The East West Expedition should have started this morning at 4.30 am. Instead I lazed in bed, waiting for the day to break. I had arranged with Rajesh to go for the Republic Day parade. I had not attended one in many years. Breakfast in CH was the usual omelet and toast with butter and jam. This time Sharma gave me a ‘double’ omelet without having to ask for another. By 8.30 am Rajesh escorted me to the ground where I was introduced to many government officials as the guest of the SP. The District Commissioner and the SP went around the in an open jeep for the inspection of the parade. The turnout of the contingents was smart. The march past was quite impressive. The stand out performer was the band. It was a superb display – later I was told that the band was selected for the RD parade in Delhi, but had to forgo the opportunity for want of funds. The formal parade and march past were followed by an amazing exhibition of rope malkhamb by a group of young girls. The silken smoothness and intrepid contortions were appreciated by all present. The tribal dances were the other attractions. The stalls put up by various government departments saw good crowds.
Rajesh had suggested a trip to the Tibetan settlement later in the morning. Seju mentioned that he would also be free till the tea party at 4 pm being hosted by the DC. As he had not been to the Tibetan settlement he said that we could join us. The Tezu Tibetan Settlement was established in 1964 to rehabilitated 1240 Tibetan refugees on 1500 acres of land. The settlement now consists of 5 villages or camps with average of 45 families in each camp. Most of the Tibetan families have a small piece of agricultural land to raise crops for their living. The lack of irrigation facilities only permits the cultivation of rain fed crops, which is not sufficient to sustain the families on farming alone. Besides agriculture the settlers are engaged in trading, seasonal woolen business etc. There is a weaving center in the settlement; intricate designs on carpets and wall hangings are in demand. It being a holiday we could not see the artisans at work, but did go through some of the works in progress. The settlement has basic education facilities. The students fan out to other parts of the country for better and higher education.
The Tibetan settlement has a Settlement Officer who is the Representative of the Department of Home, Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), Dharamsala. The SO is in-charge with overall control of running of affairs in the settlement. The settlement has an elected Local Assembly and they represent the settlers. The group leaders are chosen on the basis of their ability to stand up for the interest of their settlement. They hold two sessions in a year and have a tenure of five years. The SO invited us to his office for tea and biscuits during when we got familiar with the activities in the settlement. We did also visit two of the three monasteries in the settlement. One was getting ready for formal inauguration.
As we were leaving the settlement we came across the bridge that collapsed in the floods last year. We had to take a deviation to reach the main road. Shortly thereafter we hit the highway to Roing – the road was newly laid and in very picturesque setting with tall trees on both sides of the road. There are two entrances to the ruins of Bhismaknagar – we took the one which the Scorpio would negotiate. Not far from the deviation off the highway was a building being used by the BRO detachment in charge of the road development. The vehicle could go no further. Soon after we came to a high platform made of burnt bricks. The board of the Archeological Survey of India identified it as a heritage location. It was possibly the foundation of a house. Bhismaknagar was the seat of the ancient rulers, built the fort and other buildings in the 12th century. This area is considered to be one of the oldest archeological sites in Arunachal Pradesh. The legends of the goddess Rukmini, Lord Krishna and King Bhishma abound in the surroundings. It is said that some of the ruins of the palace support the legend and story of King Bhishma, Lord Krishna and Rukmini.
It was nearing 3 pm when we stopped on a straight stretch of the Tezu-Roing highway for an impromptu lunch of bread, jam, savories and dried bananas. Thereafter we drove straight to the CH and engaged in finalizing the plans for the next day. Crucial to the plans was ensuring an early ferry crossing. Seju spoke to the DC after the RD tea party and a crossing was confirmed at 5 am. Rajesh had some business in Tinsukia over the next few days. So he agreed to escort me across the Arunachal border – the non-existent roads and the ferry could be better negotiated with him.
Meghna, Seju’s wife and SP of Anjaw, had arrived Tezu. They invited me to dinner. It was a pleasant evening during when I listened to anecdotes of their training days. Seju, a keen photographer, has also an impressive collection of travel albums done through Snapfish, the HP initiative. Dinner with Seju and Meghna consisted of chicken biriyani with pickle; I tucked into many helpings of the biriyani which was yummy. Seju has also developed a small farm in his compound. One of the varieties of plantain found it way on to the table that night. He also had ‘pani’, which his mother had prepared. The combination of organic plantain and unadulterated ‘pani’ gave a traditional feel to the evening repast. We spend a few more minutes taking photographs. As I was planning to leave at 4.30 am Seju promised to be at the CH at a quarter hour before then to attest the start of the expedition. I am most grateful to him, Meghna, Rajesh, Sanjay and many others I met in Tezu for having made my stay in Tezu and travel through Arunachal Pradesh pleasant and enjoyable.