Arunachal Diaries – Sela to Jong

“Where is the signboard?”

That was the frantic question from this breathless young lady. When you are at 13,700 feet above Sea level, you are allowed to be a little breathless. But this lady was ignoring the remarkable pass and the lake. I guess a selfie with a signboard announcing the place is much more important than the place itself.

Let me give you another snippet.

“Baba, I want to go down those stairs.”

The Baba in question replied, “Why go all the way down? There is only a lake there.”

The above conversation took place at the already mentioned 13,700 feet above the sea level. We were standing next to the breathtaking Sela Lake (to be perfectly honest, a part of our breath was taken by the same stairs mentioned by the curiosity-filled son so tragically snubbed by his ultra boring father). 

We have climbed to greater heights. Kunzum pass was quite high (almost 15,000 ft), and Gurudongmar Lake was the highest (17,800 ft) that we had gone by road. We did not have any difficulty gently walking there. But walking around Chandra Taal (14,100 ft) and climbing the few steps to and from Sela Lake had been ever so slightly taxing. Walking in thin air is not something the lungs look forward to. 

We had started at eight in the morning. This was quite late by our standards. After a completely unnecessary and rain soaked stop at Baisakhi we reached Sela in good time. It was around noon. We spent a good bit of time around the lake. This is a sacred site for the followers of Buddha, and a large Buddha statue kept in an elevated glass chamber has become one of the attractions.

I had come with my parents in the mid-90s. There was nothing around the lake then. It was magnificent and utterly untouched by human construction. There is a story here. Our trip then was supposed to end at Dirang. But the company whom we were accompanying, one in which my father’s young friend worked, had a problem. One of their mini-trucks skidded off the road and fell on a couple of houses. The driver was killed and I believe the occupants were seriously injured. You must remember this was a time when the area was quite troubled. Fearing a backlash, we the guests were bundled off on a day trip. We crossed an overcast Sela on a day the temperature was plummeting. I remember we could not touch the body of the car (a Maruti Gypsy) as it was freezing. But the lake was something I would always remember. Quiet and magnificent, without any interventions. It is still magnificent, but the quietness is now gone. With comments and quests that I mentioned at the beginning, it has become another place for tourists and their sheer white noise. The twin lakes are not equally impressive. The smaller lake has become a bit crowded, as the surroundings are now completely dotted with human interference.

The necessary presence of the Armed Forces is one thing, but the human capacity to turn something wonderfully and truly natural into a circus of construction remains as distasteful as ever.

The clouds were quite amazing and not that welcome for the tourists, but the rain gods were kind and gave us just the bit of visibility we needed to enjoy this amazing place. Here is a short video.

As we were walking up, the clouds came back, a slight drizzle started. We scampered back to our vehicle and the lake became completely invisible as we drove through the road right next to it. This was quite lovely if you love rain. And when you love nature, it often rewards you with a bit of gentle affection.

Speaking of love, Sela has a remarkable history. “La” means pass, therefore Sela is essentially “Se Pass”. During one of our past wars a brave soldier, Jaswant Singh Rawat, has protected the border from the neighbours who had turned enemies. In fact, this man’s valour was instrumental in protecting the region which otherwise may have been occupied by the antagonists in question. There was a tender connection between Jaswant Singh Rawat and a woman called Sela from a nearby village. She used to bring food and water to the soldier and even during the days of violence she would not fail. Jaswant Singh finally fell to the large numbers that attacked the territory, and when Sela found his lifeless body, she killed herself. Since then the pass carried her memory through its name.

From Sela we went to the Jaswantgarh, the memorial for Jaswant Singh who fell in battle. The whole region, strategically sensitive beyond imagination, is full of a recent history that speaks of the martyrdom of our brave jawans. There might be corruption everywhere, but underestimating the courage and sacrifice of our boys on the borders is nothing less than criminal.

After Sela the road climbs down quite frantically. And in a while the amazing Nuramneng Falls comes to view. This is considered to be a holy waterfall. Prayer flags enwrap the falls so much that it is difficult to get clear shots of the large waterfall. Of course, we reached Nuramneng in heavy rain, but risking life and lens of the camera we took as many shots as possible under the circumstances. 

Our next destination was the village called Jang. Everybody had generously praised the Jang waterfall. When we reached the spot a steady drizzle was making life complicated. We had a glimpse of the waterfall from a distance. And we braved the rain as this was truly the most awesome waterfall in this nook of the nation.

As we were taking shots a man told us that the view is far better closer. He did not turn out to be a good Samaritan. After walking down a bit on steep steps we saw a ticketing counter (remembering my experience at the Root Bridge in Meghalaya) and this man was a part of the ticketing team. Rs 40 per head was the price we had to pay. But it was worth it. I have no words to describe the experience. Therefore, I will give you a video.

And I will also give you some photographs.

For once in my life, I did not care about all the moisture targeting my lens. The place was that brilliant.

Our journey to Tawang ended on an unexpected note of anxiety. We reached the outskirts around 5 pm. GPS said 8 more minutes to the hotel. But all the roads seemed to be blocked. Darkness was falling with heavy rain in tow. And we were completely lost. Every street that lead to the Old Market had either “No Entry” signs or were blocked with barricades. After suffering through heavy traffic jams and police high-handedness, we had to violate a No Entry sign to reach our destination. It was almost 7 pm. We were flabbergasted. The hotel tried to help, but they could do little. We later found out that the one way system is rigidly followed, it was the ineptitude of our overconfident driver that wasted 2 hours of our lives. As he claimed again and again to be intimately familiar with Tawang, it was quite an irritation to become the guide in a tour in which we were to be guided by the driver. But Tawang did not disappoint. I promise to tell you about Tawang quite soon.

On our journey back from Tawang, Sela gave us a much better view. Let me end with that photo.

Relevant information

Sela Pass is about 62 km from Dirang

Jang Falls is approximately 39 km from Sela Pass

Located in Arunachal Pradesh

Strategically sensitive area

Inner Line Permit required to enter Arunachal Pradesh

Altitude of Sela Pass is 13,700 ft

Some attractions have local ticketing

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 55. Bhalukpong 56. Rissia Nature Camp - Kuldiha Forest 57. Arunachal Diaries - Dirang