Monday, June 07, 2010


A decision has been taken. We will load the bike early tomorrow and drive straight through to Assam. I accost a blond foreign couple mooching up Main Street in the rain.
Are they Czechs?
How did I guess?
Because two Czechs are on my Permit for Arunachal; other than me, these two are the only Europeans in town.
They paid 8000 Ruppes for the Permit.
I paid 5000 Ruppes.
A total of 13000.
A Mister Wanga arranged the Permit. He initially demanded 9000 from the Czechs. He claimed to be an influential politician and would obtain the permit within forty-eight hours once they had transferred the fee.
They waited six days.
The male Czech is tall with dreadlocks and loathes India. All Indians are on the make. Everyone has tried to rip him off.
I have enjoyed extraordinary hospitality - though telling him is wasted effort. His English is too limited. He speaks neither French nor Spanish - nor Russian. Surely Russian was obligatory at school? He dislikes Russians (understandable in a Czech) and never learned.
She is better educated and marginally less negative.
We shelter in a mini-restaurant on the High Street. The owner, a woman, is seated behind a cash box. She ignores us. Perhaps she is related to the mobile-phone addict at the bakery. Or suffers from poor eyesight. Or dislikes foreigners...
Half and hour of difficult conversation passes before a girl appears from the kitchen. I order soup. The Czechs drink water.
I have met with much kindness and generosity on this journey. Passang Tsering is my latest benefactor. I watch from inside the cafe as he talks with the truck owner and the driver. The driver is young, perhaps foolhardy. Angel told me yesterday that two couples in a saloon car went over the edge on the Sela Pass the day I crossed. They were killed.
And the Army commander asked me at breakfast in his camp whether I had ever seen an Indian truck driver wearing spectacles. Not that I noticed. The implication is obvious. So, yes, I am nervous.
Does Tawang have an oculist? Should I ask Passang Tsering to have the young driver's eyesight tested? Or should I close my own eyes as we cross the Sela Pass? If we cross the Sela Pass...A jeep that left Tawang early this morning has returned - a land-slide has closed the road. The road may reopen by mid-afternoon, meanwhile rain is falling steadily from black clouds and Passang Tsering warns that the chance of leaving today are slim.
The Army commander expects me for dinner tomorrow.
I am booked on the train from Guwati to Delhi on the 18th.
Or am I condemned to a life sentence in Tawang?
Is Tawang Purgatory?
Or Hell?
Or would sunshine transform the town?
Even electricity would help, light, hot water.
However yesterday's thunder storm destroyed the transformer and there is no spare.

Sunday, June 06, 2010


Tawang is a study in genetic diversity. The angel of the telephone central is Tawang Mompa. Typical of her community, she is slight of build, fine featured. Mountain Mompa are squatter and speak a different language unintelligible to the city folk. Vally Mompa speak a third language, equally foreign to mountain and city folk. Cross the pass to the next valley and you find a fourth language and a fifth and a sixth. Division by language enfeebles Arunachal as a political unit. Buddhism is the sole unifier.
Passang Tsering's great grandparents were immigrants from Lasha and the family's home language remains Tibetan. At six foot, he is taller than the Mompa, powerfully built, his features what we Europeans think of as Oriental. His mountaineer's stride is scornful of the slope up from the High Street. He wears a puffa jacket over a tartan shirt, jeans and work boot. He shakes and folds a khaki green umbrella before entering the cafe.