History amid natural beauty: Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh has a culture of its own
Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh is one of those fabulous destinations, which is fascinating for any tourist but rarely finds its way to their checklist. This hilly destination is surrounded by beautiful glacial lakes in and around the valley with crystal clear blue waters. Encircled by lofty and magnificent mountains, Tawang is a feast for the eyes.
Situated at 10,000 feet above sea level, Tawang has Tibet to its northern side, SeLa Pass to its east and the happiest country in the world, Bhutan, to its southwest. The inhabitants of Tawang, called Monpas, are found at lower altitude, where they enjoy cool temperate climate.
The name 'Tawang' derives from two words from the local Monpa dialect 'Ta' and 'Wang'. 'Ta' means horse and 'Wang' means green pastures. The local interpretation is that in the 17th century, a Tibetan monk called Mera Lama found a strong and beautiful horse wandering in the valley. Attracted to this elegant animal, the Lama tried to capture it.
But the horse disappeared and while searching for it, Mera Lama found a place, which was very serene and soothing. He built a magnificent Buddhist Monastery at the location. The town that developed around this Monastery was later called Tawang.
How to go there
The nearest domestic airport is Salonibari Airport, Tezpur, Assam. It is well connected to state capitals Kolkata and Guwahati both by road and by air. The nearest international airport is the Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport in Guwahati, which is around 480 km from Tawang.
If you happen to take the train, the nearest railway station is Tezpur, which can also be reached via the Guwahati junction.
Indian citizens need the Inner Line Permits (ILP) to enter Arunachal Pradesh. As Arunachal Pradesh falls under restricted area, official permission is required to enter the state. There are two kinds of official permits prescribed by Government for entering into any area within the state. They are,
Inner Line Permit (ILP) and Protected Area Permit (PAP). The Inner Line Permits are required by Indians other than natives of Arunachal Pradesh for entering into any place in Arunachal Pradesh. All the foreigners are required have the Protection Area Permit or PAP for entering into the state.
ILPs can be obtained before the beginning of the journey by furnishing photo copies of identification documents at the designated Arunachal Bhawans in all states. For instance, the Arunachal Bhawan in New Delhi can be approached for ILPs before the start of journey either by rail or by air.
However, it is also possible to obtain an ILP at the border check post manned by the Arunachal Police at Bhalukpong at the Assam- Arunachal border.
Tezpur to Dirang via Bhalukpong
A commonly-used route is Tezpur to Dirang by road. During this journey, one comes across the check post at Bhalukpong. To do this, tourists usually hire a Tata Sumo, which are readily available near the bus station in Tezpur and the only model available for tourists. A seat in a Tata Sumo will cost you around Rs 600/-. These old war horses do a great job running over roads which are sorely in need of an asphalt surface.
Bhalukpong is the entry point of Arunachal Pradesh, located in West Kameng District and is 60 km from Tezpur. This small town is a mesmerizing place for wildlife enthusiasts as it is close to the Pakhui Wildlife Sanctuary. The mighty river Kameng enters Bhalukpong after completing turbulent courses. This mountain river provides rare opportunity for adventure tourism.
Passing Bhalukpong, Tenga Valley and Bomdila, you will reach the fabulous stone village of Dirang after nine hours of journey. It is so-called as the village is surrounded by natural stone structures. An overnight halt in Dirang is strongly advised as it may not be safe to travel at night. Several low- cost hotels are available for occupation such as the Hotel Moon. One night stay here will cost you anywhere between Rs 350-650.
Dirang to Tawang
It is a six-hour journey cruising through curvy roads. You will pass through the SeLa Pass, which is 4,100 meters above sea level. If you are travelling in October, your dream of witnessing snowfall will be fulfilled. From SeLa you will head towards Tawang.
What to see
Tawang is chilly and you will need at least two days to see it properly. History amid natural beauty is how Tawang can be best described. The majestic Tawang Monastery (the second largest in Asia after the original one in Lhasa) is the top draw for tourists. The important part of the Monastery is the three- storied assembly hall, which houses the temple and the 28- feet high Golden Statue of Buddha. Tawang is encircled between the Gudpi and the Chong-Chugmi mountain ranges, while the Chu River flows through the forests next to the town.
The best time to visit is May and you will get to see flowers bloom while visiting Sangetsar Lake. This scenic and serene place is close to the Chinese border and a few mountains of China can be seen. This place is home to rare snow pigeons and musk deer. You could also visit Urgyelling, which is the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama and is again an important centre of Mahayana Buddhism.
Other important places to see are the War Memorial, Craft Centre and local markets.
Accommodation in this jaw-dropping scenic valley is a little expensive. There are several hotels such as the Hotel Buddha, Hotel Dungphoo etc. Staying there will cost you approximately Rs 600 per night. There is a tourist lodge and inspection bungalow too for tourists. These are maintained by Government of Arunachal Pradesh.
The inhabitants of Tawang are the Monpas along with some Tibetans. Monpas are Mongoloids, well built and fair complexioned. Their houses are built with stones and timber. Agriculture and animal husbandry are the main occupations. Losar and Torgya are two major festivals of Monpas, which are celebrated at the premises of the Tawang Monastery.
Local Food and Cuisine
The local food is a blend of traditional North-Eastern dishes and a spicy influence of Monpas. Also, the richest, most colorful and delicious from of Tawang's food is found on its street. One must try the mouth watering Zan, which is made of millet flour. It is accompanied by a dish of meat or vegetables cooked with fermented cheese, soya beans and other herbs.
Don't miss a rich Biryani called Gyapa Khazi which is a variant of the pulao with fermented cheese, chilies, some dried fish or prawns and spices like ginger etc. Another delicacy is Khura, a pancake which is had with tea. Other than these, don't miss the staple Momos and Thukpa.
Why visit Tawang
The valley is situated in the mountain ranges of the majestic Himalayas. Tourists visiting here can experience the rich Budhhist and Monpa culture. The valley offers peaceful and pollution-free environment, which is not available in other hill stations. The unique beauty and rich Buddhist heritage will soothe your soul and mind.