Assam & Arunachal (Tawang)

26th Mar 2015
Photo of Assam & Arunachal (Tawang) 1/7 by Shraddha Pandya
A one-horned rhino at Kaziranga
Photo of Assam & Arunachal (Tawang) 2/7 by Shraddha Pandya
A young elephant at Kaziranga
Photo of Assam & Arunachal (Tawang) 3/7 by Shraddha Pandya
What a typical jeep safari looks like
Photo of Assam & Arunachal (Tawang) 4/7 by Shraddha Pandya
Sunset at Kaziranga
Photo of Assam & Arunachal (Tawang) 5/7 by Shraddha Pandya
A traditional Monpa house at Dirang Dzong
Photo of Assam & Arunachal (Tawang) 6/7 by Shraddha Pandya
Farms near Dirang
Photo of Assam & Arunachal (Tawang) 7/7 by Shraddha Pandya
Enroute to Sela

Sela Pass

Photo of Sela Pass by Shraddha Pandya

Sela Lake

Photo of Sela Lake, Tawang by Shraddha Pandya

On the way to Jong

Photo of Sela Lake, Tawang by Shraddha Pandya

Ani Gompa, Tawang

Photo of Sela Lake, Tawang by Shraddha Pandya

War Memorial, Tawang

Photo of Sela Lake, Tawang by Shraddha Pandya

Maratha Ground, Tawang

Photo of Sela Lake, Tawang by Shraddha Pandya

Nagula Lake, Tawang

Photo of Sela Lake, Tawang by Shraddha Pandya

Rafting on the Jia Bhoreli

Photo of Sela Lake, Tawang by Shraddha Pandya

At Nameri National Park

Photo of Sela Lake, Tawang by Shraddha Pandya

Tiger Claw marks, Nameri

Photo of Sela Lake, Tawang by Shraddha Pandya

Sela Pass

Photo of Sela Lake, Tawang by Shraddha Pandya

The North-East of India is often overlooked by people as a vacation destination, quite possibly due to it being so far away from Central, South and North-West India. In some ways, this seclusion adds to its beauty. While Himachal Pradesh will always remain what I call 'My First True Mountain Love', Arunachal has an incredible rural, untouched beauty (which you won't find in Himachal by the large ugly dams being built everywhere).

Nevertheless, coming back to THIS trip, our journey began at the Guwahati airport. Personally I am more of the backpacking, cheap travel kind. But since this was a family holiday, it was nice to travel in style for a change. We had hired a car for the entire 11 day trip and a suggestion for all of you who are planning to go to Arunachal, it seems a waste to do the trip unless you hire your own car. State transport buses don't really work, the roads aren't so good and they are prone to breaking down. Also you won't get to stop wherever you want, simply to enjoy the sheer beauty of the sight before you.

Our first halt was at Tezpur in Assam where we spent two nights. Kaziranga is close to Tezpur and a must visit if possible ! Any visit to Arunachal requires a properly authorized Inner Line Permit for Indian Citizens. For all you foreign peeps, I believe you have to apply in Delhi. The ILP takes a day to get made but if you've hired a car, generally the driver will get it done for you before you reach if you send him the appropriate documents.

Tezpur is the official start for the journey to Tawang. If you are traveling on a budget and the car isn't an option, there are shared jeeps available from Tezpur to Tawang. It is a long non-stop journey starting at around 5:30AM and reaching Tawang in the late evening around 7:00PM. Our driver rather nastily told us "They squash 10 people in the jeep and stuff the luggage on top. There are no breaks except for lunch and bathroom, even if you are feeling nauseous. Do it in a plastic bag or hold it in." I think i might have prompted that response when I wistfully told my folks what fun it must be traveling like a local. Mostly locals travel in these jeeps. Ofcourse we don't expect them to travel in hired cars for a journey they probably do a couple of times a month. These jeeps charge around Rs.1000 per head and the drivers are Tawang locals, so they zoom across the mountain roads with relative ease which i find supremely frightening ! However they finish the journey in a day, while we with our non-local Assamese drivers take two days to do.

Our first halt was at Dirang, since we decided a non-stop journey to Tawang would be impossible for us (referring to the decrepit old parents here) to handle.

The next day we set off for Tawang, which was one of my favorite parts because we pass Sela Pass on the way. Oh that beauty !! More about it in my detailed itinerary. The journey back from Tawang goes via the same route you came up by. So in case you missed anything on the way, you can always take a look on the way back.

We halted at Bomdila for a night during the return journey and then headed to Nameri National Park. Very different from Kaziranga, we were lucky to see both of them in one journey.

In case you're planning to go back from Nameri to Guwahati let me tell you it takes around 4 hours. We were given estimates between 6 hrs and 3 hrs and being the paranoid sort who didn't want to miss their flight, we left at the ungodly hour of 4:30AM to reach Guwahati airport more than 2 hours early. And to top it off, our flight got delayed by another 3 hours. Atleast our dog was happy to see us when we got back home, all sulky and tired.

A trip to Tawang will show you something different. A side of India that perhaps we aren't used to seeing. It is exciting and much less commercialized than you'd expected. However that being said, I couldn't help but notice that the main employment other than farming in Arunachal seemed to be roadworks. Almost all throughout NH13 which connects Tezpur to Tawang, you see roadwork being done by young women and children. And I was told this job continues even in the monsoon and winters !

Given Tawang's accessibility through only one high-altitude mountain pass, it cannot be easy to live there. The houses are a beauty though ! Since Arunachal is at the border of China, and Tawang is infact quite close to the Indo-China border, there are so many army cantonments set up everywhere. Some of the jawans/soldiers we did talk to truly brought home the fact about how difficult it is to live in these high mountain areas. Extremely polite and civil, these guys are nice enough to give you momo's and tea(courtesy the Indian Army) when you stop at their cantonments for a break. What I took back with me most from this trip was the utmost respect and pride in the Indian Armed Forces. Whatever be their shortcomings, they bear extremely difficult circumstances to keep us safe at night.

Tezpur takes around 4hrs to reach from Guwahati airport. We stayed at the Tezpur University guest house here, which is a few kilometers away from the main Tezpur town, so I can't say much about the main town. I've heard its big and bustling.

You'll find a lot of tour operators who will arrange for vehicles to take you to Tawang from here. You can also apply and get your Inner Line Permit (ILP) from here in case you haven't gotten one made yet. Tezpur lies on the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra river. And yes, it is mighty. To reach Tezpur you cross a bridge built across the river, which is a few kms long !

If you have time, wandering along its sandy banks is sure to be fun. I personally believe if you are going to go to Tawang, you should hire a local driver from there itself not Assam. They tend to know the roads better and are more comfortable driving through bad weather incaase there is any. Also, do insist on a big vehicle like a Tata Sumo or a Bolero.

The journey through Sela Pass and to Bum-la Pass is through steep, winding roads.

A few contacts I collected on my journey:Mr.Wangchuk- 094028592723A local driver who does shared jeep rides from Tezpur to Tawang in a day for you budget travelers. Mr.Mukesh-09436248216/03794-224563A local tour operator in Tawang who can organise for a vehicle for your entire trip. He can also organise local sightseeing around Tawang. Mr. Benu-09401291447/09864182452An Assamese tour operator who does budget Tawang tours. Be warned, these Assamese guys are sulky and do not like being stopped often just to enjoy the journey. I speak from experience.

How does one describe 'The Kaziranga National Park' ? A UNESCO world heritage sight, this national park is known for its rich biodiversity. While we were there we saw a multitude of birds, elephants, one-horned rhinos, water buffaloes, different species of deer and there are tiger. Though we didn't see those. It is a 2 hour drive from Tezpur.

The park is divided into different ranges. You enter the different ranges through different areas of the park. Exploring the park on foot is not permitted so you have to either opt for a jeep safari or an elephant safari. The prices and timings of each are put up on the Kaziranga website. Exploration of each range is permitted for the maximum of 3 hrs at a time. So you can do one session in the morning and another after lunch in the afternoon if you have only one day. Mr.Puklu-07896051303Part of the Jeep Safari Association who you can speak to for a jeep safari.A special mention here would be to the very wonderful Wild Grass Lodge. Located fairly close to the main entrance of the park, this wonderful place is where I would recommend staying if you're planning on spending more than a day at Kaziranga. Or even for lunch between the safari's. Mr. Manju Barua- 03776 262085/ 09954416945Owner of the Wild Grass Lodge

Photo of Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India by Shraddha Pandya
Photo of Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India by Shraddha Pandya
Photo of Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India by Shraddha Pandya
Photo of Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India by Shraddha Pandya

Dirang is some 7 hours from Tezpur. Its a valley town, on the banks of the Dirang river with a couple of accommodation options. Its also a nice place to halt for the night. On the way to Dirang, some 20 mins before you reach, is a large Monpa settlement called Dirang Basti. Monpas are the original locals of Arunachal and this basti is home to the Dirang Dzong or the Dirang Fort. It doesn't resemble a fort anymore but if you walk inside the fort you'll see traditional Monpa houses, some over 500 years old. If you're interested in that kind of thing, its worth a short halt on the way itself.Pemaling Hotel is the nicest (and most expensive!) hotel in Dirang. But you can get cheaper accommodation in town. Hotel Pemaling manager- 03780242615

Sela Pass was officially my favourite part of the entire trip. Its absolutely gorgeous !! We were lucky to get a clear day with fresh snow from the previous height. So Sela Pass is a high altitude (13700 ft) mountain pass which connects Tawang to Assam. The story behind the name says that there was once a Monpa girl named Sela, who helped the Indian army during the Indo-China war.

When China invaded Tawang and started advancing, she jumped off the peak at what is now called Sela Pass.Be careful though. Its high, and people with lung problems and over-adventurous ones can get altitude sickness. An hour or so after Sela Pass comes Jaswantgarh, a memorial of the Indo-China war. Be sure to go and check out the war bunker which has been preserved in the same state as it was in 1962 !

Photo of Sela Lake, Tawang by Shraddha Pandya
Photo of Sela Lake, Tawang by Shraddha Pandya
Photo of Sela Lake, Tawang by Shraddha Pandya

Jong is a valley town again, between Sela and Tawang. Its good for a lunch halt, and a some 15 minutes after Jong you can take a slight detour to see the Jong or Nuranang Falls.

This is an artificial waterfall created by the PWD to generate hydraulic power, but it looks pretty real truth be told. Try to walk all the way to the waterfall, and take a dip in the small lake formed at the bottom. Its lovely !

Photo of Jong by Shraddha Pandya

Tawang is like any other hill station in India. It is less crowded though. You'll get enough accommodation to suit all budgets, though it is all basic. If you're not going in winter, the Circuit House is a great place to stay. In the winter, their heaters didn't seem powerful enough ! We booked ahead (you have to send them a fax and get it approved by the DC etc..), but you can go there and try your luck on-the-spot as well. There are enough lists with things to do in Tawang, so I won't go into the details.Contacts at Tawang Circuit House:Caretaker-03794224580DC Office-03794222221/2DC Fax- 03794222259

Photo of Tawang by Shraddha Pandya
Photo of Tawang by Shraddha Pandya

Tawang is surrounded by natural wetlands with over a hundred lakes of varying sizes. These are absolutely beautiful and a must visit on your trip. There is a standard set of lakes which you can visit, and you can hire a car from the local market for a day trip. They charge around Rs.5000 for a trip all the way to Bum La.Bum La pass is a crossing at the border of India and China. You have to apply for a permit to visit a day in advance at the DC's office. Alternatively you can ask your hotel manager or driver to do it for you at some extra cost.

When we were in Tawang, the area experienced heavy snowfall. We were unable to visit Bum la and Madhuri Lake, because the army declared it a no movement zone. However, we were able to visit PT Tso and Nagula lake. I guess its a matter of chance..

Photo of Madhuri Lake by Shraddha Pandya
Photo of Madhuri Lake by Shraddha Pandya

Like Dirang, Bomdila was a night halt for us. Its around 8 hours from Tawang by road. We stayed at the Gaden Rabgye Ling Monastry Guest House in Bomdila, which was basic but clean and comfortable.The Dalai Lama is expected to visit Tawang sometime between September-November and they were renovating the entire monastry as they expected him to spend some time there on the way. Contact of the guest house : 09402292774

Nameri National park is very different from Kaziranga. It isn't as developed definitely, and there aren't any jeep or elephant safaris. You walk through the forests with armed Forest Rangers, but the chance to view animals and birds up close is even better. To enter the park, you have to cross the Jia Bhoreli river by taking a short boat ride. You can even do 2-3 hours of rafting on the river, though its so gentle that it almost feels like boating. Nameri Eco-camp is a lovely place to stay. The entire operation is run as an NGo which works with the locals and helps in their welfare. Tented accomodation in different budgets is available.Contact: 03714292644

Photo of Nameri National Park by Shraddha Pandya
Photo of Nameri National Park by Shraddha Pandya
6 Comment(s)
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Thanks for all the information, Post is very nice
Sat 04 01 17, 06:49 · Reply · Report
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Shruti Gupta
beautifully written shraddha!!!
Sat 05 02 15, 02:11 · Reply · Edit · Delete ·
Photo of Astha Joshi
Astha Joshi
Very informative... Always wanted to visit Assam. Hopefully, will make it this year
Mon 04 27 15, 23:54 · Reply · Edit · Delete ·
Photo of Kamal Mathur
Kamal Mathur
Very well written & informative post.
Mon 04 27 15, 23:43 · Reply · Edit · Delete ·
Photo of Aniruddha Kar
Aniruddha Kar
Quite informative & written with a true passion of travel writer. Thanks
Mon 04 27 15, 22:50 · Reply · Edit · Delete ·
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