Thursday, August 25

Dawn lit mountains of Tawang

Mystical and enchanting beauty of the Buddhist Gompas, apple gardens and the breathtaking views makes Tawang a haven for tourists in the north eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh

The breathtakingly beautiful Buddhist Gompas. The endlessly winding roads. The misty snow-caps. All packed in one picture-perfect landscape. To the knowledge of our readers, we are talking about Tawang, a city located at a height of 12,000 ft above sea level in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, and its one major attraction, the Golden Pagoda.

We started our journey from Tezpur, a pretty little town on the north bank of the Brahmaputra on Christmas Day. We were warned by the locals, before we started, about the heavy snowfall during the previous days and that we might have to return from Bomdila, halfway to Tawang. Snowfall closes almost all the road travel routes in Arunachal Pradesh. Bomdila is another hill station in AP where one comes across serene beauty and gardens laden with apples.

Our luck proved stronger and we had Mother Nature pushing us through the border of Bomdila and into the spectacular Tawang. The frozen lakes were wore an enigmatic look due to the dark shadows cast by the leaf-barren trees. The steep road was slushy with melted snow. The steep road was slushy with melted snow. The road through the beautiful Dirang valley that lead to Tawang offers magnificent views of rivers, hills and grassland merging into one. The hillside was covered with swards of flowers and fern.

The beauty actually made me wonder if we still need a trip to Switzerland.

Every nook and crevice had scenic appeal that waited to be captured in memorable photographs. One can see the beautiful crests and valleys, dangerously swaying bridges, ravines giving in to giggling rivers, an array of orchids dangling from snow covered trees and many more visual delights. Arunachal has over 600 species of orchids that include “Ladies Sleeper” variety, which are indigenous to the land and there is a prohibition on taking them outside the state.

By the time we reached our small but comfortable looking hotel in Tawang, the sky had started to overcast with dark clouds. During winters, the sun sets early, so it was already dark by 5:30 in the evening. We kept our luggage’s and met up in the lounge after some time and were really pleased to find an inviting fire to warm ourselves up after a long cold journey. Around the fire, we feasted on the local delicacies of the Monpa tribe, a major tribe group residing in the Tawang area amongst others. After chit-chatting for a while we were back to our rooms in the pleasing comfort of our room heaters, where I snuggled up in my bed to drift into a deep, deep slumber.

My first morning in the land of rising sun and I am awake bright and early. It’s wonderful to notice how the fatigue of city life vanishes so miraculously in the pure mountain air.

The itinerary for the day is already planned out and the first place to be visited is, without any doubt, the Gompa or Buddhist monastery in Tawang. It is reportedly the second largest in the world and is built in the style of a medieval fortress. The monastery is home to nearly five hundred Buddhist monks. And they are indeed very lucky monks. As far as scenic locations go, you don’t get much better than this. The complex is built on the edge of a steep ridge, overlooking the Tawang valley. Oh, and that   is surrounded by the Himalayas. As it has been mentioned earlier, you cannot find a better place than this - Recent restoration to the Gompa interior has created a small museum which is host to a number of relics and Buddhist items of interest.

After the tour of the whole Gompa complex, one can sit in its courtyard and bask in the winter sunshine. It is a welcome change and a truly relishing feel for each and every pore of our body.

As with most places, Tawang has its own historical importance attached to it which was told to us by the head monk of the Gompa and I am producing it verbatim.  The name Tawang is derived from the legend of Mera Lama, who set out in 1681 in search of a place to construct a monastery following the wish of Dalai Lama the 5th, his teacher. One day after his prayer for guidance, he found his horse standing at a spot on a hill-top quietly. Taking it as divine sign, he named the place as Ta = horse: Wang = chosen. The monastery was build with the help of the locals and even today they look after it with great respect.

And not to forget the Sela Top Pass, a pass adjacent to Tawang, which rises steeply and is full of snow for most of the year. The biting cold here made me crave for my warm car interiors, but being a city dweller I don’t get to experience such cold everyday and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

While touring other areas of Tawang, we came across many army camps. The reason being the place located in the highly sensitive border it shares with China and Tibet. The Indian Army has made their presence felt strongly in certain areas by restricting our movements for our own safety.

We were highly moved by the simplicity of the people of Tawang. The people of Monpa tribe are essentially a simple lot and despite the onslaught of modernity, they stick to their traditional way of life. They prefer a lifestyle that includes tending of yak and brewing their own local alcohol.

Other attractions of the town included a Handicrafts Centre, which was started to promote the small-scale industries for local handicrafts. The centre houses an exclusive and ethnic array of woollen carpets and shawls, amongst other things. People may also purchase rather inexpensive but good chubbas and shoes.

The rivers Tawang-Chu and Namjang-Chu are ideal for river-rafting activities, but as our luck would have it both the places were frozen solid as they remain so during the whole winter season. Tourists can also avail the fun and adventure of rock-climbing, paragliding, skating and other winter sport activities in the area at an extremely affordable rate.

Our two-day trip passed in a blur and before we knew it was time to pack for our return journey. Though I am not sure I would miss sub-zero temperature, but if given a chance I am sure I would swap the nerve-racking and chaotic city life to this easy and silent life. Any time.