Tawang was on my bucket list for quite a long time or I can say right from the time, I started riding an Enfield. After Ladakh, North East is always high in every Enfield rider’s ‘Must Ride To’ destination. Especially Tawang. Though every rider who been there crib a lot about roads, that cribbing is always like complaints full of love and not with agony. As mentioned in the first blog, roads are either not built or washed away in monsoon. Still, the charm of roads in the valley never is lost. Bad roads never deter riders to ride to the ultimate heaven which is Tawang. Though my biking was stopped a few years back unfortunately before riding to this heaven. It didn’t stop me to take this journey. This was like, ‘To earn again, you have to go through the pain’. This is not a simple gain, but to visit one of the outstanding places of North East.
In this blog, I am going to take you through what to expect in this part of the valley of Arunachal. In all my recent blogs, I have tried to keep word count limited, but in this blog, I have crossed. There was so much to see and write about. I completely lost in my memories and kept on writing.
Please read it through. It might be useful if you decide to explore this mystical state.
In Tezpur, you can find many small-time decent lodges to spend a night around ST Stand. Taxis gives service to pick-up from nearby lodges.
Before leaving the taxi counter, you must make sure, you get your preferred seat booking in the taxi with the contact detail of a person who has allotted you the seat or the person who is going to be at the counter on the day of traveling. There are chances of single-seat allotted to a couple of passengers charging extra money from both and you don’t have an option, but to continue your travel.
The next day morning, faced a situation that I was prepared for. The front window seat was allotted to one more person. I was requested by the driver, but I didn’t budge and he didn’t have any choice to allot me the seat. While taking such a long journey, a backpacker always has to take many precautions while traveling in this part of the world where rains are unseasonal and Should keep all your non-essential, not costly belongings packed in plastic before packing inside your luggage. A backpack is always preferred because you may never know where you will be dropped and have to walk for some distance. Though all taxis have fixed carriers on the top and passengers’ baggage is covered with tarpaulin. Just make sure, your luggage is tied up properly and covered. Keep one small bag with a water bottle, hand towel, and camera wrapped in plastic with you. This bag you can carry everywhere while going for meals, washroom breaks for capturing some wonderful shots.
A road towards a long journey to heaven:
The most important document, you should carry is your Nationality identity proof and Permits.
Tezpur to Tawang route starts on flat terrain to remind you of a state which you are in. i.e. Assam. As soon as you cross the first entry point, where you need to show your permit, you get a glimpse of Arunachal Pradesh’s breathtaking beauty. My travel was in September and post-monsoon, surrounding mountains were covered with waterfalls at every corner. Though roads were in bad shape, who cares when you on travel to paradise. Mountains covered with Green carpets on slopes with white streams gushing down the roadside trenches while waterfalls adding nonstop water in streams. You can stop at any point and will get picture-perfect moments. Pine trees standing tall on slopes like villagers standing to welcome you in their domain. Sometimes mountain tops shining bright, but you feel relief from bright sunshine when a cold wave of wind starts blowing. This drive is pleasant and mesmerizing. I didn’t even feel any fatigue when I reached Tawang. On the way to Tawang, you can see many small villages nestled amidst pine trees. For a city dweller, every village will give a feel of a weekend house which they long to own.
On the way to Tawang, one should not miss stopping at Sela pass which is at a higher altitude than Tawang. If you have booked the whole vehicle, you can ask the driver to stop for photo opportunities of winding roads, mountain tops which are covered by shadows of the sun setting at the horizon, Pine trees standing tall like soldiers guarding against the intruders. You will get the same feeling once you hear the story of Sela pass which narrates the gallantry of an army officer meets the romance of a tribal girl. When China attacked Arunachal and claimed Tawang and land beyond this pass, the valiant Brigadier of the Sikh Regiment, Jaswant Singh fought with so much valor to stop the waves of the Chinese army. He laid his life in that ambush. His body was found, once the Indian army returned to reclaim the area. One tribal girl who had fallen in love with Brigadier jumped from the top of the mountain at this pass. Her name was Sela and the pass is named after her. Post-war, Brigadier Jaswant Singh was awarded Mahavir Chakra posthumously.
This was just a trailer of the stories which I was going to read and experience the courageous Indian armed force who laid their lives around Tawang in the 1962 Indo – Chinese war.
After Sela pass, I felt the journey to Tawang along because of darkness developing around. Suddenly the darkness brought a psychological feel of tired limbs and wanted to reach Tawang desperately to lie down on a bed.
In Tawang, the advice is not to book a place in advance. You can reach and find a decent budget hotel between Rs. 500-700. What else a backpacker needs? A clean bed to relax in the night and a clean toilet.
In dark, Tawang looks like a sleepy village like thousands of villages of India.
First glimpse of Tawang under shining Sun:
Woke up slightly late due to recovering from yesterday’s long-travel fatigue. Came out on the balcony and was startled, last night’s sleepy without its own identity village was converted into a dream town settled in a big valley, surrounded by shinning mountains and green slopes. I had reached heaven. I checked my body and found still I was mortal and not died.
‘Tawang’ as described by available information is surrounded by mountains and glacier lakes around it and making it a serene place to meditate and spread peace. This part of Arunachal Pradesh majorly follows Buddhism, close to two major Buddhist countries – Bhutan and Tibet. Still, I consider Tibet is a separate country and not part of the land shark, China.
Tawang’s name has derived from two local words – Ta (horse) and Wang (green pasture). The story of Tawang’s formation dates back to the 17th century. Nomads found this green pasture with a majestic horse grazing on it, but he disappeared. These nomads decided to settle here taking that sign as their settlement. They built monasteries in and around Tawang and spread the religion. China claiming their own right to rule this part of India with a claim as these settlers were from Tibet which is now a part of China. Also because of one particular sect of Buddhism is followed in Arunachal Pradesh which is Originated from China.
India can always counter attack that claims with an argument, Lord Buddha is from India and the whole of Buddhism originates from India, so China, per se, is an Indian territory. How stupid that claim will be.
Jokes apart, Tawang is blessed with natural beauty. Locals are always ready to help.
As Tawang is located in a basin, the weather is always pleasant.
I had kept this day to procure permits to visit Bomla border permit, Tawang monastery, and war memorial which was at walkable distance. If you would like to cover Tawang and visit nearby points of attraction 3/4 days are enough.
After hearing all those stories of the Indo-China war and the courageous efforts of our soldiers to not let go of Indian land, a visit to War memorial and Bom-La pass was my top priority. Tawang sightseeing, I had divided into three parts. The first part to visit Tawang Monastery, Buddha park, and war memorial, the second part to visit PT Tso, Bumla pass (China border), Madhuri lake, and Nuarang fall and the third part to visit Sela pass and waterfalls. To visit the last part, Sela Pass is on the way from Bomdila and Dirang as mentioned earlier. you can request the taxi’s driver to stop before entering or leaving Tawang.
To cover the second part, I had to book a taxi for the whole day which was about Rs. 3,500 – Rs. 3,800 and permit Rs. 100 per person. That was again a huge amount for the solo backpackers. As always, I had made friends on my way to Tawang. 4 family members from the South of India were planning to book a cab for themselves. I requested to accompany them. The charm worked and they agreed. This cab was booked for the next day early morning. The driver took care of the permit. Now to utilize the whole day, I strolled in Tawang’s bazaar searching for local mementos or some junk pendants to wear. When I started my solo backpacking journeys in India and abroad, got a habit of collecting silver or nonprecious stone or pendants representing local craftsmanship and religious symbols. Unfortunately, only a couple of shops stocks them and they were close to some local festival.
Tawang War Memorial
Tawang Monastery was the next location. Either you can walk down from the market towards War Memorial and climb up for Tawang Monastery or vice versa. War memorial is closer to the market than the monastery.
Decided to go for the War memorial first. Once enter the gate, immediately you can see the stark difference between civilian and Defense area. This is not a case here, but all over the county. In my last visit to Kargil War Memorial in Dras, Ladakh witnessed the same.
Everything is meticulously planned, designed, clean, and formal. You won’t find anyone loitering around except visitors.
Had an earlier experience of Kargil War Memorial of wearing full-length pants, only. This time, precaution was taken before entering. When you visit the hall and entire War memorial, emotions and pride moments are at peak, and feel proud of our armed forces who laid their lives to protect our land from intruders. Though this area is now peaceful unlike Kashmir, this neighbor knows the strength of both armed forces, and no big problems take place, but still, every soldier posted here is always in an alert position or perhaps, their training makes them.
Tawang War memorial has a mention of all those martyrs who lost their lives in the 1962 Indo-Sino war.
After the visit to the War memorial, Visiting Tawang’s must-see attractions in the city on foot, you should be fit enough to walk if you do not rent a vehicle.
This monastery is believed to be the second-largest Buddhist monastery after the Lhasa monastery. After the closing down of Lhasa monastery, this has become the largest ‘active’ monastery in the world. Hundreds of students study and live here. When I visited the monastery, I was fortunate enough to attend a holy sermon by the Highest Buddhist priest of Arunachal Pradesh. In my visits to all monasteries in Ladakh or here, even if you are a non-Buddhist with visual signs, you are welcome and offered a place to sit to attend a sermon.
This recalls my luck to attend His Holy Highness Dalai Lama ji’s sermon when I was a month earlier in Manali. I had to scrap my plans to visit Dharamshala, His Highness’ place in India while living in exile. Entire Himachal Pradesh was heavily affected due to heavy rains and landslides. Read ‘my Nomad’s Nomadism to Majestic Ladakh’ which is in pipeline.
Giant Buddha statue
This statue attracts your attention from almost any part of Tawang. Located at a hillock near the market, is worth a visit. The reason is, one can get a bird’s eye view of Tawang valley and it proves one local meaning of Tawang – the footprint of a horse. You can imagine, why and how nomad’s entered this valley and flourished. This statue also gives a feeling of Lord Buddha is keeping eye on his follower’s well-being.
Bum-la pass, Sangestar Tso known as Madhuri lake and P.T. Tso.
The next day awaits another treacherous travel, but a shorter one. Today, we had to visit the China border and a couple of lakes. Though nowadays, visiting many countries by air is possible, but still one can’t beat the excitement and thrill of visiting any border by road. More than that visiting a border which is bloodied by war and standing in your country’s freed land from excursion is an immensely proud moment. Perhaps, attending the much-celebrated flag-lowering ceremony by Indian and Pakistani soldiers at the Wagah border becomes once in a lifetime moment to attend for citizens from both countries.
Comparative to the Wagah border’s exhilarated moment, the Bum-la border is 100 times peaceful. If you are lucky, you can actually see a Chinese foot soldier standing 20/30 mtrs from the Indian side. Even there are festivals like Indian Independence day, Republic day, Diwali, and Chinese National day are celebrated at the border. Meals and sweets are shared.
This confirms my belief; borders are drawn by humans to mark their territories. Even animals like Tigers, Lions, and dogs marks their territories.
If the relations between countries are peaceful, the environment on the border is stressful.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t click pics at the border due to recently laid restrictions, otherwise, I could have easily carried memories back by clicking pics with a border gate.
The regiment posted at the border runs a shop that sells military surplus clothes, boots, woolen caps, and mementos which people love to carry back home to display their love and respect for the Armed forces. I wasn’t an exception to that either.
On our way back, we had to take a detour for Sangestar lake known as Madhuri Lake. In the local language, Tso means lake at altitude. This area enchants you so much, even Bollywood filmmakers couldn’t resist shooting a song for one of the movies – Koyala on erstwhile Superstar Madhuri Dixit at the backdrop of a mysterious Sangestar lake. This lake has local stories around it because of dead tree trunks standing inside lake water. As the story goes, these trees are sages of the Himalayas and they guard this region. This lake and few others are wonders of nature were formed due to an earthquake in Arunachal Pradesh. The water is so tranquil and the mountains around magnify the beauty of it. To add to its beauty, You can spot Golden ducks which are the migratory birds from Europe migrating away from chilling winters, visit this area in this season.
This is not only true to this lake but to many other lakes on the way. P.T. Tso is also one of them. You can see reflections of mountain tops in clear water.
One striking similarity between the other two regions I traveled in the last 3 months is clear, unpolluted blue skies. For city dwellers, this an amazing color. If there is a water body in the area, it adds the beauty manifolds. Even a phone camera can give breathtaking captures.
This whole area is managed by the Indian Army so well and they always welcome civilians. A café is run by the Indian army serves hot food to fill your tummy at a nominal cost. Again a difference of civilians and Army maintained is starkly seen. Well marked walkaway, neatly maintained garden, painted wooden compounds. You just fall in love with our army again and again. This is love over and above respect towards them to protect us from enemies.
This complete area is protected by the Indian Army’s various regiments. I met a couple of guys from Maharashtra and they were happy to speak in their mother tongue in this far region.
Though I visited this region just before winter, I can imagine armed forces and local’s plight during winter when the temperature drops below 0 degrees.
In this treacherous region, now I realized the rates of travel is so high. The main reason is, maintenance of the vehicle is high due to bad roads and the season lasts for 7/8 months or lesser than that. Whatever is earned in this season, feeds them the rest of the months. From here onwards, I decided not to crib so much but wanted to warn the travelers about high fares with a reason to support the transporters.
Though nowadays, trekkers and bikers do visit in winter also which is extra support to locals.
Tsun Gon Thog Jee Choeling Nunnery:
The first time, noticed after traveling to two Buddhist dominated regions – Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, Tawang also has a monastery for and run by female priests and students which is situated at around 15 km from Tawang. The next day, I tagged along with the family I traveled with to Bum-la pass and could share taxi fare.
At the gate, we were greeted by the nuns. They were happy to show us around as not many travelers visit this monastery. The concept of ‘female monks’ was completely new to me as you don’t find mention of these monks in Buddhism and fascinating, too.
Some important things to remember when you are planning to reach Tawang:
How to reach Tawang?
Tezpur is a gateway to enter the Tawang side of Arunachal Pradesh. You can reach Tezpur via all three routes – Air, Road, and Rail.
By Air: From Guwahati or Kolkata, Air India operates locally to Tezpur and other airports of North East, but to reach Arunachal Pradesh’s any part, Guwahati is the nearest, biggest and international airport.
By Rail: From Guwahati, you can reach Tezpur’s Rangapara railway station which is on North Eastern Railways. It takes approximately 4 hours from Guwahati. There are Super Fast trains and ticket cost anywhere between Rs. 800 to 1000.
By Road: From Guwahati, Assam State Transport buses operate between these two places. Also available are chartered taxis to Tezpur. Bus ticket costs between Rs. 700 to 900.
A private taxi costs Rs. 3500 and above.
From Tezpur, either you can take the Assam State Transport bus to Tawang or Bomdila which has a very limited frequency. A shared taxi is the best alternative. Both modes of transport start early morning towards Tawang. Bus service is not so reliable, but Taxi service operates daily. You need to book in advance either from the booking office at State Transport Depot or your hotel will arrange.
The shared taxi cost will be approximately Rs. 750-900 per person.
You need to stay in Tezpur for a night to catch an early morning taxi. You will get many lodges at the cost of Rs. 600/700 for a night.
There is another route, you can take from North Lakhimpur. Another town in Assam and closer to Itanagar, capital of Arunachal Pradesh.
Where to stay in Tawang:
From budget hotels at Rs. 300 in the dormitory to Rs. 4,000 per night. A room in a budget hotel will cost about Rs. 500 depending on the season and your bargaining power. Do not book the hotel in advance. You can book a hotel after reaching. Near Market square, there are a lot of them and always waiting for customers, even if they show they don’t have customers. You need to have patience.
Where to eat:
There are many small-time eateries and some good hotels. A meal will cost Rs. 200-300 for a person. Remember to have your dinner before 7/8 otherwise, you will sleep empty stomach as most of the hotels close early.
What to see:
1. Tawang Monastery
2. Tawang War Memorial
3. Giant Buddha statue
These 3 places are Within a 2 km radius from the marketplace and Taxi stand.
4. Brahma-dung-Chung Ani Gompa (Gompa run by female monks)
7/8 km from the market
5. Bum-la pass
6. Sangstar aka Madhuri lake
7. P.T. Tso
Places no. 5,6,7 are 35 km away and need to keep a day to visit
8. Sela pass
9. Nuranang Falls
If you wish to visit both places, either you can hire a taxi for a day. Both places are before you enter Tawang.
For Indian nationals, Inner Line Permit is a must which you will get at Guwahati, Tezpur, Kolkata, New Delhi for Rs. 100 and carry 3/4 copies with you along with your photo id card.
For foreign nationals, Protected Area Permit is required which you can obtain from all these places mentioned above for ILP.
To visit, Bum-La pass, an additional permit is required, which your taxi driver can arrange. I doubt foreign nationals can visit this area because of sensitivity.
When to visit:
October to April when the weather is pleasant. April and June, the temperature will be very high. During monsoon, roads may be closed due to downpour.
Clothes to carry:
Actually, this might be weird information to get from me because wherever I go whether in Ladakh, Andamans or North East, you will always see me in shorty shorts as my friends say, I am immune to weather, but for others Cotton loose fittings before winters and in winter, you can add woolen as per your cold bearing capacity. In monsoon, if at all you are planning to visit, you can buy gumboots or you will get them at local shops.
That’s all on Tawang and a travel to remember to reach the beautiful place. To read more on this state, read my next blog on further exploration of another beautiful valley of Ziro and its Festival of Music. I will share my experience through my lens.