Three mobile networks failed. The road was almost completely deserted and we were driving through what looked like dense foliage on either side of the road. It was past 8 pm. We were tired and fairly irritated as our driver refused to take shorter routes and brought us through heavy traffic snarls that all towns are so proud of. Then he told us he did not know the hotel and we should find it on GPS. GPS is fine, but only when there is an available network. In the middle of Nameri Wildlife Sanctuary, networks played truant. However, eventually a weak signal indicated we were nearby; a settlement came into view and a rather faded signboard came to our rescue. We had reached Bhalukpong.
Prashaanti Cottage is the most sought after hotel in this small and picturesque settlement. 26 years ago I had come with my parents. It was a sleepy hamlet with a strong presence of the armed forces. Assam and Arunachal were not quite peaceful at that time. Though not quite comparable to Kashmir, the North East was rather full of gun-wielding soldiers and sporadic yet regular security checks. Baba had become quite irritated as we were made to feel like aliens in our own country. I was in my postgrad days – this was probably the first time I learnt how nation is a complicated thing and how easily an entire people can be damned as anti-nationals. Bhalukpong is the border separating Assam and Arunachal and the need for an Inner Line Permit has remained the same. 26 years back we had passed through Bhalukpong, but this time we had planned to stay here instead of in Tezpur. It was a good decision.
Bhalukpong is not necessarily the most happening place. It is still a smallish village nourished by the checkpost. The river Kameng is breathtaking. Once upon a time it was called Bharali, and it is still called Jia Bharali in Assam. The river has its origin in the Tawang district in Arunachal Pradesh. Gori Chen peak is located at the Indo-China border, about 60 km away from Tawang, and is said to be the origin of the river.
We spent quite a bit of time with the river. Nameri Reserve Forest was a disappointment as the trails were closed, denying us the chance to hike in the woods. There were other attractions, such as elephant rides and rafting, which we politely declined.
The picnic spot next to the river was serene. We had a few lovely moments there.
Another lovely experience was the Tippi orchid research centre – 4 kilometres up from Bhalukpong. Although not many orchids were in bloom, we were treated to some beautiful ones.
There is one more such place at Sessa. What marred the entire experience was the intense heat. It was almost 35 degrees, feeling like 40, with the sun being extremely angry. We were drained and needed continuous hydration, not something you expect in a hilly area. Then again, to be fair, Bhalukpong is in the plains. It is the gateway that takes you through the sub-Himalayan ranges to the High Himalayas.
The mystery that baffled us came from Google. Google promised the presence of Bhalukpong Fort. There are images and histories and descriptions, all details except how to get there. Google Map did not cooperate. Our driver said he had no idea – we were unimpressed with him as he had made us wait in the midday heat for more than an hour near Mongoldoi as he did not know how to change a tire – so we discarded his statements. But the hotel people were not in the know, neither were the officers of the ITBP. One of them said he is a local and he had no clue about such a place. The Archaeological Survey of India said it was near Gohpur (http://asiguwahaticircle.gov.in/bhalukpong.html) which is 127 kilometres away from Bhalukpong, but in the West Kameng district which is also quite far from Gohpur! I guess some mysteries remain unsolved.
It would be unjust to speak about Bhalukpong without mentioning Prashaanti Cottage in detail. This is the place to stay if you are planning to stay in Bhalukpong. There are other options, but this is by far the best.
With cottages around a lush green lawn, and picturesque buildings with standard rooms, this property is a place of interest by itself. There is a quaint little watchtower and a small observation area which offers breathtaking views of the river and the hills.
The people here are caring – they packed us a lovely complimentary breakfast since we were leaving early – and very polite. The cottages are spacious and they offer the comfort one needs. There is a video on YouTube, if you wish to see it. This stay is the perfect way to begin your Arunachal trip.
52 kilometres from Tezpur (nearest airport)
Nearest Railhead is Rangapara (48.5 km)
Border between Arunachal Pradesh and Assam
Inner Line Permit required to enter Arunachal Pradesh
Plains – temperature between 10° to 30° and more – can be very warm when sunny
Unreliable public transport – best to have own / shared vehicle pre-arranged
Earlier Posts: 1. Old Lucknow 2. Colonial Lucknow 3. Going Downhill - Versey to Dentam 4. Going to Garhwal 5. The Walkers 6. Palamau 7. Rishikesh 8. Kolkata Kolkata 9. The Roar of the Clouds - Santiniketan 10. Of Pests and Men - Uttarey 11. Where Hikers Fear to Tread - Rudranath 12. Old Times 13. History in Ruins - Pushpagiri 14. Once There was a Heaven 15. Serenity 16. Pilgrim's Progress - Kedarnath 17. Unfinished - Gaumukh 18. Ghatshila 19. Nothing Important 20. Manu's Alaya - Manali 21. Santiniketan 22. Little Lhasa - Dharamshala 23. From Varuna to Assi - Varanasi 24. Tunganath 25. Transitory Blues 26. Gurudongmar 27. The Beginning 28. Yumesamdong 29. Bangali in Bangkok 30. Mukutmanipur 31. Rasvanti 32. The Old Town and the Sea 33. Budapest 34. The Last Post of 2019 35. Travel Travails 36. Cluj-Napoça 37. Presenting the Past 38. Far From the Urban Crowd 39. Silent Night Sleepless Night 40. Norwich 41. Photo Essay - The Road 42. Photo Story - The Days of the Goddess 43. Badrinath 44. Monumental Mistakes 45. Odyssey Now 46. To the Mountains 47. Keylong 48. Where Moon River is Born 49. Kaza 50. Through the Valley of Spiti 51. Kalpa 52. Sarahan 53. Un-happy Journey (Meghalaya) 54. Shimla