Day 6, New Melling to Jung and drive to Tawang
Trek duration: ~ 4 hours
Trek Route: New Melling - Jung
Gradient: Level walk, except for a gradual ascend when approaching Jung along the road
Well aware of the uncertainty of transport options to Jung, we decided to start trekking towards Jung instead of waiting for a vehicle to hitch-hike in. The trek to Jung continues on the broad road along the Tawang river. The walk, all of 21 kms is a kaccha road for most part, barring a few sections which are tarred till the ad-hoc labour camps put up along the side of the road. From these labour camps, a tarred tarmac provides a smooth and uneventful ride all along till Jung. Road construction work was underway at many places, and the entire stretch between Jung and Thimbu Hydel could well be tarred by the end of the next year.
The initial part of the hike from New Melling to Jung is quite scenic though, reminiscent of the trek between Ghasa and Tattapani on the Annapurna Circuit Trek: rocky cliffs and huge boulders adjoining broad path, a vociferous river flowing below and small huts visible on the slopes of the mountain on the far side. Hardly any vehicles plying on the broad path and lesser habitation made it more enjoyable a hike than the path leading to Tattapani.
Another remarkable sight – and sound –was that of the Jung waterfalls which can be seen from a fair distance away. The amount of water gushing over the edge of the mountain and the sound of the waters meeting the valley below can only be seen and heard to be believed. A huge cloud of mist formed by the impact of the gushing waters striking the ground below perpetually covers the valley at the bottom of this waterfall. A visit to a viewpoint placed strategically for experiencing the enormity of this waterfall is a must-do once the trek ends in Jung. Located some distance ahead of Jung on the road to Tawang, the viewpoint can be hiked down to in about half an hour.
Jung is closer to Tawang, which is only about 35 kms away. One can get transport back to Dirang and further to Tezpur via Bomdila from Jung, but the shared jeeps start from Tawang early in the morning, passing through Dirang before 9 a.m. and are usually fully booked at Tawang itself. A better option is to head to Tawang, stay there for the night and book a seat in the shared jeep the next morning.
Reaching Jung brought an end to the wonderful journey with a group of locals. Finally there was more food to choose from as well, other than the simple rice meals. Hot steaming momos with the delectable spicy red chutney never tasted that good before. And of course, a large cup of butter tea.
What was to be 9 day trek ended in 6 days, but it surely offered much more than I could have imagined. The eastern Himalayas and the way of life here is subtly and pleasingly different from those in the northern parts of the country. The ever joyful locals, content and at ease in the mountains, always ready to welcome and entertain a guest leaves a long lasting impression on the mind. Their openness and readiness to share their homes and culture with others is wonderful to observe and imbibe. Another trip to these Himalayas has to be on the cards... as soon as possible!
Day 5, Mago to Thimbu Hydel and further to New Melling
Trek duration: ~ 7 hours
Trek Route: Mago –Thimbu Hydel – New Melling
Gradient: Steady descent from Mago to Thimbu Hydel with gradual ups & downs all along
Altitude: Mago (3600m) to Thimbu Hydel (2900m)
Our host in Mago graciously provided us a sumptuous breakfast the next morning, and helped us resume our journey to Thimbu early in the day. More appropriately, we were headed to Thimbu Hydel, as Thimbu village lies atop a hill, a detour on the trail from Mago. The trail is persisted with sans the detour, leads to the road-head at Thimbu-Hydel and further on to Jung.
There were now only 2 of us – Sonam and myself on the trail. By 7 am, the settlement of Mago was barely visible, as we hurried along on the path high above the Tawang river. The trek hereon was fairly easy, many ups and downs and the prayer flags made a colourful appearance every now and then – adorning the highest points of the climbs along the way.
The sights and sounds on this stretch of the trek are yet again different from those we had during the earlier days. Open landscapes, narrow rivulets and stunted vegetation now give way to lush green forests replete with tall trees and a raging river – the Tawang – which accompanies us all the way to Thimbu Hydel. Large rocky walls hold you in a stupor at times, some of them adorned by high misty waterfalls
Certain parts of the trail take you right alongside the Tawang river, where any chance of a conversation you may wish to have is drowned by the furious and noisy flow of the milky white waters. Feeble attempts had been made to barricade narrow stretches of the trail perilously close to the river. But the elements did not allow these to remain in place for long, and we had to make our way through such sections cautiously.
The river all along for company, we trekked the 18 kms from Mago to Thimbu Hydel in just over 4 hours. And we had more company too – army jawans posted at Mago and trekking up half the distance to Thimbu Hydel for their supplies. This route between Hydel and Mago, I was told, was the preferred route for getting across ration and supplies to the army units posted at Mago. Many an interesting conversation ensued and the army jawans delighted us with their stories, as always. Along the trail, we also passed the diversion that leads up to Thimbu – an hour’s climb from the main trail leading to Mago.
Although there was a decrepit bridge and signs of a trail on the other side of the river, we stayed on course on the true right bank of the river. A few huts and this memorial appeared along the trail, and soon we were in Thimbu Hydel.
Apart from army camps, there are a few huts and 2-3 shops at Thimbu Hydel. Army vehicles or vehicles involved in transporting materials for the road construction work in progress here, offer a ride to Jung. But to our disappointment, there were no vehicles plying towards Jung that day. We waited for an hour to try our luck at getting a vehicle to hitchhike in, but to no avail. As there were no huts or camping sites nearby that we could make use of, we were left with no option but to trek further ahead to New Melling. New Melling was another 6 kms away and tired as we were, the trek was completed in little over an hour, without a word being spoken.
Just as we entered New Melling, we decided to take a break for tea, while looking out for any vehicles heading towards Jung. There seemed to be no one visible in the few houses making up this small settlement, when an old lady approached us and greeted us with a pleasant smile. She lived alone here, she said, while her children and grandchildren lived in Tawang. There were a few ITBP officers sipping on tea in the old lady’s house and we were welcomed into this setting by the fireplace. Tea and conversations followed while we waited for a ride to take us to Jung. The old lady managed an adjoining PWD Guest House and suggested we stay there till we were able to get a ride.
The old lady was charming and New Melling seemed like a nice quiet town. The PWD Guest House was where we decided to stay here for the night. And what an eventful stay it was. A game of football and volleyball with the local children, a bottle of Chaang (the homemade rice beer) shared with a few residents coming back from work at the nearby farms, and finally a hot supper with the old lady’s house coming alive with stories from the ITBP folks – a fun-filled evening and we headed back to our small PWD room to get some rest for the night.
Day 4, Nyang to Mago
Trek duration: 9 hours
Trek route: Nyang – Tse La – Lap – Lurjim – Mago
Gradient: Gradual ascent to Tse La, followed by moderate to steep descent to the valley on the other side of the pass. Level walk from here on till Lurjim, followed by 1 hour steep ascent to reach a table-top. Descent thereafter for 40 mins and level walk of20 mins to get to Mago.
Altitude: Nyang (4680m) to Tse La (4720m) and down to Lap (4480m) and lower to Mago (3600m)
This was the 3rd consecutive day that we were up for an 8+ hour trek! We decided to leave early in the morning yet again, and the Nyang campsite was pretty much deserted by 6 am. Only after the customary breakfast, comprising of (you can guess by now) – rice and yak milk & cheese curry!
The way to Tse La involves an hour-long ascent through a wide pass. Even though Tse La is at an altitude close to 5000m, the ascent from Nyang was gradual for most part, other than a few moderate sections. Higher, barren peaks started dominating the surroundings and snow capped sections increased in number.
As we approached the Tse La – two lakes revealed themselves in the early morning light. A smaller one was visible towards the left when trekking up to Tse La, a few minutes away from the main trail. The bigger lake, in the shape of a ‘B’ falls along the main path, just near the pass. Most of the bigger lake was capped by ice, and the snow all around made it appear colder. We watched the pretty lake silently for a few minutes. The highest point of the trek was reached and the valley on the other side seemed inviting. A few photographs later, we headed off for the slopes beyond the pass.
A moderate descent lies ahead of Tse La, and this brought us down to a broad valley and narrow streams cutting through the plains which constitute the Sangti river further down. Heading right from here, one can reach Merathang, and approach the Gokyo Ri peaks. Seemed very inviting, but noted and left for another time.
We descended down to the riverbed and crossed over on the lone bridge as the trail now moved on over the farther side of the streams dividing the plains. The descent to the riverbed lasted all of 30 minutes and the next 2 hours was an easy walk to the huts of Lap.
The trail descended gradually through a wide valley with small meadows every hour or so – ideal camping grounds for those wishing to camp by the side of the stream and enjoy the sights of the valley. Its disappearing act finally over, the sun now beamed down with all its might on the valley, and provided a welcome change from the cold and cloudy days on the first part of the trek.
We ambled along with the horses, first to Lap and then further to Lurjim or Lurthim. There are a few huts in Lap where one can stay for the night. After Lap, the riverbed widens up significantly making for a nice, easy walk over the sandy bed.
There was still a long way to go and we decided to have lunch at Lurthim before proceeding. The usual rice-curry meal and some rest took a little over 20 minutes. The trail then continued along the stream, which now looked wider and sounded meaner. An hour through the rhododendron shrubs which emerged once again, and we reached a large boulder, which marked the start of a climb to the ridge we had to cross over to get to Mago. This boulder was located near the last source of drinking water on the trail for the next 2 hours, so we drank up and filled our bottles for the way.
A steep ascent was the way forward for an hour till we made it to the top of the ridge overlooking the settlement of Mago established in the valley on the other side.
The table top after the climb provided some great views of the adjoining mountains. The peaks towards Chimathang looked enticing to say the least, but the clouds descended once again to limit our views. The horses got some much needed rest here before the descent to Mago.
A few prayer flags atop the table-top marked the route forward, from where the descent starts to Mago. A quick, steep descent of 45 minutes and we found ourselves along the Tawang river. The slopes on the other side of the table-top were replete with more rhododendrons – bright yellow flowers blooming all around.
Mago was a relatively large settlement spread over a large area near the Tawang river. There was a significant presence of Indian army personnel as well along the road leading further ahead form Mago to the border. The hot springs at Mago are only a few minutes away from the main settlement.
It had started raining by now and Sonam pushed ahead to make arrangements for our stay in one of the homes in Mago. We were welcomed and made to feel at home by a lady and her family – three pretty little girls, amused at the size of our backpacks and us having trekked all the way from Dirang. As the rains had subsided, we decided to take a walk around the village and visited the homes of the locals who had trekked with us from Thungri. Butter tea was served over and over again as we huddled together in warm wooden huts and regaled memorable incidents from our journey together over the mountains. A home-made dinner was ready as we got back to our host in Mago, just in time before the rains came down heavily once again.
Day 3, Chang La to Nyang (near Potok)
Trek duration: 8 hours
Trek route: Chang La – Poshing La – Pangi La – Riverbed – Potok - Nyang
Gradient: Level for 1 hour, moderate climb for next 45 mins, short ascent and then gradual descent down to the riverbed for 1 hour. Gradual ascent for 2 hours to reach Potok and then another 2 hours to Nyang.
Altitude: Chang La (3200m) to Poshing La (4170m) to Nyang (4680m)
Yet another long day for us! The recommended camping spot for the day is Potok (that’s the way the locals pronounced it I think, same as “Pota” mentioned in maps and writings elsewhere), but we decided to try and reach Nyang, an hour’s trek ahead of Potok. The locals who joined us from Thungri were keen on reaching Mago the next day itself and hence the proposed change of plans.
Also, the company of the merry locals was something that I had gotten used to and taken a liking to during the previous day’s trek. So pushing ahead directly to Mago the next day (9-10 hour trek from Nyang) along with this merry bunch of locals did not require much convincing.
The trail continued to present the visual delights like the previous day. Rhododendrons were sighted all along – which turned out to be one of the striking features of this trek. Rhododendrons present aplenty on all days, noticeably more than the Goecha La and Sandakphu trails renowned for these flowers. Or so it seemed in the month of May.
From Chang La, the trek is level or a gradual ascent for the next 1 hour. Mobile connectivity was once again within reach on certain sections, before the trail moved to a steeper ascent towards Poshing La. The broad trail narrowed into a moderate climb for about an hour’s duration, with rocky cliffs and boulders lined up along the edges, as we finally reached the prayer flags atop the pass.
There is a flat area near Poshing La which can serve as a campsite, though the altitude makes it windy and the area is exposed to the elements. A few trickles of water from the melting snow around can act as a source of water, albeit not a reliable one.
Pangi La, the second pass on this day, was a 30-40 minute of level walk away. Short rhododendron bushes lined up either side of the trail between the two passes and the bright pink flowers compensated for the gloomy weather. Visibility was poor and we were still unable to catch a glimpse of any snow-capped peaks in the distance. We took a short lunch break atop Pangi La, where bread-jam, rusk and some biscuits were gobbled up by our hungry bunch.
There is a hut located on the right side of the trail (when facing the direction heading towards Potok) which can be used as a shelter in case of bad weather conditions. There are two routes from Pangi La towards Potok – the trail on the left is the shorter of the two routes and the one moved ahead on after lunch.
From Pangi La, barring a short ascent initially, the route moves downhill all the way to a big stream over the next one hour. This part of the mountain seems to receive less sunshine than others, and many sections of the trail were still covered with snow. The trail is still well marked and broad though, and there are plenty of streams from which to drink from hereafter. We crossed the stream over a bridge and here on started the gradual ascent towards Potok.
The trail gradually ascended over 2 hours to Potok along the stream, with rhododendrons adding colour to the scenery, but the vegetation dwindled as we progressed further up and away from the stream. There are a few open, somewhat level camping grounds which can serve as campsites, with the stream providing water not too far away. A hut which can be used to camp for a night, also lies on the main trail, about an hour up from the stream crossing.
Potok is basically just a collection of 4-5 huts inhabited by the locals, which move to higher ground with their flock during the grazing season. The main trail to Nyang and further to Tse La continues high above the huts bypassing the settlement. As one of the locals had a sack of rice to be delivered in Potok, we veered off the main trail and approached the huts. We were warmly greeted by the locals and offered copious amounts of butter tea – a tradition diligently followed everywhere in this part of the country. As it had started raining by now, sitting by the fireplace inside one of the huts and sipping incessantly on hot butter tea was a blissful experience.
Half an hour of chatting with the locals, and we realized it was time to press on ahead and set up our camp for the night, for Nyang was still 2 hours away. It was a gradual ascent again from Potok to Nyang along the stream. The landscape here was rocky and barren and the trail wide and open.
An uneventful two hour hike completed, we found ourselves near a lone hut, slightly off the trail, which was to be our camping spot for the night. It had been a long day and we quickly cleaned up and lit a fire in the hut to start preparing for our meal. Maggi noodles (still easily available then :) served as a refreshing meal.
The skies cleared up for a short duration, allowing us to enjoy the warmth and click a few pictures. A lake was visible in the distance, in the direction of Potok and above it, but was left unvisited – marked on the agenda for the next time.
The usual rice-yak milk curry meal followed a couple of hours later, and we retired for the night immediately after.