A solo traveller memoirs

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A Passage to the Hills
   I first saw her standing in the Viswa Viswani campus in Hyderabad during my study leave. I liked her classic looks and when she started moving, the dugh...dugh...dugh sound of its engine made my heart skip a beat. It was love at first sight. I therefore got myself one - the RE Classic 350 CC Signals Desert pattern through the CSD Canteen in 2020 and since then she has been my beloved. I named her Radhika. Radhika means the beloved of Krishna, one who is full of joy or the one who is wealthy, which she definitely is.She's now my closest companion, trustworthy and temperamental girlfriend and our bonding becomes stronger with every ride.
    India seems a mythical land to most of us and we could never hope to understand such a deep and complex world even if we took a thousand journey across the vast sub continent - the diversity of the regions, culture,people, traditions and the beauty is just mesmerizing. Since 2020 I have embarked on one group ride ie to the pristine Koraput Hills of Odisha and three solo rides in NE, first one to Parsuram Kund,Tezu and Pasighat in Eastern Arunachal Hills,all along the Mighty Brahmaputra and Lohit river, second one to Itanagar via Majuli island, crossing over the Brahmaputra in a ferry wherein the boat was  about to capsize when caught in a thunderstorm which has an altogether different story to tell and now the beautiful Tawang trek. I can summarize by saying :-
"To Every Adventurous Man Upon This Earth;
Opportunity Comes Sooner or Later;
How Can A Rider Explore Better Than Treading Fearful Odds;
For The Exploits Of His Past And Temples Of His Gods"

    Tawang and the lofty Hills  of Arunachal always enticed me and therefore waited for the opportune moment for the snow to melt and for relatively conducive weather  conditions in April/May. After tying up the finer administration and logistics details of the trip,I embarked on a solo Bike trip to Tawang from Jorhat with my Radhika.

*Day 1: Tenga Valley*
Before starting my journey, I anchored the saddle bags on both sides of the pillion seat and placed the Tank top bag carrying essentials like my packed lunch, energy bar chocolates,some medicines, water bottle and my Assamese gamuchha. I had to travel 300 kms in six and half hours. I started at 9AM after breakfast and stopped at Kaziranga, freshned up at the Army company post there, had a cup of Tea and proceeded ahead. It's my routine to take a Butt break after every two hours tentatively depending upon the location. The journey from jorhat to Kaziranga was magnificent given the evergreen beautiful valley of Assam with the Tea gardens and I  maintained the dictated speed limits while crossing the Animal corridor of Kaziranga Reserve Forest. I was also lucky enough to see few wild buffaloes mud bathing in the far distance and a lone Rhinocerous grazing. It was also a great day with Bihu festive season in Assam and i crossed a number of beautiful young girls and children in their traditional Assamese attire and full of cheer. With a cheerful heart i moved on to reach Tenga before last light. I knew the road well having traveled and visited the Nameri National Park last year and was checking on my timelines through Google Maps. I crossed over the Mighty  Brahmaputra and reached the busy town of Tezpur situated on the northern banks of the River. I crossed Nameri Reserve forest and stopped at the Banks of the Jia Bhoroli Rivulet,part of Kameng River where I had my packed lunch of Paratha, sabzi and chilli pickle,freshned up and changed to my heavy Riding jacket,gloves and knee pads since after a few kms from Bhalukpong,I would be climbing the Hills. I crossed Tippi Orchid Sanctuary enroute. It's has a large collection of Orchids such as Catteleya,Dendrobium, Vanda,Paphiopedilum & some Anthuriums in a glass herbarium. I moved on having visited Tippi earlier. The weather was getting colder as I kept climbing the Hills and I had to be deliberate on the turns. At one point of time, met a lone cyclist about 20 years old from Shillong going to Tawang who had snapped his brakes,lost control and rammed into a car coming up from the opposite direction. I stopped, consoled and also counselled him to repair his cycle brakes first and guided him to the GREF people working nearby who could help. I wished him all the best and moved on since i couldn't do much to repair his cycle brakes.After some time near Sessa,it started raining and I stopped to put on my Rain coat which I had packed on the outer pockets of my Saddle bags.The ride was slow with the rains lashing on me and the long trail of Army convoy vehicles passing through. The roads were however black top and well maintained. The rain impeded my movement but the excitement was palpable. By 4pm I crossed Tenga and reached Rupa where I had booked my Guest Room in an Army unit. Had a bowl of hot soupy maggie noodles on reaching the Officers' Mess which felt quite nourishing. The Gorkha jonney deserved appreciation for his culinary skills with the Maggie. For the Journey next day, I checked on my Bike which was purring like a kitten but was low on fuel and due to election season,all Gas stations in Tenga were out of stock. I was stuck, so I enquired from the police on election duty on the road about the situation and was relieved to know that Bomdila and even Tawang always have huge oil reserves stocking in their pumps to last even six months. I was relieved to have a good night sleep for the next day journey .

 *Day 2 : Tawang Beckons*
I started early from Rupa,15 kms from Tenga, after a sumptuous breakfast and packed Lunch. Tawang was 200 kms which i had to cover in six hours on all hilly terrain. I reached the Indian Oil petrol pump in Bomdila Town and energized Radhika. Bomdila has a beautiful Monastery there but I planned to visit it on my return journey. I had to cover a lot of ground. The journey through Bomdila and Dirang Valley was picturesque with valleys, meadows, alpine bushes and the Dirang river flowing downstream. Houses were scattered on the Hills as well as clusters of houses amidst vegetation along the banks of the River. Bomdila as well as the Dirang markets were bubbling with energy. A number of Homestay's were along the road with number of Bikes parked outside which stands testimony to the fact that a large number of Biking enthusiasts were in the region. Some travel Solo and most in groups,with each having its own advantage but only one enthusiasm to ride. After crossing Derang, I took my customary butt stoppage at the Nyukmadung war memorial near Lungrom, munching on an Energy Bar in conversation with a Bengali family visiting Tawang, comprising of the man in his 30s,his beautiful wife in mixed attire of both modern and traditional and their cute little daughter who was full of questions. Traveling truly is a part of education. From here the meandering road with blind curves became more pronounced. The roads were beautiful, dark and wide, and I had miles and miles to go before I reach. My salute to the BRO for giving us an opportunity to enjoy the smooth hilly curves.I crossed the Baisakhi cantonment and took the beaten track to Sela top and Sela pass instead of the Tunnel.
Though I was wearing my thermal inners, my Enfield jacked and gloves,still I could feel the chill inside while climbing to the Sela Top.There was snow besides the road and it reminded me again of the extreme diversity of the geographical regions of India - when the rest of the country was reeling in extreme heat in May, it was extreme cold here with snow. Sela top is 13700 feet above sea level.There's a cafeteria at Sela top with a Bukhari, I found some bikers having hot maggie,some snacks,tea and lots of election gossip. Election season it was and the largest Democracy of the world had to choose their Bahubali.The excitement was palpable in the environment. I just warmed my fingers over the red hot Bukhari and took a leak which seemed to get vaporized.Thereafter I clicked some pictures of the ethereal Sela lake almost seemed frozen in time amidst snow all around it. Some school children had come on picnic in a Bus and were playing with the snow and I didn't mind being hit by an isolated volley of a missed snow ball. It made me feel connected to the ecosystem. I even saw a newly married couple at Sela. Tawang is also considered as a popular honeymoon destination in North East. One need to be a Yak in such a region for sustainability but I found lots of cheerful Faujis in the region oblivious to the cold climate,always in the Line of duty. Guess we have adapted adequately and 'Ready'.

   'Men may come and men may go but I go on forever' is an excerpt from the book- 'The Brook'. Here I felt myself as the Brook because my journey seemed endless and the destination always seemed distant, but it was quite exciting and beautiful at the same time. From Sela Pass I reached Jaswantgarh war memorial. I stopped there for sometime, heard the briefing from a Garwali jawan of 1962 war with China and about RiflemanJaswant Singh Rawat of Garwal Rifles who fought valiantly against the Chinese before succumbing to his injuries. Paid my obeisance, had prasad,filled my water bottle from the Army cafeteria there serving hot Rajma-Chawal and Cuddy-Chawal,saluted matyr Jaswant Singh and the brave Garwalis for their indomitable spirit in serving their motherland. It's also considered a pilgrimage for soldiers traveling on the route. It gives a sense of belonging to the soldier community. I had my packed lunch of Paratha-Sabzi ànd moved on with honour and pride towards Jang township.There were a lot of tourists enjoying the hospitality of the Armymen. Enroute throughout the journey, I  crossed numerous Bikers who never failed to acknowledge other bikers by waving and I returned back the gesture with a smile. There seemed to be an unknown camaraderie connect between us as a community- The Biker Community acknowledging the adventurous spirit. In today's time even when neighbors and friends do not communicate with each other,here the Bonhomie touched my heart. The ecosystem further enriched my journey with the flaming Rhododendrons everywhere,  a rare sight made worthy of the journey - One life to Ride. I reached Tawang at 1600h, checked into the Holiday Home,ordered for hot maggie soupy noodles, took out my SLR camera and was appreciative of the huge Buddha statue overlooking the quaint city. The evening Sun lighted up the majestic Tawang Monastry on the western hill slope in golden hues of splendour and grandeur. The beauty mesmerized me in silence. I was in Paradise.

 *Day 3 : Tawang the Chosen Horse* 
Tawang is believed to have derived its name from the Grandiose Tawang Monastery perched on the edge of the ridge running along the western part of Tawang Township.' Ta' means Horse and 'Wang' means Chosen. It is a major holy site for Tibetan Buddhists as it was the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama.There were monks everywhere - peaceful,calm and had a tranquil gaze. It's one of the largest monastery in India and a place of great significance  for Buddhists. It was founded by Merak Lama Lodre Gyatso in the 1680- 81 in accordance to the wishes of the fifth Dalai Lama. The Monastery is a three storey building and has a School, a Library and a Museum.  The Monastery has a huge gilded statue of Lord Buddha in the mainhall,which is breathtakingly beautiful. The Monastery features traditional Buddhist architecture with its white and Maroon buildings, colorful prayer flags,a huge prayer wheel,beautiful murals on the walls and intricate artwork.A lot of tourists and Bikers had come to visit this magnificent temple of God. Old people in groups,families with young children, Bikers and young college girls- all age group of people were present. I met four college girls from Chandigarh who requested me to click their Group photo. Two Bikers visited from as far as Balasore in Odisha. Tawang seemed to be a very popular tourist attraction. I was soaked in the tranquility and spiritual ambience of the place.After my prayers at the Monastery, bought a prayer flag for my dear Radhika which she still adorns with pride.

 I went to the Brigade War memorial and enriched myself with the history and ground realities of the 1962 war. Tawang war memorial is a forty feet structure dedicated to the matyrs of the 1962 Sino - Indian war. The memorial has the names of 2420 Indian soldiers inscribed on it. China had occupied Tawang and reached as far as the Tenga Valley before it went back to the Manmohan line after the ceasefire. The Indian troops fought valiantly with limited resources in hand and it serves as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by our soldiers. The war memorial was a great learning and I silently paid my respects to the brave souls.

In the evening i explored the local market which was bustling with activity. The market had a variety of local handicrafts,woollen garments and souvenirs. I bought a few itens as momentoes of my trip. I purchased two packets of 'Churpi' - the Himalayan Yak Cheese for a friend. It's believed to have great nutritional value and one needs to chew on it being quite hard. I never was a fan of Churpi having tasted one during my Sikkim tenure at Muguthang. I took a leisurely walk around the town, interacted with the locals and immersed myself in the unique culture of Tawang.The clouds roared and rained heavily in the night. Tawang is not a place,it's an experience and I enjoyed the surreal beauty in leisure.

 *Day 4 : Sangestar the Dance of Madhuri* 
 I biked to Sangestar lake from Tawang on the higher reaches of west Kameng hills.Enroute all tourists were stopped and registered to have a pass permit. It was not applicable for me being from the Forces. I crossed the Pang Teng Tso lake - almost frozen with lots of tourists stopping in admiration. I took a Butt break at 'Y' junction and reached Sangestar lake. It was truly a paradise and the azure lake with drift woods surrounded by snow capped mountains was just a cynosore of all eyes. The lake was featured in a Madhuri Dixit (Bollywood actress) dance sequence in the movie Koyla, as a result, it's also known as Madhuri lake. There's an Army cafeteria there which serve hot beverages, maggie and snacks. Satisfied with the visit i moved back to 'Y' junction but couldn't visit Bumla border pass, a few kilometers away from 'Y' junction on the other axis due to a Border Personal Meeting(BPM) between India and China. A lot of tourists were waiting eagerly for the BPM to terminate. I could have ventured towards Zemithang ahead of Sangestar lake but avoided the temptation since the sky was overcast and a solo rider needs to take a lot of precautions. The ride was beautiful. 

 *Day 5 : Mystical Bomdila* 
The return from Tawang was equally an exhilarating journey. Towering mountains, mystical monasteries with colorful prayer flags fluttering in the wind and crystal clear lakes reflecting the sky had already made my journey memorable. I stopped at Nurarang waterfalls,also known as the 'Bong Bong' falls. Its considered the Niagara falls of North East. I was mesmerized by the beauty in power - the water was cascading down the white rocks with a thunderous roar andd i could feel the spray and mist on my face.It arises from the Sela lake. A lot of people were there for picnic,taking selfies and to enjoy the beauty of nature. Nature's beauty in Fury.

I took the Sela Tunnel to reach Bomdila. It was a magnificent strategic infrastructure created to save time and lots of tourists were stationed at the entrance of the Tunnel in appreciation of the architecture. It was opened to public in March 2024 and is the worlds largest bi-lane tunnel of 3000 meters at 1300 feet.I reached Bomdila by 12pm and repaired my bike which had snapped one of the indicator cables due to a minor fall due to imbalance, checked on the air filters, air pressure, tightened the chain and greased it. I visited the Bomdila Monastery, another  place of surreal beauty. Bomdila Monastery is known as Gentse Gaden Rabgyel Lling Monastery. The Monastery is perched on a hill and offers a panoramic view of the town and surrounding hills. The main prayer hall is beautifully decorated with murals and thangkas ie Tibetan Buddhist paintings on cotton, silk,applique usually depicting a Buddhist deity,scene or mandala.When I was having my packed lunch there,two young Buddhist children sat near me and shared my Paratha sabji. On seeing my Tiffin,one of them said, 'मामा ने दिया है Tiffin ' and I said Yes! with a mischievous smile. They were sooo' cute and friendly. I gave them a lot of chocolates before leaving. A few monks were coming back after practicing Archery and they all exchanged a smile with me. They all lived there. They had so much of peace in them. 'Buddham Saranam Gacchami' - I take refuge in the Buddha. I spent some time there soaking in the peaceful ambience and the spiritual vibes of the place. I reached Rupa by 4 pm and demanded for the customary Gorkha speciality - hot soupy masala noodles. 

 *Day 6 : Farewell to Mountains*
The return journey back towards Jorhat, particularly the downhill ride was as beautiful as my onward journey. I was gliding down and humming to the tunes of the Kishore Kumar song, 'जिंदगी का सफर है यह कैसा सफर ; कोई समझा नहीं, कोई जाना नहीं ',reminiscing about the unforgettable experiences and the breathtaking beauty of the Himalayas. Every turn of my bike brought me face to face with awe inspiring  landscapes. Its like stepping into a whole new world where the air is fresher,the skies are bluer and the landscapes are stunning. I stopped at the Jia Bharoli rivulet  near Bhalukpong,took a bath in the river in my Assamese gamuchha, packed my heavy jackets, gloves et all and changed into summer clothes. I crossed Tezpur town, reached Kaziranga Company there and had my packed lunch, otherwise they cater for meals for visitors. I reached Jorhat at 5 pm. A journey of a life time accomplished. There is a saying, ' If the journey is beautiful, you need to worry about your destination ; But incase your destination is beautiful, you don't have to worry about the journey. But in my case both my journey- my ride as well my destination were beautiful.  In conclusion, the journey to Tawang was a perfect blend of adventure, spirituality and natural beauty. It was a journey that tested my endurance, brought me closer to nature and gave me a deeper understanding of the rich cultural heritage of the region. Radhika proved to be my most trusted and lovable companion in my passage to the Hills. 
Jai Hind🙏

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