Two roads diverged in a wood; And I took the one less traveled by... And that has made all the difference-Robert Frost
I wanted to try something unique and adventurous. I wanted to drive through the road that is less traveled and nature that is unexplored. The excitement of the unknown entity that awaits beyond the bend aptly describes the road to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. Arunachal Pradesh has 82% forest cover, gets 3000mm of rainfall per year, 26 major tribes, with just 13 persons per sq/km making it the thinnest population density in the country. The natural beauty of Arunachal Pradesh is truly unparalleled. A 9 days road trip will give us the thrill of adventure along with a mix of cultures, local arts, and rich heritage history.
Things to know before opting for Tawang road trip
Guwahati, the starting point:Guwahati, Assam should be your starting point. If you are staying far from Guwahati, take a round trip flight to Guwahati. Air tickets to Guwahati are mostly cheap. Also, there are good number of trains to Guwahati from most of the places in India.
A. Inner line Permit(ILP):
The Inner Line Permit (ILP) has to be obtained by everyone (Indians and Foreigners) who enter Arunachal Pradesh. ILP is not required to enter or land at Guwahati, being in Assam. At Assam and Arunachal border, you need to present the ILP at check-post to cross the border and enter into Arunachal territory. The good news is ILP can be obtained online from arunachalilp.com. I too applied for my ILP from this site and got the soft copy exactly the next working day, took a printout and explored Arunachal without any problem. They charged Rs.100 as a service charge(paid online). Please note: When you fill-up the form, enter your current residential address as a "local reference details" .
B. Special permit for Bumla Pass(India-China border) and Sangestar Tso(Madhuri) lake:
Bumla pass and Sangestar lake are located 75 km from Tawang, at an altitude of 17,000ft. As these two places are at stone throw distance from China and weather conditions here can be challenging, the Indian army has made it mandatory to avail a pass before traveling to these two places. This helps them to keep track of civilians who are traveling to these dangerously most beautiful place in northeast India. In the case of a calamity, the Army can help people. As soon as you reach Tawang, contact your hotel and submit your documents(ILP and Adhaar Card) immediately so that they can apply for these passes on your behalf and the next morning it is ready.
C. Modes of Travel to Reach Tawang:
There are many ways to reach Tawang from Guwahati:
1. Helicopter: The helicopter services between Guwahati-Tawang are available only on Saturday, depending on weather conditions. Very few tourists use this option, as it is better to travel well than to arrive- Buddha. The long and unwinding 1,500km road journey offers so many landscapes to beholders which can be enjoyed through your car window.
2. Shared Cab: You can also take a shared jeep/Sumo from Guwahati (starts at 04:30 am). These shared vehicles cover the whole distance from Guwahati to Tawang in a single day. You get cabs from organized tourist agents/ operators at Guwahati, charge approx Rs.1500. Unless you are used to traveling on high ranges, I wouldn't recommend this as it takes a toll on your body.
3. Bike: To explore this beautiful land, passionate bikers take 10 days Guwahati to Tawang Bike trip. This north-eastern state is still virgin territory, beautiful and ravishing in natural beauty. Riding on the mountains and taking in the majestic spectacle as you ride is one of those experiences you will want to do again and again. Personally, I feel, this circuit is far beautiful than Leh-Ladakh which has become a famous tourist hub these days.
4. Drive your own or rental car: The roads of the high mountains are not very generous. There are headpin-bend turns now and then, potholes, friction-less road due to landslides, zero visibility due to clouds and lot of past accidents stories will make even expert drivers think 100 times to get on the driver seat. Few people are passionate to drive themselves on treacherous, barren, boulder laden road to creep up the hills and I am of that variety. I booked a zoom car(Baleno- very low ground clearances) from Guwahati for 9 days, cost me approx Rs. 14,000 including fuel. The suspension took a pat during the transit up and down the winding roads, (or what is left of them). I would not recommend low ground clearances car as my car got a lot of damages underneath, luckily I didn't pay any penalties to my car rental.
D. Best time to visit Tawang:
The best season to visit Tawang is the summer season and the onset of the monsoon season. The temperature remains comfortable and is apt for sightseeing. The best months to visit are March, April, May, June, September, and October.
Summer(March, April, May, and mid-June ) The months of April, May, and June mark the presence of the summer season in Tawang, avoid March as it is slightly crowded due to kids summer vacation. I went there on the last week of May(19-29), the day was pleasant(14-16 deg) while the night was still a little cold(5-8 deg).
Mid June-Mid September If possible, try to avoid visiting Tawang in monsoon as the risk of landslides and the bad condition of roads during the season often upsets the mobility in the region.
September and October I feel this is the best time to visit Tawang as weather is pleasant and this is the time when lakes look crystal clear blue and due to the clear sky you can enjoy the breathtaking views of the mighty Himalayan peaks visible from Tawang and can also make visits to the nearby tourist attractions.
November-March The winter season in Tawang is known to be harshly cold. The month of November marks the onset of the season in Tawang and the place remains quite cold till the mid of March. Usually, it snows here during December and January months, cutting it off from the nearby station for days. I would not recommend these months.
E. Route options:
Tradition circuit: Guwahati-Tezpur- Bhalukpong( Transit)- Tenga- Dirang( Transit)-Tawang( Transit)-Bumla-Tawang-Zemithang-Tawang-Bomdila( Transit)-Rupa-Kalaktang-Orang-Guwahati( Transit). This is the circuit I completed. However, the road from Bhalukpong till Dirang is broken at patches, badly affected by landslides and you will never get the speed above 50kph. However, Bhalukpong to Dirang has breathtaking landscapes and I didn't want to skip this although BRO workers warned me several times against self-driving in this route. Sometimes due to landslides and rain, the car slid perpendicular to the road. Remember the 'Man from Snowy River'? "If it were easy to get there, it wouldn't be challenging" right?
Alternative Route(Easy drive): Guwahati-Tezpur( Transit)- Kalaktang-Orang- Dirang( Transit)-Tawang( Transit)-Bumla-Tawang-Zemithang-Tawang-Bomdila( Transit)-Rupa-Kalaktang-Orang-Guwahati( Transit). If you like easy and fast drive, avoid Bhalukpong and take Kalaktang road. This route is also called Trans Himalayan Highway. I took this route while returning and you can reach Tawang in 2 days via this route covering Guwahati to Dirang in a day. Shared cab that I mentioned above starts at 4.30am and follow this route to reach Tawang by late evening.