Trip to Tawang - In the Middle of nowhere in Arunachal Pradesh
The trip to Tawang is an adventure in itself. The Himalayas in Arunachal Pradesh, one of the 7 sister states in north-east India, is truly impressive and captivating. Moments of happiness catch one at the sight of clouds at eye level, or the shy grin of children. Even sudden freezing temperatures have left a surprise effect on us.
At 8:00 in the morning we leave Guwahati as we want to go to the mountains soon. We stop at Tezpur, where we visit a Shiva temple. In the city, we check briefly the most important emails. We have to get the inner line permit for Tawang - paving the way for the state of Arunachal Pradesh! Then we drink a fresh juice and the best lassi of our entire vacation. We then drive to the Nameri National Park - known for its migratory birds and halt in our already booked bungalows.
Until it gets dark, we walk to the nearby river, which carries its water from Tibet here. Here is the peace and deserted nature that is rare in India. It becomes even more noticeable in the evening from 8 o'clock, even if the diesel generator for power generation is switched off. Here we sit for a while with two very interesting Indian women traveling together.
We have breakfast at 6:00 but we are the last in the Eco Camp. Of course, 4 bird watchers from Scandinavia have long been using large binoculars. The Indian women today want to continue to Bhutan, which is less than 100 km away from here. In hindsight, we want to talk about our travel experiences. By e-mail, we learned that it was a great trip for them. At night it rained, which makes us a bit restless due to the many unpaved road sections.
In the late afternoon, we leave northbound. After about twenty kilometers, the road is restricted to a single roadway. We enter a kind of jungle. The strong presence of military and lorries announce the frontier. About five o'clock, we come to Bhalukpong and see that the border is a real frontier, a "far west" in the far east. While we wait for the permits we wander among the wooden houses that rise along the road. It is almost evening. So we decide together to pass the night in Bhalukpong, in a lodge near the river.
At this point, we are all knocking at the gates of paradise. After eight o'clock, the permits arrive, and the car goes in motion. The gate rises, the soul gets free and we enter the door to paradise and immediately I feel the difference. There is an indescribable explosion of vegetation that wraps me right away. Nature is rigorous. There are very tall plants and thick bamboo woods. Clouds of steam rise from bottom to top creating extraordinary forms, thus welcoming us. It is the Kemeng River for a while and when the road starts to rise, even the clouds start to do it and we move through the fog.
After a lot of driving over and in the clouds we arrived in Seppa. The landscape was always beautiful. It's dark, and the road is only one roadway. There are no street lamps and the fog is so thick that it creates a few problems for drivers. At some points, they slow down until they stop to find the curve. After about four hours of travel spent in the clouds, we come to Bomdila in the West Kemeng at 2,400 meters altitude, surrounded by many flags of Tibetan prayers. It is not far to the Sela Pass at 4000 m altitude, which we have to cross.
Before we had a delicious lunch in a street restaurant. We like it, but there's nothing except a few dry chapatis. In the afternoon we check in at the hotel. Later we visit the local market of the place. We have dinner and go to bed early.
After a heavy breakfast in the hotel, we leave Bomdila. On the way, we visit a monastery and a nearby school. We then pass through vantage points from where, our driver shows us the peaks of the eastern Himalayas, including the Gorichen, located in the Himalayan mountains.
We were still 150 km away from Tawang. Much had changed. The landscape had become drier, wooded with coniferous trees. People clearly looked more Tibetan. There are prayer rides fluttering in the wind, and instead of Nyishi men with hornbill hats, there were men with military hats. The entire way to Tawang is peppered with military camps. China and India did not always agree who this part of the world actually belongs to. There has been peace for a long time and it seems people do not care.
After a nice lunch at the restaurant, we visit the centuries-old Dirang Dzong and the village with its traditional houses. The fortress is an important historical building for the Monpas of the Dirang Circle. We also visit a kiwi and orange plantation, and then we drive to a mountain with a wonderful view of the valley. There were butterflies and idyllic flower meadow. In Dirang is a just 5 years old Buddhist monastery. Incidentally, when he fled the Kameng River in 1959, the Dalai Lama and his entourage arrived here in Dirang, India.
We continue to Tawang, about a five-hour drive away. Increasingly, we see more snow. We are optimistic, as it always goes on and on. After 2 hours we are finally on the Sela Pass. Slowly but then it becomes clear that it continues at this snail's pace. On the other side of the pass, there is much more snow and worse it is constantly snowing. A snow plow is in use. Only at dusk, it goes on. But our Tata Jeep does not want more.
The driver says the diesel is frozen. Again and again, he tries to start it. We chug down the curves or push along. It is now really cold. We put on our winter gear with a jacket and a pair of gloves. Nevertheless, the driver jacks behind the wheel. He can only drive with the windows open because the windscreen is frozen. We use a stick as an ice scraper and a few more times with mosquito repellent. That really does not help.
With our highest billed point of the journey - the Sela pass, the sun accompanied the zigzag ride up. We enjoyed the view, every meter of altitude, and the many prayer flags. There was an ice cold wind, with snow and icicles hanging from the rocks.
At some point, we were up - proudly in the high altitude with the wind blowing on the face, but then it went downhill again. In the afternoon the weather changes. Now we drive through military camps right in the middle. Of course, we can't take photos! The temperature dropped to zero degrees and there was snow on the sides of the track.
On the way we stop at the Jung Fall and the Jaswantgarh Memorial, commemorating the war between India and China in 1962. On quiet, fantastic mountain roads and encounters with beautiful old people, we slowly returned to the edge of the mountains. The last descent was one of the steepest. It was probably a struggle between man and nature, and as we want to pass, nature showed its strength on the new road.
Upon arrival at Tawang we check-in at the hotel. We arrive again shortly before 5.00 pm in our hotel in Tawang. The weather in Tawang is cold and luckily tonight we got a very small room. We insist on a room heater, as in the rooms it is cold and damp. The mattress is pretty hard. The power goes several times. In the morning and in the evening there is a generator that intercepts. My Ipad is only half loaded tonight.
In the evening, take a stroll through the city. The dominant ethnic group in Tawang are the Monpas, but also Tibetans are found here in small numbers. The journey was exhausting, but up on the mountain at 4000 meters, the second largest Buddhist monastery in Asia has been waiting for us. We are looking forward to the visit tomorrow. We have dinner and return to the hotel.
Presumably, we are the only guests in it. We try to thaw out a bit before the electric heater and fall into bed. Finally out of cold and uncertainty it feels like a release. It does not bother us that it is freezing cold in the hotel. Luckily we have our sleeping bags.
In Tawang, we were rewarded the next morning with white mountains, blue skies, and a view of the monastery. We wandered between the monastic and nunnery, tasting Yak butter. After breakfast, we head to the famous 400-year-old Tawang Monastery. It is also called the Golden Namgyal Lhatse. It is the second largest monastery in India. Around 60 outbuildings are grouped around the main hall. The monastery is home to the approximately 500 Lama monks and also the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama Tsangyang Gyatso.
It also houses the Parkhang Library, which has a collection of 400-year-old Kanjur (Tibetan translation of the Buddhist scriptures), which consists of 110 volumes of 400-500 pages each. In addition, manuscripts are invaluable. After this interesting insight into the monastery life and its culture, we return to the hotel for lunch. In the afternoon, we visit a Monpa village, about an hour outside of Tawang. We return to the hotel for dinner and sleep overnight.
The small town of Tawang, now named for the whole district, was built around this monastery. Maybe it actually summoned us, because we were all alone in this blessed and peaceful monastery. In the face of the Buddha, it was simply surreally peaceful, because the worries and thoughts were allowed to wait outside the gates this time.
We also have very impressive encounters with monks - big and small (at school). In the gompa (a building where the ceremonies are performed). We really want to come back tomorrow to witness a ceremony for ourselves and to meet "our" monks again. We drive to a nearby, small monastery, which is specially opened for us. Here, in 1959, after fleeing Tibet, the XIV Dalai Lama arrived in India.
Then we visit the war memorial in honor of the victory over the Chinese invaders. Since this failed, we can now experience a piece of Tibet that is unadulterated by China. It's hard to believe that China is still officially eligible for this Indian territory!
The idea of living there is just as unthinkable as the youth dressing up as if the fashion guru is dropping by tomorrow. So there were a lot of aha effects, especially at night, when many a resident took out the rum bottle to play a trick on the cold. There was no shortage of alcohol shops in any way. So I had a taste of Jamaican rum in the most remote mountains of Asia.
Around 8:00 we go for breakfast in the center, which is perhaps 2 km away from us. We find thukpas (Tibetan noodle soup) ideal for breakfast. There are no heaters in the hotel or in the restaurants (apart from small fan heaters). This time we have a table in front of the door, where at least from time to time the sun warms us.
Then we go to get the permission to get to PT TSO Lake, Madhuri Lake, Bumla Pass and the China Border. There we still make a fundamental decision. We all agree that we cannot and do not want to imagine a ride on our jeep under these harsh weather conditions.
Later I try to find something to defrost, but except vodka, there is nothing. Here, this onset of winter is completely unexpected. Thanks to the totally limited visibility, we land very quickly in a snowdrift on the edge. If you know how steep it is down there, we can hardly laugh there. We also freeze sadly and have already brought sleeping bags out of their luggage. But now we have to get the jeep on the road in the dark. Slowly it gets critical. Not to forget that the height of 4,000 m causes us a headache and weakness.
We have nothing to eat and drink anymore. I walk 500 meters back to an army base we just passed. With the help of the soldiers, armed with snow shovels, we manage to get back on track. Now our jeep did not really want to get going anymore. With about 10 km/h, we went forward on the snowy road. The only reassuring thing was that only one lane had been cleared so the cars behind us could not overtake.
We could count on the army only conditionally. We had already tested the emergency. Our adventurous ride came to a good end - but we were all nervously pretty good at the end. Our jeep eventually had a long line of cars behind it. Luckily for us, there was a bus of the army right behind us. We take out our cake on which we had thrown ourselves with a ravenous appetite. We finally felt safe again.
Nevertheless, we still enjoy the visit today. Not only do we have breathtaking views of Tawang and the rest of the area.
We had read before and heard that from Tawang there should be a helicopter shuttle to Guwahati. This prospect of a safe and carefree return makes me even overcome my fear of flying. We register for the helicopter. What remains is the risk that the flight could possibly be postponed due to bad weather. So our train would not be available in Guwahati. And we still have the trip to Darjeeling. So we're risking.
This morning we change to a hotel on the Old Market. It seems the best place in town. There is a bit of well-being in the midst of the inhospitable environment (altitude, cold) that we urgently need.
By opting for the helicopter, we have now gained 2 valuable days for Tawang. What we experience here is simply incomparable. There seems to be no tourist here except us. In the monastery, we were the only visitors. So we go out and see this wonderful world! The search for an acceptable restaurant follows. We have rice, dal and aloo jeera in the afternoon. Despite the new construction in every room, the cold draws unhindered. It is simply due to the structurally provided tennis ball-sized openings for ventilation. Luckily we had our sleeping bags with us.
The clouds are worrying us. Yesterday the helicopter is supposed to have been canceled because of heavy fog. If it fails tomorrow, then Darjeeling falls away without replacement. But if it does not work on the other days, our return flight is also in danger. It comes to my anyway subliminal fear of the flight now the fear that we will not leave here. We urgently need soothing thoughts.
We go for a small shopping tour through the main street. Our purchases include a monk dress, some Buddha and Ganesh statues, Tibetan flags, Tibetan jewelry and a traditional yak-hair headdress with 5 corners, which we had already interpreted as a chic hairstyle for different people. As we walk around, the people nod benevolently to us. In Tawang live mostly Tibetans, many of them live as monks (even a few nuns) in the monastery.
In a "better" restaurant we have to wait 1 hour for our food. That's the big disadvantage compared to the street restaurants. In the afternoon we go back to the monastery. We have very intense encounters with the monks, especially for the ceremony. It was getting really funny because the advocating monk always had to smile when he looked at us. Tea was served for the ceremony, luckily no butter tea - we do not really like it.
The ceremony ran for the younger monk students. Very nice to see that they behaved completely relaxed and relaxed! They laughed, and in between, just run out and mumble something along every now and then. Only when some were not at the thing, came an older monk and smiled at the "naughty" so long, until they were calmer again. The little monks were clearly fine.
This impression became clearer when we were once able to look into the accommodations and finally stayed with one of the senior monks. He showed us his passport document identifying him as a Tibetan refugee who came to Tawang via Bhutan in 1959, along with the Dalai Lama. We promise to send some of the countless beautiful photos.
The cold keeps us busy the most. Without gloves and cap, it would be difficult to bear. Today we visit the nunnery called Ayangong Ani Gompa, 5 km away. Thereafter we went by taxi, and walk over a snow-covered path. The monastery also makes a rather quiet and abandoned, but romantic impression. A few tourists surprisingly cross our path. As I arrived, the surprised nuns offered me cookies and tea.
In the evening we stroll through the shops and buy some nice traditional dress of Arunachal Pradesh, with very intense colors and a traditional weave pattern.
In the late morning, we move to the helipad to take the flight to Guwahati.