“What is something you know which the tourists don’t?” I asked a local shopkeeper as he handed me over a packet of biscuit. “If you had to recommended a place to visit which none of the travel packages include, what would you suggest?” I further clarified.
“There is a cave temple, up above in the dense forest. But, you would need a special permit to go there as it’s inside an army restricted area. Are you traveling alone?” He asked. I replied yes.
“Well, I don’t think they would allow a solo traveler to hike till the cave temple. It’s difficult to find and if you lose track, you might get lost in the dense forest.”
I had found my motive. A challenge. Why did the shopkeeper say it was difficult to reach? Was it because of the rains? Is the terrain too steep? Is the way to reach the cave temple too difficult to find and keep track? My curiosity kept on rising. I couldn’t possibly leave Bomdila without at-least attempting to reach the cave temple. That’s when, I entered the mode of being curious.
“Can you tell me the route?” I asked, hoping that the shopkeeper can at-least guide me till the army area gate. He gave me directions to the gate which marked the beginning of the restricted area. Somewhere within the restricted area, wrapped in a mist of silence, a secret cave temple stood still; peaceful and pure, away from the touristy circuits.
It was my second day in Bomdila. I had already covered the known tourist attractions; the Upper, middle and lower Gompa. Now, I had to venture away from the guidelines laid by Tripadvisor or any other travel websites. It was time to explore.
Why am I calling this cave temple secret? Because it is a well kept secret from the tourists. There is no mention of this cave temple anywhere on the internet, nowhere. In this age of information, anything hidden from the tourists is indeed a secret, isn’t it?
After I talked to the shopkeeper, I followed his directions to reach the army restricted area. A red gate with images of Rhinos appeared. I entered the imposing gate and asked the soldiers about this temple.
“Well, we don’t allow solo travelers to visit the cave temple, it’s too risky.” The soldier said as he adjusted his gun strap over his soldier. “Since my posting here, no solo traveler has even asked for the cave temple. It’s been 2 years now”
“I really need to go. I have come all the way from Bangalore” I pleaded.
“Anyways, it’s 4 PM now. It will get dark soon. Why don’t you come tomorrow morning? Let’s see if the CO (Commanding Officer) gives you the permission. However, I wouldn’t count on it.” He said and gave a quick nod, smiled and turned sideways to look at his colleague. I turned around and left.
Attempt to reach the cave temple
It was 5 AM in the morning. I woke up 10 minutes before the alarm due to the excitement. When I glanced out of my room’s window I realize it’s already raining. I was hoping it wouldn’t rain today. The trail to reach the cave temple would already be slippery. After setting up my rain gear, I started walking towards the army gate in order to get the permit first and then proceed to the cave temple.
This time, there were two different soldiers guarding the gate. I had to repeat my story and explain my motive to reach the cave temple.
“The CO can give you the permit at 8 AM, if he wants to” he said.
“What will I do till 8 AM, Sir?” I showed him my watch which displayed 5:30 AM. “I need to leave Bomdila in the afternoon bus. Can you please call the CO and see if he’s awake?”
Luckily, the CO picked up the phone at 2nd ring. He asked the soldier to check what all was I carrying.
“He is carrying a secret camera, Sir!”
What? Secret? It’s just small in size! I showed him my GoPro. “Oh Ok! It’s fine Sir, it’s a GoPro”. He heaved a sigh of relief and so did I.
“Okay Sir” He said after ending the call. “I need to note down your name and mobile number. Please come back by 10 AM. If you don’t, we will try calling you. The mobile network is weak, but the call might connect. If we are unable to connect till 11 AM, we will have to send in a search party because as the evening approaches, the rains and receding sunlight will make it difficult to locate you in case you wander off the path and get lost.”
I nodded in agreement.
In the next 10 minutes, I was walking through the restricted area with a gate pass, which indicated that I was allowed to enter the restricted area. After another 30 minutes, I had gone beyond the last set of army camps and in front of me, laid a pile of stones carrying symbols of all various religions. A right turn from there would take me into the dense forest, closer to the cave temple.
A Step closer
I stood at the gate. Checked it from possible angles. An army lad had described this point to me after I had entered the restricted area and inquired about this temple. The gate fit the description pretty well, so I decided to embark upon the remaining journey.
I had no idea what was in store for me. How far would this temple be? Will the trail be too steep? Will there be wild animals? How slippery would the trail get if it rained?
So many questions, no answers. Just curiosity, excitement and an unfiltered rush of adrenaline! Something which I hadn’t felt in months. Something I expect to feel only while traveling.
I entered the gate, kept walking. The terrain remained pretty straightforward for the next 500 meters. But, after that, the forest started getting denser. The clouds were now much closer. The conspicuous green around me was now being overlapped by the pale grey of mist and clouds. In the backdrop, the chirping beauties were becoming louder.
Deep into the forest, they can sing their heart out. This was their world.
The Final Front
As I went deeper into the forest, I felt an aura of bliss surrounding me. I got a taste of how one’s existence can be so peaceful. Of course, there was no mobile network as I was in middle of nowhere. But, there was definitely a connection. The one between Nature and me. Many times, I just stopped and listened to the birds. They were so loud! It had been so long since I heard any loud bird which wasn’t a crow!
After walking for around 2 KMs, it suddenly appeared. It was standing in oblivion, not disturbed by the tourists. A stream of water was flowing close to the cave. It worked like a violin in this symphony that nature was playing. The birds, wind and flowing water. Can you think of more peaceful sounds than these? The cave temple provided me an absolutely serene and blissful experience. It was hands down, the most peaceful place I have been to in my entire life! I just sat there, listening to the sounds and staring at the swaying leaves. I felt so relaxed! No negative thoughts could have hindered the happiness that was culminating within my mind and soul.
After spending around an hour at the temple, I headed back to Bomdila. During my entire hike, I didn’t see a single tourist. The hike to the cave temple was definitely a memorable experience. It was my kind of experience.
As I crossed the army gate again, the soldier looked at me and smiled. Had I not been back by 10 AM, he would have sent a search party. I looked at my watch and smiled back at him. The dial showed 8:30 AM.