It is five in the morning and still pitch dark outside. But I am up and ready to face the winter morning chill, which admittedly, is not at its peak yet. My camera bag on my shoulder and my trusty hat on my head I am ready to leave the comfort of my hotel room. While this is a nice hotel, it is old style. No digital key swipes, just one key for an old-fashioned lock. Therefore I need to wake my wife to let me out of the hotel room and lock the door behind me.
Zero is a quaint name for an unknown town hidden in the undergrowth of the deep jungles of Arunachal Pradesh — a state that is itself tucked away in the north-east of the country and is clearly not on the tourist map. Just the kind of place I long for
A rather upright hill in the middle of an expansive, flat valley that jostles with lush green farms and endless bamboo groves, houses this little guest house. It just sits there whitewashed plastered bamboo walls and rusted tin roof, under a glorious blue sky and stinks to high heaven. A pity? Or perhaps a minor inconvenience for keeping the geography inaccessible to people who don’t yet know how to drive without high-beam or use a camera without flash.
I camped solo, by the Pangong Tso (Ladakh, India) and survived… well, not just survived, but came back with an experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Totally incredible! Over 4200 meters above sea level; temperature well below freezing (it was 4 degrees inside the tent at 5:30 in the morning). And there I was camped on a peninsula in one of the biggest and bluest lakes in the country, with water splashing on all three sides (wind creates almost see like waves) and the tent fluttering in the wind all night. Didn’t get much sleep. Not just the noise and cold, but also the night sky, and then the dawn.
Highly recommend this lake. Must do once in your life, especially before the lake gets commercialized… I can see early signs of that happening.
I had heard about the 25-foot Shivling, even before I had reached Ziro. With the Amarnath story still fresh in my mind this appeared too tempting to be passed without an investigation. While little kids at the Don Bosco Church just outside my hotel practiced Sunday choir, I bought emergency food of a few chocolates, and set off for in search of the Shivling.
It was hardly a search; everybody appeared to know exactly where it was and how to get to it. Through the paddy fields, through the ‘basti’ beyond the town water supply source…
As you drive on the well-maintained National Highway 52, given the volume or absence of traffic, you experience a serene calm. The assorted trees stand unruffled, kids play quietly in the verandahs, people appear to be talking softly or not at all, men sit bare-chested outside shops and seem to be doing nothing in particular. The Highway itself, as it snakes eastwards, appears to be snoozing in a riot of green – the fresh green of the paddy fields contrasts with the dark green of the banana groves, and the yet darker green-brown of the tall ‘tambul’ trees.
A two and a half hour flight followed by a one hour helicopter ride, leading on to 17 hours in a taxi, is a long way off from Delhi. And here I am sitting by a mist-covered lake at an altitude of over 4,000 meters and talking to Ling Tung Tsiring who lives here and tends to ‘Chomus’.