Ever stalked random people on social media for travel? While some of you might have an amused look on your face right now, I am sure there are some who are nodding their heads in agreement. While those who find this amusing, let me tell you, I owe my best travel sojourns to stalking locals on Instagram. Well that is how this stunning gem, Glaw happened to me!
HOW I MET BETHEM, MY GUIDE
Last month while trying to find out more about Wakro town, I stumbled upon this amateur vlogger, a young kid, all of 21 named Bethem who started sharing videos of her hometown during lockdown, exploring nooks and corners of her place. She belonged to the Miju Mishmi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh which piqued my interest, so I decided to get in touch with her on Instagram.
A couple of messages were exchanged before I jumped the gun and went on to ask her if I could come stay with her and she could show me around. The husband warned me then ‘she might think you are a crazy stalker! Who messages random people asking them to be your host?’ I retorted ‘ A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do!’
A month later, I met Bethem. I needed a guide for the trek to Glaw Lake and asked her to help me out. I had already watched her vlog on the same trek and knew she could help. Bethem called me up and said ‘Di, I will try finding someone but if I am not able to, I shall take you guys’. On asking her the guide charges, she said ‘ I can’t take money from you, you want to know about our culture, I am happy to get this chance to give you a sneak peek into the life of us Mishmis. People think of bizarre things..Log humko puchta hai, Mishmi log saanp khaata hai kya? And when we step out of our state they say ‘Welcome to India’ May be you could enlighten them through your posts and blogs that we are one of them, just not so well known’
We met like we were friends already. She guided us throughout, answered all my lamest of queries with the widest smile and made me believe that friendships are not based on age, caste or community but love and zest for similar things. It’s people like Bethem, who make me want to travel and explore places,meet new people and find out about their culture to share it with the world.
Hugged by snowy mountains and dense canopies, hides this pristine beauty called Glaw lake, tucked in the wilderness of Kamlang Tiger Reserve, deep inside the idyllic town of Wakro. It is a huge lake, stretching over an area of 8 sq kms with a circumference of about 5 kms. Some locals say that Glao or Glaw is the source of the Kamlang river that flows across the reserve into the town. The hustling Kamlang river gives you company throughout the trek along with a million Gibbons and other wild dwellers contributing to the soothing forest cacophony. The route is a total of 16 kms that takes you through the tropical rainforest overwhelming your senses with sights, smells and sounds one could only fathom in fables and fairytales.
There is lots of folklore about the lake. The Mishmi tribes believe that there are four girls and boys regarded as the deities or gods who reside within the lake and protect not just the lake but anyone around. They say no one can drown in Glaw and that it never gets any muck or leaves or stems on its surface in spite of the numerous trees enveloping this gem.
The mythical lake also has the reputation of throwing unprecedented showers however mild they might be on receiving any person the first time at its premises. I had read in many blogs that people were greeted with mild showers on their first visit. We did not differ from the rest. It rained the day we arrived as well. Has to be some meaning in that folklore! After all serendipities have limits too 😛
Glaw also has a twin sister named Mehao Lake in Roing, Lower Dibang Valley. Both the lakes look almost similar and are a part of the wildlife sanctuaries in their own respective districts. When I watched Mehao Vlog for the first time, I thought Glaw probably has a second name. Identical twins from another mother.
HIKING ACROSS THE TROPICAL RAINFOREST OF KAMLANG
After catching up with Bethem at the decided meeting point right outside the forest department office, we got our permits sorted. It was amusing to see the forest officer wearing a Himachali cap here in this remote corner of Arunachal. He was kind enough to hand over the keys to forest hut built by the lakeside. ‘Araam se sona, baahar bhot thanda hoga na’ he said while handing over the keys to us. The hike that started on a warm note like that had to turn out incredible.
Leaving Tuwam village behind, we were now entering this wild world where the call of the Gibbons welcomed us into their habitat. Rivers are the roads of the forest and Kamlang here curved vigorously, babbling its way through the dense valley. The sunlight darted through the dense foliage lusting to greet the velvety thickets of moss and ferns and the air smelled of fresh pines and herbs. Bethem plucked red colored berries ‘ Anjaw mein sab log ye khaata hai.It is supposed to be good for boosting energy levels’ I asked her the local name for it. ‘Kaho’ she quipped.
45 mins later we sat down by the river side near the forest watch hut. Most of the breaks revolved around eating local fruits. First being oranges. Wakro is an orange county with endless orchards dotting the countryside. While second was the Elephant Apple, locally called ‘Taki seed’ found in abundance and a favorite amongst Assamese (called Chalta) and Arunachal folks. We reached a rickety suspension bridge that wobbled with every tiny step we took. I scrambled like a petrified kid, taking calculated steps, avoiding vanishing through the cracks and holes on its wooden surface. I looked down for a nano second, through the cracks of the bridge surface, my eyes opening wide on watching the mighty boulders being whisked about by the furious Kamlang, snaking past all obstacles. My legs suddenly tingled, not sure if I was more excited or petrified. While Bethem ran ahead, jumping on the bridge making it swing harder. Her infectious energy made me feel a tad better.
‘Now the real trek starts Di’, she yelled, running up the slippery slope. Slushy narrow trails, the oh so stunning foliage of plants that I’ve never witnessed before, cascading streams, massive rocky boulders almost forming caves and wild banana trees making a tunnel of sorts that hugged the trail from either sides…this is what defined the route now.
We stopped at one of the bends where the locals had offered coins, notes, flowers and leaves to the nature gods, over a rock under a tree. The girls bowed down with respect and I followed suit. Mishmis are animists by religion, worshipping nature gods like Sun, Moon, Mountains and Rivers all considered as ‘Amik Matai’ meaning ‘The Almighty‘. This particular spot is considered sacred. The Mishmis believe that they enter the holy vicinity of Glaw Lake this point onwards and ask the Lake and Nature Gods to embrace them with open hearts and protect them. It took me back to many hikes I did in Himachal and Bhutan where locals had similar beliefs and once again reaffirmed my faith in the homogeneity of faith amongst the tribes across the country. Something the boundaries cannot change.
The jungle got only denser and more beautiful after crossing the tourist trekkers hut at Kalai. Most of the trekkers and birders stop at Kalai the first day but the lake was just one and a half hours away from here and it was mostly downslope plus we made it well in time so we carried on.
While the beautiful silence of the forest engulfed us, there were quite a few moments when it was obstructed by the loudest flapping of wings that almost sounded like helicopter blades whirling and chuffing through the tall magnificent Canarium trees. We looked above only to find the oh so enormously wide winged Hornbills, flying in a pair. Needless to say, I was left awestruck.
While chewing on a local Almond kind of tiny dry fruit called Chahal, Bethem showed me the huge Plantain Leaves ‘ Di! We use these Laphu leaves as plates. I think I’ll collect some for our evening meal.’ I hadn’t seen a single plastic wrapper in my last six hours of hiking and that’s probably owing to such eco friendly practises of the MIshmis in this region. Every time I am in such places I am forced to think how materialistic we urbane dwellers are. I just made a trip to Khurja to hoard more crockery while my guide and friends here from the Mishmi Hills live a simple yet content life. She has everything she needs in these forests that they preserve so beautifully. Houses made of bamboo, utensils made of leaves and most of the food grown in their backyards.
That one last hour is always the most trying one. You know you’re almost there yet there’s no sign of the lake. Bethem kept saying ‘ Lake aane wala hai, bas pahuch gaya’ and then through the dense foliage I saw something shimmer. Not ready to believe my weak eyes, I checked with Tee. Yes Glaw it is. The laborious steps suddenly paced up, striding across all obstacles for every inch scaled unveiled the lake, as though unpacking a surprise gift waiting for us. Glaw had me dumbstruck. I had seen her in videos, in a few pictures but this gem right in front of me was perhaps the most stunning lake I ever witnessed. And earning this view made it even more special. I threw my rucksack aside and just sat down staring at the snow-clad mountain basking in the faint evening light while the wilderness of Kamlang reflecting on Glaw so so sooo beautifully.
A fisherman hut stood by the lake, smoke billowing out of it. It called me out. Two Miju Mishmi men sat inside washing and cleaning fish. They were here to collect fish for a wedding in the family. Fish along with Mithun meat is their staple. While walking in the village bylanes of East Arunachal, it is common to find men and keen young kids roaming around with catapults and arrows. Till very recently hunting was legal in this remote corner of our country. What else would a man rely on in wild cut off places like these. The two men were extremely warm and happy to see outsiders coming to see the lake. ‘ Baahar se hardly koi aata hai. Aap aaj humaare saath yahaan ka khaana khaayega’ One of them tied his makeshift bamboo raft with bamboo strings on the lake shore. Seeing them balance it out on a three logged bamboo raft was an experience in itself. Such hardy men and what daring lives they must live.
Later in the evening we sat down around the fire, listening to Mishmi songs while cooking Lai patta saag, rice and fish. Bethem shared some stories untold. Of her village in Kathan that they left behind, how she spent her childhood living in the higher reaches of Anjaw, teaching me some Mishmi words and giving us an insight into her Miju Mishmi culture. I also learnt that Mishmis are not very expressive when it comes to feelings and don’t use many words of appreciation.Also they don’t follow the usual way of greetings saying Hi etc. Kisikmei and Umm are the only words I remember from my Mishmi vocabulary and ofcourse another one that i would use towards the end of the post.
Next morning the lake appeared like a dream. Mist rose from the lake to kiss the slow moving clouds while the snow clad mountains looked at the clouds dancing with ever so affectionate eyes. My heart was overwhelmed with mixed feelings. I wanted to scream out of euphoria, capture everything in pictures,at the same time leave the camera aside and just be, sit still staring at the mist flare up into the clouds, a part of me wanting to go feed the Mithuns with salt.
Glaw was the kind of magic that I perhaps felt just once in life before.
And once again, in a far off land, with yet another lesser known tribe, amidst the soulful sounds of Kamlang forest, I sat down scribbling pages, inking stories so that you and I know a little more about this world, residing within our country yet so alien and unknown but a very part of our own.
Concluding this post in Mishmi style ‘ Promangnai Glaw! Pra Li Ga Athu Kesa
IDEAL TIME TO VISIT GLAW
October to March are the ideal months to hike up to this lake. The route gets extremely slushy in rains and the leeches make it even more difficult in monsoons.
HOW TO REACH GLAW
The nearest airport is in Dibrugarh and the railway head in Tinsukia while the local one in Ledo. One can easily get shared cabs and buses from here.
Wakro is just a three hours drive from Tinsukia.
While there is good connectivity in Wakro town, there is no network inside Kamlang Tiger Reserve.
Carry your tents and sleeping bags along. There are three huts at the lake. One is the fisherman’s hut which is usually occupied by the men who are there for their work. While the other one is in a dilapidated state. Third hut belongs to the forest department. Moreover one must camp at a place like Glaw for a wholesome experience. Incase of rains you can pitch your tent inside the view point hut.