Tawang : The switzerland of India

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camper
Bangalore | 6 years ago
Tawang : The switzerland of India
Overview of the destination
My wife and I were looking for a travel destinaiton not atypically 'honeymoonish' for our post marriage holiday and after considering and researching a lot of 'not-so-well-known' destinations we decided upon visiting Bomdilla and Tawang in Arunanchal Pradesh(AruPra). The reasons which gave these places an edge over others were : 1) It requires an Inner Line Permit (ILP) from AruPra government to visit it and although this is quite a simple task and is easily obtainable with minimal documents, It does act as a level 1 filter and wards off the typical and loud 'touist'. 2) The entry to AruPra is via Tezpur and Guwahati in Assam and the news of disturbances due to ULFA in Assam acts as a level two filter. 3) The time of the year being early Feb for our trip, some of AruPra is snowbound and inaccessible, and people who do not take to winter and/or snow very kindly like to abstain from visiting this part of the country. We reached Guwahati from Kolkatta and took the 4 hour bus ride to Tezpur. After spending the night at Tezpur and enjoying some traditional Assamese fish preparations, we took a passenger Tata Sumo to Bomdilla which is around 8 odd hours from Tezpur. What one needs to keep in mind while making trip plans here, or in any hill area for that matter, is that the distance in kms between any two places is by no means indicative of the time one will take to travel between them. It is completely dependent on the terrain and a 100 km distance might even take 8 hours to cover ! We chose to travel in a passenger Sumo as opposed to a reserved vehicle to get some local flavour and we were lucky to have an interesting mix of people.There were three Tibetiean women who had a shop in a village near Bomdila and had come for picking up stock for their shop and were the source of entertainment throughout the trip with their quips. As we left behind Tezpur and entered AuPra, the decreasing population density was quite evident. Five seemed to be a crowd for the second row seat initially in the vehicle but as we ascended and as the air became colder it felt quite comfortable.When we reached Bomdilla at around 5:00 pm, it had almost gotten dark and the wind was chilly. We checked into the only hotel in Bomdilla and were the only guests there. We were provided with a heater in the room and it would have been impossible to survive without one. The next morning was clear and bright and it was good to be in the sun. The room balcony had a beautiful view of a big playground with stands in chineese style architechture and with some misty mountains as a backdrop. The village also looked beautiful with bright and colourful houses dotting the mountain slopes. We visited a government art and crafts meuseum but it did not have much to offer. The local market, however, was more interesting. There were a lot of shops selling chinese pottery and wind chimes and beautiful and cheap woollen clothes, bags, shoes and sandals sourced from Tibet. There were stalls selling imported toffees like 'white rabbit' ( the chewy white toffee) and tamarind ones. As far as food is concerned, people do have a penchant for meat in this part of the country, considering the kind of climate that they have most of the year, yak meat being the most popular. Momos and chowmein are quite popular and maggi also finds it way on the menu's of most restaurants. There is also a monastry or 'gompa' at Bomdilla, and although not very big, it is worth a visit. We booked a reserved toyota qualis to take us to Tawang which is higher up in the mountains and again takes almost 7 hours to reach. We carried a stock of 'suntala' , or oranges, which is a local produce. We started our trip soon after breakfast. It was an extremely scenic drive although the terrain was not not very good. We crossed another small town called Dirang enroute and a few very small tribal villages. We could now spot some snow peaks in the distance and were quite excited to do so. We had a hearty lunch at the only dhaba on that route. It was getting colder all the while and after around two hours from Dirang we could see traces of snow along the road. Within no time there was snow all around and it all seemed so much like a fairy tale ! The road, the trees along the road and the rocks were all totally covered under a thick blanket of snow that was gleaming as sunlight fell on them creating minute droplets ! The few vehicles that had come down from Tawang the previous evening had reported some snowfall on the way but probably the night had received some heavy snowfall. Although fresh snow is ok to drive on for a vehicle, once a few vehicles travel on fresh snow, it gets trampled into ice which makes it extremely dificult for tires to find any grip the road. Braking is an equally arduous task as it causes the vehicle to sway wildly and once the momentum is broken, it is very difficult to start moving up again as there is hardly any grip for the tires on the steep incline ! However, the road is narrow and braking is inevitable everytime there is a vehicle coming down. In order to provide grip to the tires once a vehicle going uphill stops, they carry bags of loose soil which has to be manually spread on the road near the tires so that they get some grip and gain some initial momentum ! As we kept going up, the sun disappeared and the bright white soon gave way to a gloomy and scary grey. A mild snowfall started and it soon became quite a heavy one.Some vehicles coming from Tawang said that snow was even heavier and required a lot of courage to drive in. This terrain can be very demanding and it requires the driver to be familiar with the conditions and the vehicle to be in a tip top condition and well equipped. Ours, however, were not and hence we got stuck at a hair pin bend. We were helped out of it by an army truck. There is an army establishment close to the highest point on that road and the army trucks and gypsies travelling to and fro have chained tires to give them better grip on the road. The army is left with no choice but to help the stuck civilian vehicles as they obstruct their movement as well ! We had to turn back and spend the night at Dirang valley. Dirang is quite a green place and although much cooler than Bomdilla, it is not quite snowbound during winter. We were promised a good new Scorpio the next morning by the travel operator to take us to Tawang but he ditched at the last moment. There were now no passenger jeeps either that were going towards Tawang and no vehicles were coming down either. However, a couple of brave young boys seemed quite confident to cover the terrain in their Alto and pressed for choices, we decided to give them and ourselves a chance ! Scary though it was, weather was a little better on this attempt and we were able to reach Tawang. The highest point on this route is called Sela pass and there is a big lake which was completely frozen and snow covered then . Tawang is such a beautiful place that all the effort seemd well worth it. The view from our hotel room was that of snow covered shiny peaks.Tawang also has India's oldest and largest monastry which is perched atop a hill and is very beautiful. It looks pretty in the night as a shiny conglomerate in the distance ! Locals here are heavily dependent on yaks for meat, milk and fur. Tribals almost always wear crude looking jackets and caps cut out of a yaks furry skin. Yak milk is fermented and a paneer like product made out of it is quite popular although very stinky. Stony cubes called 'chhurpi' are also made out of yak milk that can be kept in the mouth and nibbled upon for hours together. Its bland but is said to be quite an energy provider. Liquor , locally made from rice and maize, is also extremely popular and is consumed by one and all, more to keep the body warm, than for intoxication. The locals are extremely amicable and simple people and are happy with the life they lead. It was amazing for us to see how they plant unconditional trust even in strangers If it were not for the extreme snow, another places worth visiting in Tawang are a beautiful lake called Madhuri lake ( something to do with Madhuri Dixit), and the China border. Over the next couple of days the weather improved, and we took a direct passenger sumo to Tezpur. The driver this time was an experienced as well as talkative one. He made the long journey a little less tiring with amusing stories of his interaction with passengers on that route. We also learned a few things about the lives of tribals in that area and some of them were quite bizarre. For ex., There tribes who cut the bodies of thie dead in 106 parts and throw them in a river. That the body is to be burnt or buried or cut into pieces is decided by a monk through a holy book ! Apparently, people do not fish in that stretch of the river where the bodies are cut and thrown !! To sum up, Tawang is a beautiful place to visit in March/April or September/October, when there is not too much snow to make the access dangerous and risky and the days are a bit longer and night are not sub-zero !

Food, sight-seeing and shopping
1)Yak momos and Tibetan dishes like thukpa,thianthuk etc are a must try. 2)Chhurpi and some other sweets made from yak milk. 3)Locally made condiments. 4)Chineese pottery. 5) Locally made maize and rice liquor

Activities & things to do
Visits to the Gompas and to Madhuri lake. If you have a local guide a stay at any tribal village can be quite amusing as they have a really different way of life.

Travel tips, How to reach, travel warnings etc.
Avoid winters and monsoons. Landslides are frequent in monsoons and can really spoil your itinirary. Winters would nearly incapacitate you to enjoy much, especially if you are not acclimatised to the cold and the height.

  
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