No one serves it better than Rupa. Steaming hot with a dash of lemon. It’s a simple noodle-soup with even simpler ingredients. But when it’s freezing cold in the world outside her little tenement at 13,700 feet, it tantalises the taste buds exotically and is succour for weary, weather-beaten souls traversing the mountains tracks of awesome Arunachal Pradesh.
Tawang, near the Indo-Tibet border, was our destination for the day. Our quartet, that’s a group of four adventurous women between 30 and 70 years, was geared up for the geographical assault we had been warned about. But nothing could have prepared us for the vertical climb, when we had started off on the eight-hour journey from sunny Bomdila, in West Kameng district, early morn. Getting to Sela, the splendid snow-covered natural mountain pass -- second highest in the world, with the mirror-like Paradise lake -- is a test for the nerves, as you drive past stunning rocky topography that captivates and numbs at one go. And residing there…well, even lichens find it tough.
But not Rupa, or Rigu Renchu, as she is known on school certificates. She believes in living on the edge, literally. Her one-room shack, which doubles up as Hotel Tenzin is the lone dwelling at Sela, entry point to district Tawang. She has only the gods to keep her company… Lord Shiva resides in the temple opposite the road and so does Buddha. Sentinels at the Army post stand on guard too. But Rupa, she needs none. She’s a stocky, happy hill woman. Content with the way life has treated her. It’s the passerbys who are dependent on her. The Armymen, truckers, few and far between tourists and locals need to halt at her quaint abode while on their way up or down the treacherously-inviting terrain. It’s at her home-hotel you stop to refuel spirits and gather breath to do the breathtaking once again. And Rupa makes sure she pampers you thoroughly.
It was raining when we reached Sela. We bundled out of the gypsy shivering; shuddered a little more on viewing snow at a distance, got our feet wet with sleet and let the frosty breeze play pranks on the face. Hotel Tenzing seemed a non-descript address to halt. But then at those heights it’s heavenly to find an address. We lumbered inside the wood shack expecting… well, nothing too much. But ah! It was snug. The bukhari spreading the warmth, smiling Rupa the cheer as she welcomed us warmly, in her unmistakable lispy Hindi.
The little room is Rupa’s realm. One corner has her ‘shop’: racks of biscuits, bread, eggs, namkeen, sweets… the survival basics. The standard Bangladeshi and Chinese crockery is also up for sale. The other side has her bunk bed. A huge radio lies on a shelf above and Vividbharati is tuned into all day. In the middle of this all is the bukhari with a few chairs around it. That’s where we made ourselves comfortable and placed the order. A friend had told me about the delicious soup served here and one had to try that. The errand boy was instructed to pump the stove. Water was put to boil. And in 10 minutes flat the soup arrived. Garnished with sprigs of coriander. Were we impressed? We were flattered by the service! Hunger growled at us more ferociously, making us plunge the spoon into the soup. A mouthful went in. Ah! No exotic feast could match the culinary delight we were savouring at that moment. No fussy environs could make us feel more rejuvenated for the expedition ahead.
Sela was the highest point we hit during our week-long trip in Arunachal. In the course of the journey, cyclically we would touch heights between 8,000 ft to 12,000 ft and then come down to 4,000 ft as we crossed mountains and valleys to reach our destination, Tawang, birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama. The contrast was such that if one moment there were evergreen semi-rain forests with the most incredible green vegetation, myriad-coloured orchids, ferns the size of date palm trees... the next hour we would be driving along barren brown and white mountains with mist moving in and out and dense fog enveloping the area making visibility a task. So if at a point of time were in light clothing, an hour later we’d be shivering despite being clad in layers of woolens.
Arunachal was all about coming face to face with the unexpected. As we did at Sela in Rupa’s little room. By the way the recipe: It’s a soup she innovates with your regular 2-minute Maggi packet. The noodles she boils appetizingly right and lets a little water stand (that’s the stock, people). Throws in a few flakes of chilies and a spoonful of onions. One more boil and the soup is ready. Quarter of a lemon is squeezed in to add the tang. But let me tell you… try making it at home and you’ll never get it right. It’s Rupa’s special. And no one serves it better than her.
Permit: Sela is the entry point to district Tawang.
For Tawang, an Inner Line Permit, is needed. Foreigners need to apply for special permit. At 13,700 feet, it is the second highest motorable pass.
It has the Army outpost, Shiv temple and lake. Rupa's Hotel Tenzin is the attraction though.Travel:By air:Kolkata-Guwahati has daily flightsKolkata-Tezpur twice a weekBy road:From Tezpur (Assam) you will have to take a taxi. It takes about 7-9 hours to Bomdila, where you should stop overnight. From there it will be another 8-10 hours to Tawang. The road is excellent and a pleasure to drive on. Shared taxis should be booked prior. State government buses also run.It is advisable to take a tour guide along, as there are many off-track sights the eyes might miss. Sanjoy Sengupta, a guide in love with Arunachal, is recommended. He provided us with a budgeted trip and made it breathtaking with his nuggets on the region.
Contact: Traveloagencies, Sanjoy Sengupta 212, R B Avenue, CD-47, 1st Floor Gariahat MarketKolkata - 700 029, West Bengal, Indiatel: (91)-(033)-24402767Accommodation:Bomdila and Tawang have a number hotels. Don't look for comfort. Try and book the circuit houses which are a delight to stay in.