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Asia, India, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Dibang Valley, Retracing Bailey and Morshead's Journey to the Yonggap La

Dibang Valley, retracing Bailey and Morshead’s journey to the Yonggap La. Few trekkers and explorers have been deep into the Arunachal valleys, due to difficulties and restrictions. The Dibang Valley in eastern Arunachal Pradesh is deep and thickly wooded. Tibet lies to the north and east, while to the west is the Tsangpo Valley. In the past three years we have visited the neighboring valleys of Kameng, Subansiri, and Tsangpo. In late 2006 we traveled farther east to the Dibang.

The Yonggap La is a pass on the northern border (the McMahon Line). Both this and the adjoining Andra La lead to the Tibetan region of Chimdro. Almost due north of the Andra La stands Kundu Potrang, one of the three holiest mountains in Tibetan religion (the others being Kailash and Takpa Shiri), which the pundit Kinthup had reached on a pilgrimage during his search for the place where the Tsangpo flows into India. Now that the Chinese have restored religious freedom, many Tibetan pilgrims visit this area and perform circumambulations. Ian Baker has reached this peak from the Tibetan side (see his book The Heart of the World). The first forays into the Dibang were British punitive expeditions, but the first explorers to reach the passes at its head were the British army officers Bailey and Morshead. In the spring of 1913 they were unsuccessful in crossing the Andra La but did traverse the Yonggap in pouring rain. In Tibet they traveled west towards the Tsangpo Gorge and after a long journey through forbidding terrain, eventually reached Bhutan, from which they gained the Indian plains. Their survey work during the arduous journey formed a basis upon which Sir Henry McMahon drew his famous line in 1914, demarcating India and Tibet. (This border is still disputed by China, which claims the entire region of Arunachal. The dispute was one of the reasons for the 1962 Indo-China war.)

On November 10th, our team of Capt. Sandeep Dhankar, Lt. Gen. (Retired), R.K. Nana- vatty, Vijay Kothari, Rajendra Wani, and I reached Anini at the head of the Dibang Valley, intent on following Bailey’s route to the Yonggap La. Via the Mathun Valley and Mipi we reached Basam, where our difficulties began. The trail continued northwest above the Yonggap River through thick jungle, with steep ascents and descents, and in many places it had to be cleared through the dense bamboo forest. Camps were in small clearings. In deteriorating weather we reached the Yonggap La on the 22nd.

As we returned from the pass to our last camp, a fierce freak storm hit the area. For the next five days there was heavy snow accumulation, prohibiting any movement. As rations ran out four porters deserted the party and made a dangerous escape down-valley. We were in contact with the army via radio, and, when a break in the weather occurred on the 27th and the cloud lifted for six hours, the Indian Air Force sent two Cheetah helicopters and evacuated us to Anini. It was a stunning display of flying in difficult conditions through the narrow valley. Three days later the four porters also returned safely.

Harish Kapadia, Honorary Editor, The Himalayan Journal