Our three day trips on our pontoon raft, down the Lohit and spilling into the Bharamaputra had become quite a regular feature for the three families. There was however the fact that those absolutely delightful excursions were totally subject to weather conditions and could not even be so much as considered anytime before, during or after the extended Assam monsoon when that mighty river would convert itself, taking on the avatar of an ocean. Nothing but water as far as the eye could see, all the way to the horizon.
Having ‘tasted blood’ how could we possibly accept being tied down, stay put and having to while away the monsoon months simply twiddling our thumbs, only hankering for the dry season which is when we would be able to get back on to the river. Which is what prompted us to work around a solution to feed our wanderlust. The answer was that since we could not be ON the water, why would we not just get across it to drive up into the hills of Arunachal Pradesh which area, for the planting community in Upper Assam, was still relatively unexplored territory.
The decision having been taken, in comparison to logistical exercise involved with the river trips, this one as easy as falling off a chair. All we needed to do and did start doing was to drive east for about 50Kms to the point where Assam simply disappeared into the waters of the Lohit. From there our vehicles were ferried across the Alubari Ghat which, subject to the channels which the river would open up and flow down every time the river decided to change course used to be three or four ferries, some very wide and some fairly narrower in comparision. The crossings across the Lohit being totally subject to the whims of the river, every single time that we made the trip, were never the same as the one before. Be that as it may, the last ferry would deposit us to the eastern shore of the Lohit, from where we would regularly head off on to the road leading towards Tezu.
The drive to Tezu and beyond being one which we did many times over is a story in itself which I’m keeping aside for another day. For now this yarn is about that one time in 1988 or 1989 when the respective wives of the three of us were away on holiday from Assam so that the only lady accompanying us was Kirti (Jeetu’s wife). Five of us (the others being Hardev, Ron and yours truly) on getting to the other side of the river, totally on a whim, decided that instead of driving towards Tezu, why should we not head in the opposite direction to the usual route, one which we had never ventured on. The decision having been taken on the spur of the moment, off we went having no idea where we were going or what we’d find along the way.
For the first half an hour, while it was very bumpy and liberally pot-holed, we at least had a road (in a manner of speaking) which we were driving on and then suddenly and without any warning whatsoever we found ourselves having to drive on a riverbed which, while it had some water flowing down, was one which each one of our respective vehicles (each one being a Gypsy) could take in its stride. Assuming that this condition of the ‘road’ would be for a possibly one or two Kms and with no intention to turn back, we laboured on not realising that we’d be driving on that riverbed for a good hour and a half. The further we drove, the more rough the going became till we finally spotted what looked like a road branching off from the from this lovely ‘highway’ we were on. With not so much as a clue as to what actually lay ahead, the attitude of all five of us was ‘in for a Penny, in for a pound’!
The road we took snaked upwards and then, again without any warning, dipped sharply into a steep valley. The only word which springs to mind to describe the topography of that valley is – surreal! It was almost as though we’d landed on another planet. The photograph alongside explains that so much better than any words I could use to describe the landscape we found ourselves in. Bashing on regardless, once again without any warning, we found ourselves on a fairly decent road which rose sharply upward at a rather steep angle. Never once straightening out, the entire stretch was simply a series of very acute hairpin bends.
Having ascended quite a bit (we had no clue just how much) and coming around one bend – SNOW! After which, in direct relation to the altitude, as we got higher so did the snow accumulation on the road and on the roadsides. Having driven along for half an hour through the snow, we found ourselves on the crest after which the road meandered of again into the next valley! We were at Mayodya Pass at an altitude of 2,660 Mtrs, having managed to drive to an incredible location which, far from having ventured to, no planter in Assam had ever even dreamt of its existence!
While the four of us was spellbound, gaping at this incredible landscape, Hardev cut it all short by briskly walking across to his Gypsy, pulling out a bottle of beer and a mug, scooping in a mugful of snow, pouring in the beer, planting himself in the middle of the road with a “take my snap”!
The sheer pleasure of venturing out on an untrodden path!