Day 3 – to Tawang via Sela Pass (13700 ft)

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Kalki and Kunu on the way to Dirang

Our little caravan starts moving at around 9 am, after having shot our video logs of the previous 2 days. After a brief stop in Dirang, at Kunu’s auntie’s shop to buy a badly needed sweater for myself, we head towards Sela Pass, one of the highest in the region. But first, as it is often the case in the Himalayas, we have to descend a fair number of hairpins to Jang, cross the river on a metallic bridge and climb again towards the pass.

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The Sela Pass (13,700 ft)

At about 8000 ft, we have to stop and wear our high altitude gear to fight the biting cold. But soon things get much worse: we just had stopped for a lunch break – i.e. Maggi noodles – in a simple hut on top of the pass, when a violent hail storm starts, quickly covering the road with a half foot thick layer of ice.

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The lake on top of Sela Pass in threathening weather

Following some argument with the production about waiting here or not, and as I am anticipating a further deterioration of the weather, I decide to immediately proceed with the descent. That, is a tough job on 2 wheels and an extreme challenge for Kalki! Fortunately our “Himalayans” are fitted with knobby tyres without which we would have been in even deeper trouble.

After a couple of kilometres, Kalki – unfortunately having been unable to source waterproof riding boots at her size** – is suffering from severe frostbite on her feet and hands as well, and so, although she courageously bears the ordeal, it is decided to accommodate her in one of the crew cars for the rest of the day. As for myself I keep on going down as fast as safety can permit to escape the late afternoon cold, for very soon temperatures will drop sub-zero and the hail-slush will become transformed into hard ice. In the process, following a traffic misjudgement I skid off the road before a narrow culvert, landing the bike into a deep ditch. No damage to me or to the bike, but it takes 6 people to extract the vehicle from this muddy hole!

At last reaching an altitude blessed with moderate temperatures and riding far ahead of the pack, I decide to take shelter from the heavy rain and wait for the crew. Under This corrugated sheet shelter is a group of women working on the roads. One of the girls comes to me and welcomes me, addressing me in perfect English. She explains that she is a student, and during her holidays she works on the roads, carrying and breaking stones. I can’t see her face, for she – like all her colleagues and most women around here in general – wears a mask for dust protection, but she has beautiful almond shaped eyes and, strangely, her name is Jenny. She is dressed in thick traditional local clothes for warmth, I can see nothing of her, no body shape, no face, just these eyes burning with life, pride and aspiration, and still, she radiates a fascinating beauty. In a very genuine, admiring way, she is thrilled when I tell her in the conversation that Kalki, my daughter, is on her way down: this anonymous, poor girl, who lives in a most remote part of the Himalayas, knows everything about Kalki! I have witnessed similar scenes in other villages again and again, and then it suddenly dawns on me that Jenny represents thousands, or perhaps hundreds of thousands of young women, who see in Kalki not only an incarnation of their dreams, but even more important, a herald of what they will themselves become one day: free, independent and powerful women in a changed society. And, as her father, I am touched to tears by this because, you see, this is the real hidden value of Kalki’s action in the world.

JK

(to be continued: In & around Tawang)

** Would this be an indication that Indian bikers should be male exclusively?!

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9 thoughts on “Day 3 – to Tawang via Sela Pass (13700 ft)

  1. Hi…
    First off, since I’m from North East (sivasagar in Assam to be exact) let me welcome you to our place. You have chosen quite a beautiful place to explore on bikes. North East is often referred as the unexplored paradise. The natural landscapes, flora and fauna, warm people, exotic food…that sort of stuff.
    Early spring is the best time to visit, but anytime is a good time to visit the place.
    The Brahmaputra, though he** starts from from a glacier, most of the water is fed by his tributaries. And since monsoon is just starting, the water level hasn’t risen much. Maybe climate deterioration is also a factor, but come July-August, you can see the full power of the mighty river. Most of the nearby villages will be drown and it will be a mayhem (Majuli is getting smaller every year). Maybe when it’s time to leave, you may notice the difference.
    The roads are not too bad, compared to ladakh roads, so basic safety is enough. Although be careful of mudslides. And since you have a crew it won’t be any problem.
    I don’t think there will be any cultural festival going on at this time of the year, but you never know…
    So good luck to both of you on this chapter of journey in life. Will eagerly wait for your photography.
    Come back in December to Nagaland for the hornbill festival, and maybe I’ll see you there 🙂

    Like

  2. ** certainly not. It is an indication that we(women) can reach anywhere against the odds. Better to make the sources available. There will not be any men or women differentiation in adventure. Only the brave and tough will prevail! Super KALKI!

    Liked by 1 person

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