If Shangri-La conjures up images of an earthly paradise isolated from the outside world, happy people, Buddhist chants floating in the air, and mystical monks engrossed in prayers, then Tawang is what you’re most likely thinking about. Located at a height of near about 10,000 ft above sea level, picturesque Tawang is a thinly populated mountainous tract lying on the northwest extremity of Arunachal Pradesh in north east India. It is also the seat of the 400-year-old Tawang monastery, one of the oldest and the largest monasteries in India and the biggest outside of Lhasa.
As the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama, it is a holy site for Tibetan Buddhists and a prominent center for Gelug or Gelugpa, the pre-eminent Buddhist school in Tibet. Tawang shares boundaries with Tibet in the north, Bhutan in the south west and Sela range of West Kameng in the east.
Origins of Tawang are tad obscure. It was part of Tibet in the medieval times. Prior to the construction of the monastery, Tawang was traditionally inhabited by the Monpa people. The spread of Buddhism in the area started with the arrival of Guru Padmasambhava, the Indian saint, in the 8th century. Tawang Monastery was founded by Merak Lama Lodre Gyasto in accordance with the wishes of the fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso.
There are two legends about how Tawang derived its name. ‘Ta’ means horse and ‘wang’ means chosen. The site of the present monastery is believed to have been chosen by a horse owned by Merak Lama Lodre Gyatso. Gyatso failed in his search to find a suitable place to build the monastery despite his best efforts. So, he decided to sit and pray in silence for guidance. When he opened his eyes, he found his horse missing. He found his steed on the top of a hill known as Tana Mandekhang. Considering it as a good omen, Gyatso decided to initiate work for building a monastery. The monastery was founded in late 1681. According to another legend, the saint Pema Lingpa gave initiations such as Tamdin and Ka-gyad and hence the place came to be known Tawang (Ta is an abbreviation of Tamdin; wang means initiation).
After gaining control of Tawang, the British hoped it would be a center of influence for them on the north east frontier. Tawang was under Chinese rule when the People’a Liberation Army invaded India in 1962. It became part of India again when the Chinese army withdrew.
All visitors need an ILP (Inner Line Permit) to enter Arunachal Pradesh. As per guidelines issued by the government of Arunachal Pradesh – “The Inner Line Permit to the casual visitor shall issue for a period of 15 days without photo on production of PRC or Election Card from native place or Indian passport or PAN or Income Tax Registration card or Driving License issued by the competent authority. The application should be recommended by an officer related to purpose of visit or other officer equivalent to the rank of Under Secretary to the Government of Arunachal Pradesh.” The ILP can be collected from the Arunachal office near Commerce college in Guwahati.
The road to Tawang from Guwahati is in bad shape and the journey takes close to 18 hours.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN TAWANG
Tawang is fairly unexplored as a result of which finding good accommodation here may be a challenge. It offers plenty of mid-range and budget accommodation options. Most of the hotels are located in the market area. There is a modest Government Tourist Lodge and a Circuit House where you can stay, provided you have permits.
BEST PLACES TO EAT IN TAWANG
Places to eat in Tawang are limited. Travelers might find food rates to be expensive. This is because most of the things have to be transported from the plains. While the local food is predominantly non-vegetarian, vegetarian food is also available. Roadside stalls selling momos and thukpas are quite common. Be warned, the traditional food of Monpas is liberally spiced with chilies.
The average minimum and maximum temperature of Tawang is as given below. The best time to visit Tawang is also specified.