Zanskar to Ziro

#1 Oct 31st, 2017, 22:16
Join Date:
Dec 2008
In the land of awesomeness
  • aarosh is offline
The story of two women who decided to travel across the Himalayas, from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh

Sunrise over Chilmiri Neck, Chakrata | Sohini Sen

A very short while after, in the just-dried slush on the track, we find four paw prints clustered in an almost linear row. Each paw print seems to have three toes. I quickly photograph the marks. Sixth sense says we might be watched.

“Get close and stay very close to me,” I tell Sumita.


Sumita needs a rock-solid reason for any sudden change. I remember a time I had bruised her arm trying to drag her away from the path of a fast-moving snake: she had not seen the snake.

Sixth sense precludes reasoning. I bring in a dramatic whisper.

“Don’t ask questions now. And keep your voice low.”

We hasten our pace a little. We have not found the forest rest house yet. Even if we had reached the end of the road, there would still be a 5-km trek uphill to Vyas Shikhar. But it was too early in the season to try that, the slope would be snow covered. Best to turn back.

When we return to the hotel at the end of this fulfilling day, Kallan gives us a boisterous reception. He then proceeds to diligently eat the red mud layering our boots.
Later that evening, I show the photograph of the three-toed footprints to Dinesh and Chetan. They exchange knowing glances.

“Baghira?” Chetan asks Dinesh, speaking in Jaunsari. Dinesh nods.



Chetan nods an affirmation.

He confirms that they were the pugmarks of a leopard poised for a leap. And yes, the leopard might have still been around.

‘Shayed woh kahin upar baithey aapko dekh raha tha [perhaps it was sitting above you somewhere watching you],’ Chetan says.

Another peek at the book.

'Our car had crossed President Pranab Mukherjee's convoy travelling towards Tawang,' I tell Chiring. 'In a few days, Prime Minister Modi is also expected to visit Arunachal Pradesh,' he says. 'The Indian Government plans to extend the railways all the way up to Tawang. Let them build proper roads, first, and then talk about railways.'

Tea arrives in little red bone-china cups, ornate gold-and-green dragons on them. But by then I have wandered off a bit and made friends with Mala, a local girl going to fetch water in a shocking pink plastic canister. Mala shows me her house on the slope just opposite Dawa Hotel, a one-storey structure with a tin roof, cheek-by jowl with two others. Red blankets dry on her fence, next to golden marigold bushes. Mala poses readily for a photograph, then takes a look at it on the camera's LCD. 'I look quite good, don't I?'

That she does. She has full lips, carefully tended, and her fair cheeks are flushed pink with the warm sun. The broad vermilion mark on her forehead and the red glass beads around her neck match a bright red salwar. Gorichen eludes, but Bomdila's hills are resplendent with autumn leaves in all shades of red, gold, yellow and orange. The mood is festive at Mon-Bomdila, where the Gentse Gaden Rabgyel Ling Monastery or the Upper Gompa is holding the 8th Annual Events of Drubchod Chenmo cum Bomdila Torgya.

We are halted at the temporary arch declaring the festivities by a young, uniformed soldier. Sumita is carrying my folded tripod in its black bag, and this could be mistaken for a rifle. At my insistence – it lends colour to my photos –and much to her embarrassment, she is also wearing the rainbow-hued woollen cap bought in Kurseong. It has three rainbow-hued plaits hanging from it. I cannot think of a single reason why someone in this slightly ridiculous headgear should arouse suspicion.
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