Nearing the end of July 2006, I was mystified as clouds and mist enwrapped me while we drove into forbidden territory. I was on a trip to Kalsi with a group of new-found travel enthusiasts from a Yahoo group, called Lets Go. The group moderator and convener Sanjukta Basu had invited me to the trip and I joined them impromptu, at a short notice of less than twenty-four hours. While the trip offered immense respite to us from the heat and humidity of Delhi, it introduced me to a great jing-bang of people, who over time have become treasured friends.
Kalsi, in the Garhwal Himalayas is around 288 kms from Delhi. While our trip to Kalsi, Asan Barrage, Dak Pathar and Gurudwara Ponta sahib was a typical hilly-region travel and sight-seeing that appeases the eye and pleases the soul, one of the highlights of the trip was our unplanned visit to Chakrata. Kalsi faces Chakrata foothills to the north & Mussoorie hills to the east. Chakrata is what you can call the “virgin” hilly locations in India. It’s little known and has minimal access. From Kalsi, the traffic towards Chakrata is regulated through manned military check posts, that maintains the influx of incoming and outgoing traffic.
The drive through the gates into Chakrata is spell binding. One side of the hills is covered with grass that gives the hills a very special look like the meadows and the other side is deodar and pine-forest laden. It was a late afternoon during the monsoons, when we drove into Chakrata, and water ladden clouds and mist descended on us. It was not cold; else it seemed we were driving into light fog on a winter evening. For the Delhi-summer-charred travelers, it was an ascent into heaven, quietly being lifted into the clouds.
We wanted to fall in love with Chakrata, we wanted to wander into the small by lanes and walk on the clouds, and trek in the forests, but falling in love with Chakrata is forbidden. The intense military presence and tight security, is scary and your every move is closely watched. Photography beyond a certain point is strictly forbidden.
My inquisitive mind wondered about the hush-hush surrounding Chakrata. I mused how could such a beautiful place be beyond bounds of lovers of nature and a quiet trek. I came back to Delhi and did a lot of internet research. It seems even information on Chakrata is closely guarded, but I found enough reading material to crack the mystery hidden in the clouds.
Chakrata, was originally a cantonment of British Indian Army settled in 1869. Today it is an access-restricted military cantonment and foreigners face severe restrictions in visiting. Notably, it is the permanent garrison of the secretive and elite Establishment 22 (called “Two-Two”), the only ethnic Tibetan unit of the Indian Army, which was raised after the Indo-China War of 1962. Myriad weapons and survival training are also imparted by RAW and other intelligence services in Chakrata, in support of India’s foreign policy goals, especially pertaining to other countries in the Indian Subcontinent.
The Research and Analysis Wing, India’s primary foreign intelligence agency, operates intelligence collection aircraft through the intelligence agency’s aviation unit, the Aviation Research Centre (ARC). The aircraft are fitted with state-of-the-art electronic surveillance equipment and long range cameras capable of taking pictures of targets from very high altitudes.
There are four RAW Aviation Research Centre operating bases: at Charbatia in Cuttack; at Chakrata near Dehra Dun on the Uttar Pradesh-Himachal Pradesh border; Dum Duma near Tinsukia in Assam; and at the Palam domestic airport in Delhi. From 1981, RAW and the Intelligence Bureau established centers at the high-security military installation of Chakrata, near Dehra Dun, and in the Ramakrishna Puram area of New Delhi.
Life in this small sleepy town, that cradles immense political and military secrets, is hard and difficult for the 3500 civilians or members of the Jaunsari tribe. Petrol and diesel are hardly available for personal and commercial use. The military hogs the supplies and the transit points, and yet the only reassuring aspect is that till the Intelligence and Military agencies mark Chakrata as their base, it will remain untouched, hidden and pristine in its breathtaking beauty, beyond the wayward reach of the common traveler.
For Chakrata map visit: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/india/chakrata.htm