Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Riding High in the Low Country - I
We made the trip several times in our minds before actually embarking on it. Based in a Tea Estate at the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas, our day began with a wonderful view of these snow-capped peaks. We would often discuss the trip whilst having our morning cup of tea and plan for it.
Our journey finally began on a cold January morning. We started early as the high mountain passes tend to get foggy and misty by midday and the weather has the habit of suddenly changing for the worse in the afternoon. The town of Bhalukpong, which literally translates to ‘Bear Spring’, marks the border between Assam and Arunachal. It is an hour’s drive from Tezpur and along the way we pass through the Nameri Sanctuary on the banks of the river Jia Bhorelli (called Kameng in Arunachal).
After Nameri the road begins its gentle climb to the foothills. The forest on either side has been degraded by jhumming and the prominent crop at this time seems to be mustard. Stumps of trees litter the landscape. At Bhalukpong, non-residents of Arunachal are required to submit their ILP’s and register themselves.
The Assam Government has recently built accommodation facilities at Bhalukpong while on the Arunachal side there is a Circuit House overlooking the Kameng River. Beyond Bhalukpong, the road moves along the river Kameng till Tippi which has an Orchidarium. Arunachal accounts for around 500 species of orchids– almost 50% of the total species known in India.
Tippi is also a favourite picnic spot and the riverbank is crowded with picnickers from Assam during the month of January. We looked wistfully at the beautiful river and its inviting banks but decided to press on as we had a long journey ahead of us. On the opposite bank of the river Kameng at Tippi lay the Pakui Wildlife Sanctuary. The only access to the sanctuary from Arunachal is by boat. This Sanctuary is rich in wildlife and is home to some of the rarer cats such as the marbled cat, fishing cat etc. The Forest Department has a couple of lovely cottages in Tippi where one might, with the required permission, spend a couple of days and explore the sanctuary.
Immediately after Tippi, the road begins its first serious climb of the trip towards Sessa. It winds its way upwards along the river, but soon, the river is just a silver necklace thousands of feet below us. The road from Bhalukpong to Sessa also has numerous waterfalls, which are vastly reduced in volume due to the season but can be seen in their full glory during the monsoons or immediately thereafter.
Sessa is our first stop for the day for a welcome cup of warm black tea and breakfast of puris. Although the Indian Army maintains a dosa point just before reaching Sessa, most Sumo drivers opt for small joints run by Nepali immigrants. Most Nepalese have come into the state as labour for road building, which are maintained by the Border Roads Organisation, and have stayed put in large numbers.
Will continue later.........