In Tawang, it is an invasion of another kind — and China is at the centre of it.
Thupten Jambey, 64, has never seen anything like this: vehicles packed with tourists pack his lone filling station. “The tankers come once in five-seven days, forcing me to ration petrol and diesel. I gave 30 litres per vehicle the day before and cut it down to 15 yesterday,” he said. “Today, it’s just 10 litres.”
Hotels and guesthouses, most of them flanking Nehru Market in this district headquarters perched 10,000 ft above sea level in Arunachal Pradesh, are filled with visitors — with China on their minds.
China had briefly occupied Tawang during the 1962 war.
“There are more guests than the 11 rooms in this hotel can accommodate,” said 42-year-old hotel manager Lobsang Tenda. This (tourist rush) started on September 25 and will continue right through March, he said.
“This year has seen more tourists than ever, and compared to only 500 beds last year we have accommodation for over 700 visitors. Four home-stay cottages have also come up, but they don’t seem to be enough,” said Tawang deputy commissioner Gamli Padu.
So, what’s bringing Indians to this part of Arunachal Pradesh?
“We wanted to check out how threatened Tawang is from China,” said Kolkata-based retired Port Trust officer Lala Subroto De.
His orthopaedist friend Ramendu Hom Choudhuri was discouraged from coming here by many back home. “Some even said I might not return alive,” he said. “Had I listened to them I would have missed being in one of the most peaceful places on earth.”
Ashok. K. Samanta, an officer of the state-run Ayurvedic Research Centre in Agartala, always wanted to visit the land China had occupied after the 1962 war. He exacted his “revenge” by “occupying Chinese soil” for 10 minutes in Bumla, 41 km from here on the Indo-China border.
“I will never forget those 10 minutes on the other side of the border, posing with Chinese soldiers,” he said, thrilled, despite a headache induced by Bumla’s altitude.
Locals are apparently cashing in on the China fetish. Every third shop, restaurant or hotel has Tibet, Lhasa or China in its name. Even the army-run souvenir shop at Tawang War Memorial for the martyrs of 1962 sells “made in China” memorabilia.