Arunachal Pradesh Travelogue 2: Tawang and Bumla Pass

As we crossed the Sela Pass, we entered the border district of Tawang which was in the news only a few months ago due to the attempted incursion of Chinese troops across the Indo-Tibet border. Our first stop was Jaswantgarh War Memorial, the memorial of Martyr Jaswant Rawat, who during the 1962 war fought valiantly with the Chinese intruders and killed 300 of them. You will find lots of vehicles parked in front of the memorial, some carrying tourists and normal traffic too, as the army canteen here provides free unlimited tea to any passerby, and some other excellent stuff on payment – we ourselves tasted bread pakodas, vanilla cake, and rajma. 

Also Read: Dirang & Sela Pass

The memorial is a somber place at 10,000 feet, you go in and pay respects to the martyrs of the gallant Garhwal Rifles at the Battle of Nuranang with China. Amidst heavy rain, only a few tourists were there at the Smriti Sthal, but we visited all the spots inside before proceeding toward Tawang. 

Another 25 km away was the mighty Nuranag Waterfalls at Jang. The fall looks regal, and after a photo session there we had a quick and delicious thali lunch at a roadside eatery. The thalis in Arunachal, called “Rice Thali” are comfort food, simple but tasty. The locals are primarily Buddhists, and the cuisine has some similarities to the other hilly regions of the Eastern region such as Darjeeling, Sikkim, and Bhutan. When we reached Tawang by the evening, we could not help but notice that the small hill station has a lot of army movements given how sensitive it is.  Our homestay LD Retreat was located right below the Tawang Monastery. It was more of a small hotel with around ten cozy rooms.

Tawang Monastery

The weather continued to be wet and rainy the next day too. Our friends dropped out of the sightseeing on this day. Tawang Monastery is the second largest in the world, after the Lhasa monastery in Tibet. The inside of a monastery campus resembles a small town with monk and student quarters as well as a museum displaying old Tibetan artifacts. The Monpas, who are the predominant inhabitants of this part of Arunachal are Buddhists, unlike most of the other tribes in the rest of the state, and that is the reason there are more monasteries in the eastern part of the state. 

It was still raining as we progressed through rain and fog to Zemithang, a village known for its beauty located 80 km away near the Bhutan border. As you go along the hilly tracks, you can see the border villages of Bhutan on the next mountain separated by a river Manas flowing in between. We passed numerous rivulets and waterfalls, the best view was of a waterfall inside a cave. As we reached Zemithang, a local fair near the Gorsam Chorten resulted in a traffic snarl with literally about a hundred cars parked on the road. On the way back the weather became clearer, and we marveled at the lush green surroundings. The Bhutan villages could be clearly seen across the hill. 

The jewel on the crown of our Arunachal trip was the much-expected visit to Bumla Pass and Indo-Tibetan border. For a trip to the pass, you cannot take your own vehicle, you need to hire a local vehicle for the same (the whole trip costs Rs 5500, a price fixed by the local syndicate). During most of the 35 km journey, it was snowing very heavily, and the white surroundings looked out of the world. Our vehicles had to stop to wrap chains around the wheels to negotiate the snow. We passed the PT Lake and another few lakes, before reaching Bumla at 15,100 ft.  

Bumla Pass is the border of India and China-occupied Tibet, and vehicles can only travel to the army canteen there. Here we recharged ourselves with some hot tea, before the army took over, walked us down to the Indo-Tibetan border post, and gave us a detailed overview of the place through a very nice presentation. Listening to them, our heads bow with respect at the tremendous sacrifice of the Indian Armed Forces in such difficult terrains. After some more snacks and sweets at the army canteen on our return, playing around and posing in the snow, we came back to Tawang. The white surroundings, the snow drizzle, and the lakes en route made our journey truly surreal. It was easily the best day of our trip.

The whole journey from Guwahati to Tawang is 540 km, and most of it is in hilly terrain. So it takes at least two days to travel between the two places. Our Tawang trip was complete, and it was time to head homeward. On our way back, we had planned our night halt at Shergaon, a quaint hill station on the foothills. From the Tawang-Bhalukpong road, you need to take a right at Tenga Valley through Rupa to reach here. It was nighttime, and the well-constructed 25km stretch between Rupa and Shergaon was near empty, we barely had about a dozen vehicles coming from the other side during the 25 km run. 

The Shergaon Farmstay, a new property we stayed in was a few kilometers inside Shergaon located on a hill. The owners invited us to their home for some lovely local dinner including some exceptional Chicken Curry, Kewa Datshi (potatoes cooked in churpi, the local cheese, Bhutanese style), and some brilliant pickles made from fruits like Kiwi and local cheese. As a nice gesture, some pickles made from fermented churpi were given to us in a bottle to be carried back to Hyderabad. We had a fulfilling discussion with our hosts who gave us nice insights into the lifestyles of the local people there. As you travel through the length and breadth of the country, you truly marvel at the diversity we have, and this makes our unity even more special. In the morning we looked at their farm that breeds Turkey birds, and swans among others. We were told that each egg from Turkey is sold for Rs 100 at the local market and each egg of the swan at Rs 50.

The drive through the plains from Shergaon to Guwahati was equally scenic, we moved past the Dhunseri Tea Estate and later along the north bank of Brahmaputra. We stopped at Khar Khowa, a well-known Assamese restaurant near Mangaldoi, where we tried the local fish Bhangun cooked in Tenga style, the local mutton curry, and the Assamese Thali. Assamese food has its own distinctive flavours, and it is a wrong perception that it is an offshoot of Bengali food. They have their similarities only till a certain point and believe me it is a lovely cuisine not to be missed.

As we were waiting for our Hyderabad flight at the Guwahati Airport, we did not forget to try out the Naga Smoked Chicken Thali, at a stall name Local Foods inside the airport, as advised by Kaustuv. A grand gastronomical way to end our nine-day Arunachal sojourn. There are many others locations still waiting to welcome us to the North East in the future. Inshallah, some other time. 

You can contact our Tour Organizer Kaustuv Khaund at  91018 51344. He is based out of Guwahati, and organizes tours to Assam, Meghalaya and Arunachal.

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Quick Bytes: Gaurang’s Kitchen Brings Vegetarian Dishes of Different States to Hyderabad

Hyderabad has its fair share of exclusively vegetarian restaurants, and some of them are quite sought after too. Vegetarian food from the Telugu states, as well as from up North are available in many restaurants in the city, but there is no place that presents vegetarian dishes from all regions of India under the same roof. Gaurang’s Kitchen, a restaurant in Jubilee Hills which has just celebrated its first anniversary is one place that presents the diverse cuisines of the country presenting unique dishes from all over the country.

The restaurant is the brainchild of Gaurang Shah, a noted designer from the city. The swank place can accommodate close to four hundred diners at a time and boasts of al-fresco as well as indoor sections. The seating consists of different styles including the comfortable floor-level traditional low seating. One cannot but notice the creative and soothing design of the place which is based on an open form. 

For Gaurang, a big foodie himself, this restaurant provides an opportunity to champion lost and unknown dishes from different regions of India. He is personally involved along with Chef Prakash Lobo in designing a culinary treat for his customers. 

Coming to the food, the place is known for its thali with the constituent dishes changing every day. As per Chef Prakash Lobo who heads the kitchen, a tremendous amount of attention goes to the menu composition and balance. Thus the thali often has dishes from the mountains as well as coastal areas, as well as a combination of rich and comfort food. Chef Lobo is always on a journey to track new dishes from different parts of the country and bring them to the table. The thali on two days will never be the same here. 

On the anniversary day, the restaurant launched sixteen new starters to mark the occasion. Some of these dishes were inspired by known dishes of regional cuisines.  Thus there was Maharashtra Poha Patti Samosa, Bajri Crackers with Chana Dal Dip, and Tandoori Paneer Calzone, dishes that were a twist on the popular dishes. My favourites for that day were the Tandoori Chaap, Khandvi Chaat, and Tandoori Fruit Chaat

There were items for the health-conscious too, like Beetroot wrap and Lauki Idli. They served the biryani was served in a mug covered by purdah. Both the desserts I tried Cookies N Cream Kulfi and Rose Coconut Jalebi made their mark. 

Being Ramzan time, one of the best dishes was the Vegetarian Haleem. Substituting meat with soya, the dish mimicked the mutton counterpart very closely. Another highlight was the Mobile Pani Puri Counter you could beckon to serve Pani Puri at your table side.

This is an exceptional culinary journey, especially for vegetarian food lovers. If you are in a group, you can book a separate room exclusively for yourselves. The regional food festivals held here from time to time are also huge draws. 

Address: Gaurang’s Kitchen, Plot Number, 1147, Rd Number 59, Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad, Telangana 500033.Phone: 086888 20077

Note: Some pics are courtesy Gaurang's Kitchen

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Arunachal Pradesh Travelogue: From Guwahati to Dirang

 Arunachal Pradesh was on my bucket list for a long time. I had been discussing with Kaustuv Khaund, a fellow foodie and travel connoisseur based out of Guwahati regarding travelling to the hills. As per him, Arunachal Pradesh had to be covered through multiple trips, and the best place to start was the western region, where one can travel through the hills up to the Indo-Tibet border. So after a lot of deliberations, we drew up an itinerary for about eight days aiming to visit the border districts of Tawang. We were a team of four (two families) from Hyderabad. Kaustuv had made all the arrangements and offered that he will personally take us around during the trip.

Sela Pass, between Dirang & Tawang

So, on an appointed day in March, we were at Gopinath Bardoloi Airport in Guwahati, Assam. The idea was to move straight out of the city and proceed towards Arunachal Pradesh along the lower bank of Brahmaputra River. It takes two to three days to reach the interiors of the state, so the itinerary was designed in such a way that we have multiple stops, which would help us to acclimatize for the high altitudes too.

Misa Polo Club

Our first-night break was to be at a homestay inside Nameri National Park, about 250 km from Guwahati. We had started from Guwahati in the afternoon, and at dusk, we took a quick stopover at Misa Polo Club, a club catering to tea planters in a section of lower Assam. The club located inside a tea garden had a vintage look with rich d├ęcor, and the tea served there was superior quality Assam tea.  We came to know that the club bungalows are also available for a night stay, but that part for us was already sorted. 

Our huts at Nameri (top) and Along, the Local Rice Beer

Soon we took a left turn from the highway and moved past Tezpur towards Nameri. It was getting dark, and Kaustuv told us that this is elephant country, and often while driving one can run into a herd passing through the area. It is a pity that we humans have encroached into the forest lands which belong to the animals, and as a result, they are forced to move into localities in search of food.

Our huts inside Nameri village were pretty. There were only two huts in the particular homestay we were putting up. The huts were clean, and they organized a local dinner in the open space in front of the huts. Assamese-style chicken and Aloo Pitika were the highlights of the dinner. We also had a taste of Apong, the local rice beer from the Mising tribe, who are inhabitants of the foothills of Arunachal. The slightly sweetish beer is offered in a brass bowl to you if you visit any home of the Mising tribe.

Arunachal has about 26 tribes each speaking its own language. Hindi is thus the common language of communication in the state. Western Arunachal is predominantly inhabited by a tribe called Monpa, who are Buddhists and are also a predominant tribe in Eastern Bhutan. 

The next morning, we went around the village. The villages in Assam are very green and pretty, they reminded me of the Dooars area of North Bengal. We explored the small village before we started our journey early moving towards Dirang, our next destination.

As we moved on the Kameng River accompanied us. We had a short visit to the river bank in Nameri, a wide riverfront that has been spoilt by garbage left behind by tourists. The Arunachal check post at Bhalukpong took a bit of time to cross, as we had to make the Inner Line Permits here. The border is dotted with wine shops, as alcohol in Arunachal is about one-third cheaper than in Assam. 

The roads in Arunachal are among the best among the hilly tracts of India. A large credit goes to Border Roads Organization (BRO) which builds and maintains them. Throughout Arunachal, you see a lot of movement of army trucks, as this is one of the most sensitive border areas of India. 

At Tenga Valley, the food, the road and the vegetable market

Our lunch was at a small place in Tenga Valley. We tried both the Assamese Fish Thali as well as the local Momo and Thukpa. While bypassing the town of Bomdila, we had to negotiate extreme fog where visibility was only a few feet. At dusk, we reached the town of Dirang and directly proceeded to the Dirang monastery.

Dirang Monastery

Dirang is a small town in the West Kameng district in Arunachal. It is a preferred stopover en route to Tawang, though certain tourists prefer to spend the night at Bomdila too. The monastery is located at the top of a mountain, and in good weather conditions, you can get a phenomenal bird eye view of the town. We were not so lucky on a cloudy day. The monastery was one of the cleanest that I have seen (and with my travels I have seen many of them). The hot tea in the canteen refreshed us before we went down to check in at our homestay.

Gonpalok Homestay was more like a small hotel. We were provided rooms in the annex building. The rooms were large and had all amenities. The issue that we faced during the two-day stay was that the attendants were mostly in the main building, so service often took a bit of time. That said, overall the stay was very comfortable, and the food was decent too.

Mandala Top Chortens (Top) and Thembang Monpa Houses

The next day, we visit Mandala Top, 26 km away. Bad weather did us in again, the top at 10,000 ft was completely covered by fog. The Mandala top has 108 Chortens, with religious inscriptions on all of them. Our next stop was Thembang, a model village of the local Monpa tribe, which is a UNESCO Heritage site. The Monpa homes made of stone and wood have been maintained in the traditions of yesteryears, and the shapes and architecture of the houses made for an interesting sight.

It was time to move on from Dirang. The weather did not let up, and that helped us to a fascinating view of Sela Pass top. It was snowing, and the whole top was covered with snow, including a half-frozen Sela Lake. We stopped to pose for photographs and play with the snow. There is an army canteen here offering hot tea and snacks. Sela is at 13,700 ft and it is the gateway to the border district of Tawang which was our next destination. The lovely surroundings along with the lake make you stop for a good amount of time here, before you move further ahead. 

Sela Lake

You can contact our Tour Organizer Kaustuv Khaund at  91018 51344. He is based out of Guwahati, and organizes tours to Assam, Meghalaya and Arunachal.

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