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Travelogue Nagaland – Assam – Arunachal Pradesh
North East India

 

Part 4 – from Tawang via Kaziranga to Majuli island

 

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English is not our native language, so we apologize in advance for translation- spelling- and grammar errors.

 

 

Day 21 – Friday, December 20, 2013, Tawang - Dirang (141 km) map

Last night it started to snow. Therefore we leave extra early. The snow is early in the morning not so crushed by cars and hopefully is not so smooth.

 

At 6 am we get tea in the room. At half past seven we leave. The 3 guys who keep the hotel running see us off. In this hotel we are the only guests. When we are left, the boys will jump back into bed again we think. Rightly, brrr ... it's cold and we are at the beginning of what will turn out to be a heavy day!

 

After the first hour drive breakfast at the same restaurant where we ate on our way to Tawang. You do not even sit on your bench or your food is served. An Indian breakfast. What an efficiency here! It is awfully busy. At this restaurant everyone takes a final stop before the trip over the mountain pass begins. After breakfast we also depart towards the Sela pass. The weather, but also the road is getting worse . It's snowing harder and harder. When we drive about 75 minutes and have already come a long way, it is getting really awful. The car slips away. At a certain moment we cannot ascent the slope in a curve anymore.

At the same place where we are stranded, another car is also stuck. After futile attempts to further ride uphill the car returns to Tawang for a rope. The rope will be use to tie to the tires as a simple snow chain.

 

Our car is more strong, so we will take one more attempt. Fruitless. We have to draw the conclusion: we will have to drive back and buy a rope too. That's another long drive back but there is really no alternative. We get dropped off at the restaurant where we just had our breakfast and Bully proceeds to find a rope. After a while he picks us up again. At 10.30 am we drive off and continue our mountain adventure.

We drive to the military post at the memorial to Jaswant Singh Rawat. While we drink a cup of chai with the military Bully puts on the ropes to the two rear tires. It is a cold task he has to accomplish in a snowstorm.

 

When the ropes are fastened, the three of us drink a cup of chai and then we go. The ropes, though it's the first time that Bully uses ropes in the mountains, fit and work well. The wheels have grip on the road again. But what a road! We must drive extremely slow and cautious. We see several cars stuck and slipping. If you create an erroneous slip you're off a few hundred feet down! Gradually thick fog patches appear.

On top of the mountain you can barely see the Sella gate. Beyond the summit of 4,175 meters we descend. Decline is even more dangerous than rise. You need to be extra careful because increasing traffic has priority, the car is slipping down easier and we drive down to the dangerous outside of the road; at the edge of the abyss. There are virtually no private cars on the road. Only trucks, shared taxis and some military vehicles. If a truck that runs upwards has to stop for another car, the truck barely succeeds in starting to drive of its place again. If there are problems, or a vehicle is stuck, help is never far away. Everyone helps to make the surface of the road rough so the tires regain grip on the road. Nice to see the solidarity in the mountains in such hard drafts.

 

A car has stopped at the middle of the road. The driver, of course on a stretch of road where you cannot pass each other, has decided that this is the time and the spot for him to tie ropes. And so, all the road users have to wait for him for half an hour in the snow till he is done. But it can be even crazier! If the front car is almost ready his neighbour from behind comes to the same conclusion. And as the first car is driving away the driver of the other car is still working hard at his project to bind up the ropes. Therefore, our forced break continues. Unbelievable! Behind us is a row of cars now. But nobody seems to care. Everyone waits patiently until the job is done and the road is clear again. This is typical of India!

Exactly 12 hours after the start at our hotel in Tawang we arrive at the our next hotel. And it is not the hotel where we would originally overnight. We have decided not to drive on to Bomdila. We overnight once more in Dirang. Dirang is a good hotel 2 hours less driving from Tawang.

 

We have a great room again. The three of us sit in our room and order some chips and delicious vegetarian snacks (somosa). Nice glass of wine. Delicious. In Arunachal Pradesh we drink and buy local wine: Zinzi. Fine easy-to-drink wine for only € 3 a bottle. If we go to eat at the restaurant the bottle of wine goes along. Diner is fine and tasty. There are some tourists coming from Quebec Canada, and a lady with an Indonesian background in the restaurant. They passed the Sela pass yesterday. Their journey has also been violently. Eventually they came down into a military convoy. They were afraid and said to have thanked God that they were down safely. What a day!

 

Today we think a lot about Marjon and Bram in the Netherlands. They have been given the keys to their new home today. Too bad we cannot reach them, but there really is no internet!

 

Day 22 – Saturday, December 21, 2013, Dirang - Nameri (165 km) map

 

Breakfast at the hotel. Admittedly, in the cold, but we have breakfast with a magnificent view; the snow-capped Himalayan peaks in the distance. After breakfast we drive a short distance. Just outside Dirang is a nice old town where we get off.

 

We go through a gate, past all the old prayer wheels. Here are houses of a few hundred years old. Via a wooden ladder we reach the top floor of a very old pawn. The building used to be a prison, and later the departure of the tax official from Tibet. In the rooms of the property are several statues of Buddha. They come from the monastery nearby. The monastery is being renovated. The ancient images are restored. The images are re-painted.

There are painters specially arrived from Nepal to do this job. A monk trained in Nepal is also present. His task is to bless and refill the hollow Buddha statues with offerings. When we step inside the room he is busy with a Buddha from a few feet high. The Buddha is made of clay. The Buddha was filled with "treasures" and offerings of some 400 years ago. Now everything is removed and the old offerings are burned. The Buddha is refilled by the monk. Villagers come to bring valuables to give the Buddha; grain, money, beads, silver, everything.

 

There was also a 400 year old stick in the Buddha . Unfortunately, the old stick is to get burned too. There is a new stick made which is admittedly much more colourful. But the antique stick is still so beautiful! We give some money for the Buddha. A 5 euro banknote and some coins . The money is cleaned first before it can be placed in the Buddha. The money is washed in a dubious red liquid. Then the money is left to dry in the sun. Later, the money was also purified above a fire.

Some Buddha's have a blindfold so they do not have to experience the temporary migration out of their monastery.

 

The new stick is placed when the inside of the hollow Buddha has been ritually cleaned with a damp brush. The stick is followed by a lot of little prayer rolls and incense sticks.

 

We get chai. This is special to experience! A woman removes some nice big lapis lazuli beads from the rim of her hat and gives it to the monk. Our banknote is done in a bus filled with grain. Our coins go into another bus with other coins and the beads. The filled buses will eventually be given a place in the Buddha.

Outside two carpenters prepare a wooden board that will serve as a stop so that the image can properly be closed. What a privilege to be able to attend the ritual of the filling of the Buddha from so close by and in peace

 

We wander around through the village for a while. At one of the houses yak meat hangs on a beam to dry. We also see some plates with unclear nasty smelling crops and some plates with chili peppers. In one of the houses a very strong alcoholic drink is brewed. In another house a whole family is busy crushing chilli peppers in big jacks. Some houses have beautiful doors. There's corn to dry, and there are beautiful baskets everywhere. A grandfather carries his grandchild in a cloth on his back. We see a lot men walking with children on their backs in this part of Arunachal Pradesh! Our visit to the village was very special.

 

And up we go again; towards Bomdila. In Bomdila unfortunately almost all the shops are closed. Still we manage to buy some stocking stuffers.

We have lunch in a military camp. There is a huge army base. India has millions of soldiers and here alone, there are 100,000 together. The barracks are together almost a city with a lot of facilities up to an amusement park for the children. We eat a army pizza, a chicken croissant and a cup cake. The army baker bakes delicious stuff! After a cup of coffee we are ready for the last part of trip for this day. We leave the mountains and drive into Assam and the road is much better again instantly. We can even drive 100km per hour in some parts, so we make good progress!

 

By half past five we arrive back in Nameri eco camp. We are assigned a tent and get tea. At 18.30 we have diner.

 

Day 23 – Sunday December 22, 2013, Nameri - Kaziranga (90 km) map

 

Today we are out of our beds at 6 o'clock. We want to make a walk at daybreak. Nice to be a part of nature at dawn. It is very quiet. We spot a bunch of monkeys and even see an elephant and we hear a lot of bird sounds. Special!

After a good breakfast we head to Kaziranga park . Fun ride on a road where there is much to see.

 

At one point we see a group of people somewhere along the road. They are obviously looking at something. But at what ? We understand that they have seen a rare bird. Birders. A little further, the same story. Again people along the way staring in the distance. Now we see two big rhinos in the field along the way !

Kaziranga National Park situated in the heart of Assam, with an area of 430 square - miles, is inhabited by the world's largest population of one-horned Indian rhinoceros. In 1985 it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Our hotel in Kaziranga is the Ioara Hotel. There are a lot of hotels. This area is quite touristy. Especially Indian tourists. Our hotel is disappointing. It looks good, but a lot of fuss, straight away a "It is strictly prohibited to take food or drink to the room" sign and more of those signs and wifi only in a cold hall. Not in the room.

 

And ..... an incredible amount of noise! Rock hard fake music. At dinner, we are told that the music will be silenced at 20.30 but at 22.00 it is still a deafening noise. Strange for such a supposedly fancy hotel. We think that the smaller hotels are much more fun! There was a pool but it was closed for maintenance. Dinner is tasty, but we are not very impressed by the flick knife hassle of the staff here. In the cold hall, we can connect to the Internet. So we can contact Marjon and hear about their new home. In the room we drink our own wine. Our wine costs 3 euros per bottle; same wine stands for 30 euros on the map.

 

Day 24 – Monday, December 23, 2013 , Kaziranga

 

We have not slept well. Very loud music, a lot of singing out of tune and later loud talking of blind drunk people. At 01.00 a.m. Jan Arend angrily calls the reception. Not much later the drunken people are finally gone.

Half 6 wakeup call and 6 am picked up at the hotel. On the way to the riding point of the Central Range (Kohoro) for the elephant safari. We are afraid it will be very touristy but fortunately that is not the case.

 

There are quite a lot of people, but the elephants do not stay very close together, so you are not bothered by the others. Some people sit with 3 or 4 persons on an elephant. We are on with only the two of us plus the driver. It doesn't take long before we disappear between the high elephant grass and see the first rhino's.

What a fascinating beasts with those ridiculously small ears and armoured shields! We hear that recently one of the rhino's has escaped from the park. The rhino has injured 26 people and wrecked one car ! On the back of an elephant's however you are safe. Rhinos do not attack elephants. They respect them!

 

In 2006 the park was also declared as a tiger reserve. In the park seem to live some 86 Bengal tigers, which is the highest Bengal Tiger density in the world. I tiger per five km². There are also Indian panthers. We hear that some Tigers escape from the park from time to time. Especially the old tigers who can no longer hunt properly. They leave the park looking for easy food in a village. It is a special journey for us, sitting on the back of the elephant between rhinos, deer, buffaloes with their big horns and many birds. At the end of the tour we give the elephant a tip. He gives it to his rider.

After this tour we go to the hotel where we have a good breakfast. Our next tour of the day is scheduled for 9:15 a.m. We go on jeep safari . A nice tour in an open jeep . We see a lot of different animals: rhinos, deer, many birds such as vultures, eagles and even the hornbill bird ! That's really the best !

 

When the tour is finished we have lunch at a local restaurant. Bully knows the owner. It is a great restaurant ! They serve us a variety of traditional dishes. Very tasty !

At 14.00 hours we would go back into the park, but unfortunately the crowds causes a delay. That's a shame, because it is getting dark early here.

 

We did not see many special animals on the afternoon trip. We drive to a watering hole where tigers would be seen the day before, but we have no luck. If this tour is finished we go grab a coffee at the restaurant where we had lunch. Then back to the hotel where again a noisy party is held.

 

The dinner was delicious.

 

Day 25 – Tuesday, December 24, 2013 , Kaziranga - Majuli (104 km) map

 

At 6 am we leave by car. We drive for about two hours. Occasional very foggy! Around 8 o'clock we are at Nimatighat ( Jorhat ) where the landing stage of the ferry for the crossing to the island of Majuli is situated.

Bully has already reserved in advance a place on the boat and so we can, while there is still huge queue of cars, almost immediately ride on the boat. The weather has become wonderful. From our hotel we both got a breakfast box with it . Banana, water, cream cheese sandwich 2 boiled eggs and a bottle of soft drink . We share it with the three of us. The boat is very full .

 

We sit on the roof among many others . A group fellow passengers is playing a cards game for money. It's a nice cruise of an hour on the Brahmaputra river.

 

Majuli - the largest river island in the world - is loaded with cultural heritage of the region. The founder of the pane theistic religion 'Eka Naam Dharma' Srimanta Shankardeva took shelter on Majuli in the Fifteenth Century and Majuli has since then emerged as the crowning glory of the Vaishnavaite culture in Assam.

Our first stop on Majuli is an ancient Hindu monastery; the Kamalabari Satra. A Santra is a monastery. As we enter the monastery there is a priest who sings with a loud voice. A woman with two young children arrives in the temple for praying. Yet another priest sits in a protected holy area in the front part of the temple. He meditates in front of some icons. Many oil-lights and incense.

 

We drive on to Samuguri Satra where they make traditional masks that are used in Hindu festivals. There we meet a priest. It's a strange man. He makes beautiful masks and therefore he became quite famous here. We go inside a room. Everyone sits in a circle, the man proudly shows his books and newspaper clippings of famous people that have been here. The ( former) President of India has visited him. He wants us to write in the guestbook and it is not dirty of money. He is now 83. He is mentally not completely clear anymore. However, he has won major prizes with his artwork.

We have lunch in a very authentic restaurant. They don't speak English here, but the food is fantastic. Incidentally, the people here see us as rare specimens from another world! Everyone wants to know where we come from and a lot of people want to have their picture taken with us. We, as photographers who like to make portraits, co operate of course. So we are the models for one day.

Ingrid has posted artmail for her friends in Holland today. She has asked for extra stamps on the envelope to give the envelope a more exotic look. Her request has taken very seriously by the post office employee. Lots and lots of stamps on stamps. Wondering if it arrives.

 

We drive through the yellow mustard fields to the next monastery. It is peaceful, but very quiet. We walk for half an hour through a town and then we go to the place where we stay tonight: La Maison de Ananda. We will stay in a kind of small house with a spacious room and a good bathroom. It looks fine. It is also recommended in the lonely planet. We eat at the manager in his own home on the other side of the yard. Near the big fire we eat Sticky rice in a bamboo leaf. Tasty dishes. The electricity goes off occasionally. It is very cosy.

 

Day 26 – Wednesday, December 25, 2013, Majuli - Diburgarh (135 km) map

 

Today is Christmas Day. Special to spent the day out here in India. We get up at 6.00 am. We drink a cup of tea and go off for a morning walk through the area. It is still foggy. First we go over a bamboo bridge. A mix of fog and smoke here. A special atmosphere.

We arrive at a small village. It is a very common village but that is why we find a village like this so nice. Things happen in such a village. Here and there we visit a yard. Everywhere fires An old woman with big glasses is sitting with three sleeping, tiny puppies next to a fire. Very peaceful.

 

A little further is a clearly weakened puppy all alone. Pathetic, Jan-Arend lifts the puppy up and take him to the old woman at the fire. The puppy is accepted. Hopefully he has a chance of survival.

Every house has a loom. Many women are weaving. Somewhere some beautiful woven cloths hang on a clothes line. We ask if they are for sale and soon after that a lively negotiation starts. Ingrid buys a skirt with matching shawl and a loose shawl . Later we buy two extra shaws. Nice to buy them here from the people themselves. Ingrid is also learned how to drape the shawl properly around her body.

 

Everywhere chickens, chicks, dogs, puppies, pigs and piglings . In one houses a woman is crushing spices and chillies in a large mortar.

We walk back to our hostel, where we are expected for breakfast. There is a small barrack where they serve breakfast. The bread and masala omelette is cooked on the open fire near our table. Delicious, this is just a very special Christmas breakfast!

 

After breakfast we hit the road again. Today we travel from Majuli to Dibrugarh.

Before we leave the island we make a final visit to a monastery. In a tree near the monastery are a lot of birds. They are beautiful of ugliness, we call them "the ugly ones". The little ones in the nests are even uglier! Inside the monastery is a ceremony in progress. There are three priests. Many incense sticks and oil lamps. We also get a clay dot on our foreheads. We walk around the monastery. Here there are only older men, no boys. All very friendly.

All the monks are dressed in a white robe white with red - white scarves. The monks are very attached to purity. A lot of washing and polishing, no physical contact, and the toilet at distance from the living area. Visitors from outside the monastery are not allowed to enter certain areas.

 

Panic when Ingrid is about to enter a kitchen. NO, NO do not go there!! If Ingrid had walked through, the monks would have instantly had to clean the whole kitchen thoroughly. But the monks are very welcoming and drink chai with us. We get cookies with the tea.

If we leave the monastery we gaze a last time at the birds in the tree. We are too early to go to the ferry. Time remains to make a extra ride across the island. There is always enough to see. Lots of yellow mustard fields. A fisherman with a large sling net, a sacred tree with pictures, flowers and bells .

 

Then it's time for the ferry. Again a reserved place for the car. There is only place for two cars on the deck but beside the cars the boat is loaded with people, mopeds and motors . It takes more than hour to cross the river. We sit at the front of the deck in lovely sunshine. Several birds on the riverbank and on exposed beaches .

Once ashore, it is still a long drive to Dibrugarh . We drive the "big" road, but the "big" road here is only a two lane road.

 

It is very busy and it 's getting dark . Trucks with a blue and a red light and cyclists . Cyclists never have a light here. Cars regularly do not have lights or only one, so the cars looks like a motorcycle . A large bus has front lights, but no tail lights. A lot passing cars. It's pretty dangerous. Lots of honking, lots of light signals. Also, many people walking along the edge of the road. If we ask what they 're all doing , Bully says: oh .. they just parade. What else can people do when it gets dark early and you have no electricity?

 

Christmas evening dinner in Diburgath. Very cozy. We eat at a fancy hotel. Christmas music in the background. Bully has bought us a present; beautifully packaged tea. We give him a scarf and a bottle of wine. It's a nice farewell evening. In your room we drink the leftovers of the wine.

 

Day 27 – Friday, December 26, 2013, Diburgarh - Delhi - Zurich - Amsterdam - Schagen

 

2nd Christmasday. Lovely sunshine here in Dibrugarh. We have breakfast at 8am. At 8.30 pm the three of us make a final walk to the market. We buy some stocking stuffers, among others herbs.

In a real modern coffee we drink a cup of coffee together. At 11 am we leave the hotel. On the way to the airport. For the last time, we witness the scenes so well known; bicycle rickshaws, men lugging sacks, the spitting men, the loaded trucks. We are at the airport and it's time to say goodbye. We had very good time with each other! Anna calls to say hi and wishes us a good trip

 

At the airport the same hassle again as when we left from Delhi with a domestic flight .... Although we have already quite emptied our suitcases and transferred lots of stuff into our hand luggage, we still have four kilos overweight and we have to pay an extra 1000 rupees, about 10 euros for the baggage. No problem. But then comes a very nasty man to us to weigh the hand luggage of ... Jan-Arend That sucks, because the hand luggage of course is to heavy too. Ingrid quickly goes through customs before her hand luggage can be weighed. The pen-pusher wants Jan-Arend to transfer luggage from his hand luggage to his suitcase, but his suitcase is already gone on the tape. Very much hassle. An authoritarian Sikh is meddling there with it, and is unrelenting. Where Jan-Arend should let the excess luggage is not his problem.

 

Jan Arend goes to the desk to arrange something. A very nice man there. Before he he can explain the problem they let him through without whining!

 

The flight to Delhi is progressing well. We are neatly picked up at the airport and taken to our hotel. In the hotel we have a dinner offered by the intermediary of Henk Thoma in Delhi. Very thoughtful. We are brought back to the airport after dinner.

 

Unfortunately, the plane leaves an hour late ... so we will have very little layover in Zurich!. At the end of the flight, we ask the hostess if we could sit near the exit so we can start running when we arrive in Zurich. That's oké, but we arrive at Zurich we are told that there is too tight time; We have already been rebooked, we need a new transfer. S...t! .... 5 hours later than planned we leave for Amsterdam. We are really finished with flying for a while ... But ....

 

We had a great trip.
Well organized and with a great guide / driver.
So we are already thinking ... ok, what next???

 

Schagen, February 2014

 

Ingrid Vogelesang en
Jan-Arend van Boeijen