Bum La (or Bum La pass) is located at an altitude of 15,200 feets in Tawang region of Arunachal Pradesh. In 2006, it was reopened to civilians after 44 years. It is often covered with heavy snow and one of the most off-beat passes in the world. Just like Spiti and Ladakh, it takes a big heart to travel till Bum La. The controversial line of actual control between India and China passes from here. There are many legendary and heroic stories of the 1962 war. It is this pass from where the Dalai Lama entered India escaping from Tibet.
This pile is a symbol of friendly border.
Practically it takes 3 days of road journey to reach Bum La. However it is advisable to take more time and acclimatization to go there. You can spend more time in places like Bomdila or Tawang town before heading for this majestic place located at high altitude. First, you need to reach Tawang by sumo or bus. Usually people start their road journey from Guwahati and take a break at Bomdila on the first night. Then it’s another 8 hours drive to Tawang if the weather conditions are good. In winters, roads are often filled with snow near Sela Pass making driving to Tawang difficult and dangerous.
Sela Pass in October
Sela Pass in March
From Tawang you need to get a permit for Bumla and Sangetser lake. The process is bit time consuming and it is convenient to get it done from the travel counters who provide sumo for this trip. You need to carry two photocopies of your inner line permit and identity card. They will charge you at leasRs.5000 for a sumo which includes the fees to get the permit done. Though it is common for 10 people to board sumo in Arunachal, it is advisable not to go with more than 8 persons in a sumo for Bumla as the roads are very rough. If you are traveling alone or in a group of 2-3 people then you can spend some time in the old market of Tawang. If you are good at networking then you will often find tourists willing to go Bumla and share the cost of sumo. You are supposed to return back to Tawang before evening.
PT Sho, Sangetser and other lakes:
Once you move ahead of the main town of Tawang, your eyes will be treated with such awe-inspiring beauty that you will start ignoring the bumps and turns of the road. It is advisable to start as early as possible so that you can spend maximum time clicking and pondering over the scenic landscapes. Every click would be perfect for desktop wallpaper. You will come across many high altitude lakes and the first one would be PT Sho Lake. From Y-junction, the road towards the left goes to Sangetsar lake (also known as Madhuri Lake after shooting of Koyla movie). This lake was formed by falling boulders and tectonic plate shift after an earthquake.
PT sho Lake
Madhuri Lake or Sangetser Lake
Line of actual control:
The line of actual control or the border is located right after Bumla. You can reach here from the road towards right after Y-junction. There is no fencing but the boundary is understood by imagining a line passing from certain valleys, peaks and marked rocks. It is considered to be a very friendly border and hence citizens of both countries can visit here. Both armies invite each other for ceremonies on important days like – Independence Day, Republic Day etc. They have a RADAR system installed a few kms inside the border to keep a watch on other army in case of unwarranted intrusions which fortunately didn’t happen in this area for a long time.
No fencing at border
Chinese Side at Bumla
You will find Indian Army personnel, trucks and camps everywhere in Tawang. The area after Y-junction is considered sensitive and you are not allowed without permit in daytime and totally prohibited at night. You are also not allowed to take pictures in the camps of Indian Army. Other than these obvious rules, the army is very friendly towards tourists. They talk politely with people who ask various naïve questions about their life in Bumla, border issues and other things. They have a canteen at Y-junction and Sangetser lake where food is served at a very nominal rate. Otherwise you wouldn’t expect such service at higher altitudes. Very often they help tourists who get high altitude sickness.
Joginder Singh Memorial
It is a heartwarming experience to learn about the stories of heroics of Indian Army. The memorial located between the line of actual control and Y-junction is dedicated to Subedar Joginder Singh who single handedly killed about 52 Chinese soldiers during the 1962 Sino-Indian War.
At 0530 hours on 23rd October 1962, the Chinese launched a heavy attack on the Bum La axis to achieve a breakthrough to Tawang. The Chinese attacked the ridge in three waves, each about 200 strong with artillery, mortar fire & other weapons. In this fierce action, the platoon lost half of its men but not the will to fight. Subedar Joginder Singh, despite a thigh wound, refused evacuation. The last wave of the Chinese attack, which was more determined and more forceful followed next. Now the platoon had very few men left to fight. Subedar Joginder Singh manned a light machine gun and killed a large number of enemies.
By now all ammunition with the platoon had been exhausted. Subedar Joginder Singh and his men emerged from their position with fixed bayonets, shouting the Sikh battle cry, “Bole So Nihal, Sat Shri Akaal”. They fell upon the advancing Chinese and bayoneted many to death. Finally better weapons and numerical superiority of the Chinese prevailed. For his inspiring leadership, steadfast courage and devotion to duty beyond all odds, Subedar Joginder Singh was awarded the highest wartime gallantry medal, the Param Vir Chakra.
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