It had been great 9 days in Arunachal and as ever it was time to bid adieu to the beautiful state. Everything here has been beautiful - the people, their hospitality, the views. .
We were about to drive on the Ledo Road, visit a forgotten cemetery and then attempt visiting the Hell's Pass today prior to driving to Digboi on our way to Dibrugarh.
Ledo Road, also called as Stilwell Road was constructed under the leadership of General Joseph Stilwell of the US Army between 1942-45. It began in Ledo, Assam, and ended in Kunming, in the southwestern province of Yunnan in China, spanning 1736 km. This provided an alternative route for Chinese soldiers fighting the invading Japanese during the concluding stages of the war. It is also the story of Scots, Irish, English, Americans, Africans, Indians, and Chinese working together to win the war. The Patkai range of Indo-Burma border and Shindbwiyang range in north Burma were one of the most difficult terrains in the world.
There is a movie made on the Stilwell Road and you can see it here.
The origins of the route go back long before Joseph Stilwell. This was the way Chaolung Sukapha, the first Ahom king, entered the plains of Assam in 1228 AD. He established the Ahom kingdom (1228-1826), which began a period of stability and prosperity in present-day Assam.
We started our day with a visit to a WWII cemetery - the forgotten Jairampur cemetery. The cemetery was opened to the public only in Jan 2010, after the Army had cleared the area and found about 1,000 graves within three acres. We were told that most of the graves in the Cemetery were damaged due to wild Elephants, wear and tear in the course of time but to me, it looked like it had also been tampered with by miscreants. There is a garden around the cemetery and it does add grace to the place.
One of the epitaphs was still readable and it is of Major Hsiao Chu Ching, a 30-year-old Chinese Company Commander.
Perhaps, this cemetery might have constructed during the construction of the Stilwell Road. During the construction of the road and fighting the Japanese, numbers of allied soldiers were reported to have died due to malaria, dysentery, landslides, enemy fires and other causes. So many stories in an otherwise desolate space.
What about the Stilwell road, you ask?
The road is now part of a national highway, a beautiful two-lane road winding through beautiful scenic roads...as most places in this area. Quite peaceful as we drove through this historic route but the mind did wonder about what this place would have been just 77 years ago. Time is the only healer!
We were very close to the Pangsau Pass, which stands at this border crossing between India and Myanmar, bearing witness to waves of migrations over the centuries. Across the Pangsau Pass, in the Sagaing region of present-day Myanmar, lies Pangsau village. This close to the Myanmar border and someone had researched that Indians are allowed to visit thePangsau village on the 10th, 20th and 30th day of every month...and what do you know, today was the 30th of November!! There was anyways not much other than to get to Dibrugarh...so why not!!
We reached Nampong, last town on the Indian side, after a quick drive...great roads you see and reached the army check post right beyond this sleepy town. I was somehow sure we wouldn't make it beyond but hey, there is always an outside chance...BUT... it was not to be. Some of us even went to see if we could convince the Chief Officer but a NO is a NO.
Border, Arunachal, insurgency groups and army...surely normal citizens will NOT be allowed in the current testing times.
A little disappointed, we started our next leg of the journey. Digboi, the oil city of Assam, here we come. Digboi refinery is known as the birthplace of the oil industry in India. It was commissioned on 11 December 1901. It has the distinction of being Asia's first refinery and has the oldest oil well in operation. Oil was accidentally discovered in 1867 while laying a railway line in Digboi area. It was just found seeping out in dense jungles in Tinsukia district. Digging for oil was started in 1889 and the refinery set up in 1901 at Digboi. It was amazing to drive by one other historic place.
We reached Dibrugarh by 7pm and the lovely Gymkhana club rooms beckoned.
Tomorrow we head to Kohima...after all the Hornbill festival beckons!