“A great and certainly once-in-a-lifetime experience.” The long drive through the lush green hills, meandering rivers, permanent fog zones to snow-capped mountains, from Guwahati (Assam), to Tawang (Arunachal Pradesh), was audacious. I can proudly say we saw it all.
We got the opportunity to escape into the serene yet overpowering character of nature in its many hues. I will be back I told the breeze…
Getting to Tawang
You have two choices to reach Tawang from Guwahati, either one could take the charter helicopter ride, arriving straight there in a couple of hours or one can hire a car and drive through the two states. I obviously chose the first…but the bad weather took away our bird’s view.
More than just the Monastery
Most people visit Tawang Arunachal Pradesh because of the rich Tibetian culture and the famous Tawang Monastery, which are great reasons to go! I too was excited and happy to see there was so much more than just a monastery to visit.
Tawang tourism isn’t huge although it is one of the most popular places to visit in the state of Arunachal Pradesh and Tawang Monastery is one of the most popular places in India to visit, making the journey up to the far North East India well worth your time.
Tawang is in the North West part of Arunachal Pradesh and while you are here you are only 30-40km from both Bhutan and China.
Getting to Tawang was an adventure in itself.
TENGA Valley West Kameng
Our driver Mukund was well aware of the directions by road from Guwahati – Tezpur – Tenga Valley; he made our journey comfortable and hassle-free. The route he took was a wonderful experience with less traffic and strong bridges contrasted by the cloudless sky.
Journey from Guwahati
The road begins from the bustling township of Guwahati. As we started ascending, the endless green plains of Assam changed into rich green hills and as we gained height, we passed through a zone called the “Permanent fog zone” where due to the clouds getting trapped, the region remains foggy throughout the year with visibility close to zero.
Sunrise in Tenga valley
We stopped for the night at TENGA Valley. ‘Arunachal – the land of sunrise,’ truly so, we woke up with a striking sunray on the calming cackle on the fresh water running stream which allured our view of the magnificent mountain, which is just what the Traveller’s heart needs. Tenga is a small military base camp and town. The beauty is breathtaking.
Fog covered Monasteries in the valley
The next day we left for Bomdila via Bhalukpong visiting the Bomdila Monastery, Chillipam Monastery and Sangti Valley. These monasteries are surrounded by a lot of fog and we were soaked in the divinity of Buddhism and the environment around.
We continued our journey on the third day, we were raring to go, as we had to pass through a tough terrain and so we started off early. The landscape had transformed into scarce pockets of greenery and highland desert with sights of snow-capped mountains on the horizon; which opened to a gate guarded by dragons with bright coloured flags fluttering all around.
We were at Sela Pass, where war and romance met at 13,700ft. The cold breeze blew on my face as I looked around. There were no tourists except for us on the road.
The highest motorable road
We crossed the World’s second highest Motor-able Road to Sela Pass at 13700 ft. It was cold and there was snow scattered all around us. I looked around and thought if there was heaven on earth? ‘This should be it.’
Deciding to take in the view, we got down and it felt like we were surrounded by cotton candy clouds that had descended from the sky to earth covering everything around. We were wrapped in a world of White. We stopped for a while to take some photos.
Then we drove down towards Jung Village for tea and food and continued towards Tawang which was much easier.
As we ascended we got to see pine trees covered with snow.
It is an understatement to say that Tawang was freezing cold. This is a town, which sees the first rays of sun in India, but ironically the sun never shines. The temperature was below zero. We stuffed ourselves with as many layers of clothing as possible and decided to move out.
Tawang, at 3500 metres above sea level is a picturesque land of the Monpas on one end, a war memorial on the other. It truly is the ‘Land of Dawn Lit Mountains’. It’s here you have a heavenly tryst with nature at its best!
Tawang War Memorial
We started with Tawang War Memorial – a pride of Tawang – a 40-foot high memorial dedicated to the martyrs of the 1962 Sino-Indian War. This memorial is locally referred as the ‘Namgyal Chortan’ which has names of 2500 dead soldiers etched in gold.
This war memorial is nestled among picturesque snow-capped peaks overlooking the Tawang Chu Valley.
It is flanked by two memorial halls, one housing the personal artefacts of the martyrs, while the other is used for a sound and light show in the evening that depicts the deeds of the martyrs.
Jaswant Garh Army Memorial
Heading one hour toward Jaswant Garh Army Memorial another war memorial of Rifleman, Jaswant Singh Rawat, whose valour is celebrated even today. The story goes that Jaswant positioned himself on a hilltop in a long trench and placed rifles to give an impression that the entire army was behind him. He was captured and shot by the Chinese. A brass bust of Jaswant is kept in Jaswant Garh.
We walked up to a small shop to have some tea. Sitting there, for what feels like an eternity, I realize that almost every destination tells a story – of love, betrayal, and patriotism.
Gompa – Tawang Buddhist Monastery
Then we headed towards the magnificent, 350-year-old Tawang Buddhist monastery called Gompa. It is one of the most gorgeous monasteries with breathtaking architecture. With silent interiors, the constant vibrations of ‘Oh Mani Padme Hum’ provide the perfect ambience.
Sangetsar or ‘Madhuri’ Lake
Next on the list was the Sangetsar Lake, fondly called the Madhuri Lake after the Bollywood actress Madhuri Dixit who shot a song sequence at this spot for her film ‘Koyla’. 42 km from the main city of Tawang and further upwards, one has to trespass bunkers and even stop for the army to finish their artillery practice! What an unforgettable experience!
The Indo-China border
A thick layer of mist hung over the roads as we drove uphill. This is the road that takes us to Tibet and China. The mist descended even thicker and many times we stopped dead in our tracks wondering if there was a curve ahead or if we were at a cliff.
Visibility was at zero and suddenly the veil was lifted. And we saw the blue sky. A sea of clouds – The BUM LA PASS. The Indo China Border at 16,500ft.s
Traveller tip: Woollens are a must all throughout the year and one must acclimatize before you unleash your ‘traveller’s excitement’ to prevent Hypoxia.
Tawang’s sudden beauty interspersed with sudden danger made it an adventure trip of a lifetime. I am certainly going back and hope to see you there too. The Monpas will be there to welcome you!