.

Women labourers on the road to Tawang

Women labourers on the road to Tawang

The tourism department markets the northeast – quite rightly – as “paradise unexplored.” In addition to incredible views, waterfalls greeted us every so often. The state was abuzz with political activity which manifested itself in the electoral paraphernalia that decorated the houses. We wondered if pre-poll promises included better roads and telecommunication.


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