The Himalayan Odyssey: Tawang

27th Oct 2014
Photo of The Himalayan Odyssey: Tawang 1/12 by Saikkat Dasgupta
Spellbinding Arunachal | Tawang valley
Photo of The Himalayan Odyssey: Tawang 2/12 by Saikkat Dasgupta
Spellbinding Arunachal | Tawang valley
Photo of The Himalayan Odyssey: Tawang 3/12 by Saikkat Dasgupta
Spellbinding Arunachal | The magical garden
Photo of The Himalayan Odyssey: Tawang 4/12 by Saikkat Dasgupta
Spellbinding Arunachal | Tawang
Photo of The Himalayan Odyssey: Tawang 5/12 by Saikkat Dasgupta
Spellbinding Arunachal | Tawang monastery
Photo of The Himalayan Odyssey: Tawang 6/12 by Saikkat Dasgupta
Spellbinding Arunachal | Tawang
Photo of The Himalayan Odyssey: Tawang 7/12 by Saikkat Dasgupta
Spellbinding Arunachal | Tawang
Photo of The Himalayan Odyssey: Tawang 8/12 by Saikkat Dasgupta
Spellbinding Arunachal | Bomdila
Photo of The Himalayan Odyssey: Tawang 9/12 by Saikkat Dasgupta
Spellbinding Arunachal | Upper Gompa, Bomdila
Photo of The Himalayan Odyssey: Tawang 10/12 by Saikkat Dasgupta
Spellbinding Arunachal | View from Bomdila
Photo of The Himalayan Odyssey: Tawang 11/12 by Saikkat Dasgupta
Spellbinding Arunachal | Lower Gompa, Bomdila
Photo of The Himalayan Odyssey: Tawang 12/12 by Saikkat Dasgupta
Spellbinding Arunachal | Se La Pass

The magical land of Arunachal Pradesh is said to evoke images of overwhelming mountain views, remote hamlets, quaint & sleepy villages, pristine Gompas, tranquil lakes and mesmerizing snow capped peaks. Here in the dreamy land of the Yaks, I came to realize that these surreal images are all true.

My trip had begun with a silent yet turbulent state of mind in Tezpur in Assam. The calmness of Dirang valley in Arunachal had immersed me into a sea of tranquility & serenity. I made my way from Dirang to Tawang by a shared cab, where I booked a seat with Rs. 500/-. It left Dirang market at 8:30 in the morning. The drive was one of the most spectacular yet daunting ones of my life.

The roads cease to exist after Mandir. Our first stop for breakfast was at Padma where a couple of shops stood on a dust trodden road, well hardly a road in the urban context! With a terrific plate of momos & noodles, I was good to go. The driver was extremely excited to inform me that these were the best these roads that have existed in all these years. The government has made a lot of investment to prepare for the impending visit of Dalai Lama in 2015. The BRO has too been on their feet for a while now, catalyzing development across the state. The roads drastically improved from the military transit camp. The view of Baisakhi seemed out of this world.

The view of the clouds drifting through the hills below you is a surreal experience indeed. As we got close the Se La, we saw roadways covered with a blanket of snow. At 13,700 ft, the pass was a spectacular sight of beautiful super-white snow covered rocks, stupas and shanty huts with smoke rings coming out from their chimneys. The unexplainable beauty got amplified exponentially with the sight of the lake on the rocky terrain covered with fresh snow. The view was breathtaking. The chilly wind, the untainted flakes of snow that settled delicately on my jacket, the unbelievable view, and the prayer flags echoing the messages of peace by Buddha was all it took to make me feel alive yet again.

We stopped at a few huts, 3 Km after Se La pass. The hot salted tea, a specialty in this part of the country, was delicious. It is quite a must have to counter the cold. The lady at the counter was extremely delighted to announce to us that they function round the year despite the difficult weather conditions in this terrain and quite animatedly explained to me the religious importance of Se La pass. It is believed that about 101 lakes exist in and around Se La and each of these lakes has immense religious significance for the Buddhist community.

From Se La, the roads meandered around the tributaries of the lake with Yaks guiding our way, while they were lazing around the beautiful red shrubs and the pine trees covered with snow. We crossed the famous Jaswant ‘Garh’, named after Jaswant Singh Rawat, who along with two other soldiers fought and held the invading Chinese soldiers for 72 long hours during the 1962 Chinese aggression. A shrine has been erected in honour of him.

He is probably the only soldier in the history of the Indian army, who has risen through the ranks posthumously, and has been promoted to Major General. He is still believed to command troops guarding the dizzy snow clad heights of India's north eastern frontiers with China. He has dedicated quarters in the contingency and his food & clothes are replaced every fortnight by a caretaker. He also gets his leave & salary, everything that a living soldier should be getting/ thus ensuring that his spirit is still kept alive.

After Jaswant Garh, the condition of the roadways continues to be abysmal till Jung, where the construction of new roads was in progress during my visit. The road conditions improved drastically from Lhou village to Tawang. The view of the crescent shaped town of Tawang at a height of 11,000 ft, visible from 50 Km away gave me goose bumps. The town is well developed, in light of its importance from political, religious & tourism aspect.

To my misfortune, I reached Tawang on a Monday when the main market remains closed for its weekly off. I dropped off my backpack in the Government run tourist lodge and walked down to the main market craving for some food. Hotel Brahmaputra was serving freshly made hot Aloo chops to my luck.

I decided to search for some local delicacies. I found Dawa Restaurant further down the road, which served Thukpa & momos in their traditional taste & form. After satiating my hunger, I returned to my room to call it a day. It had been a long and tiring journey and my body longed for some rest. The entire state faces major power problems and enjoys the luxury of electricity only from 7 pm in the evening till 8-9 am in the morning.

The next day I woke up to the view of beautiful snow clad peaks from my balcony. I just stood in the sun soaking in the warmth for a few hours, before I decided to go out. After a stroll around the main market, I settled at a small restaurant in the basement, Lungta Restaurant for breakfast.

The people in the Himalayas really do have a knack of brewing a delicious cup of tea. I started walking towards the Tawang Monastery, which is the largest monastery of the country & the second largest in the continent, with control over 17 Gompas in the region. The 28 ft golden statue of Lord Buddha in the three storeyed wooden assembly hall was spellbinding. I was transfixed by the sight around me and went into an introspective and pensive state of mind inside the prayer hall for a few hours. The stories through centuries of history that form the foundation of this monastery have been captured in a museum, near the back-gates of the monastery.

There is a garden outside the main gate, which has a fascinating view of Ani Gompa, the oldest monastery in India on the mountain across the valley. The garden echoes holy prayers by monks with flags hung from all the trees. The view of the Tawang valley from the gaarden made me ecstatic.

I walked back to the town to have lunch at Hotel Mon Kyemojong, near the BSNL office. They are constructing a new statue of Buddha which is visible from around the town, near the circuit house. I sat there, observing the transformation of the mystical town of the Monpas as the Sun gradually dipped below the horizon. The tourist information centre at the lodge informed me about the expected rains in subsequent days.

I decided to pack my bags the next day & set off for Bomdila, before the weather conditions aggravated further. The cab left from Tawang at 5:30 in the morning. We stopped for breakfast at Jung, which offered a great view of the waterfall there. The Jung falls are truly hypnotizing.

There had been a substantial amount of snowfall the previous night and Se La pass was colder than when I had come. After lunch at Padma, I reached Bomdila by 3 in the afternoon. I got a room in the tourist lodge for Rs.500/-. The administration of the lodge was very hospitable. I had made a great friend during the drive from Tawang to Bomdila, a proud local from Arunachal. She offered to take me around the quaint town of Bomdila in the evening. We went to a small restaurant in main market, hidden from the eyes of the tourists in the basement with a nearly non-existent hoarding, Hotel Chotan. The restaurant served excellent local delicacies. I had Thukpa and some Chhurpi along with salted tea. The Thukpa tasted a little bland, which is accustomed to the overload of flavours & spices in western India. The Chhurpi, a local dish prepared with dried smoked cheese had a tangy flavor to it. After dinner, I got back to my lodge, only to gaze at the moonlit sky from my porch in a state of being bewitched. The view of a clear sky is quiet magical from an altitude of 8,500 ft.

I woke up the next morning and walked uphill to the Upper Gompa, which offered an enthralling view of the valley below. The monastery is undergoing renovation. I wandered around the monastery soaking in the tranquility & peace of the aura in the Gompa. I couldn't help overhearing an old woman telling a monk how she hated the overhead halogen lights which had been recently put up in front of the gompa. She thought that the tryst with modernity and ‘so called’ development might obliterate the true essence of a Gompa. Her honest opinion about such a simple yet profound thought had a great impact on my thoughts. It kept echoing in my mind, as I savored the taste of yet another cup of tea. By now it had become a habit of sorts to taste the tea wherever I went.

I came downhill to the main market to have lunch. Hotel Sikkim was a recommendation by one of the locals I had met the other day. The dishes were so mouthwatering that I ended up having 3 plates of momos and 4 cups of coffee there. The restaurants in Bomdila had a very cozy and comfortable setting with small cubicles covered by wooden planks on three sides and curtains covering the open end. I walked down to the Lower Gompa, which is about 5 minutes from Hotel Sikkim. There is a palpable difference between the upper and lower gompa, since they followed different sects of buddhism. While the upper gompa was of Mahayana sect, the lower was of Himayana sect, one of the locals explained. The Mahayana sect believed that Buddha was a God, while the Himayana sect preached to Buddha as a teacher.

I ended my day with a stroll around the town and dinner at Hotel La. I left the next morning for Bhalukpong. After a wonderful drive across Tenga valley, Nechiphu, and Tipi, I reached the wonderful town of Bhalukpong, which was the end of my visit to 'The land of rising sun, Arunachal' this time. I had my lunch at a small restaurant, Garuda restaurant in the main market while sharing stories from my travelling escapades with some fellow travelers. The nostalgia from my trip was gripping me with time. It was time to bid adieu to these mountains, which instilled peace & faith within me when there was none.

"A million miles away, your signal in the distance, to whom it may concern

I think I lost my way

Getting good at starting over every time that I return, I'm learning to walk again." - Walk, Foo Fighters

The small village is away from the commotion of the large towns in the West Kameng district. The beautiful views of Kameng river and fields across the banks of the river gave me the peace I strived for.

At 13,700 ft, this is one of the world's highest motorable passes with a crystal blue water natural lake. The snow covered landscape gives a surreal experience.

Photo of Sela Lake, Tawang by Saikkat Dasgupta
Photo of Sela Lake, Tawang by Saikkat Dasgupta

The pristine land of the Monpas, Tawang is astonishingly beautiful. On an altitude of 11,000 ft, I was exploring the town discovering local food, local people, the serene views of the snow capped peaks & valleys, and the famous Tawang monastery.

Photo of Tawang Monastery Museum, Tawang by Saikkat Dasgupta
Photo of Tawang Monastery Museum, Tawang by Saikkat Dasgupta
Photo of Tawang Monastery Museum, Tawang by Saikkat Dasgupta
Photo of Tawang Monastery Museum, Tawang by Saikkat Dasgupta
Photo of Tawang Monastery Museum, Tawang by Saikkat Dasgupta
Photo of Tawang Monastery Museum, Tawang by Saikkat Dasgupta

The quaint town on an altitude of 8,500 ft in the eastern himalayas, I spent days exploring the religion and the local food. The people were very warm & friendly. Bomdila is the district headquarters of West Kameng and very important town from administrative & trade standpoint. It is connected to most of the important towns in the district and is the gateway to Tawang.

Photo of Bomdila by Saikkat Dasgupta
Photo of Bomdila by Saikkat Dasgupta
Photo of Bomdila by Saikkat Dasgupta
Photo of Bomdila by Saikkat Dasgupta

The small town commemorates the end of Arunachal pradesh and beginning of the plains of Assam.

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