A Road Trip to Tawang 

Tripoto
9th Dec 2018
Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

A car, a bag full of warm clothes, some snacks for the road, a mobile for navigation and a camera to capture the moments - That's all me and my wife started with, for our much awaited road trip to Tawang - The beauty spot of Arunachal Pradesh. Situated on Arunachal's western flank, bordering Bhutan in the West and China in the North, at an elevation of around 9000 feet. The plan we chalked this time was not to hurry our way to the destination, but to savor the journey, taking stops at some of the most fascinating places en route.

To set the context, our itinerary was - Guwahati > Dhekiajuli > Nameri > Dirang > Tawang > Bomdila > Guwahati

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang  1/1 by Soham Biswas
Route Plan of the entire tour

Day 1: Guwahati to Dhekiajuli

We reached Guwahati a day before, at around noon and rented a self-drive car that had been our most trusted friend for the next 10 days - A Duster from Panda Rides in Guwahati.

Link- https://www.pandarides.com

They provided us with a well maintained, clean car and a hassle free service.

With some breakfast packed for the day and car tanked up, we set off from Guwahati at around 7 am in the morning - destination Sapoi Tea Farm, Dhekiajuli. The home-stay at Dhekiajuli was the tea garden owner's residential bunglow at Sapoi Tea Farm. A leisurely drive through the villages of Assam took us around 4 hours to reach the place, the last leg being a 10 to 15 kms. detour from the highway to Tezpur.

Route- Guwahati to Dhekiajuli

Photo of Guwahati, Assam, India by Soham Biswas

Airbnb Link - https://www.airbnb.co.in/rooms/4379856?location=Dhekiajuli%2C%20Assam%2C%20India&source_impression_id=p3_1561305338_U03baMYu0%2FxuZwvT&s=JGzV5tpV

Our host Keshav and his grandmother were very cordial and welcoming to say the least. We were greeted with "Chandan Tika", as we parked our vehicle at their well decorated portico and entered the bungalow to discover its aesthetically pristine interior - the lavish furnitures, the antique belongings, a fireplace from the yesteryear, a huge "cheetah skin" hanging from the wall, the old hanging maps of Assam valley, dated and drawn some hundred years ago and many more adding to the subtle grandeur of the place. The organic food grown in the back yards, the tea garden tour, the tea factory visit and the warmth of the Bonfire in the chilly evening added to the wonderful experience we had at Dhekiajuli.

The Duster for the Trip

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

En Route Dhekiajuli, Assam

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

The Sapoi Tea Garden

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

The Tea Factory

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

While strolling through the tea gardens

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

The estate was serine and calm

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

No caption needed

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

The garden in front of the bunglow

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

They were the most sweet people setting up the bonfire

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas
Day 2

Day 2: Dhekiajuli to Nameri Forest Reserve

Next morning we bid goodbye to the good people of Sapoi and continued on our journey. Destination for today - Lalimou Camp, Nameri Forest Reserve, Assam.

Route- Dhekiajuli to Nameri

Photo of Nameri National Park And Forest Reserve, Guwahati by Soham Biswas

A two and a half hour drive from Sapoi, Nameri National Park and forest reserve shares its northern border with the Pakhui forest reserve of Arunachal. Though Nameri was only our pit stop before we delve deep into Arunachal's landscape, we had our fair share of "Forestry experience", all thanks to the beautiful camping destination (Lalimou Camp). We had a sumptuous lunch with local chicken and rice and a lazy afternoon stroll amidst the chirping birds and mild sounds made by various animals (my knowledge is too limited to identify the animals and birds by their names though).

The world seemed so calm and peaceful here! That chilly evening we again had a bonfire in the woods and an early dinner as we plan to start early for our next destination, Dirang in Arunachal Pradesh.

Entering Nameri

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

The Campsite (A 4 sharing Camp)

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

Our Camp for the day

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

A Separate Dining Space for the campers

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

Nameri and beyond

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

Inside Nameri National Park

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas
Day 3

Day 3: Nameri to Dirang

We planned to start from Nameri very early in the morning, around 3 or 4 am, but a person at our camp said - "Sir, you can stumble into elephant herds that early in the morning", and to us that is not desirable at all!

The reason we wanted to start early, is to cross a place called "Nag Mandir, Chariduar" on the Tawang Road (a 3 hours drive from Nameri ) before 9 am as the uphill vehicle movements were being stopped from 9 am to 2 pm for Road construction. (as of December 2018)

At 5 am we started our journey postponing it by 1 hour, and were instantly awed by one of the most beautiful morning drives so far. The broad roads, tall sleepy trees stooping from its sides and the blue shaded mountains in the horizon caressed by the rays of rising sun - the beautiful landscape of Arunachal seemed to welcome us with open arms.

Early morning Drive from Nameri to Bhalukpong

Photo of Dirang by Soham Biswas

Route- Lalimou Camp,Nameri to Dirang

Photo of Dirang by Soham Biswas

One point I must mention here - there are two routes from Guwahati to Dirang to choose from,

1. Via Mangaldoi, Kalaktang, Rupa, Bomdila, Dirang

2. Via Tezpur, Bhalukpong, Rupa, Bomdila, Dirang

Though the ETA is almost similar for both the routes, travelling on the second one might take a bit longer time due to the intermittent bad patches. The first route carry lesser traffic and has better scenic beauty to offer. On the flip side, we got to stop by some of the best tea gardens and the forest reserves on the later route.

We stopped briefly at Bhalukpong (Arunachal border) for document verification by the border force (ILP and Driving License were checked) and filling the fuel tank up to its brim as we were apprehensive about the diesel availability high in the mountains. (We later found out that in normal circumstances, fuel availability is usually not an issue in these routes)

ILP application link - https://www.arunachalilp.com/index.jsp

From here onward to Tawang, we drove through roads of almost all types - twisty, muddy, dusty, smooth, relishing and what not. All I can say as a driving enthusiast is that the drive was extremely challenging but satisfying and enjoyable at the same time.

This was my first time drive through the Himalayas, which did give me some butterflies in the stomach initially, but the sheer beauty of the surrounding mountains, the valleys that we passed, the tiny villages that we came across, the chilly morning breeze - all culminated to make our maiden road trip to the north eastern Himalayas a splendid experience.

On our way to Dirang, we got a view of the majestic Gori Chen mountain peak, standing tall at 22500 feet, the highest mountain peak in Arunachal.

View of Gori Chen Peak on our way to Dirang

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

Our destination in Dirang was a beautiful cottage called Gonpalok Homestay, which belongs to a very cordial young gentleman named Tsering Tashi. When we were booking the homestay through Airbnb, I could not gauge how the place and its surrounding will be. As we stepped in and saw our room we were pleasantly surprised by the size of it, the aesthetics of the entire property and the two attached balcony, one of them being a river facing one.

Airbnb link - https://www.airbnb.co.in/rooms/20559272?location=Dirang&source_impression_id=p3_1561890926_gWp3fLmQVTOR4XG3&s=HW45-64S

We had our lunch at Dirang with local sticky rice and chicken cheese curry which gave us the much needed warmth for the afternoon. The Kiwi orchard in the backyard of our homestay (though fruits have already been plucked for the season) was a beautiful sight and was something new for me.

While entering the town of Dirang

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

The view from the Balcony of our homestay

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

The Kiwi orchard in the backyards of the homestay

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas
Day 4

Day 4: A day in Dirang

The town of Dirang sprang up as a small settlement on the sides of the river by the same name. Though Dirang mostly serves as a pit stop for the tourists and travelers going towards Tawang, it has its share of interesting places that is worth mentioning. The National Center of Research for Yak, the tribal area of Dirang Dzong, a sulphur rich hot water spring, Sangti valley (famous for the black-necked cranes) etc. are some of the places to visit in and around Dirang. Having said that, we spent most of our time in Dirang by trekking along the banks of the river, observing the life of local people and enjoying the colloquial beauty that Dirang had to offer us.

We woke up in the morning and packed our bags for a day-tour on foot in and around the town. The banks of the river, where we spent a couple of hours was very peaceful and enjoyable. The soothing sound of continuous flow of mountain stream, horses grazing in the lush meadows at a distance and the occasional chirping of unknown birds graced the ambiance.

The market area of Dirang town was typical to any small hill stations in India where we came across its humble, peace loving dwellers, small shops with colorful items on display, mothers with their cute red-cheeked toddlers tied to their back, doing their daily chores.

The temperature at Dirang ranged from a cherishing 15 degrees during the day to a chilly, 0 to 5 degrees during night. We spent the evening chatting over a bowl of hot thukpa and some delicious chicken momos as we started preparing for our next and the last destination - Tawang. The feeling of butterflies in my stomach started creeping in again because tomorrow I will be driving through "The Se La pass" - the world's second highest motor-able road at an altitude of 13,700 feet on our way to Tawang.

Banks of Dirang River

Photo of Dirang by Soham Biswas

Not sure what I was looking for in the waters

Photo of Dirang by Soham Biswas

Horses grazing on the valley

Photo of Dirang by Soham Biswas

We tried some Street food at Dirang Market

Photo of Dirang by Soham Biswas

The afternoon alleys - Dirang market scene

Photo of Dirang by Soham Biswas

The best part of childhood - a playful mood on the way back from school

Photo of Dirang by Soham Biswas

Cant think of a caption, though the taxi timings might be helpful

Photo of Dirang by Soham Biswas
Day 5

Day 5: Way to Tawang

As we dragged our bags towards the car early in the morning we discovered our first hurdle of the day - windscreen of the car was covered in a thin layer of ice and the car did not start in the first attempt. Our host Tashi, helped out by providing boiling water to clear the ice layer from the windscreen. Now, a second attempt to start the car, and Bingo! It started with a grunt-ling sound.

Before we drove our way out of the gates of our Dirang nest, Tashi gifted us a packet full of homegrown kiwis for the road. We thanked him and bid good bye to Dirang.

Route - Dirang to Tawang

Photo of Tawang by Soham Biswas

As a first time driver in the high mountain passes, we had lot of unknown possibilities in our mind. Though we were well acclimatized to the high altitude by now, we took precaution by having some medicines to avoid any high altitude sickness as we would be nearing 14,000 feet today.

As we started gaining altitude and nearing Sela, we saw snow on the leaves of the shrubs by the side of the road, we noticed the magnificent blue color of the clear sky that we, the city dwellers, can hardly get a chance to experience, the clouds hovered in the deep gorges as we look down from the high altitude mountain roads.

Snow by the side of the road, near Se La

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

We looked down at the clouds

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

Entering Se La , Gateway to Tawang

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

World's 2nd Highest motor-able road

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

The roads to Tawang

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

A frozen lake at Se La

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

We cautiously drove through the icy roads to Se La and reached the highest point at around 9 am in the morning. Both of us did feel the lack of oxygen to some extent as we stopped by the frozen lakes of Se La but we adjusted ourselves quickly by reducing the running around and taking slower steps as we walked to the banks of one of the frozen lakes. As we were standing by the lakes, we could hear a strange sound, which on the first impression seemed to be a sound of some wild animals nearby. But soon we realized that the sound was coming from the frozen lake itself. Later, we came to know from a local that this sound is created when lakes are frozen and there are air pockets created between the layer of ice and water. The ice layer moves slowly creating a "GLOB- GLOB" sound. Standing by the lake, we stared at a distance and discovered the absolute beauty of nature. All the hard work that went behind reaching the destination seemed to have paid off immediately as we took a 360 degree view of Se La.

With a brief stop at Se La, we carried on with our journey and reached Jaswantgarh War Memorial in another 50 minutes. The war memorial was made to honor the bravery of Jaswant Singh Rawat, an army man who bravely defended our territory against the impending Chinese invasion during the Indo-Shino war of 1962. Near the memorial, we met some very helpful and cordial military personnel who offered us some hot tea and refreshments. We interacted with them for a while and got a sneak peek to their life in these snowy passes of Tawang. After a halt of 30 mins we carried on our way to the nest we booked in Tawang - The Dondrub Homestay.

Link - https://www.booking.com/hotel/in/dondrub-homestay.en-gb.html?aid=356980;label=gog235jc-1DCAsobEIQZG9uZHJ1Yi1ob21lc3RheUgzWANobIgBAZgBCbgBCMgBDNgBA-gBAYgCAagCA7gCoefx6QXAAgE;sid=a3e2d3379d6858e12078323d92da5cb6;dist=0&group_adults=2&keep_landing=1&sb_price_type=total&type=total&

We reached the Tawang homestay by noon, and met our host Lahm and his wife. The homestay was perfect for us with a large space to park the car just in front of our room. A road trip like this comes with a lot of risks and challenges and I believe luck also plays a vital role in making a trip like this cherish-able in the years to come. We felt really lucky to have chosen Dondrub for our stay in Tawang - the beautiful couple and their family hosted us with utmost care and were ever-ready to help us in any kind of problems we faced. Be it asking for heaters of all sizes possible to survive the December cold in Tawang or helping us to repair the puncture of the car tyre or serving us butter tea in the shivering sub-zero temperature at night, Lahm and his wife had been awesome.

After our lunch we went for a tour to the Tawang Monastery, the largest in India and the second largest in the world after Lhasa, The Giant Buddha Statue at the center of Tawang city, the Handicraft Center of Arunachal Pradesh (good place to buy souvenir) and the Tawang War memorial. It was around 4 pm in the afternoon when we reached the war memorial. After a quick tour inside the memorial, we watched the ceremony of lowering the India flag by the army. At around 5 pm in the afternoon the temperature dipped to around 0 to 1 degree when we decided to drive back to our nest for the night - a very cold one indeed.

On our way from Se la to Tawang

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

A Yak posed for a photograph

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

At Jaswantgarh War Memorial

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

What the memorial stands for

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

View at Jaswantgarh War Memorial

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

The Tawang Monastery

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

Inside Tawang Monastery

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

Buddha and Me

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

Artifacts and statues at the monastery

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

Outside view of Tawang Monastery

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

The Giant Buddha statue at the center of Tawang City

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

Tawang War Memorial

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

Temperature 1 degree Celsius at 4 30 pm, Tawang War Memorial

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

Not for shooting, but for shooting

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

Tawang War Memorial Gate

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

The Defenders of Tawang

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas
Day 6

Day 6: A Day Trip to Bum La and Sangestar Tso

Today our car was sent to a local garage for checkup and the puncture repair. We were driven in a local cab for our day tour by a very cheerful local named Tashi. Before I go into the journey details, let me give a quick background of our destination for the day.

Bum La, right at the India- China border, at a height of more than 15,000 feet holds accounts of the fierce battles during the Indo-Shino war of 1962. This is also the route of 14th Dalai Lama's great escape to India.

On our way to Bum La, we heard stories of war and folklore of the people of this region from Tashi. We reached a military post called, Y-Junction at an altitude of 14,600 feet, from where the routes are divided in two - the right side goes to Bum La and the other to Sangestar Tso, a lake created during an earth quake.

Bum La has restrictions in visiting time and we chose to go there first and then to the lake. It took us a half an hour of treacherous driving through bad or no road to reach till the last point where public vehicles are allowed. Ahead of us, we saw few army camps and military settlements beyond which is the McMohan line, the border between India and China. Though tourists are allowed to go till the McMohan line on foot, they are controlled, guided and cordoned by military personnel.

Bum La is a flat corridor flanked between small mountain peaks on both sides, which makes winds pass through the area intensely, making the place extremely cold; at 11 am in the morning that day, the recorded temperature was -11 degree Celsius which dips down to less than - 20 degree during the night . Salute to our Jawans who are posted at Bum La to keep an eye on Chinese movements 24*7. An army man gave us briefing about the place, about their life and relationship between their Chinese counterparts (which seem to be cordial enough).

We stayed at Bum La for around 45 mins and started our journey for Sangestar Tso - Tso means lake in Tibetan. The lake is also called "Madhuri" by some locals and tourists, as bollywood star Madhuri Dixit shoot there for the bollywood movie "Koyla". Amidst the high rocky mountains sits a frozen body of water, with scattered tree trunks protruding out from all over the surface of ice, small number of birds flocking in the water puddles created from meting ice - "Madhuri Lake" was picture perfect. We had some snacks from a military canteen by the side of the lake which serves hot soup and momos, puri sabzi and tea.

We took some great snaps in and around the area - rocky mountains at a distance, snow on the road, frozen lake Sangestar, our day tour itinerary was complete. We came back to Tawang and had late lunch. The rest of the day we went around the town of Tawang on foot to have a closer look a the local life of the town. Tomorrow we start our return journey - destination Bomdila.

Day 7: Return journey - Destination Bomdila

Day 7

We packed up and started our journey at around 8 am in the morning bidding goodbye to Lahm and his family. A 6 hours drive with very little break in between took us to the town of Bomdila, about 170 kms from Tawang at an altitude of 7900 feet.

Route - Tawang to Bomdila

Photo of Bomdila by Soham Biswas

Bomdila unlike Dirang or Tawang, is a place with many people - crowded market area and business centers, sellers marketing their products from their shops - all in all Bomdila appeared to be a small but bustling and colorful town amidst the high mountains. After lunch in a local restaurant, we dropped our bags in our homestay (Anu Homestay, Bomdila) for the day and traveled to the helipad just outside the city which is also a good viewpoint of the entire Bomdila town. In the evening we roamed around in the market area to try some sweets and street food and bought some local Rajma for our family back home.

Shades of the Himalayas

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

Bomdila Helipad and viewpoint

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

Bomdila market scene

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

We did not want to strain ourselves too much that day and crashed early in bed as tomorrow we were to do the longest stretch of driving in the entire trip - Bomdila to Guwahati - A 280 kms. drive without any major break in between.

Day 8: Back to Guwahati

Day 8

Once I came across a dialogue from the Hindi movie "Highway" which says - I don’t want to go where I have started from, I don’t want to reach where I will be reaching to, but the road, the road I travel is beautiful, I don’t want this journey to end - This is exactly what we felt when we were driving down the Trans-Himalayan highways amidst the high mountains of North East Himalayas. We started from Bomdila at around 6 30 am in the morning, with packed breakfast for the road and fuel tanked up for the 280 km journey to Guwahati. We stopped for a while in Khalaktang and at the check post of Arunachal borders as we descended towards the foothills.

Route - Bomdila to G

Photo of Guwahati, Assam, India by Soham Biswas

We drove through the beautiful forest reserve of Sonai-Rupai near the borders of Bhutan, we stopped by the lonely roads for a while just to breathe the fresh air and savor the winds caressing lazily through the leaves of long pine trees standing upright from the deep gorges, the dry leaves fallen on the sides of the road creating magnificent colors that we only get to see in a canvas of a painter.

The picturesque high mountain roads of Arunachal

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

The Sonai - Rupai forest reserve on our way to Guwahati

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

The Himalayan highways

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

The Assam Valley

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

Driving through the tea estates of Assam

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

The long road coming to an end

Photo of A Road Trip to Tawang by Soham Biswas

As the winding mountain roads came to an end the canvas outside our car started changing rapidly - miles of open field with cattle grazing on them, the tea plantations on both sides of the road and blue mountain ranges of Arunachal in the horizon bidding goodbye to us.

After 8 to 9 hours of drive, we reached Guwahati at around 3 30 or 4 pm in the afternoon. We paid a quick visit to the Kamakhya temple and parked our car at our hotel to end our amazing road trip to Tawang - An event that we will cherish for a long time to come.

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