Tawang Monastery or Tawang Gompa is the largest monastery in India and the second largest in Asia. It is perfectly perched on a hilltop and forms a major landmark and an attraction that draws tourists to this far flung town in Arunachal Pradesh. The gompa sits at an altitude of 3300m. On one side the slope gently spreads into a valley, but on the other side the cliff ends bluntly. Standing on the edge I could see the base of the rocky cliff through the scanty patches of the woods. A cold wind swept across my face and pushed me back a little bit from the edge. The monastery looked just perfect from the town, but standing there I couldn’t say the same. The mountains like most other natural features in Tawang were a little barren and loosened. The base of the mountain where the monastery stood has been slowly washed away and loosened. The monastery is under continuous threat from landslides, especially during the rainy season. Tawang Monastery being a big monastery with living quarters, a museum, institutions and libraries, is in continuous danger of collapsing under its own weight.
The Monastery can hold a capacity of 700 monks and is currently home to around 450 lamas. The Tibetans called the Tawang Gompa the Gaden Namgyal Lhatse and this is also one of the largest Buddhist Monastery outside of Lhasa. Within the complex, the most prominent building is the 3 storey high monastery with a spacious compound. It has a giant statute of Buddha. Around this monastery there are around 65-70 residential buildings with uniform yellow roofs. There’s also a library, a museum, a prayer room and other rooms for special purposes.
The Buddhist revered this place. Built in the 17th century, it is the centre of Gelupa School and has connections with Drepung Monastery in Lhasa. This deep connection with Lhasa is also the biggest reason for China’s incessant claim to Tawang.
The Museum inside the Monastery can be visited by paying a minimal fee of Rs.10. This one room museum exhibits ornaments, masks, statue of Buddha dating back to 10th century, skull of a great commander of an army named Kher Gyatso, scripture text handwritten from 17th century, a trumpet made of hollow thigh bones and many other important artifacts. Some of these were brought from Tibet during the period of Tibetan exile.
The monastery also has a 3 storey library which is also home to a 400 year old Kangyur Scriptures and many other priceless manuscripts and books.
From the monastery, one can get a good view of Tawang sprawled out beneath giant, barren mountains.
The State government has requested the centre government to take up the cause of designating a UNESCO World’s Heritage Site status for Tawang Monastery.