Our sumo came to a jolting stop and I was shaken up from my snooze to see that the vehicle hit on a big rock just ahead of a hair pin bend. Read on to find the story of the most precarious day so far in our India trotting:
After contemplating a lot on whether to leave on 20th or 21st - as the bus on 20 was full and there was no surety on availability of Sumo on 21st - we set off from Tawang on 20th morning at 5.30 in -2 degree Celsius freezing cold. The driver went around Tawang town picking up passengers and rolled out on the way to Bomdila. Sumo was in a horrible condition and driver seemed to be in a hurry to reach destination. He was overtaking every single vehicle ahead of him, honking impatiently on the bumpy, bad roads. Sitting in the last seat of a bad conditioned sumo and the hasty, reckless driving made me feel as though I was in a grinder. Hitting the head on top and bumping against the window.
On the other hand the view outside the window was captivating - a few snow capped mountain peaks, lovely valleys and waterfalls flowing through them and flowing into vividly colored rivers - which made me feel the ride was worth it. Breakfast stop was at Jang, a nice village in the valley. We continued the journey climbing up the mountain, passing through J.Garh and reached the Sela Pass. Looking at snow capped mountains on the way I was hoping for some frost if not snow. That was not my lucky day I guess, no snow, no frost but water was frozen and icy at a few places. After passing through Sela, the driver bumped against a big rock on right side of the road. There was a truck on our left, for a second I couldn't figure out what made the driver do this. All I could guess was that he was feeling sleepy and couldn't get control of the vehicle. We then got out of the Sumo, only to learn that the brakes of the vehicle had failed and our driver stopped it banging against a rock. A few meters down the road, a sharp curve and deep valley on the right, had he not stopped there, we would've gone down the valley and end of our all India trip.
Locals here are very helpful and most or all the Taxis passing by stopped to check what had gone wrong, they also started helping in fixing the problem. They could manage a temporary solution and the driver decided to drive alone while the passengers squeezed in the other cabs, one or two extra in the already full cabs. After driving a little distance we stopped at an Army workshop to find the spare parts for the Sumo. After trying for a while we understood it can't be repaired immediately. Plan of action was to leave the vehicle there and go till Dirang with other Sumo and driver would then take a mechanic or spare parts back to vehicle while we wait at a place by name Samjhana.
This time I didn't want to squeeze in already full Sumo, so we decided to sit on top of the vehicle. The driver was little worried about a girl - that too not a local girl - sitting on top of Sumo on these bumpy roads. Seldom did the driver know this crazy girl loves bumpy rides and to travel sitting on top of vehicles. After several reassurances we settled on top of the Sumo. This was just the beginning of my dreams coming true. This I was sure will be the unforgettable ride of my life. The feeling of travelling sitting on top of a vehicle by itself will make one be on cloud nine. I was way above that and the view of magnificent valleys, river flowing, birds flying at the height you are sitting, all I can say is master card cannot buy these for you. Seeing the clear blue sky on top of you and can you believe we spotted MOON at NOON :)
We stopped at Hotel Samjhana, a Restaurant in a place by same name. We had our lunch and were strolling up and down, but the roads are way too dusty with vehicles passing through frequently. We then sat at another Restaurant, less crowded and had a black tea. We were looking for our Sumo and standing near the road. Six of us were waiting, 2 are veterinarians placed in Tawang, who hail from Pasighat and were travelling back home. They studied in Aizawl in Mizoram and were helpful in giving us information about Aizawl as well as Pasighat, we all shared cake and had a cup of tea. All of us were travelling in the same vehicle for past 9 hours but had never interacted with one another. Another girl was working with government in electrical department and hails from Tawang. After tea, we started sharing our stories and chit chatting, by then another co-passenger who was in police force brought all our luggage in a truck with the news that vehicle will not be ready that day. We had already brainstormed about different possibilities of how to reach Bomdila and how to claim our luggage. There was lot of confusion in between, as the vehicles coming from Tawang direction brought us news of their own version.
Now it was clear that we will not get our vehicle, so we decided to wait for the APST bus that goes to Tezpur. The bus arrived but didn't agree to take us, instead the driver started saying "you take the bus and drive yourself I'll get down here" hence the hope of bus was shattered. It was 7pm already and no hope of other vehicles, we tried our luck with hitching a ride with truck but they all halt near Dirang and it was too late to get an accommodation in Dirang, also other co-passengers had tickets booked from Bomdila to different directions the very next morning. Meanwhile we spotted an empty Sumo and Eeco, after finding the owner and negotiation we got a deal. Rs.3000, which would will be 500 per person. We set off finally having hope of reaching Bomdila by EECO. It was unbelievable but we were by now used to it, though it sounds strange, this vehicle broke down too.
The problem was same as earlier, oil filter was leaking. Wow now we were undisputedly in middle of nowhere, around 15 km from Dirang. We were sitting in the car wondering what to do next. The driver offered help by arranging another car for us. When the driver disappeared saying he would find some help, we luckily found a truck who agreed to take us along, but only to Dirang. At this moment we thought better to at least reach Dirang. From Dirang we had hope of getting range on our famous BSNL - B(hai) S(aab) N(ahi) L(agta) - (that is how the locals have named it and it is very true). We loaded our luggage in the truck and were about to start when the driver came with his friend and an ALTO. 6 of us with our luggage were cramped in the car and the most adventurous thing, yes you guessed it, the driver was drunk. Keeping our fingers crossed we were praying to reach Dirang safe which was just 7km ahead of us.
After driving for 10 min we saw a Sumo passing by and we stopped them to find out where were they headed to, as one of our co-passengers bag was at the Samjhana hotel and had to be picked - This elderly man was not with us and had gone in search of the driver to find the status of the vehicle - When we stopped the Sumo we were so comforted and gratified to learn that, this was the alternate vehicle sent for us. After all this adventure, we got the back up vehicle and it was already 10.30 in the night. We then drove all the way back to Samjhana and picked up the luggage and drove to Bomdila. There was no way we could sleep, though we were exhausted, as it was a bumpy ride and we couldn't keep our bums on the seat most of the time. It was 2am when we reached Bomdila and bid farewell to our new found friends, though we don't know the names of one another.
We would remember this journey and the time spent, throughout our lives. It was an unforgettable and the most adventuresome in our India trotting so far. In spite of all these, we never felt we were 4000 km away from home. We felt really safe and the best part is the way women are treated and respected by men. Hats off to all men in Arunachal. In this adventure journey, we were four women and two men. I can never imagine doing such things in any other part of country.