Amity

Not everything goes as per the plan; some things will always be out ot your control.

That morning, Tawang was engulfed by the thick fog. I was getting ready to unearth the beauty. From the terrace of my hotel, I saw the spectacular view of the Tawang Monastery. The yellow roofs were standing out from the dark background. The city was slowly coming to life.

It was really cold out there and I was walking with my palms in the pockets of my Jacket. Along the road, I saw one cute hairy dog looking straight at me with tiny little hopeful eyes. Unlike the wild, aggressive and strong dogs in Ladakh, he was looking helpless with a sense of hunger. To keep their body warm at 10000 feet high, animals like dogs, yaks have long and thick hair on their skin.

From the narrow roads of the city, I started ascending towards the Bum La pass. I was dubious about two-wheeler access to the pass due to heavy snowfall. Yet I wanted to take the bait. The bad weather started adding more stress.

With headlights on, I was carefully negotiating the curves. I could feel the army presence along this road. Suddenly, out of the fog, I spotted the barricade in front of me. I thought they will check my permit and allow me to ride further but unfortunately, that was not the case. I was told to head back to the city or catch a tourist car to visit the Bum La pass.

The disappointment vanished when I saw the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj statue there while taking a turn. The Maratha Light infantry had constructed this road in record time during a war, so then Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh gifted the statue to the army unit. I felt proud of being able to reach up to this point.

Of course, I tried to persuade the Army personnel in Marathi language but it was of no use. Even I met a senior army officer in town. He was a very positive person and told me that it was for my own good and I was not aware of the risks of going alone on that remote route. Those words calmed my impatient mind and I agreed to happily let it go.

Tawang Monastery

Golden Namgey Lhatse

Literally means a Celestial paradise in the clear night, Tawang Monastery is the largest monastery in India. It was founded by Merek Lama Lodre Gyatso in 1680-81, in accordance with the wishes of the 5th Dalai Lama – Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso. Tawang Monastery is the second largest monastery in the world, only after the Patola Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. This 3 storied beautiful monastery is perched on a hilltop which is visible from every corner of Tawang.

Tawang Monastery stands on the spur of a hill at 10000 feet high, usually covered in clouds. It was raining a bit from the morning, and the climate was getting worse with each passing hour. I loved this splendid monastery, so much colorful and peaceful. The fog had blocked the view of the surrounding Tawang Chhu valley and the lush green forests.

After a failed attempt at Bum La pass, I headed towards the Tawang Monastery and landed in the museum housing the artifacts, antiques, and pictures of dignitaries who visited the monastery in the past. The small objects are evidence of some portion of a significant historical chapter. Then I came out in the open courtyard from where the whole town could be visible on a clear day.

Whatever we achieve in life eventually becomes a history. So make it memorable one.

18 feet Buddha

Dukhang

The famous Tawang Monastery is a 3-storied structure surrounded by 925 feet wall like a large mansion. Dukhang means the Assembly hall, is the main part of the monastery that contains 18 feet image of Buddha. The curtains painted with Buddhist symbols were suspended over the balconies of buildings. This renovated main temple has been exquisitely decorated with paintings, murals, carvings, and sculptures.

A large image of Buddha, 18 feet in height, gilded and decorated in its lotus position, is deified in the main temple – Dukhang. This image of 5.5 m height is on the northern face of the assembly hall, installed over a platform. There is also a thangka, a Tibetan Buddhist-style painting, of Palden Lhamo, the guardian deity of the monastery. This main temple was fell into the dilapidated condition and was renovated in 2002 in traditional Buddhist architectural style.

Visiting the Tawang monastery was the best cultural experience, where Tibetan Buddhism is flourishing. This 17th-century monastery of the Gelukpa sect is an important seat of Mahayana Buddhism. I loved this place where I can freely roam around, take pictures, and chat with the monks about religion. There is a beautiful entrance painted in yellow to this monastery from the north along the ridge.

The life of nonattachment and nonmaterialism is key for the enlightment.

Monks

Little Lamas

Tawang Monastery, the largest monastery in India, is a house for around 450 young monks. Joining the monastery is a lifetime commitment, and the heavy penalty is levied if left in between. These monks are taught various subjects and languages along with Buddhist teachings in the school. The residential buildings within the Tawang monastery are built to accommodate as many as 700 monks.

The serene maroon-robed little Buddhist monks have a very simple and meditative lifestyle. Their lives, shaped to support their spiritual practice, are governed by the set of rules called Pratimoksha. Monasteries maintain the integrity of the Dharma and pass the wisdom to new generations.

After rigorous riding for more than 4000 kilometers, I felt this simple question that shakes my own existence. I had left behind my comfort zone, familiar people & favorite food, but I never sensed any difference here. Somehow I feel connected to the people and nature through universal feelings like faith, love, and compassion. Peace is the way of life here, which amplifies with each smile on these adorable faces. It overrides all other negative feelings

It is definitely not easy to give up a life of pleasure & status and live as a Buddhist Monk.

Giant Buddha

Exploring Tawang

Tawang Monastery was the main attraction but there are many other places to explore in the city. When I came out of the monastery, I saw the Buddha statue perched atop a hill and decided to go there.

The Big Buddha Statue was clearly visible from everywhere in Tawang Town. This beautiful place offers some amazing views of the Tawang city and the colorful valley below. The place was quiet, ideal for prayer and meditation with very minimal disturbances from tourists. I spent some time there while watching the blue-white mountains buried under the dark clouds.

For a lunch, I tried traditional Monpa cuisine in a local food joint. Even, I loved the Thupka I had the night before. I am not a foodie person and I eat for a living, not the other way round. But I definitely have a taste for good food.

As the Bum La pass plan got canceled, I had to make another quick itinerary to utilize my last day in Tawang. So I took the help of the locals and marked a few locations I can leisurely visit. The first one was the small gompa just outside of the town.

The Urgelling Gompa – a mystic place amidst trees – is the birthplace of the 6th Dalai Lama Tsangyang Gyatso. To use my free time, I thought to explore something unexplored and I ended up here. Built by Urgen Sangpo in 1489, it became a revered gompa after the birth of the 6th Dalai Lama. Today, even though the past glory has gone, still the gompa stands quietly preserving the history.

Unlike other hill stations in India, I found Tawang peaceful, primitive and yet beautiful.

War Memorial

Namgyal Chorten

Tawang War Memorial was built in memory of 2420 Indian soldiers who laid down their lives in the 1962 Indo-Sino war in the Kameng sector. Located on a slope just before the main town, it is a fitting memorial for the greatest sacrifice anyone can offer. This 40 feet stupa-like structure was built by the Indian Army at the expense of 15 Lakh rupees & blessed by the Dalai Lama in 1997. The names of all 2420 soldiers who laid down their lives in war are inscribed on the granite plates. I felt proud and grateful for the warriors who fought for our country.

The sound and light show at Tawang War Memorial happen at night. So, I decided to come back late in the evening. I met a few of the army men from Maharashtra who were delighted to meet someone from their state. I can only imagine how they emotionally handle such a long distance from their loved ones. AT night I reached by walk for the show at the War memorial.

When I visited the Tawang War Memorial in the evening for the Sound and Light show, I got a chance to learn more about Monpas. Monpa People are known as master builders, architects & designers amongst all the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. Monpa houses (Kyem), made of stone, wood, and pounded mud, are generally rectangular in shape and double storied. They speak the Takpa language and constitute around 97% population of the Tawang district.

The tales of war and glimpses in the lifestyle of the locals were overwhelming. And thus, I was concluded my last day in Tawang. The next morning I will start my journey back home.

The freedom we enjoy was a result of sacrifices made by these brave hearts.

Sela Pass

Roads to Tawang

After riding more than 4000 kilometers without breakdown, I bought a gift – the colorful prayer flags – to my Jenny (bike) from the largest monastery in India. Mumbai to Tawang was a dream ride and it was a success only because of this beautiful machine. She has been riding on the toughest Indian Himalayan roads with grace. I feel proud whenever I look at her. After covering 21 Indian states only, she has earned to adorn Indian National Flag upon her.

Riding on the highest motorable road in the world was my motive to buy this amazing machine. But later when I fulfilled my dream, I realized that it’s not finished but has become even bigger. Together we had crossed the most difficult roads, almost all high altitude passes, and all major highways. Earlier I was just watching amazing wallpapers on the desktop. Never thought that I would be capturing some of them.

Here, in the misty mountains, I always feel liberated from the invisible boundaries around myself. I never knew, riding a bike can be a life-changing experience and can become a passion worth pursuing. Now it has become a habit, more than a hobby, which takes my curious mind to dreamlike places. Everything has its own price. It’s not always money, but the mental and physical hardships need to think about.

My bike is not just another machine, but a constant companion in living my dreams.

Rifleman Jaswant Singh

Jaswant Garh

Constructed in the honor of the late Jaswant Singh Rawat, this memorial is located 25 km from Tawang in the Nuranang district. This is the same place where this brave Indian Rifleman of 4 Garhwal Rifles fought with the Chinese army.

During the 1962 Sino-Indian war, Rifleman Jaswant Singh was serving in the Nuranang sector with the 4th Battalion of the Garhwal Rifles. He single-handedly held back Chinese soldiers for 3 days at 10000 feet altitude when his company was asked to fall back. It is said that he was assisted in his task by 2 local Monpa girls named Sela & Nura. But finally Chinese captured the man who was supplying rations to Jaswant & revealed that there is only one man. Chinese attacked in force, Sela died in grenade burst, Nura was captured and Jaswant shot himself with his last cartridge.

While descending from the Sela Pass, I spotted this temple-like structure hidden in the fog completely. I had a free Chai at the roadside army canteen and decided to explore the Memorial on my way back to Sela pass. Now, on my way back I stopped to explore the memorial and pay my respects to the Firfleman Jasawant Singh for his sacrifice.

Defending our nation is not only duty of Indian Army but also every citizen’s responsibility.

Maratha Light Infantry

Maratha Light Infantry

It is the most senior light infantry regiment in the Indian Army given its lineage back to Bombay Sepoys from 1768. Listening to the Marathi language in such a remote and farthest part of India was not at all expected. The 14th Battalion has served in almost every conceivable type of terrain, from the arid Thar Desert to the icy heights of North Sikkim. We had our breakfast together and I was listening to their experiences over a cup of tea.

1962 was a fateful year when China launched an attack resulting in a standoff between 20000 Indian troops and 80000 Chinese troops. This unexpected was continued for about a month and ended on November 21, when China declared a ceasefire. It was in the backdrop of this war that Lata Mangeshkar sang the patriotic song – ‘Ae Mere Vatan Ke Logo‘ I was overwhelmed by the feeling of patriotism after listening to the stories of the war heroes and their sacrifices.

The beautiful winding roads connect Tawang to the West Kameng district and the rest of India. The road at the Sela Pass was in a very bad situation, covered with mud and fresh snow. As the elevation decreased, the single-lane tar road begins to run through pine forests. Another lane is under construction, which can ease the movement in these remote areas.

Honestly, it looks like heaven but feels like a hell. This is the only road that connects Tawang to the rest of India, used by the military to send in men who guard the Line of Actual Control. Harsh climatic conditions make it very difficult to ride over this road, which offers out-of-the-world views. The cold biting air numbs the nervous system, freezes the hand’s movement in a very short time. I was stopping frequently for peeing. Also, keeping me warm and hydrated was very important.

To experience the true greatness, first we need to pass through the pain and hardships.

Snowman

Sela Pass

Tawang is a treasure trove of high-altitude flora, generally not found in other parts of the state. These forests have a maximum variety of Rhododendrons within a small geographical area. The mist was revealing this scenic and untouched beauty slowly, and I was awestruck by the sight of it. A few minutes back I was struggling with muddy roads over barren mountains & then I got a view full of life.

Even though it was freezing cold out there, the company of warm people makes the moment pleasurable. There is no such thing as a solo ride because you will end up making new friends at each and every turn. I met one solo rider while ascending Sela pass, where we stopped to enjoy the fresh snowfall for a while. We made this little Snow Man with snow, sticks, and dry leaves outside the military cafeteria before having a hot cup of tea inside.

It feels amazing when the worst things turn out to be the best just for a moment. There was a snowfall, and fog covered the entire Sela pass, not at all favorable for photography. But suddenly it all stopped, the wind cleared the beautiful view ahead of me. This was my moment and I lived it to the fullest, knowing that I won’t be here again in my life.

Riding is no less than a meditation, because it enhances & strengthens your inner self.

Eternity

Switchback

Everything was picture perfect, exactly the same way as I imagined before heading for the road trip. Sela Pass, at 13700 feet, was the highest point of my solo North East expedition. That was a satisfying feeling of accomplishment & fulfillment of a long-pending dream road trip.

While ascending the Sela pass, when I looked down, I was awestruck by the view of the zigzag road. I couldn’t believe that a few moments earlier, I was riding on the same road negotiating with the curves. The view from the top is unbelievable. Soon the government will build a tunnel to reduce the travel time to Tawang and this road along will be part of history.

To visit Arunachal Pradesh, we have to get the Inner Line Permit, which can be issued online for Indian Nationals. I had taken the entry permit from the Balemu check post and exit from the Bhalukpong check post towards Tezpur. While returning, I was stuck in Tenga Valley as the road ahead towards Bhalukpong was under construction.

The same winding road took me to Dirang, from where I moved ahead towards Bomdila and end up in Tenga Valley before sunset. My bike was making noise and I had all reasons to worry about it. But fortunately, I saw a small mechanic shop that skillfully replaced the bearing. In such a remote area, one cannot expect a mechanic who can repair bikes like Honda CBR.

I spent my evening strolling around the small town exploring the little market. Then there was a gompa atop a small hillock. Here also, I could feel the breathlessness, even I was at 6500 feet altitude. At night, I had dinner and took a proper rest.

The time was frozen, buried under the thick blanket of ice and I was breathing the eternal moments.

Road Closed

Guwahati

On my last day, I was riding through the jungles of Arunachal Pradesh to enter the vast green plains of Assam. There was no cellular network from the morning. I wanted to book a train ticket from Tatkal but I missed that chance. The road was closed for some time due to construction work. I waited while eating Maggie in a small hotel.

The winding road seemed unending as I was expecting to see the plains of Assam soon. In a couple of hours, I crossed the Bhalukpong check-post and shifted to 6th gear. The thrill of speed I was missing in the mountains. The road passes through the vast green fields. I reached Tezpur and crossed the mighty Brahmaputra river.

The journey from Tezpur to Guwahati was the fastest one. It was like something was pulling me home. The highways were good without traffic. Upon arrival in the state capital, I checked in to the Oyo homestay. Even though I was tired, I went out to explore the Srimant Sankardeva Kalakshetra and learned so many things about the North East tribes and culture.

 

Kamakhya Temple

The Bleeding Goddess

The first thing I wanted to do in Guwahati was to visit the Kamakhya Temple located on Nilachal Hill. Dedicated to the mother goddess Kamakhya, this temple is one of the oldest 51 Shakti Peethas, an important pilgrimage destination for Hindus and Tantric worshipers.

It is believed that the Sanctum Sanctorum of the temple houses the mythical womb of Hindu goddess Shakti. Curiously enough, every year during the month of Ashad, the Brahmaputra river turns red near Kamakhya. It is said that the goddess menstruates during this period, hence Kamakhya is revered as Bleeding Goddess.

Due to the long queue and less time in hand, I took the blessings of the Bleeding Goddess from the outside of the temple. Then I went down the hill, rode along the Brahmaputra river, and stopped at the sight of the statue of Bir Lachit Borphukan.

The 35 feet statue of Ahom General and his army in the middle of the Brahmaputra river at Guwahati captivated my attention. Known for his leadership in the 1671 Battle of Saraighat that forestalled a drawn-out attempt by Mughal forces to take back Kamrup. Lachit defeated the Mughal army under the command of Ram Singh I by brilliant uses of terrain & exploiting the weak Mughal Navy. Now, the heart of Brahmputra was adorned with a grand bronze statue of Bir Lachit Borphuakn, one of its kind installed in the midst of the river.

The first temple in India which actually celebrates the menstruation, a symbol of creativity and power to give birth.

Umananda Island

Brahmaputra

I had never seen such a wide river basin, as of the mighty Brahmaputra, which flows through China, India, and Bangladesh. I had enough time and a chance to get into the boat, cross the Brahmaputra River, and visit Umananda Temple on Peacock Island. Umananda Island is the smallest river island in the midst of the Brahmaputra, which can be reached by ferry in 10 minutes.

As per Hindu Mythology, Lord Shiva created this island for his wife Parvati’s happiness and pleasure, hence the name Umananda. This smallest inhabited riverine island in the world is dotted with tamarind trees and home to the endangered Golden Langurs.

My longest solo ride was over. I checked out from the homestay and took my bike to the local Rhino courier. Before that, I gave a proper wash to Jenny. With a heavy heart, I left her at the office and booked a cab to the Railway Station. From Guwahati to Mumbai was one of the longest train journeys, which I spent mostly reading The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh bought from the Howrah Junction bookstall in Kolkata.

The duration of the journey is directly proportional to the longing for home.

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