North of Northeast


In the year 1962, when the border war with China broke out, I was still studying in the college. It was then that most of people from India became acutely aware, perhaps for the first time, about the North-east region of India and particularly the region of NEFA or North-east frontier agency, which till then was just an area in the north-east corner of the map of India. Ladakh sector, which was another theatre, where war had also broken out, was relatively known to people, because of Pakistan aggression in 1948.
In the later decades, the region came to limelight, unfortunately only for the wrong reasons like armed struggles and insurgencies of the Mizo and Naga tribes, huge illegal migrations of Bangladeshi Muslims, large scale smuggling across Myanmar border and finally all pervading repeated floods of the mighty Brahmaputra river, which caused unimaginable devastation every year.
Over the years I have been rather keen to visit both these theaters of 1962 war 
 and pay my homage to the soldiers, who had fought great and heroic battles against better equipped and numerically strong Chinese army. However it was practically impossible over all these years, for anyone to get Government permissions for visiting these sensitive border areas. Both these regions, namely Ladakh and NEFA, now rightly renamed as Arunachal Pradesh or land of rising sun, as it is the first region of the country that sees sunrise every day, require a special permit known as inner line permit to be obtained if one wishes to visit these regions. It is only now that the Government policies have been somewhat relaxed and tourism is easily possible.
I did my Ladakh trip, couple of years back and could visit Nubra valley and Pangong lake areas fulfilling my long overdue wishes. During that visit, I had paid my homage to brave and heroic soldiers at the war museum in Leh and also on the pristine bank of the mighty Pangong lake. A battle, which can rightly be called as mother of all battles, was fought only a few miles away from here at Rezang La by Maj. Shaitan Singh and his company. On the banks of this lake I had decided also to visit Arunachal Pradesh at an earliest opportunity and complete my so called pilgrimage.
The opportunity came up this year, when an old group of friends were planning a visit to North-east and asked me, whether I would be interested in joining them. All formalities such as Inner line permits, selection of tour operator and the reservations were to be arranged by them. Absolutely thrilled and overjoyed at this God sent opportunity, I accepted the offer almost immediately and finally here was I, on my Spicejet flight to Guwahati, capital of the Assam state of India, famous for its tea and one horned Rhinos.
Flying to Guwahati from my home town Pune is not a simple one hop affair. Even by road, the distance works out to more than 2500 Km. By air, one has to fly either to Kolkata or Delhi and then on to Guwahati. We had selected the later route because it involved shorter waiting at Delhi. Thus, earlier in the day, I had reported at Pune airport around 5.45 AM for boarding the Spicejet flight to Delhi taking off at 7.25 AM.
The flight to Delhi was smooth and uneventful with our arrival at terminal one, around 9.45 AM, even though the seating and particularly the leg space were far from what could be considered as comfortable. The arrangements for transit passengers, who have booked for onwards flights are bit weird at this terminal. You need to exit the airport, take a long circuitous route, go up in an elevator to reach the departure lounge. Since the scheduled arrival time at Guwahati was after 3 PM and we had a layover period of more than 2 hours at Delhi, we utilized the same to enjoy some nice stuffed "Alu Parathas" followed by spicy tea.
Our next flight from Delhi was announced in time. We trooped out to the aircraft, but saw the port side wheels of the aircraft removed and the aircraft partially sitting on a jack. We were still asked to board the aircraft. I was given a seat next to a window on the port side, from where I could clearly see what was going on. Some technicians in fluorescent yellow jackets had arrived with a lift platform and had brought along a huge white drum like thing, which had looked like a wheel brake drum to me. Another half an hour had passed and nothing had happened. We kept sitting in the congested seating space inside the aircraft. Finally an announcement came over PA system that we were leaving and I had heaved a sigh of relief.
As expected, the two and half hour flight to Guwahati is turning out to be rather boring and dull, as there is not much to do. Many of the co-travellers have dozed off. Unable to sleep, I switch on my trusted iPod and get lost in the melodious world of Indian classical music. After flying for about two hours, we are being told that we shall be soon landing at "Bagdogra" airport, a transit stop really. The Bagdogra airport is situated amonst lush greeen foliage and surroundings appear refreshingly green. This airport is a military airbase and I can see many helicopters standing on the tarmac. After a delay of about 40 minutes or so, we are airborne again.

A passing show: Himalayan peaks as seen from the aircraft window
From my port side window, I look out. At an altitude of about 36000 feet, there is nothing much to see except for the white floating clouds that appear at a much lower height. I glance at the horizon, which is actually towards north as we are flying eastwards. Accustomed to see, when flying at these kind of heights, only bright blue sky above the white floating clouds, I have a surprize of my life when I see snow clad mountain massifs, ridges, spurs and peaks bursting out of the sporadic cloud cover below, almost in a continuous line.
There is no doubt in my mind that, what I am watching through the window is a grand passing parade of the massifs and spurs of the mighty Himalayas. A breath-taking show by any standards. The Himalayas are so huge and so much above my wildest imagination that there is no other feeling in my mind except feeling of extreme humbleness as I see this greatest spectacle on earth.
As the Himalayan splendour ends, another one begins, though on ground below this time. I can see the mighty Brahmaputra river with width stretched for miles. As this is the low water season, I can see many sandy islands formed within the river bed. This river forms one of the major river systems on the earth and flows for a distance of 3900 Km before emptying into Bay of Bengal.
 Mighty Brahmaputra near Guwahati
Soon announcement comes that we would be landing at Guwahati's "Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi" airport. The landing is quite smooth, though the aircraft gets parked at some far away remote portion of the apron and some rickety buses appear on the scene to take us to the terminal building situated far away. Since our baggage would be taking the same route, I know that there is long wait. We all decide to have some excellent Assam tea, refreshing brew at its best.
The bags finally arrive and we walk out of the arrivals area, where we are welcomed by our tour guide, who would accompany us for next 10 or 11 days. We troop out again with our unwieldy baggage trolleys to a parking lot. I find eight gleaming white Toyota Innova SUV's waiting for us. We walk to the car allotted to us. I am welcomed by the driver with a bouquet of Xenia flowers, a gesture that is a good marketing move by any standards. Our driver, Mr. Mridul, a youthful guy, has a pleasant face and I feel confident as he would be driving us over next 10 days over some of the most treacherous roads on the surface of our planet. We are also given packed snacks.
But, before we start, we find that one of the rear wheels of our car has gone flat. The wheel is changed in 10 minutes or so and we are off on the road, which leads directly to Guwahati city. The time is around 4 PM and its already dusk. Soon it would be dark. We branch off on highway NH 27 and after about an hour's drive reach Jorbet, a small town. We break here for a cup of tea. As we are enjoying our cuppa, torrential rain lashes the town. The place, where we are having tea has tin roof that amplifies the hammering of the rain to such an extent that I find it difficult even to hear what person sitting next to me is trying to say.
From Jorbet, we take highway NH 6, which follows the Assam-Meghalaya border. The shops on right side of road are in Meghalaya, whereas the ones on left are in Assam. There are low taxes on liquor in Meghalaya state, so the right side of the road has lines of liquor shops. Even petrol and diesel are chepaer in Meghalaya so all the Petrol pumps also are on the right side of the road. We fill up and proceed.
Soon its dark and there is nothing to see on roads except wait for our journey to end, a distance of about 130 KM. The road is quite bad with construction work going on over the entire stretch of the road as it is being converted into a 4 lane highway, when it should take probably just a couple of hours to reach Shillon. But as of now, the road is terrible and dust pervades everywhere. Finally after a long boring journey stretching to about 4 hours, we reach Shillong.
As I step out, I find the night at Shillong to be quite chilly. So its time for a quick dinner and I am off to warmth of a room with a heater. It has been a long day and sleep takes over in just a few seconds.


After a rather tiring day of air travel, I manage to get a good night’s sleep and find myself refreshingly fresh and fully woken up around 5 AM itself in the morning. I slide the curtains provided on the solitary window in my hotel room slightly and have a look outside. It is surprising to see that at such an early hour, the dawn has already broken through the darkness of the night. I realise though, that my watch, showing Indian standard time, is actually slow by at least an hour, when compared with the local time at Shillong. The sun rises in Shillong about an hour earlier, compared to my home town Pune, because it is situated so much in the east. With local time and Indian standard time differing so much, there are anomalies such as sunrise at 5.30 AM and sun setting at 4.30 PM. What is really needed is to have an eastern Indian standard time, something similar to what they have in the US, where east and west coasts have different standard times. But with the bureaucratic set up of mind of the federal Government in Delhi, who cares if people living in some far away parts of country, face practical difficulties such as schools and offices closing well past sunset.
I get ready and after a sumptuous breakfast, get out in the warm late morning sun. The weather is crisp cool, extremely pleasant and reminds me of the winter weather in my home town Pune. The hotel courtyard is nicely designed with number of flowering shrubs and orchids having been planted all around. Some of the shrubs are blooming and the camera enthusiasts from our group get clicking. Soon it is the time to move on our first day's sight seeing.
Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya state of India, is a charming city with a population that touches just about one hundred and fifty thousand. This city, located amongst the "Khasi" hills of Meghalaya, with an average altitude of about 5000 feet, is more like a hill station, with almost all the major roads laid along steep climbs and slopes. I am much reminded of the downtown area of San Francisco city. The city appears quite clean and well maintained. I can see wicker baskets placed on steel frames mounted on the footpaths for garbage collection. The city appears to have a large vehicle population though, as we encounter traffic jams almost on every street corner. A military cantonment is located right in the middle of the city and one needs to crisscross it all the time while travelling within the city. I am reminded of having read somewhere that Shillong is called Scotland of the east, because of its rolling hills. Since, I have never been to Scotland I can not vouch for it, but I like it nevertheless.
Our first destination is what is known as "Shillong peak," a misnomer really. It is just the top of a small hillock having an altitude of 6500 feet. The road, leaving the main city, starts climbing up almost immediately after,and the scenario undergoes a sudden change. I can see lush green foliage at many places with pine and other connifers in abundance with their needle like leaves.I do not see any cones on the trees as yet. In fact this entire hillock appears covered with lush green foliage. More than half of the Shillong peak hillock is occupied by the Indian air force with their Eastern Air Command headquarters built on one side. A huge radar antenna looms on the top of the hill. The tourists still can go to the top of the hillock and see the views but only towards northern direction. It is nevertheless a wonderful drive up and I enjoy every mile of it. On one of the sharp bends, a tree is in full bloom with pinkish white flowers. From the distance, it appears as striking as a blossoming Cherry tree. We are stopped at an entry gate and the drivers are needed to get their names registered with air force authorities. We move on, with even thicker and bigger pine groves, appearing on road sides. We take a sharp bend and finally arrive at the parking ground on the top.
The authorities have built two observation towers that look towards north with winding staircases. I climb to the top of one of them and have a panoramic view of the Shillong city. Far beyond the city and towards northwest, I see a huge reservoir of water, gleaming and shining in late morning sun. The waters are of a huge lake, that supplies water to Shillong and is called "Bada Pani" or huge water. I am not much impressed with the view from the observation tower though, which I feel is quite ordinary. What is far more interesting is a cluster of 9 or 10 shops on hilltop selling curios, souvenirs and odd ethanic things like hats, caps, scarves and shawls.
Everyone in the group, crowds around the shops. One of the shops lets on hire, tribal traditional Khasi clothing, worn by Khasi men and womenfolk. Soon we have 15 or so, ladies from our group, dressed in long black skirts, red blouses and a bright yellow cloth draped around with beaded strings worn around their necks. One of our energetic young male member also dresses himself in a male tribal dress consisting of a red dhoti, black short coat and a brightly coloured red turban complete with a sword and a shield. It is an interesting sight, photo opportunity and great fun for everyone. Rest of us get busy in clicking the snaps. I buy for myself a hat and then spend rest of the time looking for odd stuff displayed in the shops. We are served freshly cut pineapple pieces, which taste quite nice and go well with the upbeat mood of the group.
We move on to our next destination for the day; the elephant falls, which are located roughly about 8 or 10 Km from the "Shillong peak." There is nothing even remotely elephantine about the fall, which is just a large impresive waterfall with water falling in three short steps. The name was given to it by the Britishers, because they imagined that a rock near the falls resembled an elephant. However this elephant shaped rock was destroyed in an earthquake in 1897 and now only the name remains. The original "Khasi" tribal name for the falls perhaps describes it correctly as a three step fall. Our flotilla of cars stops at a parking lot near top of the falls. From here it is a climb down to the bottom and then climbing all the way up.
At the first glance, elephant falls look like a manicured city garden; well cut steps in the rock on a side of the falls, tubular steel railings for support, while climbing and going down. They even have a small bridge across the falls, to approach the side steps that have been cut on the other side of the fall. The water falls in three steps in a disciplined fashion on a well defined course controlled by concrete walls on sides. Just about a month back, I had visited some natural waterfalls at “Thoseghar” near my home town. Compared to those falls, elephant falls look like a domesticated animal; no hint of raging, wild behaviour, There is no wilderness at all here.
Nevertheless, I walk down all the way to the bottom. From here the falls look fairly impressive.
There are a few souvenir shops here too, on the side of the parking lot near the top of the falls. Ladies from our group, again get themselves engrossed in shopping. After climbing back, I sip some nicely brewed hot "masala" tea served by a local woman and relax for a while. Finally, it’s the time to move on again.
Our next stop, 70 Km away, is at "Sohra" town; commonly known as "Cherrapunji." It is one of the wettest places on the surface of earth. In preparation, I have been carrying a raincoat with me just in case the downpour starts during the visit. We take state highway 5 leading to the south. The road appears to be in moderately good conditions, however I keep seeing scores of landsides on both sides of the road with huge, yellowish brown tinged, large sized boulders strewn around with heaps of clay of similar hue.
I feel confused about the landslide theory as how can there be so many of them on a short patch of road. Then I see some of the trucks ferrying on the road. They all carry either sand, gravel or cut and chiselled stone bricks. It is obvious that quarrying is being done here on a huge scale probably to feed the construction activity in the area. Seeing the colour of the boulders and the gravel, I get a feeling that they are probably limestones or sandstones. However a lady in our group, who is a geologist, confirms that the stones are actually of a special variety of granite known to geologists as Gneiss.
According to wikipedia, Gneiss is a common and widely distributed type of rock formed by high-grade regional metamorphic processes from pre-existing formations that were originally either igneous or sedimentary rocks. It is often foliated (composed of layers of sheet-like planar structures). So much so for the Geology, what is important to me is that these are granites. Soon the landscape changes with the lush foliage of pine and conifers all disappearing as we reach the plateau, on which "Sohra" town is located. The land is all barren now with just a few shrubs growing that too at some spots only. The plateau however is not flat or a tableland. There are series of small hillocks, almost of half-round shape, around. I was expecting plenty of vegetation, considering the fact that this place gets an average rainfall that is in the vicinity of 10000 mm every year. However surprisingly the landscape is devoid of any big trees. All that I can see around are some shrubs and grass that is yellowing. This perhaps is due to fact that rainfall in the months of November to January is minimal here. There is no chance of rain today also. This means that we would miss to experience the famed “Cherrapunji” showers.

The cars stop near an impressive building that houses the "Ramkrishna Mission School." This school was founded in 1924 by Swami Prabhanandji of Ramkrishna order, who was inspired by the prophetic message of SwamiVivekananda. We are here however not to visit the school, but to visit a small anthropological museum that consists of just two large rooms on the first floor. I climb the stairs overlooking the courtyard of the school and a giant statue of Swami Vivekananda. The museum hosts a fairly large number of exhibits that concern the tribal people of Meghalaya; the Khasi, the Garo and the Jaintia tribes. Their traditional clothes, the gadgets and appliances manufactured by them mainly from bamboo and used by them for catching fish, smoking tobacco leaves, playing music are all nicely displayed along with lots of anthropological information. Models of typical tribal houses and villages of these three tribes also find a place. I however find that it is virtually impossible to remember much of what I am seeinghere, because photography is prohibited for unknown reasons and can only mention my general observations. I see number of old ladies selling Cinnamon pieces and bay leafs found in the forests in the valleys outside of the school buildings for tourists like us.

We continue with our southward journey till we reach almost the end of the plateau ending into a deep valley with almost vertically cut rock faces. In fact, this kind of geographical situation is the basic reason for "Cherrapunji" to get all that world beating rainfall. The monsoon clouds from the Bay of Bengal, fly unhindered over the plains of Bangladesh, before they hit the Khasi hills. The rains push the clouds up to the height of more than 4000 feet through the deep valleys on the "cherrapunji plateau" and cause extreme rainfall here. I find that the phenomenon exactly similar to what happens on Western Ghat mountains in Western India.
There is a small restaurant near the cliff face and we have hot lunch here, which turns out to be quite enjoyable in the given setting. Just ahead of us is one of the major attractions of "Cherrapunji;" The Nohkalikal falls. After lunch, I walk to the edge of the cliff, where nice observation galleries have been built. I see in front of me a deep valley, almost semi-circular in shape, the bare cliff faces cut off in straight vertical lines and are devoid of any vegetation. Near the top of the cliffs, on the lower side and everywhere else, there is plenty of thick green foliage. Around the middle point of the semi-circular cliff top, a huge stream of water suddenly bursts out of the foliage and falls hopelessly down to a height of 1115 feet and crashes in a pond at the bottom, creating a cloud of mist. This water plunge is tallest in India and fourth tallest in the world. I stand near the cliff face, totally mesmerized by the fury and anguish of the falling water. It is wilderness at it's best. Local tribes associate with the fall, a gory tale of a young woman, who had jumped off the falls and has given her name to the fall.

There is another observation point at a lower level with paved steps. The view from here is even better. I take few snaps and reluctantly realise that its now the time to move on. I am back to the parking ground and we motor further in southern direction still keeping to the plateau. We are actually going along a circuitous route along the edge of the plateau. Our driver tells me about another water fall on way called "Seven sisters fall," but adds that there is no water there in the fall. From there we start moving northwards and enter a densly wooded area known as Ecological park, signalling that the "Sohra plateau" has perhaps ended. The road is also known as "Sohra-Shella road." 

The cars stop near a vista point with a slightly rusted board on display, which describes the place as "Kho Ramhah or Mow Trop." As I stand on the age of the cliff, directly in front of me is a natural wonder; a monolith rock formation approximately 200 feet high that resembles a huge upturned conical wicker basket used by Khasi people. It is a sight worth seeing no doubt, but what interests me more is what I see lying beyond the rock and ahead almost stretched to the horizon.

Roughly a thousand feet below, the hills end abruptly and a vast stretch of flatland with scores of lakes, small and big, and all interspaces filled with wetland marshes and lush green paddy fields stretches to the horizon. This is the Sylhet province of Bangladesh and seems to contain every possible shade of green. I can see the Indian border fence about 30 or 40 Km away as a sharp black line through my binoculars from this height. It was in this area, where Indian Army's first heliborne troops had attacked between 7th and 15th December 1971, against the Pakistani defences during Bangladesh liberation war. The scenario before me is so spell binding that I have to be reminded that we need to move on.
We continue our southwards journey and soon reach the last bit of today's sightseeing plan; The Mawsmai cave. To venture into unknown dark world of a cave is not exactly my piece of cake, but I have seen at least one of them earlier. I can recollect a visit to Luray Caverns in the state of Virginia in US, where weird shapes formed by dripping water containing Stalagmites and Stalactites surround you. The Mawsmai cave is a typical example of this type but is of very short length;just 150 meters. Our cars stop at a huge parking ground and we climb a short flight of steps lost in dark dense foliage, to face the mouth of the cave. The cave has a spacious opening and is well lit with electric lights and I can see the weird rock shapes hanging from the ceiling and formed on the wall. I am in two minds, whether to proceed, because of the severe foot pain and a general constrain on my left leg movement, because of a flat foot problem that has developed since last several weeks. I enter the cave and proceed for about 20 or 25 feet inside the cave. But the cave is now squeezed into a small neck. The cave also haapens to be a one way road and in the middle region, there are places, where you've to bend and squeeze yourself out. Considering the state of my left leg, I become accutely aware that probably I may not be able to make it as at number of places the cave bottom is quite slippery. I finally give up and return back the same way I had entered. It is no doubt a disappointment but there really was no chance of my completing the journey through just of 150 meters.
Its dusk already and a hot cup of tea welcomes me at the point from where I had started for the cave. We start back for Shillong and reach there right at dinner time. Somewhere on the way, the rain catches with us with a blinding fury. There was no rain at Cherrapunji, where I was expecting it. I keep wondering about the vagaries of nature. However, back at the hotel, It is  the time for a warm dinner and bedtime as the night had already turned chilly.


Another beautiful morning in Shillong. We have some more sight seeing to do before Lunch, after which we start our return journey back to Assam. Historically speaking, Christian missionaries have been active in the entire Northeast area of India from early days of British Raj or even earlier. Meghalaya was no exception. Christian organizations,besides their religious activities, have been also carrying out philanthropic and cultural activities in this state. “Don Bosco Centre for Indigenous cultures” is one such organization set up in Meghalaya. This centre has established a state of the art museum in Shillong, which can aptly be called as pride of Shillong. This museum, totally dedicated to tribal cultures of Northeast India, occupies 5 floors of a building specially built for it and leaving aside some superfluous galleries such as “food gallery” it still has as many as 15 individual display galleries that interest me and in addition there is a skywalk on the terrace.

Before we start, I have a look again at some of the beautiful flowers blooming in the hotel porch area. I can not avoid the temptation of clicking photographs of some of them today, which I had avoided so far. We start after some delay and finally are on our way to see the Don Bosco museum. The museum entrance is from a large court yard bound by several large buildings except for on one side, where the approach road has been constructed. The entrance gate to the museum, located in one corner, looks quite deceptive as it appears to be that of a chapel. The entrance gate leads to a long curving passage with several garishly painted fiberglass statues, placed in recesses created on both sides of the passage. The museum brochure says that these 22 statues, descriptive of tribal and other people of northeastern states, welcome the visitor and calls the area as Alcoves gallery. At the end of this passage, there is a restaurant specializing north-eastern food, a reception cum sales counter.

We are welcomed here by an asst. curator of the museum, who explains the theme of the museum; to highlight all facets of the culture of north-eastern states such as geography, people, weather, crops, dances, history, arts and crafts and finally traditional technology.

As I mentioned earlier, the museum occupies five floors, two in basement and three above ground. Fortunately there is an elevator to give some relief to our tired feat. Here is a listing of some of the galleries, which I like .

Pre-history gallery describing the pre-history of tribal world and its significance to south-east Asia.
Land and people's gallery that introduces topographical richnes of region
Fishing and hunting gallery displaying number of creative tools used for fishing,hunting and gathering used by tribal people.
Traditional Technology gallery that looks at the economic life of the people of this region
Crops and agriculture gallery.
Basketry weaving gallery
Musical Instruments gallery
Costume and ornaments gallery- One of the most popular and favoured galleries.
Weapons gallery

After spending couple of hours at the museum, we all collect at the auditorium on the top floor, where we see a film about people from north east. A door on the side of this auditorium leads me to an open terrace on top of the building. A well designed stainless steel caged walkway, called as skywalk by the museum, takes me round the terrace, offering fabulous views of the beautiful city of Shillong.

After the visit is over, we all return to the hotel for a quick lunch and checkout. As our car flotilla moves out, my mind is filled with sadness for having to leave this beautiful city, but the car driver tells me that we have yet to visit Shillong's most popular tourist spot, “Bara Pani.”

Bara Pani”or Umiam Lake is a huge water reservoir, located in the rolling Khasi hills, about 15 km to the North of Shillong. It got created when the Umiam river was dammed in the early 1960s. The lake is so huge that the principal catchment area of the lake and dam is spread over 220 square km. Our cars stop near a visitor's spot. I get out of the car. Spread ahead of me, is a vast blue sheet of water with little islands with a few trees, in between. Because of the natural greenery that has grown around, it has developed into a stunningly picturesque and pristine sight that comforts the eye and is simply unforgettable. The lake provides many recreational facilities such as boating. Reluctantly, I move back to the car as we have a long way to go today.

In no time, we are back on that terrible Meghalaya-Assam road or Highway number 6 to Jorbet. On the entire stretch of about 70 Km, I see excavators moving around with their big shovels, people breaking stones and operating road making machines. Maybe 3 years down the line this road would become a beauty of a road, but today it is a world of sand, gravel, boulders and too much of all pervading dust.

Only by around 3 PM we finally end the ordeal and torture of this road, as we cross into Jorbet and join the beautiful 4 lane highway NH 27 that joins Guwahati with Nagaon in the east. We decide to have a cup of tea at a roadside dhaba and somewhat freshened, are back on the road. It's already dark when we cross Nagaon and shortly enter one of India's most famous forests “Kaziranga.”

The resort, located towards the west part of this jungle, is quite spacious and rooms are comfortable. After the chilly weather of Shillong, warm jungle weather provides a sudden change, but there are ceiling fans, which appear to be adequate for now. It has been a long day and tomorrow is a day of rest for us with no serious sight seeing planned. We all relax, have dinner and get into our beds. The eerie jungle silence engulfs me like dense fog, before sleep finally comes over.


After spending a day of rest, at the Kaziranga resort, we all are ready today, for another long spell of travelling. For a change, we shall now be travelling to the North and enter the border state of Arunachal Pradesh, before ending the day at “Bomdila,” a beautiful township on mountain slopes of Himalayan ranges with an altitude of about 8000 feet. Yesterday, we made some short outings and visited one or two points on the highway NH 37, from where, wild animals of Kaziranga are usually seen. At one of the points, where wild elephants are sometimes seen, we drew blank as the spot was totally deserted. Luckily, at the other vista point, we were more fortunate to see some rhinos and deer. Our Kaziranga sanctuary safari is actually planned during the return leg of our journey after about a week and I thought that what we saw yesterday, was a kind of a teaser.
We are back on highway NH 37 going westwards till the town of Nagaon and then take a right turn on highway NH 37A. Our first destination today is the mighty Brahmaputra river, located at about a distance of 22 Km, which we would be crossing over to go to our first stop of the day; Tezpur. For first few Km, the landscape is typically rural Assamese, with lush green paddy fields, groves of trees of various hues and shades of green with sprinklings of villages scattered amongst them with red coloured galvanized iron sheet roofing. But as we proceed further towards the river, the human habitats slowly start to disappear, their place being taken by marshy wastelands and grasslands. Every summer the mighty Brahmaputra, pours millions of cusecs of water in this area and this stretch of marshy wastelands get completely flooded. Much area under Kaziranga forest also meets the similar fate each and every year. This is the reason for the sanctuary to close during monsoon months and it reopens only on 1st of November.
I can see now the vast bed of this mighty river stretched almost to the horizon. As we approach the river, the car stops before a police check post. The guards wave to us and we are on the “Kalia Bhomora Bridge” crossing the Brahmaputra. After crossing the bridge, the cars stop near a small hillock. I come out to have a view of the bridge and the surroundings. This 1.3 Km long bridge was constructed during a period of 1981 to 1987. I climb a small hillock to see if I get some better view of the bridge but feel disappointed as nothing can be seen from there. There is also a small red coloured “Shiva” temple on one side of the road. On the left sidewall, from where the actual bridge and its railing starts, bass reliefs of seven female figures representing the seven northeast states are carved in concrete. Though the craftsmanship is just about pass'e, I like the symbolism. The bridge, connecting the city of Tezpur to Kaliabhor town has been named after “Ahom general Kalia Bhomora Phukan, who had defeated in 1671, much larger Mughal forces in a battle known as Battle of Saraighat. The bridge has been named after this general because it is believed that he had made an unsuccessful attempt to build a bridge at the same site in the seventeenth century.

Tezpur city is situated along the north bank of the river. As we enter the city, my thoughts immediately run down the memory lane, because in the 1962 border war, Chinese forces had reached within 70 Km from Tezpur and the inept city administration had almost given up the city. There was complete loss of control on 20th November 1962 with thousands of people fleeing the city by crossing Brahmaputra to the safety of the south. That is history; now Tezpur is a normal thriving city.
Our first stop in Tezpur is at a small hillock named as “Agnighar.” An impressive entry gate leads to a circular stairway for going up the hillock. The entry gate gives a feeling, that the way up would be an easy one. However, as I climb up, I find that it is not so and climbing up in one breath looks quite tough. I reach the crest of the hill. A nice manicured garden and some plat things for children can be seen here. An observation platform made from steel stands here. From the top of this platform, a breathtaking view of the mighty Brahmaputra is so bewitching that I spend quite a few minutes watching and enjoying the grand spectacle. The Bhomora bridge, which we had just crossed, shines in the morning sun towards the left. There are number of statues of some mythological figures and some imaginary encounters between them. A demon king “ Banasura” his daughter “Usha,” her companion “Chitralekha” and finally Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. The sculptures of these mythological figures have been erected at several spots around the circular stairway. I do not know from what material these statues have been made from but they all have been painted with Gray colour. These statues remind me of similar statues of mythological figures set up all over the Indonesian island of Bali.The hillock of “Agnigarh” is believed to be the fortress of a mythologiocal king “Banasura” in which he had kept his daughter “Usha” in isolation, fearing that she may elope with someone. Tezpur perhaps prefers to link itself more with the Mythological demon king “ Banasur” than any one from recent history.
We move on. Just next to this hill, we come across a place called “Ganesh Ghat.” This place is directly on the river bank and if desired, one can go and touch the waters of one of the greatest rivers of India. None of us however seems willing as the entire area is littered with garbage, flowers thrown away and plastic bags. I remember that near Leh city in Ladakh, excellent “Ghats” or stepped terraces named as “Sindhu Darshan” have been built on bank of river Indus, which allow people to touch the water or wash their hands and feet in the river, I remember having done that during my visit there. But that place was spotlessly clean compared to what I see here on the bank of Brahmaputra. I had wished that I would be able to wash my hands and feet in the Brahmaputra waters during this visit, just the way I had done in waters of Indus, but can not dare do it because of the filth.
Readers would agree that the entire history and culture of India is closely related to triplet of rivers- Indus, Ganga and the Brahmaputra. I had wished that someday I would be able to see all of them and would be able to touch the waters of all of them. For me it was like a secret pilgrimage of the sorts. I had touched the waters of Ganga at Rishikesh near Haridwar city besides waters of Indus at Leh. Unfortunately, here on the bank of Brahmaputra, I can not dare do that as the place is filled with Garbage.

Feeling disappointed, I move on. There is a temple nearby of Lord “Ganesha.” I watch it only from a distance and then continue towards our next halt, an excellet and neatly laid out city garden known as Cole park during British days. It was named after Mr. Cole, a British commissioner of Assam. Now it is known as “Chitralekha Garden;” the mythological connection coming up once again. It is a well laid out nice garden with lawns and flower beds on sloping grounds. In the middle there are two water ponds or mini lakes side by side. Activities like boating are available. I am more interested however, in a number of bass reliefs done in stone from 9th and 10th century, couple of massive ornamented stone pillars, gate ways and sculptural remains from the famous Bamuni hills that are being displayed at strategic places in the garden by Archaeological department of Assam.The massive pillars, gates and bass reliefs are very intricately carved. The carved human figures on these bass reliefs have a distinctly different look, when compared to contemporary bass reliefs from Pattadakal in Karnataka or from Ellora caves in Maharashtra. I also notice surprisingly, that there are some similarities in the figures displayed here with bass relief figures found in Siam Reap temples of Cambodia. But this needs more study. The pride of place of the park is at the center of the park, flanked by the two water ponds on the sides. This spot is occupied by a massive stone slab, which bears the famed inscriptions of Bhomoraguri, ordered by Ahom general Kalia Bhomora Phukan and recording the ancient plans of a bridge across the Brahmaputra, at the very spot, where the current Kolia Bhomora Bridge has been built. This is an exhibit worth a visit. Though, there appears to be some controversy, regarding the inscription. According to some references, the rock inscription actually mentions the construction of a rampart by Ahom King Pratap Sinha (1603-41 A.D.) after defeating the Mughals and not the bridge.

Bhomora Inscription slab

Image of the demon "Banasur" in Chitralekha park

Bass relief of Shiva from Bayon temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia

 Leaving the controversy to archaeologists, our flotilla of cars now leaves Tezpur and we take highway NH 15 to north. Tezpur's strategically important airport is located here. This airport was in the imminent danger of being captured by Chinese forces in 1962. Seeing the alarming situation and developing threats to Tezpur, army headquarters had decided to airlift 5 infantry battalions from Punjab to Tezpur airport on 19th November 1962; an advanced party of divisional headquarters and one battalion had flown in with troops quickly digging in for the defense of this airfield. The Chinse had however declared unilateral cease fire within next two days and no action ever took place here.

Leaving Balipore town, we leave the city areas behind and now forests flank us on both sides of the road. This area has been converted to a tiger reserve now and is beingcalled as Pakke Tiger Reserve. It connects with Kaziranga sanctuary in the east. A river makes a sudden appearance to the right. This is the Kameng river also known as Jia Bhoreli in Assam. Kameng originates near India-China border in Tawang district and flows for 264 Km to its confluence with Brahmaputra near Tezpur. I can also see a railway line being constructed on the left. The entire area is very picturesque and beautiful. To motor down this road to the Arunachal border town of Bhalukpong, is a wonderful experience, that is difficult to describe in words.

It is almost lunch time, when we stop near Bhalukpong town. From here the Arunachal Pradesh starts and we need to submit our Inner line permits at the checkpost to proceed further. We break our journey in the town for the long awaited lunch. After a delightful lunch topped by wonderful “Gajjar Halwa,” I decide to take a stroll in the hotel courtyard. At one end of it, I find one small out-house like structure, with a viewing veranda. I step in and take a few steps. My feet just freeze on the spot, as an unbelievably stunning landscape, unfurls before my own eyes. It is a perfect picture post card view. On the left is the gorgeous looking, foaming white, Kameng river rushing out of Himalaya ranges bending sharply towards Assam. The left bank of the river is rising and merging into the green foliage lined mountainside, almost touching the sky. To the right, near the bend, the white river transforming into a slow current of azure blue contrasting with the golden white sands of the flat river bank. The Bhalukpong town itself extends further to the right. I loose all sense of time, as I watch the scene, spell bound. 

A friend calls me and says that its time to move on. Within minutes, we all are out of the town, entering the enthralling valleys of the the Himalayas; kings of the mountains of the world.


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 honour the brave Indian soldiers, who died in 1962 war.


Standing near the entrance to war memorial at “Nyukmadung,” I look around. Nothing could be more pristine and peaceful than this spot. The valley of Dirang river on one side with river bed almost invisible because of the green foliage and trees. Further on the other bank of the river, stands another tall mountain ridge, covered entirely again with foliage. The memorial, built like a chorten or a small Buddhist stupa with a golden pinnacle stands next to a steep mountain slope that comes down and touches other side of the road. Yet on this same pristine spot, a major bloody battle had developed, fifty two years ago, resulting in loss of hundreds of Indian lives.

The Nyukmadong War Memorial is located on a specious 1.5 acre plot of land, overlooking the famous battle ground of 18 Nov 1962. It nestles in a three tired terraced landscape with beautiful coniferous trees planted around. The main memorial is in the form of a 25 feet high ‘Chorten’ conforming to the local ethos and traditions. Entrance looks like a main access way, to a monastery, in typical Buddhist style. On both sides of the memorial, plaques listing the names of officers and Jawans, who died here on that fateful day, have been erected. The memorial is staffed by JCO's, who are more than willing to narrate detailed account of the battle. A visit to this memorial invariably turns in such a solemn occasion that every visitor leaves the place with a sad and heavy heart.

But what had actually happened here on 18th November? Official plaque at the site describes it as a battle, between 62 Infantry brigade, withdrawing from Sela pass and proceeding to Dirang and Chinese infiltrators, who had occupied heights astride Nyukmadong and in which several officers and men of Indian army had laid down their lives. But what happened here was not a battle but a massacre. The commanding officer of the 62 brigade had divided his troops in three columns; one vehicle column and two marching columns. The vehicle column and one of the marching columns were asked to withdraw by the main road that passes through Nyukmadong. When the marching column behind the vehicle column had rounded a bend in the road beyond the village of Nyukmadong around 2 PM on that day, a harrowing sight suddenly came into view. Vehicles, guns and bulldozers lay scattered. The road and the shallow drain running along it were littered with the bodies of the dead and the dying. This was the end of the vehicle column. The marching column itself came under heavy fire from the heights overlooking the road. Soon, the Chinese appeared at the rear also. Efforts to dislodge the enemy failed and by 1600 hours the column was completely disorganized. As darkness enveloped the scene, control was lost and the column disintegrated into small parties. The official Government report lists that 2290 men of all ranks from 62 brigade were missing as on 1 December 1962. Majority of them loosing their lives here in Nyukmadong.

With a heavy heart, I turn back to the car and we leave. Our next stop would be at Se La pass. The Sela ridge is a formidable Himalayan ridge that starts from “Kangto” massif (7000 meters)on India-China border and runs in southwest direction. It forms the watershed between Dirang river and the northerly Tawang chu river. There are several passes in Sela ridge like Tse La, Kye La, Chebra La, Orka La and Yangyap La, besides the most well known Se La. On the Dirang river valley side, Sela ridge takes a shape that looks from air, similar to toes of a foot, with deep river valleys in between toe shaped extensions. The longest toe like extension ends at Nyukmadong, which I have just visited. The Chinese infiltrators had used the mountain track on this extension to come down after crossing the main body of Sela ridge at Yangyap La.

Deep valley in between Nyukmadong and Senge extensions of Se La ridge 
The main road communication link between Tawang and Dirang is highway NH 229. This road ascends towards Sela ridge on another toe like extension of the main Sela ridge, west of Nyukmadong extension. We can call it Senge extension for the name of a village located on it. The whole region is so flush with green vegetation that it is difficult to make out the valley between Senge and Nyukmadong extensions. The only identification perhaps is that on the opposite of the river at this place, there is a small village known as “Dundri.” The road continues along the river bed till 2 Km further ahead from this spot and then turns by 180 degrees to start climbing uphill, towards “Senge” village.

The road initially passes through thickly wooded areas but as our car nears the top, we pass through an area, which appears highly prone to landslides. There are heaps of rock and mud lying on roadside with road repairing work going on continuously all along this stretch. From here onwards to the near-abouts of Se La pass, the entire stretch of the road has military camps belonging to several army units. I see almost continuously, road signs to that effect.

Approaching Se La 
From Dirang to SeLa, the road ascends by an height of about 7000 ft and symptoms of high altitude sickness could be felt on this road. As we climb up the lush green semi tropical vegetation first changes to conifers and in the last lap totally disappears, its place being taken by red or brown coloured high altitude shrubs like “Burtse,” As we near the pass, I see patches and slabs of snow lying on road side and on rocks. The driver mentions that yesterday it had snowed at Se La. Suddenly a dense cloud moves in, spreading a thick fog blanket over the road. Visibility drops to about 25 feet. For next 15 minutes, I witness this fantastic hide and seek between the clouds and the sun.

I can see a welcome arch or a gateway erected in the Tibetan monastery style that says “Welcome to Tawang.” Which means that we have arrived at Se La. Travelling through a high mountain pass is not exactly a novelty for me, having done similar journeys through Khardung La (18380 ft.) and Chang La (17580 ft.) in Ladakh. Compared to these places, SeLa is at much lower height of 13700 feet. Yet the thrill of standing at the highest point in a journey is no less satisfying. The cars stop and we all get out. It is quite chilly here. I put on my winter jacket. Even then, the biting cold breeze makes me shiver.

Se La looks quite different from passes in Ladakh, though there are similarities too. All these passes are totally barren and devoid of any vegetation. Se La is however unique in the sense that there is a large natural lake at the top known as lake Paradise. This lake totally freezes in winter. From the welcome gate, two roads branch off on two sides of this lake. Road on the left bank goes to “Chabre La Pass” towards Bhutan and the one on right bank towards Nuranang-Tawang.

I start walking towards the gateway arch. On either side of the pass, stand two tall massifs with snow covered peaks. The massif towards left is just next to the pass, whereas, the one on the right is at some difference away. A jagged rocky peak, much shorter in height, stands between the massif on right and the pass. Its black colour reminds me of a heap of cooled down slag, removed from molten steel and dumped on a side of the steel melting furnace. White slabs of ice lay scattered everywhere, on the hills and on the roadsides.

There is a small shed by the side of the road, that serves light snacks and tea. We decide to break here for lunch. To enjoy a piping hot meal, in the biting cold of Se La, is an unique experience that just can not be described in words. After lunch, we reluctantly leave the picturesque pass and start descending. The paradise lake length along north south is much more than its width. There is supposed to be another lake east of Paradise lake, but it is difficult to see from road, because of high ground, standing in the way. Surprisingly, I see another large body of water, west of the lake paradise, almost in continuation, that is not mentioned anywhere in the travel literature. This body of water is not connected to lake paradise and is distinctly at some distance away from it. This body of water appears to have been newly created by authorities, because on the western end, a constructed bund can be seen. This possiblly could be a water reservoir for use of residents, living in this area.

As we come down the slope, I see again the reddish “Burtse” shrubs everywhere, on mountain sides and in the shallow valley. In fact they are the only vegetation that is around. The road is fairly dusty and if you are following a car, expect lots of dust in the air. The road continues for few Kms on the right bank of a small river, which I believe is Nuranang Chu. I continue to see many huts but it is difficult to differentiate whether they are villages or army camps. After about 3-4 Km the river valley starts deepening and green foliage appears again on hillsides. There is a steel bridge, which we cross and continue on the other side of the river valley, which is deepening and constricting more and more for every Kilometer. After travelling about 10 or 12 Km, the cars stop at a parking place. I see number of army sheds with roofs painted in camouflage colours. We have arrived at another war memorial. The name of the place is Nuranang, now changed to Jaswantgarh.


Jaswantgarh” was an army defensive position set up during 1962 war, overlooking the main Se La -Tawang axis road, as it descends into the valley of Tawang Chu river. To understand it's strategic importance, we need to look into a few geographical and historical facts. The Tawang ridge originates from a point, west of “Kangto” massif, on India-China border from where the Se La ridge originates and runs in southwest direction almost parallel to it. The ridge is bounded by deep valleys of two rivers; Tawang Chu flowing in southwest direction and Nayamjang Chu flowing south. The rivers meet at a point roughly 40 Km south west of Tawang and the merged river flows onwards to Bhutan. The Tawang Chu valley separates the Tawang Ridge and the Se La ridge. The main road connecting Se La with Tawang (NH 229) descends into the Tawang Chu valley near Jaswantgarh.

Historically speaking, after the initial Chinese thrusts in Tawang area in October 1962, they had occupied all areas north of Tawang Chu river. Highway 229 crosses the Tawang Chu river at Jang and this bridge was destroyed by Indian Army. Between 24th October and 17th November there was no major confrontation and both sides were reorganizing their strengths. At that point of time Indian army wanted to convert the Se La pass as a defensive fortress and had stationed the troops accordingly. The entire area on the banks of Tawang Chu river, south of Jang was entrusted to 4 Garhwal Rifles. Jaswantgarh was to be a forward screen for defenses of Se La.

As I stand at Jaswantgarh, facing the Tawang Chu valley, I remember these geographic and historic facts to appreciate how strategically important Jaswantgarh really was. On my right is the deep and constricting ravine of Nuranang Chu river before is falls down to meet Tawang Chu. Straight ahead are the mountain ranges of Tawang ridge and far behind it, towering is the sky are high Himalayan snow clad peaks, through which India-China border( McMahon line) passes. These peaks are of about 20000 feet height and the tallest one on right is most probably the “Kangto” peak towering at 23260 feet. On my left is a high ground with a flag fluttering in the breeze with a shallow trough in between, through which a “Nullah” or a rivulet flows. Far beyond that and on the other side of Tawang Chu valley, I can see the road climbing up towards Tawang, which by itself is not seen from Jaswantgarh.

Army has established a befitting memorial here to honour a brave soldier and his colleagues, who fought a great battle on these slopes against advancing Chinese army. In fact, this perhaps is the only place in Arunachal, where original army bunkers of 1962 war have been retained and maintained by the army to give an idea to the visitors. Many stories circulate in the social media about heroic deeds of this brave soldier, who is now treated by our soldiers as a saint, who provids protection to all members of armed forces stationed in this sector.
Though, many stories circulate in the media about the battle of Jaswantgarh, including one in which a Rambo style one man army fought against Chinese. Here is the version from, what is mentioned on Legend plates at the memorial and official records.
Following the withdrawal of Indian troops from Tawnag, 4th battalion of Garhwal Rifles was positioned in this area with its 'A' company taking positions on the hill slope overlooking the road. The first Chinese attack came at about 5AM on 17 November 1962, when Chinese soldiers dressed in guise of local Monpa tribal were detected and beaten back. Two more attacks came at 7.45 AM and at 9.10 AM. These attacks too were beaten back. Then, Chinese moved up an MMG (Medium Machine Gun) to the high ground about 40 meters away from the platoon on the left and brought down very heavy volume of fire on Indian troops virtually disabling their own LMG (Light Machine Gun) fire.
Lance Naik Trilok Singh, Rifleman Jaswant singh and Rifleman Gopal Singh volunteered to silence the menacing MMG by physically neutralising it. Jaswant and Gopal, armed only with hand grenades, in total disregard of personal safety, crawled under heavy enemy fire to close in with the MMG. Trilok provided covering fire with his sten gun from about 15 meters.They hurled the hand grenades to silence the MMG and then physically assaulted the position to find two Chinese killed and a third wounded, but still holding on to the weapon. Jaswant using both his hands snatched the MMG and crawled back. Just as he was about to reach his trench, he was hit by a fatal bullet on his head. Trilok in the meanhile was spotted by the Chinese and killed by a long burst from an automatic weapon. Gopal, badly wounded, managed to drag the captured MMG back to his trench.
This entire action took only 15 minutes. But the courage of these men changed the course of the battle. Indian weapons came alive once again to conclusively beat back the fourth Chines attack at 11.40 AM. Chinese launched fifth attack at 2.45 PM. This too was effectively beaten back and the enemy withdrew leaving over 300 dead and wounded against losses of 2 dead and 8 wounded for 4 Garhwal.
For this most conspicuous and brave action, 4 Garhwal was awarded battle honour “Nuranang.” the only battle honour awarded to any unit in India-China war 1962. Rifleman Jaswant Singh was awarded with army's highest award for bravery, “Maha Veer Chakra” (posthumous), Lance Naik Trilok Singh with “Veer Chakra” (posthumous) and Rifleman Gopal Singh Veer Chakra. ”
The incredible story of bravery of these three Jawans of Indian army assumes great significance, because it was only here that the Chinese attacks were successfully beaten back by Army. That is why Jaswantgarh war memorial has become a source of inspiration and courage for all the troops passing through area.

I climb few steps that lead to the compound around the memorial hall. Outside in the courtyard, there are plaques describing the heroic deeds of the men, who fought in this area. In the center stands the statue of an unknown soldier and inside the hall, a glass cubicle in the centre houses a golden coloured bust of Jaswant Singh. A show case exhibits the meager personal belongings of this extraordinarily brave person. A curtained glass cubicle stands on right of the bust. Armymen believe that the spirit of saint Jaswant Singh guards them here. Like a temple he is offered “Prashad” but with a change. It consists of only standard army rations. A sten gun of 1962 vintage is displayed. Citations for Jaswant Singh and other heroes of the battle adorn the walls.

I stand silently in front of the bust, paying my homage. Afterwords we are taken around the battleground by a JCO of one of Maratha regiments stationed here. He is extremely pleased to know that we are from Maharashtra state, to which he also belongs. The defensive positions built by 4 Garhwal at Jaswantgarh were on a steep slope on both sides of the road leading to Tawang. The army has still maintained well, several bunkers and the company HQ bunker. We peep into several of them. The company HQ still has a large sick bay, a radio room, dining table with mugs and plates arranged and a kitchen.

The JCO points out to a flag fluttering on the left high ground, that I had seen earlier. He says that the flag is kept to mark the position of MMG, which Jaswant singh had captured singlehandedly. A plot of land behind the bunkers is marked with barbed wire compound to indicate the Chinese cemetery, where bodies of 300 dead Chine soldiers were buried.
Battle of Jaswantgarh is probably as important and historic as the one at Rezang La in Ladakh, but with one difference. Rezang La was a group effort in which a company of about 100 men had fought the Chinese to very end, killing in process more than 1000 soldiers of enemy. Jaswantgarh battle was won because of an impossible deed of a few men, who had shown utmost bravery.
Army runs a small store here in Jaswantgarh, selling mementos, tee shirts etc. They also offer free tea to anyone and tasty Samosas at a very cheap cost. I enjoy the tea and Samosas and we leave for Tawang.
After leaving Jaswantgarh, the road immediately starts descending into the deep valley of Tawang Chu. I did not really notice the time at Jaswantgarh, but shadows of darkness are already spreading across the forests and the valley. On opposite side of the valley, tiny villages are lighting up for the night. Soon night takes over and I keep sitting in the car as it rumbles on bad roads,imagining how Jaswantgarh must have looked on that fateful day in November 1962,
We cross a bridge on Tawang Chu river at the bottom of the valley. I look outside the car, the village name is mentioned as “Jang.” This is another historic landmark of 1962 war. After withdrawing from Tawang ridge, Indian army units had taken positions on south bank of Tawang Chu river from where we had just crossed the river. This bridge was blown to stop Chinese advance. It did stop them, but only for a month.
We reach Tawang after climbing up almost 9000 to 10000 feet. It is really cold out here with temperatures touching single digits. A hot dinner and warm bed awaits me at the hotel. Tomorrow, we shall go round Tawang and also see the war memorial erected to remember the horrific battles that were fought and lost on the Tawang ridge and also in the deep valleys of Namkha Chu and Nayamjang Chu rivers.

Tawang is a hill station (2800 meters) with a population of about 50000 people; located at a scenic spot bounded by Tawang Chu river in the south and high hills on other three sides. It is the last major town in west Kameng sector of Arunachal Pradesh before India-Tibet border. Like Bomdila, the entire town has been built on flat terraces cut along hill slopes. The town is located amongst number of hills and for moving around one has to go up and down continuously before he can reach his destination. Tawang like many other Buddhist cities in Tibet, is dominated by the 400 year old grandiose Tawang monastery. One can go anywhere in Tawang, he can never miss the monastery situated on the top of tallest hill around. 

 View of the monastery from a town lane

Official web site describes the history of Tawang in these words;
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. As the legend goes the site of the present Monastery is believed to have been chosen by a horse owned by Merag Lama Lodre Gyatso who was on a search for an appropriate place to establish a Monastery but was unable to locate any appropriate site. So he finally decided to sit on prayer for guidance of divine power. As he opened his eyes after prayer, he found his horse missing. So, wearily he went out searching for his horse and found it on the top of hill known as Tana Mandekhang where once stood the palace of King Kala Wangpo. Believing it to be a good omen, Mera lama Lodre Gyatso decided to initiate work for building of the monastery with the help of the people. The Monastery thus was founded by Mera Lama Lodre Gyatso in late 1681. However, there is also another belief of derivation on the name ‘Tawang’. The great treasure revealer, Terton Pemalingpa gave initiations such as Tamdin and Ka-gyad and hence the place came to be known as Tawang. ‘Ta’ an abbreviation of Tamdin; ‘Wang’ means Initiation.”
After the long and grueling drive of yesterday, it feels nice that today we would be doing only local sightseeing without much travel. As we assemble outside near the cars, weather is surprisingly warm because of the bright sunshine. Ore first destination is the Tawang Monastery. Tawang, is spite of its remote location, is a bristling town with number of four wheelers zooming about. School children dressed in smart uniforms are walking to school. Most of shops in the town are situated along a single road and traffic is well controlled because of the “One Way” traffic on most of the roads. This means that going even to a place just on an adjoining street, one may need to go around half the town, because the adjoining street may have access only from other direction.
Historically speaking, a report describes Tawang of 1962 in these words;
Tawang hamlet in 1962 was a well spread-out collection of settlements; the monastery village, the ani gompa (nunnery) ridge, the Political offficer's colony, the Assam rifles and army barracks, the helipad lower down and other scattered buildings. These settlements were dispersed over an area of 5 to 6 Sq. Km.”
Western Gate
Compared to this description of 1962, Tawang appears to have changed to a modern, more integrated township with RCC construction buildings having all modern amenities. Continuous supply of electric power appears to be a problem though, because during last night, our room heater had gone off on number of occasions. After circling the town, because of one way streets, we start climbing up towards the top of the hill, where the monastery is located. On the top, the parking space is limited and is provided at the northern end. We drive alongside the eastern wall of the monastery, which is about 925 feet long and 10 to 20 feet high. The cars drop us near the visitors gate on western side and drive back to the parking space at north end. We will have to walk down to the parking area after our visit. The gate is painted in true Tibetan style with stone walls on sides, over which a two storied ceiling rests. On either side of the gate, Buddhist religious painting like “ Four harmonious friends” and that of a lama are seen.


Museum building on left and Library to right

 Dukhang or prayer hall building 

 Building for ceremonial cooking 
The gate opens into a “L” shaped courtyard. On the right is the monastery museum building. Next to it, but at right angles, is a two storied building that partly is a store for monks' provisions. Straight ahead of the museum building, across the stone slabbed courtyard, that hosts religious dances and other ceremonies held according to the lunar calendar of Monpa, is a three-storied building of the the Dukhang or assembly hall and the 'Labrang', which is the establishment of the Abbot. On the left or on western side of the courtyard, stands an old building that houses the three-storied Parkhang library. Opposite to it, is a two storied structure known as Rhum-Khang. It is used for cooking sacred food on the rituals and refreshment for the monks on festive days. Tawang Monastery, founded by Merag Lodroe Gyamtso in the year 1680 – 81 is the second biggest and oldest monastery in Asia known as Tawang Ganden Namgyal Lhatse. It normally accomodates about 500 student monks of “yellow hat sect.” The residential quarters for the student monks are known as the 'Sha' or hut. These huts, 60 in numbers, are located on a lower terrace on the eastern side.

The museum, inaugurated by the 14th Dalai Lama on 8th November 2009, occupies two floors in the building. The ground floor exhibits consists of personal belongings, robes and other ceremonial objects used by various abbots and Lamas in the past. It also has a great collection of brocaded robes and Thangkas. I can see a gilded Chorten fixed with metal panels embossed with Buddist religious figures. The second floor hall exhibits many items used in past in the monastery such as, stamps used for producing embossed panels for fixing on wall of Chorten, steel utensils, churners for the buttermilk produced from Yak's milk etc. The wall are adorned with old photographs. The one that interests me most is the one taken of 14th Dalai Lama crossing into India in 1959, walking down the road in Dirang like a layman.

Next I move to the library building. Unfortunately, it is closed, as it is under renovation. The library is believed to have a collection of numerous sacred scriptures and Buddhist texts including a collection of 400-year-old Kangyur scriptures in addition to many other invaluable manuscripts. Other large collections include the sutras, Tangym, Sungbhum, old books and other manuscripts, both handwritten and printed, many of them in gold. Feeling slightly disappointed, I concentrate of the veranda where plenty of construction material is stored, covered with wooden chips and dust. The inner wall of the veranda has two doors on sides with several windows towards the ceiling. I detect some very old painted Buddhist murals, much scratched and covered with dust. Yet the original art still can be seen. The murals remind me of the Ajanta murals.

Next to library building is the two storied Dukhang or prayer hall. On the veranda walls are the customary painted figures of guardians of four directions. During last three or four years, I have visited many monasteries such as Hemis, Thiksey, Alchi, Likir, Lamayaru and Hunder in Ladakh and one at Bylakuppe in Karnataka state. As a result, I am quite familiar with the interior of a Dukhang. This monastery is no exception, with its rows of low desks and cushioned seats for monks to sit, ceilings and pillars decorated with banners and Thangkas. The interiors are painted with magnificent works of art. The inner walls have sketches of several saints and Bodhisattvas, whereas the northern wall of the hall is covered with an altar, used for religious ceremonies. On the left of the altar, a silver casket is seen holding the Thangkas. The Thangkas have been dedicated to the chief deity of monastery, Goddess Shri Devi, also known as Palden Lhamo. This Thangka, which was painted with blood drawn from the fifth Dalai Lama's nose, was given to Merak Lama by His Holy Highness the fifth Dalai Lama himself. The Dalai Lama also gave him a painting of goddess Palden Lhamo to be kept in the monastery. A huge 26 feet high statue of Buddha in all its magnificance is seen towards the northern end of the hall. The statue has a begging bowl in the right hand. One can go around the balcony on the second floor and check his skill of throwing a coin in the bowl. Buddhists believe that if you drop a coin in the bowl with a wish, it would be fulfilled. Some of the designs on Thangkas are so exquisite and eye catching that I feel amazed at the worksmanship and artistic flair of the votaries.

After a rather satisfying visit to the prayer hall, I walk out slowly towards north from the side of the prayer hall building through a small alley with residences on eastern side and a gate, which actually is the main gate to the monastery. On my left is a small shed, where I peep in. There are three small Chorten and one can light a lamp in front of them. I see series of oil lamps lit by votaries, burning in front of the Chorten. Right in front, there is a hut-like structure with walls made of stone. This is called as 'Kakaling'. The internal ceiling of this structure is painted with Mandalas, while the inside walls have been painted with pictures of the saints and divinities. A modern building has come up above this ancient “Kakaling,” perhaps because of the shortage of residential space. Outside there is also a small shop that sells mementos, key chains and other small things. There is also a large prayer wheel again brightly painted 
View of Tawang town from monastery
I sit in the waiting car and soon we are off to our second destination of the day; one of the oldest Buddhist nunneries known here as “Ani gompa.” There are number of them around Tawang, but we are headed for one that is known as “ Thukje Choeling nunnery.” Comparatively a new one, inaugurated in 2002 by Lama Tengay Rinpoche. This Ani Gompa is under the control of Tawang Monastery. The Tawang monastery provides for the every day needs of the nuns and their monastery.



Thukje Choeling nunnery.” popularly known as Ani Gompa is located on a hill top, quite isolated from the Tawang town. The road passes through number of military establishments before it starts climbing up to the top. There is not much parking space available at the top and our flotilla of 8 cars is barely accommodated there. There is a customary welcome arch made from two wooden pillars and a horizontal beam, painted in a typical Tibetan way. There are number of small sheds with tin roofs painted with yellow colour. There is only one two story building, which must be the Dukhang or prayer hall.

I walk through the narrow path between the sheds. Ahead is the small wooden water wheel, which might be being used for grinding grains or some such task. The frames of window panes are painted bright orange with delicate flower design on the sills indicating a feminine hand. The Dukhang again is quite small but has delicately painted door frames and beams. A few nuns wearing maroon robes are seen doing some work. Prayer hall has a pillared veranda and the inner veranda walls are painted with bright coloured murals of Buddha and the the four guardians of directions. The reigning deity inside is “Tara,(also known as Jetsun Dolma)” who is a female Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism. Tara is actually the generic name for a set of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas of similar aspect. The deity here is specifically known as “Green Tara,” known as the Buddha of enlightened activity.

A large sized statue of the deity is seen behind a glass panel along with framed photographs of monks. Both electric and oil burning lights are lit before the deity. There are several Thangkas hanging on pillars and walls, some with figures of all avataras of Tara with the green Tara occupying the central position. Another one is painted with a figure of Buddha. I come out in the court yard. With the bright sun light outside, it is quite cosy and warm outside. Bright red chillies and some kind of cheese are being dried up in the sunlight perhaps for the incoming harsh winter. I request the nun standing there to let me taste the cheese. It tastes kind of tasteless. It is actually Cheese made from Yak milk.

Quite impressed with the dedication of the nuns, I walk out to the car. Our next halt is in the town market. Surprisingly contrary to my expectations, I find no smuggled Chinese goods here. Tawang market is just like any other Indian town market on the tourism citcuit. Curios, mementos and items of general use. There is a separate vegetable market. We return to the hotel for lunch and some rest.
By late afternoon, we are back on road, this time to visit one of the most important and not to be missed spots in Tawang; the Tawang war memorial. After the 1962 war, a memorial was first erected near the village of Lumpo situated on bank of Nyamyang Chu river in Zemithang circle of Tawang district, to honour the dead, who had sacrificed their lives in the battle of Namka Chu river. However, because of the extreme weather conditions, this memorial soon turned into a dilapidated state. In 1990's army took up the construction of a befitting grand memorial in Tawang town itself within the premises of garrison stationed in Tawang. The 40 feet high terminal has been built at the cost of 15 hundred thousand Rupees on a slope just before one enters the town within premises of garrison known as “Korea Brigade.” It was blessed by Dalai Lama himself in 1997. The memorial, locally called ‘Namgyal Chortan’ was dedicated to the nation in 1999. Though the memorial has been designed by army, help of hundreds of monks along with locals and government officials was taken to keep with the local religious sentiments. The vault of the memorial has idols of Lord Buddha, scriptures, ornaments, jewels, valuables and other items deposited by the people including holy scriptures and idols of Arya Avlokiteshwara and Lord Buddha sent by Dalai lama, which have been personally blessed by him.

The car stops on a large parking ground and we walk to the site of the memorial. The imposing structure has been built like a large Stupa or a Chorten. There is a 3 step outside wall, semicircular in shape. On the flat surfaces of the steps, flowering shrubs have been planted in the flower beds specially created there. I can see some lovely roses there. The vertical walls are painted white along with symbols of various army units that took part in the battle, painted at regular intervals . To go inside, one needs to climb about 20 to 25 steps, where an elevated circular path exists that goes around the Stupa. On both sides of steps, 4 numbers of marble lions, sculptured in Tibetan style have been placed on top two steps. On top of the topmost step, 9 flagpoles stand on which Indian tricolour and flags of army and air force units flutter in the wind.

The Stupa proper has a stepped peripheral wall covered with marble stone slabs. Fixed on this wall and facing the steps is a granite legend plate with two oil lamps burning on the sides. The legend plate reads as under:

On both sides of the legend plate, a sculptured frieze with Buddhist motifs extends all the way around the Stupa. Above the stupa dome, there is a recess, in which a Buddha's image has been kept. A red and gold coloured pinnacle stands high up above. At the rear of the Stupa structre, two wings consisting of memorial halls have been constructed. These halls also have red and gold coloured pinnacles on top. The walls facing the front have recesses in which gold and red coloured Buddhist prayer wheels have been built. The walls of the halls on both sides are lined with black granite plates on which names of all 2420 martyred officers and men have been etched in gold.
I am quite sure that most of the readers would be taken aback and mortified to find that army had lost more than two thousand men in course of this one month long war that saw real action only for 7 or 8 days. To analyse the reasons of such horrific losses, we must briefly touch upon some historic and geographical details, which I propose to do later.
I start walking from left leading to the rear memorial hall. At the center of this hall, A pillar covered with granite and marble stone plates has been built. A bust of an extraordinarily brave soldier; Subedar Joginder Singh has been placed here. At the base of the pillar, I can see flowers and other Buddhist religious items placed neatly. A circular flower wreath stands in front. On both sides of the pillar there are four earthen pots with their mouths covered with pure white cloth pieces tied around the neck by a string. On the covering cloth pieces, names of four places have been written in large black letters. These places are Jaswantgarh, Tonpeng La, Bum La and Zimithang. The pots actually contain loose earth or soil from the battle fields from these four places, where battles of 1962 were fought and many Indians had sacrificed their lives. The walls of the hall are adorned with citations, replica of the “Maha Veer Chakra” awarded to Subedar Joginder Singh and banners of all army units that saw action in 1962 war here.

On the opposite side is a larger memorial hall that displays a 3 dimensional map of Kameng sector, labeled with names for ridges, rivers and places where the battles were fought. On display are several photographs, weapons and personal effects of soldiers like helmets, mugs and rifle bullets used in 1962 war. A JCO, again from Maratha Light infantry addresses us, giving us details about the battles, reasons for India's defeats and the situation on border now. He suggests that we must visit the border and see how normal and calm the things are. He emphatically suggests that we should not really believe in what they show on TV, which mostly are some old video clips from record and form an impression that India-China border in Arunachal is not quiet. He also explains the difference between LOC; Line of Control and LOAC; Line of actual control. According to him out of 1126 Km length of India-China border in Arunachal Padesh, 1106 Km of border is well defined LOC, that follows the geographical features ( McMahon line) . Only 20Km of border on the western end, where this border line meets the tri-junction point between India-china and Bhutan is still ambiguous and is called as LOAC. Particularly heart touching is the fact narrated by him that in the 1962 war here, there was only one rifle and 12 bullets available for three soldiers, whereas Chinese soldiers had semi automatic and automatic weapons.

I walk out of the hall and we assemble in the front. Everyone in the group is in solemn and sad mood. Someone suggests that we should sing national anthem here. Before we could begin. Before we begin it is pointed out that protocol says that we should not sing it after sunset. In two minds, we stand steady for two minutes with eyes closed paying our homage to brave soldiers, who had sacrificed their lives in this far off remote corner of India. We all slowly walk back to the foreground.
Behind the war memorial, army has built a large open air amphitheater, where they hold a light-n- sound show every evening. We assemble in the viewers gallery waiting for the show that is likely to begin in another 30 minutes or so.
My thoughts naturally return to the 1962 war and the horrific loss of more than two thousand brave soldiers of India. As I mentioned above, to analyse the reasons for this terrible loss, we must go back to 1962 and find out what actually happened here.

Photo curtsey Ashish Bakhale

We saw earlier that the town of Tawang is located at the southwest corner of a Himalayan ridge that runs in southwest direction starting from the line of snow peaks over which the international border or McMahon line passes. This ridge is bound between two rivers, Tawang Chu- flowing towards southwest and Nyamyang Chu to south. Both these river valleys are quite deep and have roads built along their beds.
In Arunachal, the India-China war of 1962 can be divided into three parts; firstly the October 1962 offensive of Indian army in Thagla ridge area ending in a terrible disaster. Secondly the invasion by Chinese troops in October 1962 itself, in which they ran over all Indian positions along Nyamyang Chu river to confluence with Tawang Chu river and covered all of Tawang ridge up to the valley of Tawang Chu river in south. The third part covers the Chinese advances in Se La and Dirang made by troops advancing along Nyamyang Chu river to Lubrang Chu along Bhutan border and forces crossing in India via Tuling La pass- Luguthong route. Troops coming from these two routes actually succeeded in the ambush at Nyukmadung and also laid the trap at Lagyala Gompa near the village of Morshing, where Lt.Col. Avasthi fought a heroic battle. We have already seen some details of this third part earlier.

To understand the Thag La ridge offensive, it is necessary to go in for some historical details. I have mentioned earlier that the McMahon line follows the Himalayan peaks all along the border. However, near the Tri-junction point of the borders of Bhutan, India and Tibet, there was a minor border dispute between India and China. A small river, which swells only during monsoons, flows from this Tri-junction point to east, between two mountain ridges known as Tsangdhar Ridge in the south of river and Thagla Ridge in the north of the river, till it confluences with Nyamjang Chu river. (Another small river). According to India's position, McMahon line passes along Thagla ridge from the Tri-junction point, to Nyamjang Chu river and then continues along Wadung ridge to Bum La, whereas Chinese maintained that the border passed along Tsangdhar Ridge to Nyamjang Chu river. The Namka Chu river valley is extremely narrow and large scale troupe movements are almost impossible here.

Out of the new posts set up in NEFA in 1959, one army post known as Dhola post, was set up on the southern bank of this Namka Chu river. Another post on the bank of Nyamjang Chu river further to north was also then set up at Khinzemane. Chinese soldiers had attacked this post in 1959 and had pushed Indians back from this post. Indians had reoccupied this post after Chinese had gone back and were holding it till 1962 Autumn.
In Agust-September 1962, Chinese army brought in their men in large numbers to the Thagla ridge area. Army sources reported to Delhi that about 400 Chinese were now positioned on Thagla ridge. Presence of Chinese in such large numbers was a direct threat to posts at Dhola and Khinzemane. After this news reached Delhi, Defense minister Krishna Menon suggested to Chief of Army staff, General Thapar that the Chinese on Thagla ridge should be immediately evicted from there. Knowing the ground realities well, General Thapar tried to argue with the defense minister about futility of any such major action in that narrow area. He was however told that considering the political pressure on Prime minister Nehru, this order has to be obeyed by the army.
Till September end, there were only incidences of minor skirmishes in Namka Chu valley with overall military situation fairly stable. However large number of Indian troupes descended in this area on orders from Delhi in next few days. This large scale arrival of Indian troupes in this narrow valley was hallmarked with total disarray, disorder, confusion and mismanagement not usually associated with a military movement on this scale. The soldiers did not have enough warm clothing, ordnance was in short supply. Troupes provided with mortar launchers had no mortars to launch. There was paucity of guns and being such a narrow valley and that to on the international border, para dropping was not feasible. After realizing the desperate situation of these new arrivals, the officer in charge of the operation, Maj.Gen Umrao Singh, bitterly complained to his seniors in Delhi. This resulted into a decision, which had direct bearings on the final outcome of the conflict. Maj.Gen Umarao Singh was abruptly transferred and in his place a comparatively inexperienced officer, Maj. Gen. B.M. Kaul was brought in as officer in command. In an most surprising decision Ma.Gen. Kaul was ordered to liaison directly with Prime minister Nehru and not through normal official channel of Army HQ or chief of army staff. It can be said that Chief of Army staff, General Thapar disassociated himself with the Namka Chu operation completely. In next fortnight, approximately 2500 Indian soldiers arrived in Namka Chu valley. The strategic battle plan prepared by Maj. Gen. B.M. Kaul has been discussed in many forums over the years, including some on the internet and there is unanimity of opinion that in the history, very rarely one may find, anything as disastrous as this.An excellent account of the battle can be read on this link.

The Chinese saw arrival of such large numbers of Indian soldiers in Namka Chu valley as a big danger sign and Chinese soldiers also started arriving in very large numbers. By 20th October 1962, as many as 30000 Chinese soldiers arrived on Thagla ridge area. Only after their arrival, Maj. Gen. B.M.Kaul came to realization that he had brought such large numbers of his own soldiers in a death trap. However it was too late now. On 21st October 1962 Chinese crossed Namka Chu river and captured all Indian positions on the south bank of the river. On 23rd October 1962, Government in Beijing allowed PLA to cross McMahon line as and when required. Indian army soon realized that it was impossible to launch any counter offensives because enemy had all the advantages and they started retreating. Within next 5 days of massacre and debacle, India army was pushed back 10 miles to south of McMahon line to Lumpo.
Within days of this incident, Chinese launched their major offensive on Tawang. The attack was planned along three routes. Direct Bum La- Tawang axis route via Tonpeng La; from Zemithang in Nyamyang Chu valley -Y junction and lastly from Shakti village in Nyamjang valley via Lum La pass. The epic battle fought by Subedar Joginder Singh, which I have mentioned earlier was fought near Tonpeng La. This was followed by one of the most controversial decisions taken by Generals stationed at Tawang, who decided to surrender the town and retreated all Indian forces south of Tawang Chu river.
The men lost in Namka Chu battle mainly constitute the martyrs listed at Tawang memorial and this means that the loss of these brave men was not because they were lacking in bravery but because they were put in an impossible situation by country's top politicians and inept generals.
I am awakened from my thoughts as the light-n-sound show begins sharp on time. The show is well narrated with details about Arunachal, Tawang, tourism places around and some parts of history. A satisfying presentation. After the show we get back to hotel, where great news awaits us that all permissions have been secured for us to visit the India-China border at Bum La. So it is early dinner and bed time as we need to start rather early.
I wake up quite early but within seconds a realisation comes over that something is seriously wrong with me and I am in much of pain. I find myself under attack of a severe bout of diarrhea, perhaps as a result of high altitude sickness. As I lie on my bed, it becomes increasingly clear that I can not make the trip to the border. Only thing that I can do is to see everyone else in the group leaving for the day's journey. I feel terribly disappointed at having reached to about 50 Km from the border, yet can not make the final mile. There is a total feeling of helplessness as I lie down in this strange place.
 Photo curtsey Ashish bakhale

On Way to the border

After an hour or so my condition has become quite pathetic and it is clear that I need to see a doctor. I decide to consult the hotel manager, who turns out to be a real help. He says that being a Sunday, consulting a Doctor is out of question and I would have to visit the emergency ward of the hospital nearby. He arranges for the hotel van and a driver for me to go to the hospital. Feeling extremely weak, I manage to get into the van and we rush to the hospital.
The district hospital is actually only a few minutes drive away. The van stops near the gate of the emergency ward and driver helps me to get in. Being a Sunday, the place is quite empty. Two nursing staff member ladies appear and ask me about what is wrong, After hearing me, one of them, who is presumably a trainee doctor, phones the resident doctor and within minutes tells me that I would have to be put on a medicinal drip. She asks me to get some medicines from nearby shop; the van driver volunteers to get the medicines and within next fifteen minutes I am lying on a hospital bed with an intravenous drip. The nursing staff is really wonderful and chats with me to remove my blues. Feeling bit cold, I ask for a blanket. The nurse apologises giving me an impression that they have no blankets. However, she clarifies that they have only red coloured blankets and can I accommodate with that. I need a blanket right now, the colour is hardly important.
After an hour and two bottles of drip gone in my veins, I feel much better. The resident doctor turns up, prescribes some more medicines and says I would be fine. Now comes the most surprising part when I ask the nursing staff about the charges for my treatment, already scared that my pockets would be lightened substantially. But I am told that this is the Government hospital and the treatment is free. Would I give a donation of 10 Rupees to the welfare society? I am just overwhelmed and do not know what to say. I quietly slip a 500 Rupee note, for which I am given a proper receipt. Staff accepts no tips also.
The driver brings me back to hotel. I want to pay him for the ride. The hotel manager turns up and says the ride is on the house. I just do not know how to thank all these kind hearted people, who are giving me such a wonderful service as a part of their job. Leaving aside all the disappointment of the morning, I am feeling so much better with the compassion and warmth shown by these people. I feel sure that I just had one of the most wonderful experiences of my life time, in this little remote town on India's border. A unique Tawang memory, which no one else can ever have or share.

Photos curtsey Ashish Bakhale
At The Bum La Border
There is nothing to do now but wait fro the return of our group, who report that they had a great visit to the border. I no longer feel disappointed as I also have gained something in the morning; a unique bond of love and affection for this town and its sweet helpful people.
Tomorrow morning, we return back to BomdiLa. 


As our cars leave the beautiful town of Tawang, my feelings are rather mixed. I am feeling like having read a novel, where final few pages have gone missing, having missed the much anticipated visit to the India-China border. The weather is excellent with bright sunshine filtering through everywhere. I am told that just last week, weather was somewhat nasty with temperatures dropping by a few degrees because of cloudy weather. We start our descent in the Tawang Chu river valley. Four days ago,when we had come up by this road, it was dark and the same road looked deserted and as if it is passing through some uninhabited region. Now things look just the other way. Along the entire stretch of this road, right up to Tawang Chu river itself, there are military camps as well as villages. People are going about doing their normal activities. It is kind of amusing to see, how deceptive is the darkness in reality.

Tawang -Jang Road

Jang Bridge
Soon we reach the Tawang Chu river bed and the steel bridge at Jang. As I had mentioned earlier, the bridge at this very spot was destroyed by Indian troops to stop Chinese advances in October 1962. We cross the bridge, start climbing up and soon take a 2 Km diversion to stop in a parking area at a place called Nyamseir. We get down and walk a few steps. Just after the next bend, one of the most beautiful waterfall in Arunachal makes its appearance. The famous Phong- Phongma or Jang waterfalls. This is also sometimes known as Nuranang waterfall, because it is here that the Nuranang river joins the Tawang Chu, after a mighty fall.

Tawang Chu river

Jang Waterfall 

Himalayan Massif
The view is absolutely enthralling as milky white water of Nuranang river takes a straight jump of about 100 meters into the Tawang Chu in two steps with a thunderous ovation. I have read that there is a small power station at base but I do not see anything like that. Perhaps it could have been hidden behind the cliff. I see a hotel from where a grand stand view of the falls can be had all the time. The green valley, studded with dense foliage, greenish water of Tawang Chu rushing towards west and the milky water of Nuranag crashing into it, cast a spell over me. I could perhaps stand here for hours and hours just watching the water. I look above towards the northeast sky; between two green ridges, a tall but tiny, ice capped mountain spur is protruding out. As we start climbing up towards Jaswant Garh, the tiny spur soon takes the form of a mighty Himalayan ridge, spread in east-west direction. Obviously these are the Himalayan peaks nearby Tulung pass from where the India-China Border line passes. We halt at Jaswant Garh for a refreshing cup of hot tea and Samosas from Army canteen and push on towards Se La-Dirang, stopping on way for Lunch. By dusk we are once again in Bomdila.

Amphitheater view of Tawang ridge

The Lunch break

 A monastery in Dirang

A view of Dirang town
In a funny little coincidence, I am again allotted the same room in Bomdila hotel where I had stayed 4 nights before. After a comfortable night, we leave for the plains of Assam. Somewhere on way, between army camps at Chandi Top and Tenga, the cars stop on roadside. Just opposite to us is a beautiful river valley. The Tenga river bends at this spot forming a loop. A temple is seen built on a cliff projecting out in the deep valley below. I climb up hundred or so steps up to the temple not dedicated to any God as such, but to Cobras and is known as “Nag Mandir.”

Nag Mandir; Temple devoted to Cobras

Panoramic view of Tenga river 

This temple built and maintained by the local army units, was set up because when this road was being constructed in early 1960's, the area was frequented by reptiles and specifically by Cobras. The construction workers had to kill a few and there were more than usual cases of snake bites. The construction workers fearing the anger of snake Gods, started to worship them here. Eventually a temple was built at this picturesque spot overlooking Tenga river bend.

The temple has a specious viewing gallery and a hall. As I was coming down the steps, I see number of troops marching in. According to the legend board, the temple has gained importance for all local population and road users, who visit the temple to obtain blessings of “Nag Baba.” Leaving aside the reverence and devotion aspect, the temple certainly is a serene place, worth taking a break.

A wild elephant in Kaziranga
We continue our journey downhill, break for lunch at Bhalukpong and by late afternoon reach Kaziranga reserved forest once again. The cars stop at the vista point by road side, where we had seen number of rhinos last week to see if any wild animals are there. We are lucky as a wild elephant is seen playing in the marshes, splashing water around. After a prolonged photo session, I return to the car and after another half an hour's drive, reach the resort for overnight stay.
Tomorrow , we go for a jungle Safari early in the morning and later in the day return to Guwahati. The trip is almost coming to an end.

We leave the resort very early, even before dawn, so as to reach Kaziranga park entrance in time for our Elephant safari. Kaziranga park has been divided in four different ranges; Western or Baguri range, central or Kohora range, eastern or Agoratoli range and finally the distant Burapahar range. The park has several entry points. However, we enter through a gate in Kohora range, which is almost across the road from the resort, where we stayed last night. There is a barricade and the cars stop before that. We move on through a small gate on a side and walk for about 50 meters or so. On our left, seen faintly in darkness, is an elevated structure with a staircase, from where we would be mounting the elephants.
Kaziranga park is huge; approximately 40 km in length from east to west, and up to 13 km in breadth from north to south. It covers an area of 378 sq Km. Approximately 51.14 sq. Km was lost to erosion in recent years. To make up, a total addition of 429 sq. Km area was made along the present boundary of the park and designated with separate national park status to provide extended habitat for increasing the population of wildlife or, as a corridor for safe movement of animals to Karbi Anglong Hills, during flood season. Kaziranga has flat expanses of fertile, alluvial soil formed by erosion and silt deposition by the Brahmaputra. The landscape consists of exposed sandbars, riverine flood-formed lakes, known as beels, (which make up 5% of the surface area), and elevated regions known as, chapories, which provide retreats and shelter for animals during floods. During months of June to September kaziranga gets rainfall of 2,220 mm. During the peak months of July and August, three-fourths of the western region of the park is submerged, due to the rising water level of the Brahmaputra. The flooding causes most animals to migrate to elevated and forested regions outside the southern border of the park, such as the Karbi Hills.
As dawn arrives, Kaziranga gets transferred from a dark dangerous world to a 'pleasure for eye' land with  plethora of mini water ponds and fields with tall elephant grasses, swaying in the wind. I climb the stair case to mount an elephant. There are two types of elephant rides available, one where you can sit with legs spread across like a motor cycle ride or the other where you can sit sideways. First one is better for viewing the animals and I select that.

As our cow elephant starts her walk, I notice a small baby elephant moving around between her legs. The mother keeps a careful watch on the baby as we trudge on. The ride is far more comfortable than I had ever imagined, except for a rhythmical sway backwards, when a steel handlebar keeps hitting my back. But I can easily bear that out without any problem. We start moving. What we have around us, to start with, is an expanse of marshy wetlands with hundreds of muddy ponds spread around with grass patches in between them. I see a few female Barasingha or Swamp deers grazing in the low grass, suddenly becoming cautious and attentive as our elephant approaches them. Next,as we push ahead, I see two fine male Barasingha specimens, standing in the middle of a muddy pond looking in opposite directions. They are large deers with wooly hair and a mane. Barasinghas are mostly found near wetlands or swamps and graze on grasses and aquatic plants.

Slightly ahead is a water pond, surrounded by grasses from all sides. Right in the middle of a pond, a bull Rhino is enjoying his mud bath. The elephant stops nearby. The Rhino lifts his head and looks at us. The sun has just broken in, at the horizon and Rhino's dirty gray body shines for a moment before turning muddy gray again. Having had his look at the visitors, he again puts his head back in water, totally disinterested! We move on, the grass on both sides is now getting taller and taller. It is so tall that it is now brushing my hands and shoulders, even when I am riding a fully grown elephant. This tall grass is aptly called as Elephant grass, because other animals find going through it quite tough.

Meanwhile, the baby elephant has suddenly disappeared in the tall grasses. His watchful mother suddenly is alarmed and gives a serious sounding call to him and wants to dash towards him. This is a really scary moment for me, riding the elephant. But the mahout quietens her and the baby also walks out of grass towards her. I heave a sigh of relief.

We again reach a patch where grass is not so tall. Here, there are Rhinos and Rhinos, some in groups of twos or threes and some wandering alone. In Kaziranga, there are more than 2000 Rhinos.The Indian Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) is also called great One-horned Rhinoceros or Asian One-horned Rhinoceros belonging to the Rhinocerotidae family. They are listed as a vulnerable species. This large mammal weighs between 2260 kg and 3000 kg. It it is the fourth largest land animal and has a single horn, which measures 20 cm to 57 cm in length. The Rhinoceros can run at speeds of up to 55 km/h (34 mph) for short periods of time and is also an excellent swimmer. It has excellent senses of hearing and smell but relatively poor eyesight. If angry it can attack anything. In fact its eyes appear so small compared to body bulk that one gets a feeling that the animal is blind. Fortunately none of the gang views us suspiciously and neglect us going about their grazing routine. As they need around 50 or 60 Kg of food every day.I ask our Mahout about the poachers, who want to kill rhinos and cut of the horns, as it fetches huge price in black markets. He gives a chilling but quite satisfactory answer. He says that everyone here is very proud of our Rhinos. If we find some poachers trying to hunt them, we simply kill them.

We move on. On the left there is a herd that looks familiar, but the animals are much bigger in size. They are the Wild Asian Water Buffalos (Bubalus bubalis) enjoying early morning sun. These animals are much bulkier than the domesticated water buffaloes we see around but have a narrow head, small ears and large hooves. There are more than 2000 wild buffaloes in Kaziranga though they are considered as endangered species. Wild buffaloes are also important to the grassland ecosystem as they help in plant rejuvenation.
We spend next 15 minutes searching for the animal, considered as largest one of the big five of Kaziranga; the wild elephants. It is estimated that there are more than 1500 wild animals in the park. It however appears that the elephants have decided to shun us today as not a single soul is seen anywhere to the limits of our vision. It is clear that I would have to satisfy myself with the solitary elephant that I saw yesterday, playing in the mud.
As we move on, the mahout points out to a cluster of beautiful purple-blue flowers. Rhinos have one very peculiar habit. They may wander around the ground, grazing, but would drop their faeces only at some fixed points creating huge dung piles also known as middens. The purple-pink flowering shrub, known as the spider flower ( Cleome hasslerana, Cleome specie), grows on these dung piles. The plant is native of the South American tropics and also found in Europe and North America landscapes.. It has invaded somehow in Kaziranga. One horned rhinos love to eat it and seeds are passed on through their faeces. Our mahout calls the flowers as Rhino-Potty flowers.
The elephant we are riding, crosses a small ridge. Ahead, in an cleared area, is another elephant mounting-dismounting platform. This means that our elephant ride is coming to an end. I dismount and walk away. On one of the pillars supporting this platform, there are flood markings showing up to what level, flood waters of Brahmaputra had reached on earlier years. From the markings, it is obvious that this area gets flooded almost every year.
We head back to the resort. After a quick breakfast, we shall start for Guwahati, about 228 Km away. 
I have a quick breakfast and our car leaves on highway 37 to west, to stop almost immediately near a cluster of shops selling Kaziranga souvenirs; tee shirts, little wooden rhinos and key chains. I buy a couple of tee shirts for the kids at home and a small wooden rhino that can be painted. Our Kaziranga stay may be over, but we have yet to visit an important landmark of Assam, its famed Tea gardens. Assam is the single largest tea-growing region in the world. With 300000 hectors area under tea cultivation, it produces more then 500 million Kgs of tea annually. The low altitude, rich loamy soil conditions, ample rainfall and a unique climate help it to produce some of the finest orthodox leaf teas. In the areas near Kaziranga, tea bushes grow so easily that one can see tea bushes even in yards around homes.

We stop near a tea garden, Amalgated plantations, who have their own retail shop near the entrance. I take a stroll in the garden, which has a jeepable dirt track in the middle, that seems to be going forever. On both sides of the track are neatly planted rows of tea bushes, along with rows of tall trees planted at regular intervals. Black pepper climbers are also cultivated and all the tree trunks are seen studded with the leaves of this climbers. Tea gardens, in a way are monotonous, as they look exactly the same everywhere. I remember someone saying something similar about US villages, looking exactly similar, wherever they may be.

I return to the entrance and buy some teas and tea bags from the retail outlet for gifting and my own use. Asaam tea is known for its rich, deep-amber colour and is famous for its rich, full-bodied cup with a brisk, strong and malty character. Now its time to say good bye finally to Kaziranga and our cars speed along. I see a huge tea factory on my left, where tea leaves are fermented, dried and later packed for the world to consume. On way, we stop for a cup of tea. On each of the tables in this restaurant, I see a bowl full of green chillies and salt. Its a local specialty and diners prefer to eat green chillies along with their food. By early afternoon we reach Guwahati. 
I spend rest of the day wandering around in the city markets, where produce from all the seven northeastern states is marketed. Sleep comes easily as I am quite tired by end of the day.
Next morning, after breakfast, we check out and leave for Guwahati's star attraction; the Kamakhya Temple. The temple is located on a hillock known as Nilachal hill in western part of the city. There are supposed to be 10 temples on this hill, but Kamakhya temple is the main one. There is a weird legend about different body parts of a Goddess thrown on earth. The 51 spots, where these body parts fell are known as “Shakti Peeth” or power centers. Kamakhya temple is supposed to be the spot, where genital organs of the Goddess fell.
In the Indian subcontinent, there is a long tradition of people worshiping the male phallus and a woman's body as symbols of divine power of fertility. The people of Indus-Sarswati civilization worshiped female figures as Goddess of fertility. The tradition continued even later during Jorwe-Inamgaon habitats and recently similar idols from around first century CE, were found at Kondapur near Hyderabad. This ancient tradition, later took more sophisticated forms of Shiva-Linga and Goddesses identified with mother Goddesses such as Durga, Kali. Though, a woman's body without head, known as “Lajjagauri” is still worshiped by a few people. In the modern context, male phallus worshiping has taken the common form as God Shiva's worship. However, Kamakhya temple must be the only place left in modern India for female genital organ worshiping now. Everywhere else, the original Goddess of fertility has been substituted by more sophisticated idols of Mother Goddesses like Ambadevi or Mataji.
Our cars climb up the hill and drop us near the entrance to the temple. Winding steps paved with stones take me to the entry gate of the temple complex. The gate structure is constructed as a stone wall with a door in the middle. On both sides are two lionesses bas-relief panels in wall recesses. Above the door, in an arch shaped recess, I can see two lionesses facing each other. After entering through the gate, I see a circular pathway around the temple and the back side of the Sanctum Sanctorum. This means that to enter the temple, one has to go round and enter from opposite side. The Sanctum has a cruciform base with adjoining stone pillars touching each other instead of walls. The pillars have recesses in which several bass relief panels are sculptured. Above the sanctum is a hemispherical dome and on top of it, a three stepped pinnacle. A golden “Kalasha” or peak, shines brightly in the morning sun above the pinnacle. The temple has three chambers lined after each other from the sanctum itself in east west direction.
In the easternmost chamber, an idol of the Goddess in a more conventional human form, has been installed for the votaries to worship as the sanctum is cave like and small, dark and reached by narrow steep stone steps. I have a feeling that the original female regenerative organ shaped place of worship may not be very palatable for the modern crowd of votaries, consisting of ladies, families and children and that may be the reason for more conventional Kali Mata alike idol being placed in the outer chamber.

Since I am rather constrained about time, I decide to give up visiting the inner sanctum, as there are long queues of votaries, who want to worship the idol in the inner sanctum. I can see many newly married young couples with ladies wearing gold ornaments and bright yellow sarees.

Wikipedia describes the inner sanctum in these words;
Inside the garbhagriha cave there is a sheet of stone that slopes downwards from both sides meeting in a yoni-like depression some 10 inches deep. This hallow is constantly filled with water from an underground perennial spring. It is the vulva-shaped depression that is worshiped as the goddess Kamakhya herself and considered as most important pitha (abode) of the Devi.”
To the west of the outer chamber, is a place where animal and bird sacrifices are still carried out. I see a water buffalo, goats, some chicken and doves. I do not know whether these have been brought for sale or brought in by some votary. On one side wall is a shed where devotees light oil lamps, which I feel is clearly a Buddhist influence, because such oil lamp lighting sheds are not seen in temples in other places in India.

I take a round to see the bas-relief panels on the walls of Sanctum. Most of them are of Shiva with a few depicting his wife Uma or Gauri. Shiva is shown with four hands, holding various objects such as a trident that are attributed to him. On the friezes there are several female figures shown worshiping, inter-spaced with lotus symbols. There is also a museum but it mostly consists of butchering knives, besides some old broken stone fragments.

I walk back to the car, the authorities have provided an over bridge which directly connects to the parking area. As we speed towards the airport, I realise that our northeast tour is coming to an end. For last 12 days, I was so busy travelling but now there is an emptiness in my mind. True! that the experience has been so richly fulfilling, so wonderful, that memories are going to stay with me forever. Northeast is just wonderful, a traveller's heaven.



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