India’s Northeast: Scenes and Scenery, July Edition

My four months in India ends TOMORROW and I’m still just about 100% behind on the blogging.  Crap crap crap crap crap here’s the story of our 540km round trip (yup, that’s about all we managed in July) from Bhalukpong to Tawang and back.

In an attempt to mask the fact that this is essentially a gigantic photo dump, I’m going to make use of a little gimmick and separate the post into advenTURE, culTURE, and naTURE sections.  Clever, right?  Enjoy!

Part 1: advenTURE!

In an attempt to make a story out of it, I’ll start with the exciting stuff.

2014-07-01 to Bhalukpong 002-900-

Still in the plains on the way from a fantastic impromptu homestay with Mr. Sharma and family in Bisnawath Chariali.  Nearly mauled by a tea estate elephant.  I think the guy rides around and makes sure all the tea ladies are hard at work.

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Only a few minutes into the start of the 270km, we passed our first of a bazillion waterfalls.

(Photo courtesy of Chris Buchman @

The scenery remained pretty constant the whole way up: road, river below, mountains on either side.  Usually a waterfall cascading down every 2-3km or so.

The general state of the roads has already been covered in the “Heinous Hellacious Atrocious Bodacious” post, so I won’t go into it again here, except to say that it probably would have taken us 3 days rather than 9 had the roads been in good shape.


We spent the first night camping in a power station…which didn’t have any electricity.  In fact, for the the first 240km none of the towns we passed through had electricity for more than a couple hours per day.

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Public Works Department guesthouse in Senge, elevation 3000m.  Nearly missed it because of the fog.


Our hotel room in Tawang, also at elevation 3000m.  Thing is, after Senge we had to go up to 4200, back down to 2300, and then up again to get there.  It was so exhausting that I think my body lost the ability to produce its own heat.


Or maybe the leech sucked it out of me!  These little f*xxers are everywhere, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to pick one up if you spend a minute or two trundling through the brush.  I didn’t quite know what to do, so I went up to a wrinkly Monpa (kind of like Tibetan) grandma, pointed at my assailant, and made a “help me” face.  She chuckeld, grabbed a rock, and bludgeoned it off of my shin.  Not the home remedy I was expecting.  Then we went to the army base for first aid, where the “medical officer” rubbed iodine and bacitracin into both the wound and the spots where the blood had dripped onto my foot.


Speaking of dangerous animals, here’s me with a Meetun, my favorite creamsicle bovine.


More danger in the form of a shoddy bamboo bridge dangling over a raging river.

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More danger in the form of a landslide.  A real one.  One that demolished the road so totally that you can’t even tell it was ever there.

2014-07-16 Jhamtse Gatsal 008-900-

Most dangerous of all: the shift back down to the “Plainsside,” accomplished by hitching in a big truck on a supply run.  The 2-day, 18-ish hour ride back down wasn’t any less bumpy or unpleasant than it had been on the bikes, though I suppose it was slightly warmer.  There wasn’t space in the cabin to recline, so I wrapped my legs up into meditation position (3 points of contact with the seat, very stable) and managed to pass a few hours in a state of semi-dozing.

Spent the night camping in the back of the truck.  Yeah!

Part 2: culTURE!

 2014-07-02 to Nichiphu 008 (res)

In this little nook of India, that pretty much means “Buddhism.”

 2014-07-05 to Dirang 029 (res)

As far as I know, there aren’t any stories of the Buddha himself having come here (born in Nepal, wandered in India, enlightened in Bihar), but this is the route that HH the Dalai Lama followed while fleeing into India during the Chinese occupation of Tibet.  It’s also the road up to the second oldest (Tibetan-school?) Buddhist monastery in the world, Tawang Monastery.  It dates back to the 1640s, making it younger only than Potala Palace in Lhasa.

 2014-07-03 to Bomdila 010 (res)

 2014-07-04 Bomdila 031 (res)

Not only architecture, but also PSAs!

 2014-07-05 to Dirang 024 (res)

 2014-07-09 Jang 010 (res)

 2014-07-09 Jang 002 (res)

 2014-07-09 Jang 005 (res)

Kalachakra, the wheel of death and rebirth and the ceaseless cycle of all things.

 2014-07-09 Jang 004 (res)

Yak skull.

 2014-07-09 Jang 008 (res)

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We had hoped to see the celebration, but unfortunately our young informant wasn’t aware that the PM half of the celebration had been cancelled in order to mourn the passing of another important monk.

 2014-07-12 Tawang 001 (res)

Main Street in Tawang, a few kilometers away from the big monastery.  Even the public spaces in town are adorned with Buddhist symbols – here the wheel representing the cycle of birth and death (1), the banner of victory of forces of good and truth over evil and illusion (2, maybe), the endless knot representing the interconnectedness of all things (3) and the treasure-holding jug with long life, health, and wealth held within (4).  The vendors beneath are mostly selling local bell peppers.

2014-07-12 Tawang 003 (res)

The monastery sat up on a ledge a few kilometers outside of town, looking straight down into the valley below.  Too bad it was too foggy to get any good shots of its majesty.  Maybe next time.

 2014-07-12 Tawang 004 (res)

Pretty deluxe on the inside though.

 2014-07-04 Bomdila 032 (res)

Prayer wheels, usually inscribed with the mantra “Om Mane Padme Hum

2014-07-12 Tawang 007 (res)

Where there’s a monastery, there are…minimonks!

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Taking care of the laundry on top of the monks’ quarters.

 2014-07-12 Tawang 023 (res)

“Someday you will die and somehow something’s gonna steal your carbon.” (Modest Mouse)

 2014-07-12 Tawang 024 (res)

Just below the monastery, young monks disrobe (or not) for a game of soccer.

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As for the non-Buddhist stuff…here’s a mural from the wall of a restaurant in Assam.

 2014-07-06 Dirang 058 (res)

Our favorite “restuarant” in Dirang.  He cooks with a liquid petrol pump stove just like the ones that we use while camping!  Except not so foldable and caked with ten years of grime and rust.

Still, this dude whipped up some awesome samosas, stuffed chili peppers, chickpea curries, chow mein, and egg sandwiches.  The line would’ve been out the door…had there been one.

 2014-07-04 Bomdila 003 (res)

A cute bamboo house in a village under Bomdila.

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A bit of military propaganda.

 2014-07-11 Tawang 008 (res)

What life is like for some of those locals who haven’t been picked to receive grenade launcher training from the army.

The dudes stand up on the mountain, sledge-and jack-hammering away at big chunks of rock.  When the rocks finally fall, it’s up to the women and children (under the umbrellas there at the bottom) to sit around all day and hammer them into smaller pieces that can be used for the roads.  They wear little plastic tube finger extensions so they don’t smash their hands.

 2014-07-04 Bomdila 008 (res)

Non-Buddhist PSA, in case you forgot that you were in India.

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And some wonderful words of motivation from the volunteers’ dorm at Jhamtse Ghatsal.

Part 3: naTURE!

This part shouldn’t require so much commentary.  Sit back and enjoy the views.

 2014-07-11 Tawang 007 (res)

I’m not this big a hippie…am I?

 2014-07-03 to Bomdila 001 (res)

That’s more like it!

 2014-07-01 to Bhalukpong 009 (res)

Beatiful, colorful, smooth, tranquil ride from Balipara to Bhalkpong; the last flats we’d see for two weeks.

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Tenga Valley

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Downed bridge in Tenga

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Early morning in Bomdila

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Cultivated cliff face near Bomdila.

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Mountainside village @2000+m.  And some less-than-smooth photoshop experimentation.

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Looking back at photos like this, I find it hard to believe that I was actually there and ask myself whether I appreciated it enough at the time.  Something to keep in mind for tomorrow’s ride.

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Cute old lady sitting down enjoying the view.

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Badlands above the clouds at around 4000m.

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View from the first of 40-odd switchbacks on the way down to Jang.

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First glimpse of blue skies in three or four days.

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Big waterfall on the way from Jang to Tawang

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Non-charismatic high altitude megabovine.

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High-altitude flora, exhibit A.

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High-altitude flora, exhibit B.

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High-altitude flora, exhibit C.

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 2014-07-16 Jhamtse Gatsal 015 (res)

Thanks, Arunachal Pradesh!

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8 Responses to India’s Northeast: Scenes and Scenery, July Edition

  1. myra says:

    thank you for sharing your journey – it helps me remember the world is much larger than my small problems here and how little it takes to have survival possible

  2. mingyulee says:

    지붕 위 어린 스님 빨래 말리는 사진 좋다~
    지금은 어딘게야? 난 죠지아에 있어~ Georgia!

    • Michael Roy says:

      좀 씨지 않게 달려 보거라 이 쌔캬!

      난 네팔에 와 있어. 내일 모레쯤 안나푸르나 써킷! 저전거로! 타고 죽자! 사진들 기대해라!

  3. Niall says:

    Excellent pics man.

  4. Niall says:


  5. Anna Z. says:

    I especially love the “shoddy bamboo bridge dangling over a raging river” shot. Yowza!