The hotel manager gave us the wakeup call at 6 am. We all were excited to visit the China border covered with snow and hence we got ready on time. After breakfast, we sat in our car and left for Bumla Pass tour at around 9 am. Nevertheless, we were finally on the long and lonely road to Bumla and were greeted with a fabulous change of scenery as soon as we left from Tawang. Our driver, Sange was also our guide. The journey was breathtaking as we could see all the military battalion & soldiers’ vehicle running with us. There were various gates which had different names such as Maratha warriors, Punjab warriors & many more with the state names.
DAY 6- Bumla Pass tour
We found the hill changing its color on the way of Bumla. This might be due to various colorful orchids on hill. Along the way, there were many lakes and we stopped near each and every lake. We were in what could be said as ‘lake country’; the region from Tawang to Bumla has more than 100 lakes in total. The first lake that we came across went by the name ‘P T Tso’ and was a sizeable water-body with a small hut by the side of the lake. After that we crossed a pass called Nagu La as the road kept climbing towards Y Junction. The condition of the road was bearable till the Y Junction; where we saw another lake called Nagula Tso.
The road bifurcated at Y Junction. The road to the right led to Bumla and the road going to the left led to Madhuri Lake (Shungatser Lake or Shungatser Tso). Our plan was flexible and we were supposed to visit Bumla first as weather could change anytime.
This was one of the most off-beat passes in the world. It was also referred to as the pass from where Dalai Lama entered India escaping from Tibet. In fact, a snow covered Indo-China border was a worth visiting site in Tawang. I spotted a lot of bunkers on both the left and right side of the road.
It was only reachable through road but a special permit was required to visit this site. Permits could be taken from DC office and it had to be stamped in the Tawang check post if not, one would not be allowed to pass through many check posts. It would be best to visit Bumla Pass during the months from February to April.
The Bum La Pass was located about 37 km away from Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, at the Indo-China border above 15,200 ft above sea level. An old traders road went from Tawang via Milakatong La Pass (“La” in the Tibetan Language means “pass”) to Bumla Pass and finally to Tsona Dzong in Tibet.
The road to Bumla was also a historical route, the People’s Liberation Army of China invaded India during the 1962 Sino-Indian War. Here in Bum La Pass one of the brutal battles took place in the 1962 Sino-Indian War.
In 2006, Bumla pass was re-opened to traders for the first time in 44 years. Traders and postal staffs got the permission to enter each other’s territories.
The road was in partially good condition. Driver of the vehicle must be an expert to drive on mountain terrain. Take water, eatables, biscuits, chocolates if possible thermos with tea as nothing was available on the way to the summit. The climb was simply adventure, with a little lack of oxygen. During winter it got covered by snow. If you were traveling by hire vehicle make sure the driver knew the place very well and was an expert in driving specially on hilly roads. Only SUVs are advisable, and that too only on clear weather day with no snowfall or rainfall.
When we reached Bumla it was around 1 pm. I was carrying some mementoes for defense personnel from Kolkata. This included one poster, one badge, a chocolate and one small shield to recognize their effort and dedication in the extreme condition. I used to carry this small token gift for defense personnel wherever I visit. One of them took me to army officer. I handed over my small kit to him. He hugged me for my good gesture and arranged tea for me and wife. He gave two Cadburys to my son Tintin and inspired him to join defense. Then he told one of his employees to guide us. I remained thankful to the officer (not disclosing his name) for this special treatment. The military person took us to border meeting point. It was one of the 5 officially agreed Border Security Meeting points between the Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army of China for regular consultations and interactions between the two armies to improve relations. Here, there was a hut on the India side where border meetings are held. He told us about the border specialty & how the 1961 Indo – China war took place.
The person also narrated & guided us about many things related with Bumla Pass and Indian Army. Then he took us in one warm room which was big conference room. We sat there for a while to feel warmth. After the intense discussion, I went closer to the check post of India at Bumla Pass border. The border had manifested the charismatic creation of the nature. The 1st Dalai Lama had come from these mountains, everything seemed like a History books where pages were flipping with every past incidents. How China captured the whole Tawang during 1961 & the severe war.
Unlike the border area in Sikkim, here there was no fence or endless barbed wire wall that separates the two countries; there were only markers on the mountains in each direction which were respected by both sides. Every year 6 major combined events are held during important dates such as each country’s independence and other similar occasions, which included cultural activities, food, music and dance. The local communities were allowed to attend from both sides and these events were conducted with great enthusiasm and joy. It went a long way in ensuring that the border area should be kept friendly and the soldiers, who were stationed for up to three years at a time, had a chance to display their skills and hobby.
Then I took few photographs after taking their consent. Standing there at the border, taking photographs at the ‘rock of peace’, you should experience a sense of pride and gratitude for the men and women who were serving the country, and a feeling that perhaps lasting peace with our northern neighbor was not impossible.
Constantly being tossed inside the car, it was even hard to converse with Sange, a very dear person now driving me to Madhuri Lake. Sange was especially interested about Bengali girl. He cheerfully shared some titbits about his family. Sometimes he got philosophical. In the middle of a laugh he added, “Personally telling you sir I want to marry Bengali girl”, and shared about his few Bengali friends.
Truly, one thing I could share, once you traveled on such tracks, you were bound to be full of appreciation and admiration for these men who drove travelers and tourists to such challenging destinations. Sange increased the volume of the music player and we drove on. He had an awesome collection of Bollywood songs that were just perfect for this journey. The tremendous beauty of nature in this part of India was absolutely incredible! One of the song I still remembered, and giving you the link.
After visiting Bum La Pass, I was already awe-struck with the paradisiac appeal of the route. Now, we were moving towards Sangetsar Tso or Madhuri Lake (the name it was now popularly known as) which was one of the remotest natural lakes in India, located in Arunachal Pradesh, India. Created by falling rocks, boulders and trees in an earthquake in 1971, this lake which featured Madhuri Dixit (Bollywood actress) in the movie Koyla, as a result this lake was sometimes also called Madhuri Lake. The lake was about 30 km from Tawang town, about 7 km beyond the bifurcation of road leading to Bum La Pass.
After that, a flooding in the forest, the trees were submerged in the water. What happened after these phenomena was that the trees died and in the present situation the trunks of these dead trees are visible in the water of Madhuri Lake and giving a distinct feel. The water was calm and clear and on a clear day the reflections in the lake could be really picturesque.
Right beside the lake, there was a small self-service café run by the Indian Army. You could get delicious Indian snacks such as ‘Chhole Bhature’, Maggi, and hot beverages here. It was a small room so you would have to stand in a queue for some time if there was a huge rush. You could also buy warm caps and gloves from the counter at nominal prices.
I noticed visitors were enjoying their food from the café in the open seating area amidst the pristine surroundings. Though I thought to did our lunch there but we had to skip our lunch due too huge rush and non-availability of food items. The army people were treating visitors very well. Being a border location, it was always advisable to maintain protocols and act responsibly.
The small stretch of land next to to the café was developed into a park that was beautifully trimmed with yellow fences, open seating arrangements, and neat pebbled pathways. The large Indian Flag and the ‘Jai Hind’ bench beside the lake created a proud moment for every citizen!
A lean pathway headed straight to the lake from the cafeteria where there was a tiny roofed view point. The colorful Buddhist prayer flags made the place really a divine. After standing at the view point for a couple of minutes that gave me a strange feel as I looked into the water and the mountains, I took a brisk walk by the lakeside on the fenced pathway. Even in the afternoon when the glaring sun is right above the head, severe cold winds hit the skin so hard that it felt like getting lashed.
A song sequence, “Tanhai Tanhai” in the Bollywood movie Koyla (1997) starring Shah Rukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit was shot right in this location in the backdrop of Sangestar Lake and Nuranang Falls. The song is composed by Rajesh Roshan and the lyricist is Indeevar. To listen follow below mentioned link.
Bollywood films have always had a strong influence on the Indian masses and the role of the industry is also noteworthy in having a positive impact on tourism. There has been an evergreen trend in India of marking varied shooting locations and step by step together with them within the tourism circuit with the tag of the actual film, song or the actor.
Being the ‘90s kid of India, I grew up seeing the enormous popularity of Madhuri Dixit. She was ruling every media – films, modeling, magazines, tabloids and the madness surrounding the star was crazy among all age groups. Her quality even exceeded that of the leading men of Bollywood throughout that point. Her beauty and sensational thousand-watt smile melted hearts not only in India but beyond the LOC and across the globe.
Therefore, the fact of locally renaming the Sangestar Lake as Madhuri Lake comes as no surprise. The tagging of the lake with the name of the Bollywood actress helped the remote location attract attention and interest of the masses. Today, most of the locals address the lake as Madhuri Lake instead of its official name.
We didn’t have much time left to explore. So I took some quick shots to capture some moments and hurried back to the car. After spending an hour or so at Madhuri Lake, it was time for us to head back to Y Junction and resume our journey to Tawang. We are back at Y Junction from Sangestarr Lake. On the way back, we spot some waterfalls, Bidi Baba Temple and Belt Baba Temple too! I took few clicks of them. I can say this Eastern Himalayan route hosted about a hundred natural lakes and as you passed by them, the magical scenic beauty often became overwhelming.
Full day tour cost
The local tour operators offer a complete package for a day tour to Bum La, PTso, and Madhuri Lake at the rate of INR 5,000 to INR 5,500(depending on season). Outside of Tawang drivers were not allowed to take you for this tour. The vehicles that were mostly used in the region are Tata Sumo, Bolero, Scorpio, and SUVs.
A special permit was required to visit Bumla Pass. The Permits can be requested at the office of the Deputy Commissioner in Tawang, and also the same had to be stamped in the Indian army military checkpost of Tawang. Please note that without the army stamp, you would not be allowed through the numerous check posts on the way.
Always carry a Government approved Photo Identity Card (Voter’s ID, Driving License etc) with you and carry along 2 to 3 copies of passport photographs. Indian citizens require Inner Line Permit (ILP) and Foreigners need to apply for Protected Area Permit (PAP) to visit Arunachal Pradesh to get Bumla Pass permit. My hotel manager arranged me my permit and took Rs. 50 for print outs.
These were however just the highlights. As I mentioned above, this entire road was an attraction of the journey so go ahead; take the challenge and cherish it for life; as there would be no time like the first time; no matter how many times you travel on it after.
I hope the information above was of help. If you need any further information; or have any questions; please feel free to ask in the comments section below, and I will be glad to answer.
Also read ARUNACHAL DIARY-PART III
Also check Arunachal Tourism