9 Best Places to Visit in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh

And those who follow me through networks especially through my Instagram will know that in tune with the name of the blog, I love reaching the most hidden corners, curious, and well preserved. It is hard to imagine a die-hard travel enthusiast not visiting Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. An unexplored paradise in Arunachal Pradesh, it is one of the most beautiful places of the north-eastern Himalayas.

Tawang is famous for its monasteries and is the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama and is thus of immense importance for the Tibetan Buddhists. It is famous for the scenic beauty and its historical site but the Tawang monastery takes the cake! The 400-year-old Tawang Monastery is one of the largest Indian monasteries and is of unparalleled significance to the Buddhists.

The main attractions are Tawang Monastery, Urgelling Monastery, Tawang War Memorial, Nuranang Falls, or the Jang Falls, etc. You wouldn’t regret visiting Tawang and once back after your trip, you will suggest many others to do so. Tawang is nestled amidst Gudpi and Chong Chugmi ranges while Tawang Chu river washing its feet.

places to visit in Tawang

If you are visiting India for the first time then it is a must-visit place.

1. Bhalukpong

On the journey from Guwahati to Tawang, there was an abundance of towns, fields, forests, hills and rivers to maintain the spirits. And then, as we were making the trip in the month of February, there was a bonus in the form of snow. It was a journey that began auspiciously along the Brahmaputra River.

We crossed the green plains of Assam, towards the hills of Arunachal Pradesh, that enigmatic part of Arunachal that, located in the northwest corner of Assam, borders both Bhutan and Tibet. Going up, we took five leisurely days to cover the more than 500 kilometers and, on the way back, three, and in the middle we spent two days at our destination, Tawang.

We drove in a Bolero, and in fact, most of the other vehicles on the route were Scorpios and Sumos. I sat in the front seat with the driver, which meant that I was sure of good views and that I could secure parts of the driver's local knowledge.

We started from Guwahati on an unusually sleepy morning, crossed the north bank of the Brahmaputra and traveled through almost continuously cultivated land. We see small fields lined with palm trees, bamboos and bananas, and some nice mud and bamboo houses, often giving way to the cheap functionality of brick and cement.

On our first afternoon, we searched (and found) rhinoceroses in the Orang National Park. Shortly before Tezpur, the national highway ended and the double lane gave way to a single lane and shortly after Charduar, forested areas and hills appear in the distance. The forests began to appear with a gratifyingly greater frequency than the fields, and the hills dotted the horizon.

Bhalukpong, just one hour before Nameri, is where Assam ends and Arunachal begins, and we arrived here to spend the night. But the next day, everything changed.

2. Rupa

The change here was dramatic. The internal line permits were verified, obligatory for all the visitors of this border state, and then the climb began. The Jia Bhoroli River was renamed Kameng here, and the first Buddhist prayer flags began to wave in the wind, scattering their blessings.

Most of the inhabitants of western Arunachal are called monpas and are mostly Buddhists. In Arunachal, the road is usually a series of sharp curves, sometimes next to the river, then it rises towards the mountains and goes down again. We drove through an unusual habitat of a rain forest with a canopy of tall trees that had climbers climbing over them, and a dense undergrowth creating darkness below.

These are areas with minimal human presence, in itself a visual gift. We visited Rupa, an ancient monastery, later in the day. The monastery and the city, originally called Tukpan, are beautifully located at 4,618 feet, surrounded by mountains on all sides. The three-centuries-old gompa is a colorful wooden structure typical of Himalayan Buddhism.

Here I was surprised to see a long ritual carried out by the local villagers. It seems that Monpas and Shertukpen have been Buddhists for more than a millennium, and the women retained traces of their previous religious traditions (sometimes without informing men), and then incorporated into the broader Buddhist practice.

3. Bomdila

As you go on towards Dirang, do pay a visit to Bomdila. This place is known for the exotic and rare birds.

4. Dirang

Dirang is a town in the West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh. It is located about 43 km from Bomdila on the way to Tawang. This place might surprise you with a plethora of options to visit. Starting with Dirang Dzong, it’s a tribal area on shores of Dirang River with its stunning tribal architecture. And many houses there are hundreds of year old.

It might take you with surprise that this sturdy architecture is made out of merely wood and stones. The incredible hot water spring can never fail to fascinate you. It has strong curative elements. Kalchakra Gompa, another monestry, is 500 years old.

places to visit in Tawang travel guide

5. Sangti Valley

On the way to Bomdila-Tawang Highway, it’s hardly 7 Kms. Surrounded by the Himalayas, lush green forests, and fresh water rivers you can spot migratory birds here. See its winter visitors, the black-necked cranes.

Around us were the Himalayas, with their upper parts covered with thick white clouds. The clouds rose slowly, leaving behind white patches in the trees that waited outside for snow. When I asked a villager where the road would take us, she pointed and said, they will enter those clouds and they will rise and they will go away inside them.

Up there, in those clouds, where they were leaving fresh snow for us, that was the highlight of our trip from Guwahati to Tawang, both literally and figuratively. We were at a height of 9,337 feet, and there was snow on the few rooftops that formed the village of Dzong. It was on the edge of the road, forming a white border for black tar.

And it was here that our car started its journey through the clouds. It was as if a thick white ether had saturated everything, blocking all the light. The visibility was less than 100 meters, the trees were heavy with snow and the road was a white field with wheel tracks. We took some pictures there, and they all came out in black and white, there was no color in those frames.

places to visit in Tawang travel guide

6. Sela Pass

It took us 2 hours to complete the 20 km trip that awaited us. The car in front of us got stuck and it took a long collaborative effort to get it moving again. In the end, we had climbed above the clouds, and a warm sun was shining on us. It was quite nice at the top. We were at Sela Pass at 13,700 feet. While driving, it continued snowing.

We stop at the Sela Lake for an hour while two men on an excavator were trying to find the black surface of the road beneath masses of white cotton. Around us were hills and valleys covered with snow that I discovered with delight.

7. Tawang Monastery

Tawang, its new city and its old fortified monastery, were only a few hours away. We went down the mountain, which was a place of battles during the Indochina War of 1962, deep in the valley to cross another river, towns of the past and thousands of prayer flags. Finally we arrived at Tawang, which was lost in the middle of the fog, and offered no warmth but enough hope, with its innumerable monasteries, towns and stories.

This hope emerged bright and unambiguous in the morning with the sun and radically changed the disposition of the entire city. Dozens of people emerged, dressed in their incredibly colorful costumes, holding bundles of illuminated agarbattis, spreading the fragrance and laughter from one gompa to the next, and all over the hills, whose snow-capped tops smiled benevolently and blessed the initial days of the New Year, celebrated as Losar.

The festivities involve a lot of food, drink and dancing, and a break from everything that is considered work, including offices and stores. Those would continue for a few more days as we began our return trip, hoping to experience the snow again in Sela Pass. But we discovered that most of the snow had disappeared, taking with it a large part of the upper layer of the road.

The clouds also disappeared, and as a result, for the first time we saw the menacing zigzags of the road below, hugging an almost vertical face of a black mountain. We prepared to face those curves. Our minds were filled with the memories of the lovely walks in the villages around Tawang.

Tawang Monastery, also known as the Golden Namgyal Lhatse, is one of the largest lamaseries of Mahayana sects and the second largest Monastery in Asia after Lhasa. With a control over 17 Gompas in the region, this monastery is believed to be 400 years old and is passed through by the current Dalai lama on his escape from Tibet. This astonishing three-storeyed 17th century monastery with its mystic background and a stunning 8m high gilded statue of Buddha is full of priceless thangkas, manuscripts and books.

8. Nameri National Park

It was a lovely time to stop drinking in this change, and we stopped at the Nameri National Park for a night to enjoy the forest, its copious bird life and the Jia Bhoroli River, a tributary of the Brahmaputra.

The time we spent at the Eco Camp in Nameri was more than a stopover, memorable with rafting, an island picnic on the river, a risky sighting of two wild elephants and a bit of beer by a bonfire at night.

9. Nameri

The day we left Nameri, a group of Bodo had called bandh. We were in the Bodo area in Assam and, on the highway, all stores were closed and there were no civilian vehicles. Our driver, himself a Bodo and an expert in negotiating bandhs, waited for an army convoy to pass and accompany them. He also gave us several ideas about the complex political world of several Bodo organizations.
Kalyan Panja