Arunachal Pradesh was one of the six states that were in my jurisdiction in the North-East Circle. On the map it looked formidable sprawling from Bhutan in the West to Myanmar in the East with the hostile Chinese breathing down fire and brimstone from the North. It is known as the Land of the Rising Sun as the first rays of the Sun are received in the country are in the peaks of this State.
It had at that time only 11 districts which have since been increased to sixteen by carving out new districts from old, presumably, unmanageably large districts. The state is perhaps the most diverse in all its attributes – of people as it is a melting pot of numerous tribes, or climate, as it varies from tropical in the lower latitudes to Alpine in higher latitudes or flora and fauna that change from tropical to temperate making it one of the most bio-diverse of states. Among the flora orchids are dominant with 150 species and that is how it is known as the Orchid State of India. With its massive spread and difficult accesses none could possibly cover the entire state in a tenure of two years. I, therefore settled for limited forays into the state starting off with Bomdila, a generally known place from the time of the Chinese hostile incursions of 1962
Getting set for a visit to Bomdila we equipped ourselves with enough of woollens. It was October and was going to be cold, especially if it happened to rain. We had to go to Gwahati and on to Tezpur. At Tezpur we stayed in that fabulous circuit house that overlooked the massive River Brahmaputra. It was after the monsoons and the river was up to its brim. From the Circuit House it appeared like a huge sheet of water – almost like a sea, as the opposite bank was not visible. Incidentally, Tezpur had come under threat during the Chinese War in 1962. There was panic in the city after Nehru’s speech in Parliament that his heart went out to people of Assam. People started moving out and in the government treasury cash was reportedly burnt.
The Chinese had hit the plains of Assam at Bhalukpong where we reached the next morning after going across the Tezpur Bridge. Bhalukpong is located on the banks of the Kameng River and is now known for river rafting and angling. But what I remember most vividly is the Nair Mess there where we had finest of sambhars we had ever had with lovely dosas. It was an unlikely place for the Nairs to be, as it was far away from their native land. It reminded me of Baramula in Kashmir where close to it there was a Nair Mess where I had delectable hot vadais. Here we enjoyed the dosas after our “inner line” permits were checked. This is the place from where one can enter Arunachal only if one possesses an Inner Line permit. At least that is what the position was as I remember it. And thi is also the from where the Chinese went back for reasons best known to them.
Bomdila is 100 kms away from Bhalukpong but the road throughout is mountainous. Bomdila’s elevation is more than 8000 ft. One had, therefore, to climb from around 600 ft to 8000 ft in a matter of 60 miles. As we started to climb the vegetation appeared to be changing progressively. There were huge plantain leaves that hung over the road. We were told that the plantains of these trees were edible, but only for the elephants. Soon we came across a warning board asking every passerby to beware of wild elephants. Apparently the jungles on both sides of the road still harboured wild elephants. As we went further up we were engulfed in thick fog that continued for a few miles. The fog seems to be a regular feature as there was a warning about it before we came upon it. I think at around 6000 ft the fog cleared up, somewhere up close to Tenga Valley. From there Bomdila was around two hours away.
Bomdila is a very pretty little hill station at an elevation that is more than 8000 ft. It is the head quarter of the West Kameng District but is very sparsely populated. Basically it is a tribal town where Mompas dominate. It has a good market and we found a lot of beautiful Chinese and Korean crockery being sold quite openly. Obviously there is pretty good traffic between Arunachal and Tibet. Climatically it is very good particularly in the month of October when we visited. It should be very cold in December and January.
Bomdila is on the way to Tawang which is coveted by Chinese. We had, however, no intentions of visiting Tawang as the journey is very time-taking. We instead went about 30 kms on that road up to Dirang. Dirang is a beautiful little place with a 500 years old Gompa. The views that one gets from Dirang are fabulous.
As the weather was getting adverse we decided to leave Bomdila as were up against the prospects of going downhill on a treacherous mountain road. We safely came down to Bhalukpong and headed towards Guwahati. One couldn’t possibly travel over bad and bouncy roads for seven days at a stretch. Hence we came back to the comfort of our home at Shillong to rest our tired bodies.