APST bus runs to Menchukha on alternate days (10hrs, Rs.230) is not preferred by the locals, so we booked Sumo (8hrs, Rs.450). Passing through Kabang, Kaying, the road ascends to Tato from where a diversion leads to Pidi and Monigong. We met Varghese, a school teacher who hails from Wayand, Kerala. He took a voluntary transfer to Menchukha during winter to enjoy the snow. There are four residential schools including a higher secondary, exemplary of the Buddhists' keenness in education. Tourist facilities are coming up in Menchukha, a large tourist complex is under construction. Hotel Naksang adjacent to the runway, with three rooms (263245, dbl Rs.500) is very basic with shared toilet. Best in town is the homestay (9402423444, dbl Rs.600) adjacent to the ground next to Kasturaba school run by the lovely couple Gebu and Nana. Gebu owns a grocery store and a restaurant and sub dealer of petrol, diesel and kerosene. Ask anyone for Gebu's house to find this Tibetan style timber house with six rooms and a kitchen- if you like cooking your own dishes. Nana and her sister Omu satiated our gastronomic desires with authentic Tibetan dishes. Nana's mother brought a special Tibetan soup with corn, radish and Mithun cartilage - Oshum Thuppa and Gebu brought the local beer Chang - unforgettable delicacies. The bukhari in the living room warms you up from the bitter cold after sunset, though the day is sunny and pleasant.
We spent most of the evenings inside Nana's kitchen sitting around the bukhari, chatting with the locals. The kids Zomba, Ohjo and Sonam are more than adorable and we gelled with them in no time. We spent time teaching them English and helping them with their homework. These kids are smarter than the city kids of their age. Nana was too keen to learn English conversing with us overcoming her inhibitions. Most of the heavy task are done by women including concrete mixing, possess diverse skills. Nana has seven sisters, each of them manage different businesses in the village.
Samden Choling Gompa aka Naya (new) Gompa is ten minutes stroll from the village. Long horns, drums and clarinets created a special ambience at the monastery. Relishing butter tea offered by the Lama, we spent one hour attending the puja. A steep climb from the monastery takes you to the army bunkers providing a closer view of the snow capped mountains. The incessant drizzle brought down the mercury close to zero and eventually a big snowfall. While we were teaching Nana to make wheat dosa, a motorcycle rider just arrived all drenched in rain - Jobin from Kerala.
According to locals snowfall is least expected in the month of December, it was my intense desire to see snowfall what made it snow on this day of 12-12-12. Nana all of a sudden saw it snowing and shouted from outside, I was wearing only a tshirt and cargos as I was sitting by the fire, while Romin was gaily talking in his mother tongue with Jobin, in simple words MMTP. The excitement of snowfall didn't give me time to think and pack myself before getting in the freezing cold and playing in snow. Sonam and I made a small snowman and keeping our mouth open to eat the snow. Romin was watching me be a kid with kids, or more kiddish than the kids. In the night when we slept after snowfall adventure I could feel each part of my body frozen.
Next morning, we saw Varghese was smashed by snow at the school grounds. It was a holiday, thanks to the first snowfall of the season. Jobin, Varghese and we trudged along the river Siang to the 400year old Samdem Yongcha Gompa of Mahayana sect at 150m higher than the airstrip. Varghese was leading us through some unused trails, tackling streams and swampy terrains covered in snow. Crossing the hanging bridge with a few planks missing was adventurous, snow made it like skating on the ice. Though the gomba was locked, we enjoyed the 9km trek watching Menchukha valley covered in white - looked like a magical land from a fairytale.
On our way back we wanted to hitch a ride in an army truck. When we reached the road we saw a truck coming, not an army one but GREF truck loaded with concrete mix. The friendly driver offered a seat in the front for me, seldom did he know that I was more keen than men to stand in the back of the truck. With the help of workers already on top of the truck, we climbed up and one lady warned us it would jerk and we would lose balance once the vehicle starts to move. Before we could react, the truck moved, Romin and I fell on the concrete mix. For the next half an hour we tried all possible positions but could neither stand nor sit and palms frozen holding the iron door. The drizzle made it more cold and we could feel the chill on our face as the drizzle sprayed on our face. The humble co-passengers offered to hold the umbrella for us. Rest of the day was spent near the fireplace.
After spending six days at Menchukha, it was not so easy to bid Adieu to our new friends. But we have miles to go before we sleep. When we return to Northeast, it is a must to visit Menchukha.