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A Sojourn to Tawang

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller”.


Location: Ahmedabad. Time Period: Annual Summer Holidays. The kids were suggesting all exotic holiday getaways; husband endorsing sporting/adventure holidays and I was thinking in terms of a combination of both. We spent a lot of time in exploring possible options, when it struck me- why don’t we look more towards home? For us home was the Northeast, a region which was replete with exotic landscapes and offered adventurous escapades as well.

Bingo!!! The decision was made. We will go to Tawang, the picturesque town nestling in the arms of the mighty Himalayas, which is also the summer abode of His Highness, The Dalai Lama. We will drive up the mountains from Guwahati via Tezpur, Bhalukpong and Bomdila. The travelling arrangements were made and finally, the day arrived when we flew down to Guwahati, took my brother’s Tata Safari and having collected the Inner Line Permit, soon were on our way to Tawang. It is mandatory for every visitor to get an Inner Line Permit to visit Arunachal Pradesh since it is a border state.

So now, a little bit about Arunachal Pradesh. It is the land of the dawn-lit mountains which literally means the land of the rising sun since it is the first state in India to absorb the first rays of the morning sun. It shares its borders with Assam and Nagaland on the south end; Tibet and Bhutan on the west; and Myanmar and China on the east and north respectively. It is famous for its unspoilt beauty, lovely deciduous forests containing a variety of flora and fauna, and diverse tribes of mostly mongoloid origins. 80% of Arunachal Pradesh is under forest cover (it is the highest in India) of thick evergreen trees.

Tawang is situated at a height of 4150 meters and one has to traverse through rough, craggy and treacherous roads to reach this quaint town. From Guwahati, you have to drive to Tezpur and onwards to Bhalukpong, which is the border town between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. The journey from Bhalukpong to Tawang, which was around 350 km approx., was the longest drive we had covered on mountainous terrain. However, the scenic beauty of the hills, streams, trees and flowers was something to be marvelled at and compensated the aches and pains of the rough ride with hairpin bends and jagged cliffsides. Landslides are quite common in these areas but the Border Roads Organisation provided yeoman service by quickly clearing away rocks and debris from places struck by landslides. At a little distance from Bhalukpong, we visited an orchidarium at Tipi which housed some of the rarest orchids in the world. There were innumerable waterfalls on the way. We spent the first night of the journey in Bomdila, which is the sub divisional headquarters. We also visited the Bomdila Monastery which stands tall amidst the serenity of Nature.

 Next morning, we made a pitstop at Dirang, a charming little hill station. The valley comprised a small village and some modern constructions. The new town had a bunch of shops and the main attraction was the old hilltop fort that offered some of the most breathtaking views of the Kameng Valley below. Other attractions were apple orchards and kiwi farms. We reached the Sela Pass, one of the highest motorable roads in the world around noon and were mesmerised by the magnificence of the Sela Lake with its azure crystal clear waters and the snow clad mountains all around. We visited the mighty Nuranang Falls at Jung before continuing our way to Tawang.

Nuranang Falls

I will never forget the first sight of Tawang as we turned a bend on the mountain road where the majestic Tawang monastery formed an imposing milieu dominating the skyline like a mighty medieval fortress. Tawang is situated in the northwestern corner of Arunachal, close to the borders of Tibet and Bhutan. The town is situated on the top of a hill and is at a height of 3,048 m against a backdrop of snow-clad mountains. A monk named Merak Lama came to Tawang in the 17th century – a period of harsh rivalry between various Buddhist sects– and built a citadel, now famous as Tawang monastery, to protect the monks of the Gelugpa sect. This monastery is considered to be the biggest Buddhist monastery in India. In 1959, when the present Dalai Lama had to flee from Tibet, he reached Tawang from Lhasa and spent a few days in this monastery. It houses a 26-ft high brass statue of the Buddha. There is a three-storeyed dukhang (main prayer hall), with a richly gilded Buddha statue.

The next morning, we visited Shungetsar Lake which is more popularly called Madhuri Lake as a major portion of a Hindi movie Koyla was shot here. Bumla Pass, on the border between India and China is another tourist attraction and while on our way there, we encountered a major snowstorm. The snowy and foggy conditions made driving very risky and dangerous; hence, we had to wait for the storm to abate before we were able to proceed on to Tawang. This area is heavily guarded by Indian Army and one needs to obtain Protected Area Permit (PAP) to visit this place. We saw bunkers on the way and our guide from the hotel narrated how the Chinese troops invaded Arunachal Pradesh in 1962 and almost defeated the Indian Army. The War memorial in Tawang is also popular as is the old library inside Tawang monastery. As regards food, Tibetean delicacies like thupka and momos or even simple and delicious paratha sabzi eaten hot on cold misty days are a treat. The traditional Monpa cuisine uses a generous amount of chillies and fermented cheese which has a strong flavour and is not for the faint hearted.

On the way to Bumla

Our journey of five days seemed to be quite short as we could visit only West Kameng district of Arunachal. As we sped down the hills and valleys on our return to Guwahati, poignant thoughts crept into my mind as I pondered over the beautiful and enrapturing experience of visiting the biggest state in the North East. I have also journeyed to the Alps in Europe and the Andes in South America; however, the sojourn to Tawang will remain forever etched in my mind as the Himalayas in this part of India has the sort of captivating power and mysticism that beckons one to visit time and again.

4 thoughts on “A Sojourn to Tawang

  1. Enjoyed! Every bit . Tawang is indeed a place to visit in the North East of India. Thanks for sharing this beautiful experience, Nandita.


  2. Your naration revived my memories of my visit to Tawang way back in May 1997 with my 1&1/2 year old Aditya. It’s indeed virgin Switzerland of India.😘


  3. You brought alive my memories of our family trip to Tawang in 2003! Thank you @nandita… So beautifully captured!


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