The time on my phone read 4:00 AM and temperature 6 degrees. I knew I had to wake up at 5:00 and make myself ready to leave by 6:00 AM but the antsy and sleep deprived me was just not able to gather courage of getting out of the coziness and warmth of my bed.
Fast forward 7:00 AM. Our vehicle trudges through the serpentine roads and I am mesmerized by the rhododendrons that spread wide across and painted the slopes red. I fill my lungs with fresh mountain air and spare my energy for moving around freely at 15,200 ft. (4,600 m). We hear occasional firings and are informed about the practice sessions of Indian Army. That’s when I spot the board that reads – “Highest artillery firing regiment in the world”. I proudly exclaim inside my head, “Wow! That’s certainly something to be extra proud about your country”.
Most of the paths we cover fall under no- photography zone, however, they are strikingly beautiful. All I do is drink down the beauty of the valley, the numerous lakes and colorful slopes. Our driver points towards the abandoned army bunkers every now and then, which are otherwise difficult to be spotted. The temperature has still not budged beyond 6 degrees and I start wondering what it would be like being at the higher altitude I was heading to.
Our first stopover is at Y- junction army checkpoint for breakfast. I fail to keep a watch on the amount of coffee that I gulp down along with piping hot momos. The road from here seems to be blocked due to heavy traffic ahead. I glance at my watch and it reads 8:00 AM. We start off within few minutes of wait. The actual adventure starts after leaving Y- junction. The road ahead from Y- junction is one of the roughest roads and, at some patches they are totally non- existent. I would have never been able to drive on such roads keeping my sanity intact. As we gain altitude, the greens disappear and the entire landscape turns white, with snow everywhere. Another hour of drive and we reach our destination for the day.
37 km from Tawang, at a height of 15,200ft ASL, is the place that served as the trade route between India and Tibet in older times. This is the route from where 14th Dalai Lama escaped Chinese army and this was the same route through which the People’s Liberation Army of China had invaded India during the 1962 Sino- Indian war, one of the fiercest battle in Indian history that resulted in the death of 4,383 Indian soldiers.
I stand at Bumla Pass, the Indo- China border.
I can feel the warmth of the sun on my face as I stare at the sky. We are greeted with broad smiles and utmost respect by the army officers and are offered tea and snacks. “How can they be so grounded with perfect mannerisms even after living through such extremities?” I wondered and felt like giving them a bear hug. We are escorted to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) by Major Santosh and here starts the actual conversation.
We are given accounts of the 1962 Sino- Indian war and how situations changed post-war. I ask about the current situation to which the officer replies in positive. There are 6 Border Personnel Meets (BPM) conducted every year, out of which 4 are organized by India and 2 by the Chinese army. The "Heap of Stones Monument" is the symbolism of the BPM meets as after every meet, one stone is colored and the date or occasion of the meet is written with white paint on the colored stone. The visitors are allowed to place a pebble or stone on the heap as a tribute to the Indian army. Similarly, the "Rock of Peace" also stands strong at the LAC. "How many visitors come to Bumla pass on an average?" I ask. To which the officer replies "150 visitors on an average. Every day."
There are 4 BPM points as agreed officially between Indian Army and People's Liberation Army of China for regular consultations and interactions to keep faceoffs at bay. The four BPM points are Chushul in Ladakh, Nathu La in Sikkim, Bum La Pass in Tawang and Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand close to Chang La.
There is a jawan posted at the LAC who keeps a watch on activities on another side of the border. We are informed that the watch is on for 24/7x365 days irrespective of weather conditions. The Chinese watchpoint is 2 km away from LAC and the first Chinese city from this side of the border is Songjung, at a distance of 27 km. We are allowed to prowl on the China land approximately up to 50 meters.
My exhilaration knew no bounds as I step into China without any Visa.
By the time we are done with the briefing, the sun seems to have peeped out a little more. Looking at the sun, the major says, “It is going to snow tonight.”
As it transpired, his words turned out to be true. It snowed that night. But, I did sleep well, unlike the previous night.
QUICK GUIDE AND HACKS:
Getting Here: Bumla Pass is 37 km away from Tawang town. You will need to hire a local vehicle from Tawang to get here. Cost – INR 4,500 to 5,000 for the entire day. You may also club your visit to Shungetser Lake along with Bumla Pass on the same day. You can also book Tawang in one day sightseeing tour from Navigers.
Permits for Visit: Visit to Bumla pass needs a special permit from the Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Tawang, with permit stamps from Indian army cantonment of Tawang. It takes one entire day to receive the permit so you may schedule accordingly since, without the army stamp, you will not be allowed through the several checkpoints on the way.
Requisite documents for the permit: Photocopies of your Inner Line Permit, Photocopies of your ID and address proof, duly filled permit form.
The fees for the permit: INR 100 per form (If the applicant isn’t personally present). INR 50 per form (If one of the applicants is present).
Number of applicants that can be named in one permit form: 4
**Note: The entry to Bumla Pass may be restricted under many circumstances like extreme weather conditions or political situations. So do not be disheartened.
~ Dipanwita Chakraborty
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