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Old 21st August 2016, 17:30   #1
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Default Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass

Bharat koi zameen ka tukda nahin,
jeeta jaagta rashtrapurush hain…..
………………………………..
………………………………..
Iska bindu bindu gangaajal hain....
Iska kankad kankad shankar hain....

- Immortal and inspiring words by one of the most popular Prime Ministers, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, boldly asserting that each river and stream, each rock and pebble, no matter how barren and distant, is god for us. And as if to drive home that sentiment the brave men on the frontier says the following:

Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04787.jpg

And when you start seeing such aggressive lines on the rocks around, you realize that you are in army territory, that too near a very active border with a not too friendly neighbour. Yes, welcome to the eastern most state of India, more specifically for a military history buff, the Kameng Frontier division of the Eastern sector in the 1962 war. The landscape varies from subtropical to alpine, from barren, rocky to snow passes, the population is a mix of different tribes and the military is a constant presence all around, so much so that one feels almost 50% of the population is army in the border districts which would not be an exaggeration.

But, despite such heavy army presence, this is one place where the army presence is not frowned upon and the army is intricately woven into the society and geography.

I’d visited Tawang couple of times earlier as well, but those visits had me view the places through the screen of a regular tourist. But this time, I had planned this trip just to relive the history, to see the peaks and passes and the locations through the eyes of the historians whom we've read. This region of the Himalayas receive heavy rainfalls and consequently is prone to landslides. And, I’d planned the trip at the same time when it all starts from mid-April. I’ve had a bitter experience of landslides, slush and rocks in one of my previous visits during the same period few years back. But this time around Tawang had this to offer for my Punto:

Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-rps20160817_145422.jpg
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Old 21st August 2016, 18:05   #2
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Default re: Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass

A trip to Tawang is a regular journey now a days and it is mostly good roads all throughout till Tippi, a small hamlet about 5 kms ahead of Bhalukpong, the border town between Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. The stretch between Balipara to Bhalukpong was a nightmare for all vehicles till a few years back but now it is a nice drive through the forests of the Nameri National park.

We started from Tezpur in the morning and targeted reaching Bomdila by the evening after an unhurried drive. I had also kept in mind the fact that I was taking the Punto on these treacherous terrains and not the Scorpio 4WD, which I’d sold off just a few days before the trip.

Immediately after the Bhalukpong gate where the ILP is checked, the road starts to climb the mountains. Gradually, the heat and humidity of the plains give way to the crisp mountain air and more often than not you’d encounter rain and fog.

As you start crossing the foothills and climb towards the frontier, the Teevra Chaukas Ball of Fire watches over and you see the Sarvada Shaktishali Rhino Charge with the Veera Madrasi shouting Aayo Gorkhali, confident in the belief that Pahla Hamesha Pahla, Veer Bhogya Vasundhara.

Now, now!!! if you are awestruck at my sudden literary flourish and before you start complementing me, let me tell you that these phrases are actually the battle cry and mottoes of the various units of the Indian Army. As one bumps along the treacherous terrain, those words written around do give fillip to anyone who’d care to go through them. Okay, now before we go into the Wagah border mood, let us get back to the t’log.

Please note here that the road beyond Tippi gradually becomes narrow and after some distance it is actually almost a single lane with deep gorge on one side and steep edge of the tarmac on the other. The sides of the tarmac on the mountainside gets washed away due to the heavy rains and it leaves almost a feet deep “drain” on that side. Couple this with almost zero visibility, rain, hairpin bends, huge oncoming trucks and army convoys and you are now looking at the perfect nightmare for the new or reckless driver. This continues almost till Tenga Valley from where the road is reasonably wide and good.

Through the plains
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Good roads through Nameri National Park
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The hills beckon
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Start of the twisties and fog
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The road is dotted with many such memorials for fallen soldiers and men who died while constructing this road Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04299.jpg
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The road starts widening out near Tenga Valley
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And as we reached the valley, the gurgling river was flowing right beside the road. Couldn't help but park the car and go down the bank to the river. The water refreshingly cool, the white sand warm to the bare feet...

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Impossible is nothing
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Tenga Valley is the base of the 5 Mountain Div known also as the Ball of Fire division. The area on both sides of the road is all army installations including a park, cafeteria, museum, workshops and all the paraphernalia of a modern military including a RVC unit (Remount Veterinary Corps) with their stallions. One can also buy some souvenirs here at the conveniently located shop. We, however decided to skip all these and carry on towards Bomdila.

After crossing the Rupa fork on the road, we were flagged down by the BRO guys as they were laying the tarmac on a stretch with back to back steep hairpins. I was the first in line and was stopped right on the cusp of the bend with a steep climb ahead. After a while, one of the labour supervisors came towards me and asked me to reverse my car as they were moving the paver machine downwards. Now, this caused a minor problem as there were two army Stallions parked beside me on a strip of run off area by the side and behind me was a line of 10-12 Sumos, Boleros, Tankers and what not. After some maneuvering in that tight space and reversing by the other vehicles, I reversed my car down from the bend and just afterward saw the huge paver machine roll down slowly and crash into the mountainside right where my car was just a few moments back. When I asked the labour supervisor why the driver had not stopped earlier, he nonchalantly said to me, “brakes kaam nahin kar rahe hain”. Apparently this is how they stop that brakeless paver on the turns. Now, you know what to do when you see a BRO paver machine up ahead on a steep incline and you are asked to move out.

I carried on and reached Bomdila without any further excitement well in time for a late lunch. There was some local holiday that day and most of the shops in town were closed. Had a hard time finding a good restaurant and managed to do with some rolls and noodles for lunch. Afterwards, spent the evening enjoying the chill and strolling around a bit before retiring for the day. The weather gods have been kind till now with bright clear weather and I just hoped that it remained that way for the reminder of the trip.

The only photograph I seem to have of Bomdila
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Last edited by wanderer4x4 : 21st August 2016 at 22:38.
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Old 21st August 2016, 18:24   #3
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Default re: Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass

Next morning, the first thing I did was to part the curtains to check the weather. To my great relief, it was all bright and sunny. This augured well for the trip ahead as the worst roads on this circuit are between Bomdila and Tawang.


We had some chai pakodas and moved off targeting to reach Tawang by late afternoon. The road beyond Bomdila is being widened in many places and when these would be ready with the final topping, the trip to Tawang would not be much of pain. (till the time the black topping lasts the onslaught of the heavy rains and heavy vehicles). Presently, though, the road is potholed and dusty with rocks and sand surfacing. It feels rough particularly in hatches, but isn’t something that can’t be tackled in small cars. Ofcourse, heavy rains would change the equation here.

Beautiful spring colours

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Standing all, standing tall
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Signora basking in the morning sun
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After crossing Bomdila, one reaches the heart of the 1962 warzone in the eastern sector where most of the toughest battles took place and one will be retracing the route taken by the retreating Indian Army. Places like Senge, Dirang, Nyukmadong, Nurannag, Sela are all on this road and a history buff would be taken to remembering those battles in the distant past when ill-prepared, ill-equipped brave soldiers in summer clothing faced a numerically superior, well prepared army in these bitterly cold, icy heights.

Coming back to the travelogue, the road till Dirang is a mix of good tarmac, potholed stretches and graveled under construction parts. I decided to not stop at Dirang and to make it straight to Sela for lunch at the canteen there. On the way, passed the Nyukmadong War Memorial which I decided to skip having visited it earlier. However, for those interested in the war, Dirang, Nyukmadong, Senge saw some of the most difficult battles for the Indian Army and despite the bravery of the fighting units, we’d suffered heavy casualties here.

Some details of carnage faced by us in the Battle of Nyukmadong is documented in the book Indian Army After Independance by Maj K C Praval:

Quote:
Of the infantry that had accompanied Brigadier Hoshiar Singh from Se La, only the Garhwalis were in good shape; 2 Sikh LI and 1 Sikh were still sorting themselves out. There was the risk of hot pursuit by the enemy. He, therefore, decided to push off to Dirang Dzong with the Garhwalis as his advanced guard; 2 Sikh LI and l Sikh were to follow; 13 Dogra (less two companies with Divisional Headquarters) was to act as the rearguard.

The advanced guard was divided into two groups. Two of the companies under Lieutenant Colonel Bhattacharjea moved along the heights; the remainder of the battalion was under the brigade commander, leading the main column. The move had begun at about 1040 hours. When the main column rounded a bend in the road beyond the village of Nyukmadong, “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 main foot column was on the move till 1400 hours when it 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. Brigadier Hoshiar Singh reached Phutang after some days but his small party was later ambushed by the Chinese and he was killed........

After the conference, when Pathania went in his jeep to watch the progress of road-clearance, he witnessed utter confusion.The Garhwalis under Bhattacharjea cleared the enemy from several places along their route of withdrawal. However, beyond Nyukmadong this group lost touch with the main column. On arrival at Dirang Dzong after midnight, it was ambushed. Most of its men became casualties; Bhattacharjea was taken prisoner with some others. When a count was later taken, 34 officers, 43 JCOs and 1,610 other ranks of 62 Brigade were found missing. The Garhwalis won many awards for gallantry, including two MVCs and seven Vir Chakras.

Road twists and turns towards Sela and beyond
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In between one encounters freshly laid tarmac, a pleasure to drive on
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This log cabin was far beyond any nearest settlement, imagine how peaceful and secluded it'd feel staying there at night
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Gang of Yaks
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If the earlier log cabin was secluded, what can this hut be called?
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I could not find the road to the hut in the distant mountain side, no electricity, nothing. For us it'd definitely be exciting to spend one night there
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This stretch of the road hugs the mountains, is graveled and rough
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Gradually the lush vegetation gives way to rocky mountainside with scraggy bushes as the height increases on approaching Sela
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And just before reaching Sela, the clouds decided to say hello on the most difficult hairpin bends
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Finally Sela
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After having a lunch of hot Maggi and tea at the cafeteria, and some strolling around the lake at Sela, I started the descent towards Jaswant Garh. I was warned by the SSB jawans at the café about the bad roads ahead and to take it easy as the road at many places could be slushy due to the melting snow. As these things were playing in my mind, I suddenly realized that the Italian signora was losing power and stuttering along spewing white smoke. The first thought I had was that my injectors are shot due to the diesel that I’d filled that morning at Bomdila. The next in line was the worry about the turbo giving up. The final thought was to ignore these all and let the brain of the signora sort this out. It was possible that the thinner air and the cold was playing havoc with the ECU settings and I decided to ignore the signora it till I reached Tawang.


As it was getting late and the car was not performing at its peak, I decided to skip Jaswant Garh and Jang waterfalls to cover them on the return journey. Jang is the place where most people stop for refueling and also one has to get the ILP recorded at the check point there.


Thus after a leisurely drive, reached Tawang at about 4 pm. As I was entering Tawang, I thought it’d be a good idea to take a shortcut that I’d remembered from earlier visits through the middle of the town rather than the roundabout main road. I asked one local guy whether the path that I was about to take was the shortcut, he enthusiastically said yes, and me all cocky and confident took the single lane road, forgetting all about the smoke belching signora. As I turned the first bend the road presented itself as a super steep straight climb and as soon as I reached halfway up the climb, a Fortuner came hurtling down and I had no option but to stop to give way. Now, it was a test of man and machine in that steep climb and with the machine already on the verge of surrendering, man had to pull out all the tricks to goad the fully loaded machine up the incline with some wheel spin and clutch slipping.


After tackling this climb, the rest was easy till the hotel. I’d planned to get the car to some mechanic to get him check the diesel quality and to clean the air filter. Apart from that, I don’t think they could’ve done much more. Most of the people there have not seen the Punto let alone work on it. But, still I took the car to a mechanic who was from Tezpur and was recommended by a friend and he, after draining some diesel and checking, confirmed it to be okay. I also got the air filter cleaned though it was not too dirty. Since, the diesel seemed okay and all other vitals of the car was working without any malfunction warning being displayed, I decided to not worry about it and let the ECU sort it out. I think since it was bitterly cold at Sela and I’d parked the car facing the wind for more than one hour, the cold and the thin air screwed up the ECU combustion settings. Anyways, by the middle of next day the ECU got the hang of it and the problem did not recur.


The hotel in Tawang I’d booked through one of my acquaintances was supposed to have good views of the Tawang Chu Valley. So, while checking in (we were the only guests in the entire hotel that day) I’d asked the Receptionist cum Manager cum Bell Boy cum Cook to give us the valley view rooms. After going into the rooms, wanting to enjoy the dusk in the valley, I parted the curtains only find no views at all. When I asked the Manager about why he did not give us the “view” rooms, he replied that he has indeed given the best rooms and the view is also there itself. Only that since last year two new commercial buildings have come up in front and so the view is blocked from the rooms. Uh, so much so for mountain view rooms…. This is what unplanned development in the hills does to the charm and beauty of the place.

After relaxing for a while, we had an early dinner at about 7 pm and retreated to our rooms. As if on cue, the power went out and the stillness and silence of the sleeping town was broken only by the winds outside. With nowhere to go to, we called it a day and I was in deep sleep by 9 pm.

The Sela Lake I
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The descent towards Jaswant Garh
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Old 21st August 2016, 22:10   #4
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Default re: Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass

The next day’s plan was to go towards Zemithang and beyond till the army allowed and then enjoy a picnic in the Namka Chu valley. This is the area where it had all begun in 1962 and I wanted to just visit and tread the same path taken by our retreating soldiers to see those areas.

This is what the official history of the war has to say about this theater of the war:
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In the morning parted the curtains of the invisible mountain view window to check on the weather. Fortunately, the weather was sunny and bright and I was looking forward to going to Zemithang and enjoying a great picnic by the river. So, off we went looking for the grocery and some utensils for cooking. The road to Zemithang forks out from the NH towards the west and to go there one has to come back a few kms from Tawang towards Bomdir. The road though paved once was in bad condition now with the top layer coming off in many places with huge rocks and potholes. Also, BRO is repairing and widening it at places but it seems it’d take a few years for it be complete. This road being not on the main connection to Tawang sees limited traffic and would be a pleasure to drive on once it is completely surfaced.


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The valley area towards Zemithang is at a much lower elevation than Tawang and hence it has profusion of trees and vegetation with multihued leaves. Though the weather was good and the spring leaves on the trees all around had freshened up the surroundings, the rough potholed road did not let me enjoy the drive and was slowing me down considerably. I had calculated that at this pace, it’d take me almost 3 hours to reach Zemithang area and right after crossing Lumla, I was facing this.

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Though the stretch was hardly 70 meters of slush and was drivable, the landslide had made the road too narrow and any further landslide could take the remaining portion down. What I was pondering at that time was whether I should go ahead and risk having a blocked road on my return if it rains or turn back from that point. The weather seemed alright at that moment, but I could make out some dark clouds in the distant horizon. I knew that these roads are landslides prone and if the roads get blocked it’d take a long time for the administration to clear it, more so because it is not on the main highway. After considering all these factors, I decided to turn back from there keeping that part of the frontier for sometime later. And I think I made a right decision not to risk it, as after a couple of days many people lost their lives in the Lumla area due to landslides.


So, turning back from the expedition midway, I started looking around for some place where we can have our picnic. I wanted some place which is not too far from the road yet near the water and is not crowded. (ofcourse, these places are not in any case crowded). After driving for sometime, I came across this area where the roaring river was flowing down between two mountains right beside the road. I could park the car and just go down to the huge boulder strewn river. I decided to light the fire there and enjoy the picnic.

So, out came the utensils and pretty soon tea, Maggi, boiled eggs and cookies were ready for the breakfast. Lunch had chicken curry, rice and salad. It was a great experience to move around collecting firewood and a great challenge to light up the fire beside the windy riverbed. It is one memorable experience to enjoy a family picnic in the middle of nowhere in complete solitude with only the roaring river and whistling winds for company.


Magnificent melange of colours
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Chicken getting cooked
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With charcoal baked eggs to boot
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While the food was cooking, I took the opportunity to jump across the boulders in the river to capture some pics. The river is pretty wide between the mountains and would surely be a roaring monster in its full monsoon fury as even during that relatively low rain season it was quite fast and furious.
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One can see the etchings left by the swirling water on the boulders...thousands of years of hard work
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After the lunch was over, I looked up and saw the dark clouds gradually close in and the weather getting colder. Not wanting to tread on the wrong side of the weather, we packed up and after cleaning the area left for Tawang.

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After reaching Tawang, went for a visit to the monastery. The monastery is situated at a higher altitude and hence is visible from all over the town. It has the prayer hall, a museum and the living quarters of the monks around a large cobblestoned courtyard. This is supposed to be one of the largest Buddhist monasteries in the world. As the sun started to go down, winds picked up speed and the chill in the air increased. The crisp, chilly air demanded that we have some hot tea and pakodas in search of which we went towards the main market.

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Masks displayed in the museum
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Old 21st August 2016, 22:22   #5
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Default re: Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass

Some more images from the monastery

Tawang town from the monastery, with its guardian Buddha
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The rows of empty prayer mats, mattresses rather
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By the time, tea was over, the grey clouds opened up and it started to rain and then snow. As the intensity increased, the market took on a white cover and in no time the cars were under a white cover. The windscreen placement of Punto is flatter compared to a sharply sloping windshield of many other cars and hence a heavy sheet of snow was quickly deposited. Before the snow could harden into thick ice, couple of labored sweeps of the wipers managed to dislodge them off.

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And this is what my Punto had to say
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We had a plan to visit Bum La the next day for which permits had already been done by the travel agent from whom we’d booked a vehicle to take us there. But, with the weather turning foul and the snowfall in Tawang, the locals said that it’d snow even more in the higher reaches towards Bum La and chances of the army halting all tourist travel is also a distinct possibility. This was bad news as Bum La was to be the final crowning glory of the trip. Many of the locals told us that we were lucky to have the snowfall as many tourist come for this only, but then for us it could ruin our plan for the next day.

Keeping my fingers crossed, had an early dinner and went to sleep, fervently hoping that the roads are kept open by the army the next day.
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Old 22nd August 2016, 06:38   #6
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Default re: Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass

Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to the Travelogues Section. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 22nd August 2016, 09:38   #7
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Default re: Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass

I never seem to tire reading about this beautiful place. And your narration is very good. There is a romantic streak in you, which comes out in your prose. The photographs, too are very good. Shall do this circuit as soon as possible. I believe you went during April? A map would help people like me to visualise the route.
Waiting for the next instalment and thank you for sharing.
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Old 22nd August 2016, 11:50   #8
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Default Re: Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass

You sure took your own sweet time to post it. But it was worth the wait. Lovely narrative (why am I not surprised?) beautiful pictures and when did you learn how to cook?
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Old 22nd August 2016, 13:17   #9
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Originally Posted by earthian View Post
I never seem to tire reading about this beautiful place.........A map would help people like me to visualise the route.
Waiting for the next instalment and thank you for sharing.
Thanks for your kind words. And here you go...the maps. I'd thought of giving it after I finish writing the log, but as you rightly said it'll help people not familiar with the area in understanding the narrative. I've also marked the areas of the different battles that I spoke of previously.

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Quote:
Originally Posted by wanderernomad View Post
You sure took your own sweet time to post it. But it was worth the wait. Lovely narrative (why am I not surprised?) beautiful pictures and when did you learn how to cook?
Thanks. Yes, my writing pace almost matches the pace of the infrastructure development on our side of the border there. And now you know how I spent the Sunday.

And me cooking? Ofcourse, don't underestimate the power of the common man.

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Old 22nd August 2016, 17:44   #10
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Default Re: Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass

Very interesting travelogue and beautiful photos. Looking forward to the rest of the story.When is the good time to travel to Tawang climate wise and avoiding the tourist crowd?

Saji
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Old 22nd August 2016, 21:07   #11
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Default Re: Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass

To my great relief, the next morning brought with it bright sunshine and crisp clear weather. And it also brought a brand new 4 days old Tata Sumo Gold with barely 1000 kms on the odo. This baby is going to be our ride for the trip to Bum La this early in its life. I was a bit skeptical seeing a non 4wd vehicle considering the snowfall the previous evening, but the driver assured me that the Sumo will go “aaram se” provided the roads are open. I’d carried a large oxygen cylinder borrowed from a friend’s hospital in case my daughter whom I had never taken to such heights earlier, need it at Bum La. After transferring the cylinder to the Sumo, we started off towards the frontier through which the bulk of the enemy had invaded in 1962.

Following is what is written in the pages of the official history of the war:

Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-bum-la.png
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-bum-la-2.png

The way to Bum La is common till Y junction where the left goes towards the Sangetsar lake and the right towards Bum La post. On the way there are multiple lakes notable among them the PT Tso. The higher reaches has many lakes and almost each turn round the mountains brings a different one to view.

Gradually the snowline started
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04601.jpg
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04602.jpg

Spot the water contest !
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04604.jpg
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04605.jpg

There you go, the PT Tso in all its morning glory. The water taking on mirror like effect in the still chill air
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Destination snow clad mountains
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The road was covered in snow at many places
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04614.jpg

Roads varying between tarmac and graveled. Just imagine how nice it'd feel driving this stretch once it is smooth black top.
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04616.jpg

As one nears Y junction the snow starts encroaching the road.
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04619.jpg

The areas getting more sun has patchy snow
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Just before Y junction
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Army barracks on the mountain side....
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04635.jpg

....sharing the same space as the bunkers
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04636.jpg

Once we crossed Y junction, the road condition started deteriorating and since we were early we were among the first few vehicles to tread on that snow covered path. Just after a couple of turns on that route, we were flagged down by the army jawans waving red flags. My heart sank thinking that this is it, much too snow, it’s a no go. Went down to the jawans only to learn that they were practicing field firing with heavy weapons in the valley and the mountain opposite the road and during the actual firing of the weapons civilian traffic on the road is stopped. I asked the jawans about the weapons that they were practicing with and he replied that on that day they were firing almost all weapons including artillery.

I climbed onto a small hillock beside the road from where the jawans were monitoring the area and they showed me the opposite mountain face across a valley where the ammunition was hitting and throwing up rocks and dirt. We could hear the crack and spit of the small arms like rifles and MMGs and could also hear the boom and thunder of the heavy artillery which though could not be seen from where we were. I asked them whether they were firing the Bofors to which the jawans replied that they were not firing the Bofors but the smaller field artillery guns that day. We could also see some soldiers practicing small arms fire in a flat area down below amidst some temporary tents and then shooting up some white flares.

The whole experience of seeing the soldiers firing and hearing the boom of the artillery in that area will make anyone to have goosebumps and for me it was the highlight of the trip. We were stopped twice more for this, up ahead before we reached Bum La.

The last 3-4 kms stretch to Bum La is considered the toughest for the vehicles due to loose rocks and slush. As we were climbing the steep slope water was gushing down because of the melting snow. The fist sized rocks being round and smooth there also does not help matters much for the vehicle to get traction. Though the Sumo handled the road well enough with few underbody hits, I was thinking about the running in period of the brand new vehicle each time the engine was roaring and the turbo was whistling.

From here the road was covered in snow, almost 6 to 9 inches in places. Thankfully, a couple of army Stallions had passed before compressing the snow.
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04637.jpg

The solo biker had a harrowing time controlling the skidding bike on the soft snow.

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Our driver went to help pushing the bike ahead, but after couple of dangerous skids towards the cliff, he gave up. The biker couldn't finish the climb till Bum la and turned back about 5 kms short.
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What lay hiding behind this picture perfect spot?
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04645.jpg

The twin frozen lakes
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04646.jpg
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04644.jpg

Yeh "dil" maange more of this heart shaped one...
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Thick snow cover beside the road
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Bum la still far away behind those mountains, road cutting through the mountains and getting worse.
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Yes, you'll surely win!
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The final climb. The road is much worse than what the camera has captured. Even the mini truck like Sumo had few underbody hits here, what with the snow melt water gushing in streams.
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04655.jpg
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Old 22nd August 2016, 22:38   #12
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Default Re: Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass

Finally reached Bum La and I must say the 3.0 L truck engine of the Sumo handled the roads without much hiccups. May be the fact that its peak torque comes in at as low as 1000 rpms made the climb that much easier. Bum La post is situated on a large wide plateau between the mountains on both sides. This wide flat pass between the mountains is considered a pathway of least natural resistance for the enemy to move large infantry and armoured columns and this is precisely what the Chinese did in 1962. Infact, the current motorable road to Tawang from Bum La was built by the Chinese themselves during the war to move their men and machines.

The army post on our side as we all know is situated right on the border with China. However, the chinese post is quite inland on their side and only a couple of structures are visible from the 0 line. In contrast, our side of the border is full of friendship and brotherhood festoons and with us gawking tourists is reasonably livelier than the other side.

We too want the friendship, but do the other side reciprocate in equal measure?
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Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04657.jpg

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The army there has a couple of binoculars for the tourists to look around. Though with the surroundings completely under snow, there was not much our untrained eyes could make out. Even after the Punjab Regiment jawan tried to point out one Indian forward post buried under snow, I could not find it. Though I could make out another bunker high up in the mountains overlooking directly into China. The army guys explained that 4 soldiers are always deployed there 24x7 so as to maintain the claim on that mountain top and to prevent the enemy from occupying it. This seems to be a lesson from Kargil when abandoned Indian bunkers were occupied by the enemy claiming them to be their own. Simply the thought of climbing up the mountain and spending a night in those icy heights with darkness and solitude as company in subzero temperatures hunkering down in a cramped bunker sent shivers down the spine. And how our brave soldiers do it as a daily routine is something we Captain Couches cannot even fathom. These situations make one realize what hardship they face during the course of their daily duties.

While the soldiers were pointing out the features and explaining the positions of troops and lines of attack of the war, an interesting discussion happened. An elderly lady, part of 2 Sumo loads of tourists from Kolkata, commandeered her flock to listen to the soldiers. As the soldier pointed out a Chinese radar station on the opposite mountain, our lady interrupted him to ask, “hamara radar kahan hain?” The soldier said that our radars are not here and are based somewhere else. “Eh, you don’t have a radar here? No wonder we’d lost the war then”, was her curt reply.

Moving on the soldier pointed out the road buried under snow on the Chinese side which comes right to the border barrier which is just a thin pole (we tourists were in fact beyond this barrier and, as explained by the soldiers, were technically walking on Chinese territory). Our lady asked the soldiers whether the Chinese ever come though this road. The soldier replied that ofcourse they do drive right upto the barrier while patrolling. “And till where do we go for patrolling?” was her query back to him.

“We patrol upto this barrier and are not allowed beyond this”, explained the soldier.

“What? They come right till our gate and you don’t even move beyond here?” was her surprised query.

“No, Madam, we are not allowed to cross this barrier on this road” said the soldier.

“Huh, no wonder our people die in war, and if this is the way we operate more will die”, was her assessment of our military strategy not understanding that unlike us who have the post right at the border barrier, the Chinese post is a few kms inside their territory and so they have every right to come upto the border barrier and as we are already located right at the border we can’t cross over to move forward even an inch.

I was enjoying this mindless blabbering of the lady and the considerable exasperation that she was causing to the tall sikh soldier. I still wonder what was the facial expression of the hapless fighter behind the black balaclava and the snow goggles. The geo-strategic discussion went on for some more time, but I moved on from there lest our lady General ordered the forces there on a mission to invade China.

On a serious note, in our eagerness to prove our patriotism people sometimes do not understand the impact of their words. You don’t criticize the army in a forward post saying “more will die”, which I feel is in bad taste and demoralizing for the men facing serious difficulties on our behalf.

After playing around on the snow for sometime, my daughter complained of unease and I decided that before AMS hits, we should move to a lower elevation.

The round feature on the right of the frame is known as the helmet top. The small black thing on top is a bunker manned 24X7 by our soldiers.
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04663.jpg

This is a all weather road buried under the snow lined by those boulders on the chinese side right upto the barrier. The road is used by the chinese patrols.
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04664.jpg
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04669.jpg

And the same road continues on the other side till Tsonajong which is a district HQ about 43 kms from Bum la.
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04667.jpg
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04670.jpg

Bum la is almost a plateau, with wide open spaces all around
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04674.jpg
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04677.jpg
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Couple of pics from the mobile. The pole is for chinese telecommunication.
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-p_20160412_100916_p_1.jpg

The heap of peace. Stones placed by the Chinese and Indians after each BOP meeting between the local commanders.
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-rps20160817_145850.jpg

The army there stays in the CFRP huts. And they have Tata Sky as well
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04682.jpg

The descent back towards Y junction.
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On the way one finds the shrine dedicated to Sub Joginder Singh, PVC.
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04695.jpg

The small boards strung on the barbed wire said in Hindi "Warning. Live minefield beyond these lines. Entry strictly prohibited." What more proof does one need to remember that this was and still is a very active border. Only thing I could not make out was that whether the minefields are remnants of 1962 or presently laid.
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04698.jpg

Another lake
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04700.jpg

Another one
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04705.jpg

And here the lakes tried almost falling off the mountain side...
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04716.jpg

And as we turned one bend, a sudden sight startled me. Such was my surprise that I shot the following without even caring to focus the cam. And if you are looking for the abominable snowman hiding in a red tent, fret not. That's no yeti, but rather our humble Alto 800. It was parked on a small outcrop and I was surprised at the audacity of the driver taking it there. My only thought was what beating the poor car must have gone through while reaching there. The car seemed like being parked there for a few days, may be driver was waiting for BRO to complete the road works before returning which wouldn't be for the next few years though.

Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04711.jpg

Yet another lake
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04730.jpg

Another peeking from behind the mountains
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04735.jpg

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Old 22nd August 2016, 22:46   #13
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Default Re: Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass

Amazing Travelogue, Wanderer4X4. The way you have posted the documented history of the Indo China war is both very educative as well as intriguing. Lovely pictures by the way.
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Old 22nd August 2016, 23:08   #14
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To visit Sangetsar lake, one has to come back to Y junction and again take the other arm of the fork. Army mandates that one has to cross Y junction towards Sangetsar latest by 1 pm. We had sufficient time for this and we leisurely took the road to visit the so called Madhuri Lake. As is customary in the mountains, the bright sunny sky started showing glimpses of dark clouds and the sun started playing hide and seek. But, since we had cleared Bum La by then, the weather and expected rain or snowfall did not worry me much. As everyone knows, Sangetsar became popular after the movie Koyla and most people visit Tawang to visit this “Madhuri Lake”. In line with the increased tourist flow, the army has also “upgraded” the surroundings of the lake to include railings, concrete pathway, benches etc giving a park kind of look. When I’d visited it a few years back, there was only the small wooden cottage and nothing much and the surroundings looked much more natural and pristine. Given a choice I’d any day prefer the earlier surroundings than the modernized park type look that the area presently has.

The Sangetsar Tso aka Madhuri Lake. It is a relatively new feature and came into existence after an earthquake swallowed an entire grazing field in 1950 or in 1971 as per some other accounts.
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Jai Hind !
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A parting shot
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04779.jpg

Such random rockslides make these roads more unpredictable and dangerous
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04786.jpg

On the way, one can see the Guru Nanak ji gurudwara which was believed to be set up by Guru Nana ji himself. The actual gurudwara is located almost 700 feet up the rocky mountain face. After a game of "who's game for a steep climb", we decided that it'd be a pass. Honestly, did not have the stamina to climb up all those stairs in the rarefied air.
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04794.jpg

Gradually the weather turned for the worse and clouds enveloped the road. By the time we reached the Y junction, tiny flakes of snow started to fall to bid us adieu from these mountains.
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04798.jpg

Monaco Grand Prix anyone?
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04816.jpg

The lake placid, so tiny a Tso
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04819.jpg
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The return was uneventful and we decided to drive straight to the Tawang War Memorial to salute the brave man who’d fallen in the same heights that we’d just left behind. The memorial is in honour of almost 2400 men who had been martyred in 1962. Their names are etched in gold in large granite slabs all across the memorial. It has a small shrine dedicated to Joginder Singh, PVC who’d fought in the initial Bum La battles. It also has a small museum displaying small arms and depicting the progress of the war in maps.

After a fruitful day visiting the intended places supported by nice weather, I went back to the hotel planning to leave early the next day to drive straight back home the same day.

Honouring those who died upholding the honour of the country

Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04829.jpg
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Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04833.jpg
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The story of Joginder Singh
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04843.jpg

Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04859.jpg
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04860.jpg
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04873.jpg

Yes, once I too had hunted birds!
Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass-dsc04889.jpg
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Old 22nd August 2016, 23:25   #15
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Default Re: Reliving history at the Kameng Frontier - Trip to Tawang and Bum La Pass

The mines are from a bygone era but primarily due to constant shifting due to snow the area has not been fully cleansed.
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