For Ashok Kumar Samanta,a tourist from Kolkata,it has been a lifetime experience. He and his family of five,including son-in-law Ayon Mitra,not only took the arduous 37-km journey on the rugged Eastern Himalayas to Bum La at about 3,600 metres above sea level on the Sino-Indian border,but also shook hands with Chinese army officers on the other side of the McMahon Line.
It was something I did not even dream of,especially when there are disturbing reports that the Chinese are making incursions into our territory. But when we reached the Heap of Stones on the zero line at Bum La,Chinese officers on the other side even walked up towards us and allowed us to step in about five metres to the other side, said Samanta with pride.
For Kolkata-based painter Bolai Karmakar and his co-traveler Subrata De it was the Chinese factor that attracted them to Tawang. Some people in Kolkata tried to discourage us from coming to Tawang as news about Chinese incursions spread. But now I want to stay for a couple of months to paint these stunning landscapes, said Karmakar.
Samanta or Ayon Mitra are not the only tourists who have travelled right up to the border in the past few days. In fact,Tawang is buzzing with tourists about 90 per cent of them Bengaliswith hotel-owners having a tough time providing accommodation to their swelling numbers. Tawangs tourist season has just begun,and will continue till April.
While Tawang emerged as a new tourist hotspot after Rakesh Roshan shot his Shah Rukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit starrer Koyla here in the mid-1990s,Tawangs capacity has gone up to 700 beds from 400 just five years ago. People,in fact,also drive up to the Jongnga-tseir lake,about 42 km north-west of here,a lake that became famous as Madhuri Lake after the actor took a dip there for song sequence.
We are not bothered or scared of China. Instead,the China curiosity is only increasing the tourist flow to Tawang, said Lobsang Tenda,manager of Tawang Inn,one of the 20-odd hotels in this border town located at an elevation of over 3025 metres. We do get frantic calls from travel agents in Kolkata,New Delhi and other places about this Chinese incursion issue. But there has hardly been any cancellation, he added.