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Tawang is a beautiful land of the Monpas located in Western Arunachal Pradesh on the international borders with China and Bhutan. It is situated at the height of 3500 mtrs from the sea level on the mountainous range of the Northern Himalayas. The Area of this District is approximately 2,172 Sq. Km and is bounded by Tibet (China) to the North, Bhutan to the South-West and Sela ranges separated from West Kameng District in the East.
Its snow capped peaks, pleasant lakes, congenial climate, friendly and hospitable people continue to entice the people who visit. This magical land evokes images of awesome mountain views, remote hamlets, quaint and sleepy villages, magical Gompas, tranquil lakes and mesmerizing mountains. At Tawang, one has a heavenly tryst with nature and there is a heady mixture of ancient history, mishmash religion and glorious legends.
Visiting Tawang was a dream come true. It was a place I had not even heard of before visiting the North East, but once I was there I started dreaming about it after one Mosh’s friend described it to me. Lov and Mosh were my travel-mates, but the trip was too fantastic to be included in their itinerary. I was adamant and decided to go ahead alone, something I anyway enjoy more than travelling with a companion.
This is how a typical journey to Tawang starts. You need to go to Tejpur and get the inner-line permit from a local govt. officer. Do not worry much about it, you would get help the moment you reach Tejpur. Sumos are the most popular means of transportation and the drivers generally fix their load in the night itself. Once you are in, they will even help you get the permit with a small bribe. I exactly followed what they said and had the permit within an hour.
The Sumos start around 4 in the morning and are filled to the brim, you have no scope for any movement. On this particle day, I was the only outsider and quite a fancy one for the locals travelling with me (long hair, beard, camera constantly in hand and hundreds of questions). The journey that followed was one of the most stunning journeys I ever made in my life. I can never ever forget the clouds covering the hills, followed by the hill-tops which were devoid of any clouds. We could the clouds at a lower level from top. It was a view that can never be described in words.
Sela Pass is the most famous pass on the way and one of the scariest passes that I have crossed in the Himalayas. Bad roads, poor visibility due to fog and an overcrowded Sumo only added to the excitement. During the Indo-China war the Chinese army had reached up to this pass, their presence at Tejpur was imminent when ceasefire was declared. Once the pass gets over, the first lake comes in to view – pristine blue water and a half frozen surface, I wished for the driver to stop but we were late already for the day.
It was evening but felt like late night by the time we reached Tawang, I quickly found a place to stay right in the middle of the town – Hotel Shangrila. It was small room (as well as cheap, Rs. 100 per head) and I shared it with three other men, locals from a village close-by, in town for business. I had my own bed, while they shared one and were gone by the time I woke up the next morning.
Apart from the famous Monastery (more details in my next post), Tawang’s natural surroundings (particularly lakes) are the major interest areas for any visitor. However, visiting these lakes isn’t easy, especially if you are on a budgeted trip like me. These are all outside the town, some as far as 40 km and there is hardly any public transport. Most people visit these places in their cars, or hire the local taxis to wander around, an option too expensive for me. So I made my strategy in the night itself to look for someone who can take me to these places, the problem being that it was the beginning of January and a time very cold time in Tawang. Most tourists do not venture in such cold conditions.
As on my most trips, I started my day very early (6 am) but sun was already there. I became a vulture and looked around for a prey and soon found them - a bunch of young guys in two Sumos who had come to spend their winter break in Tawang, and surprisingly they were the only ones there. I approached them immediately and requested that they take me along, and of course I was willing to pay as well. But it was my lucky day and somehow we got along really well and they took me along. It was only later that we found a common friend as well (Arpit Agarwal from Dibrugarh), and they insisted that I leave my hotel and stay in their room (an offer I politely declined, though I gladly accepted the whisky in their room).
By far the most famous lake is Shonga-tser Lake, more commonly known locally as Madhuri lake (after Madhuri Dixit), as one of her songs from the Movie Koyala was shot here. It takes quite some time to reach it (about 42 km from the town), but the view is breathtaking. I thanked my new friends for their generosity, without them I could have never come to this stunning lake. Its also close to the China border, and hence a few army posts are on the way.
We stopped at every lake on the way, especially because I wanted to get down wherever there was water. They gladly complied, and posed for many pictures that I took. Surprisingly I was the only one there with a camera (I later shared the pictures with them by mailing a CD of all images to one of them).
Some of the other lakes on the way include Banga Jang Lake and Pangang Teng Lake.
We came back before evening and had our evening snack at a local place, later I went with them to their hotel room (a nice, expensive room with wood panelling and clean toilet) and played cards with them. It was an amazing day and I felt blessed.
Night was falling fast and I came back to my own cozy little room, today I had no company. My plans were already set for the next day and it turned out to be an even more adventurous day!