Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh located approximately at 3050 meters is a compelling synthesis of those distant worlds, still almost unknown and is wedged between Bhutan, which marks the border in the south and Tibet in the north. The Bhutanese in fact occupy the southernmost part of the great valley of Tawang Chu, the mighty river that flows rushing from here to the distant plains of India, where is located the Trashigang Dzong in Trashiyangtse.
On the border with Bhutan and China, this last outpost of India defend the boundaries. The name of this territory, which also means blessed by a horse, though very remote, is accessible by car even at the end of December, because there is a good road network that is kept open throughout the year for strategic reasons as a result of the 1962 war with China.
Travelling to Tawang requires some acclimatization because the climatic conditions are cold but in return you can fully enjoy the unique world of the Monpa Tribe of ethnic Tibetan lineage. The road to Tawang is truly spectacular, crossing several villages and some interesting landscapes, which winds through the Himalayan valleys with spectacular courses, including Bomdila and Dirang. Along the highest point at 4050 meters, you are likely to find lots of snow on the road, but that is always kept open by the Indian army.
Tawang has thus one of the few areas, where the Tibetan culture is a particularly interesting microcosm to visit. The largest monastery in Tawang, home to 500 monks is host to a beautiful golden statue of Buddha of about 8 meters high, as well as numerous manuscripts, books and thangkas with representations of scenes in the life of Buddha.
The monastery was inaugurated by the fifth Dalai Lama, builder of the Potala and member of Gelugpa school, and was founded in the seventeenth century by Lodre Gyatso, who was popularly known as Mera Lama. It was around this monastery, which in time was forbidden by Tibetan soldiers against the incursions of the Mongols, that grew the city of Tawang.
It seems that the point where the Tawang Monastery was built was chosen by Lodre Gyatso because his horse escaped and refused to move from that place and the Lama took this as a sign from God that this was the place to give rise to a great Gompa. The Gompa is made up of a large number of small buildings perched around a large square overlooked by Du-khang, the main monastery, Par-khang, the library and Rhum-khang, which houses the kitchens.
The monastery remains a wonderful jumble of steep streets, where small houses are intertwined with old beams and walls painted in traditional Tibetan religious scenes grimacing demons and ecstatic Bodhisattvas, within which bustle purple-robed monks. The faithful prostrate themselves repeatedly at full length before the enigmatic smiling deity, muttering the eternal Tibetan mantra om mani padme hum.
The Dukhang is finely frescoed and contains many statues of fine workmanship, including a giant representation of the historical Buddha. Inside the Perkhang are kept a large number of precious ancient texts written with golden letters and many other items of great artistic value. In the hour of prayer, the powerfully beating long Tibetan trumpets and banging cymbals resonate long in the crystalline air of the mountains. The time has stopped here in one of the last monasteries still intact and away from the invasion of tourists, that holds the wealth, the simplicity and the beauty of unspoiled faith.
It is the focal point of the cultural life of the Monpa tribe, along with the spiritual coordinates of 17 other smaller monasteries are spread throughout the territory with wooden prayer wheels rotate endlessly propelled by an invisible hand and flags, in which are listed religious incantations, flap in the wind. We get used to the infamous yak butter tea that is served in por pa or tea bowl and the Thukpas, Tibetan noodle soup ideal for breakfast.
It is a journey that gives a real sense of adventure with an old world appeal to relax and renew the mind and heart, while experiencing the simple thrill of life therein.
Tawang Itinerary - delhi to tawang
Day 1 Guwahati/Tezpur - Bomdila/Dirang
Many flights fly to Guwahati. The car leaves Guwahati and passes through Tezpur, through the plains of Assam, to the checkpoint at Bhalukpong, which is 200 km away, where the ILP and the access permissions to enter Arunachal Pradesh are checked.
After passing Bhalukpong starts the hill ascend in Arunachal Pradesh. On the way is located a botanical center at Tippi, where they grow orchids. The road goes along a mighty river and climbs to the Nechipu Pass at about 1650 meters, through a more natural environment characterized by lush greenery and zero visibility fog.
Gradually the car moved through the hilly villages of Tenga at 1250 mt, halfway between Bhalukpong and Bomdila and we came face to face on huge military bases. The Indian army has kept the British taste for the apolitical discipline of golf and curled mustache. For tens of kilometers along the road, each battalion has its well-defined enclosure, with its crest, shacks, its officers households with their little English garden, its basketball courts and its heliports.
Bomdila is at 2350 mt and from here you go down the valley to Dirang at 1640 mt, which is 45 km from Bomdila. To acclimatize you can halt for the night at Bomdila, the main center of the Kameng district or Dirang, as Tawang is another 150 kms from here, with a journey of more than 7 hours. Bomdila and Dirang is inhabited mostly by people of ethnic Monpa tribes. Bomdila is a town nestled in the Himalayan mountains with many houses built of wood and adorned with flowers and a small market. There are two Tibetan Buddhist temples, Lower and Upper Gompa and the second of Gontse Gaden Rabgyeling, an important monastery where stayed the 13th Tsona Gontse Rinpoche of Drepung.
Hidden between the lofty blue hills of the north-eastern himalayan ranges of India in the state of Arunachal Pradesh is this amazing place of Bomdila, one of the popular night stopovers along with Dirang enroute to Tawang. The breathtakingly beautiful place is located at a height of 8000 feet and remains snow-clad for some part of the year. A chilling cold breeze blows in this alpine region for almost the entire day and the nights are equally unrelenting.
The journey to Bomdila is quite as exciting as the town itself. The roaring Kameng River rushes down the mountains, providing some splendid views. Winding past gentle, wooded slopes and the fragrance of pine hanging heavily in the air, the landscape changes dramatically as gnarled gorges give way to plains that undulate into hills.
The origin of Bomdila is lost in time. It was a part of the kingdom of Tibet in medieval times. The Chinese tried to stake claim in the 1960’s but backed-off. The town has lots of Buddhist monasteries or gompas and the famous of them is the Bomdila Monastery or the Gentse Garden Rabgyal Ling Monastery, built by Tsona Gontse Rinpoche in 1965.
People here are mainly from the Monpa tribe and very simple in nature. Their main festival here is Losar celebrated generally in the month of February-March. Bomdila, like other towns in the area, has a strong Buddhist and Tibetan influence and has quaint little eating-places where you can savour traditional Tibetan cuisine and the mouth-watering momos and thukpa.
The Craft Centre at Bomdila turns out a range of exquisitely designed dragon carpets and the traditional thangka wall hangings, paintings and masks are also available here. Most of these are intricately crafted with minute details and varied themes. Other places of interests of Bomdila include the district museum, and the sports complex.
The town is surrounded by lush apple orchards that stretch far and wide, adding to the scenic beauty of the place. The place also has numerous trekking trails that attracts lots of adventure seekers.
Dirang is also surrounded by interesting Monasteries and villages like Dirang Dzong, with old stone houses and towers of about 500 years back. The mountains above the village is the site of Nyingmapa, presenting statues and frescoes guarded by a picturesque Gomchen community. The sightseeing of any of Bomdila/Dirang can be done while the return journey from tawang also.
Day 2 Bomdila/Dirang - Tawang
The road from Dirang gradually climbs over to the Sela Pass at 4170 m, which is 63 km away, where you can encounter a typical alpine environment of high altitude with spectacular scenery, snowfall and a lunar landscape, constantly swept by an icy wind. The climb requires usually about 3 hours and here is found the yak, the mythical animals of Tibet, which appear out of the fog like ghosts.
Over the pass, begins the territory of Tawang and the descent is very beautiful, as it passes from Jaswantgarh mausoleum, a heroic Indian military guard, who showed ingenuity in 1962 to slow the invasion of Chinese troops.
Towards the base of the pass you can see the Nuranang waterfalls or Jang Falls. The river Tawang Chu at 1950 mt, goes up along the other side of the valley up to Tawang.
Day 3 Tawang
Tawang is a town rather large and spread on the mountain valley. The point of interest is the Tibetan Gelugpa monastery, made up of about 60 buildings, with some great monasteries and homes where live the monastic community. Situated on a hill at a short distance from the town, this monastery was founded in 1643 and was once the largest Gompa. Currently they reside there over 400 monks. In the Gompa is found important relics and ancient texts of the Buddhist Dharma painted in gold letters.
Near Tawang there are a number of important Tibetan cultural centers like the Tawang Taktshang Monastery, Ani Gompa, also called Thukje Chueling, which houses about 30 nuns, and Jangchub Choeling, which is home to about 50, both founded in the seventeenth century. The much revered site is the Urgelling Gompa because it is the place where in 1683 was born Tsangyang Gyatso, the sixth Dalai Lama, while the recently founded Choekhorling, is a small community of young monks involved in studies.
The Urgelling Gompa bears testimony to a wonderful story. When the 5th Dalai Lama died prematurely, after leading a bitter struggle against the Mongols who wanted to seize the throne of the regent, Desi Sangye Gyatso, he hid his death for 15 years. But meanwhile, as is customary for the Dalai Lama, his reincarnation was found in Tawang three years later. The sixth Dalai Lama therefore had a secular life until the age of 18 as he frequented the taverns, loved women and wrote wonderful poems.
Legend has it that when he left Tawang to Lhasa, he planted a sandalwood tree, predicting his return when three of its branches have reached the same size. The 6th Dalai Lama reigned few years and then was taken out of Lhasa by the Mongols, who murdered him soon after. The monks of Tawang say that when Tenzing Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama arrived in Tawang in 1959, the three branches of the tree had exactly the same size.
The village of Lumla, located approximately 2250 meters is 35 kms, from where the view extends to the border with Bhutan, towards the Trashigang region, where is located the Gom Kora. From Lumla it goes up a side valley leading to Gorsam Chorten at 1900 mt, which is another 43 km away. Here is a large Chorten of uncertain date, with some sources cite that dates back to the twelfth century, while others to the eighteenth. It is built according to the style of the Boudhanath Stupa in Nepal and Chorten Kora in Bhutan.
Every year there is held a festival where people perform countless circumambulations following their base, with a tradition similar to that of the nearby Bhutanese Cham dance at Gom Kora and Chorten Kora. Just beyond Gorsam is the interesting village, near which there is a small temple guarded by a small Nyingma Gomchen communities containing very beautiful statues. Continuing another 8 km beyond Zemithang, there is the small temple of Zangto Pelri, a representation of the pure land of Guru Rinpoche. A Rimpoche is a great lama, usually the head of an important monastery, which according to Tibetans reincarnates from life to life.
The small road leading to the snaking Zemithang, the last village before the Tibetan border, could not be more picturesque. Everywhere small streams with the water channeled through a large bamboo pipe, fall on huge wooden prayer mills. There is something surreal here as shepherds wearing a traditional yak hair hat on the head, graze their sheep with long furs. Moreover, the closer you get to the border, the more one has the feeling of a no man's land with an inner emptiness.
Day 4 Tawang
Tawang offers a more ample opportunity to discover and enjoy the various places and landscapes of the place over a snowy path to Pankang Teng Tso or PT Tso Lake, Bumla Pass, Sangetser or Madhuri Lake, with rather quiet and deserted views, but romantic impressions.
The Tawang War Memorial built in the style of a great chorten, which can be seen from all sides of the town ber testimony to those who died in the Sino-Indian War of 1962.
Day 5 Tawang - Bhalukpong/Nameri
Here begins the return trip through the spectacular Himalayan valleys of Dirang and Bomdila. It traces the way down to Bhalukpong and Nameri wildlife reserve. You can halt for the night at any of the two locations situated on the edge of the river Brahmaputra. You can also stay at Kaziranga National Park, which is about 110 km from Bhalukpong and 50 km from Tezpur.
Day 6 Bhalukpong/Nameri - Guwahati
Guwahati is 200 kms, with up to 5 hours of travel.
Torgya is a festival that takes place for three days and aims to drive away evil spirits and protect the population from various disasters. During these three days of rites, the inhabitants of the surrounding villages rush to the monastery dressed in their best colorful outfits. A group of Buddhist monks, sporting a colorful mask representing a deity or animal performs sacred dances to the sound of drums and cymbals.
The rooms are good and almost always have a bathroom with hot water and beds, but it is to be noted that these remote eastern regions often are rather spartan and in some locations may require a minimum adaptability such as hot water can be supplied in a bucket.
How to reach tawang
For transportation you can use comfortable vehicles like the Scorpio or Innova. Please note that in many of the areas, currency exchange is not possible and credit cards are often not accepted except cash.
You should be equipped for the conditions of the region as night temperatures at Tawang can peak around -8 ° C, and the maximum during the daytime hardly exceeds 8-10 ° C. The climate is usually dry, but it's better to have rain protection as that there can always be local rainfall.
Best time to visit tawang
We recommend going to Tawang between the months of October and March. Because of its altitude, in the winter it is normal to be covered with snow, and you will always need warm clothes.
You need to get an Inner Line Permit (ILP), if you're from India and foreigners need clearance from the Home Ministry and a Restricted Area Permit (RAP). The ILP is available from the Arunachal Pradesh Resident Commissioner Offices located in New, Delhi, Kolkata and Guwahati. Be sure to apply for them well in advance which takes around a month sometimes to be issued.
Now for the travelling part. You have to first come to Guwahati in Assam and from there you can set forth to Tawang. Guwahati is well connected by Air, Rail or Road from any part of India. So I start after you reach Guwahati with possible halts because you have to halt at a certain place overnight else the journey will be tiresome.
Cheapest option for those on a shoestring budget:
A. Guwahati to Bomdila - by Bus run by Arunachal Pradesh State Transport Corporation (APSTC). It leaves from Guwahati around 5 AM and reaches Bomdila at 4 PM that day. Bomdila is one of the sight-seeing places so you can spend a few hours here and the over-night.
Bomdila to Tawang - Option 1- by Share Car/Jeeps. In this mode you cannot catch sight-seeing places on the way to tawang i.e. mainly Dirang Valley, Sela Pass, Jung Falls, Jaswant Garh and some more places of interest. It takes around 8-9 hours for the journey with all the halts
Option 2- by Reserved Car/Jeep from Bomdila. You can book the car for the entire number of days you want to stay in Tawang and opt for dropping at Bhalukpong during return.
Tawang to Bhalukpong- By reserved car/Jeep. Don't miss Bhalukpong as it is another major sightseeing place and you would love to spend a night out in the small cottages beside the streaming River Kameng maintained by Assam Tourism.
Bhalukpong to Tezpur- by shared car/jeep/bus (around 2 hours). You can have the lunch in Tezpur.
Tezpur to Guwahati- by Bus (Public/Private). Lots of buses are available from here.
For a little costly Option:
B. Guwahati- Tezpur- by shared car/jeep/bus (nearly 6 hours journey). You have to halt for the night here.
Tezpur - Tawang: by reserved car/jeep. It takes around 16 hours to complete the entire journey, so if you want to prevent tiredness, halt at Bomdila as I mentioned earlier and go for Tawang next day. From Tezpur to Bomdila you can also avail the APSTC bus service also.
Return: Same as I mentioned earlier.
C. Guwahati to Tawang and back with a reserved car all the way from Guwahati itself. with all the halts as I mentioned earlier. If you start from Guwahati it is better for the first halt to be at Bomdila and while on return halt at Bhalukpong to ease a bit of your tiredness with a night stay there amidst the cool river breeze and a visit to some hot water falls and other interests.
D. These days another option is to travel by Helicopter directly to Tawang from Guwahati. The price is quite cheap around Rs. 3000 per head and carries 18 people. But, personally I will not advise this option, as to me, travelling is not about reaching the place itself, but the enjoyment or thrill is in the actual Travel itself, where you can really feel your journey.
Point to note: Good hotels/places of stay are available mainly in Tezpur, Bhalukpong and Bomdila between Guwahati and Tawang. So it is better to choose the places of halt in these places.
Hope this post will help a little bit in your planning for this glorious trip. Also I must mention, you don't need any guide for the trip in Tawang, as your driver carrying you will be your best guide here. If you have any further queries or doubts feel free to let me know. I'll be glad to help you.