Tawang is a town in the far flung North East. It is best known for China’s invasion during 1962 and the Tawang Monastery, the second largest Monastery in Asia and largest in India. Since then, India has taken steps to built better roads and infrastructure. Tawang is around 35km from the China border at Bumla. China has always claimed Arunachal as part of its territory which is still a great cause of concern for India. Because of its closeness with China, it is an important strategic location for India.
Tawang is 319 km from Tezpur, the nearest big town. Though Tawang shares border with China and Bhutan the only road connecting Tawang to the outer world is through the Tawang-Tezpur road. The road is small at most places cracked open. And during winter when the snowing gets heavy, this only lifeline is closed.
The road from Tezpur to Bomdila is well built and maintained but the same can’t be said of Bomdila- Tawang road. Travelling 8-9 hours on this road was one of the most painstaking journeys I have ever taken. To make it even worse we made the journey with 11 passengers in a Tata Sumo. As the jeep careened and swerved, we were like pigs being carried to the slaughter house; our heads covered with a sheet of dust we squealed slightly when the jeep pumped up and down the dusty road. At most places the black top of the road had come off and bared it all to dust. It had not rained for a while and the road was dry and dusty, but it was by far one of the best seasons to visit Tawang.
Tawang is just 181km from Bomdila and on a normal road it wouldn’t have taken more than 4hours, but it’s a different world here. Difficult mountain terrain makes the journey a lot more strenuous than it should be. The mountains are not just any mountain; but giant ones, brownish with trees at the base and rocky parched peaks. Bomdila is on a big mountain at an altitude of 2217m. From there the road descends down to the Dirang Valley; a town by the Kameng River banks at a relatively low altitude of 1479m. From here the climb begins again. The road leading up to the Sela Pass at an altitude of 4170m was the hardest. The road spiraled up a single giant mountain but before the climb we stopped at a small hotel run by a Nepali family and had one of the best meals in a long time.
These giant mountains which are hardly habitable are occupied by the Indian Armies. From that stretch of land from Bomdila to Tawang there are more Army Camps than one can count. Army trucks slowly crawled up the mountains all the way to Sela pass. It takes a lot of patience to travel on this road and a lot more to drive.
Higher up, you get to see pine trees covered with thin sheet of fresh snow. The peak nearer to Sela Pass above the Army Camp was shrouded with fog and damp wind. On the road we stopped to watch the first know of the season clumping on twigs. It was lovely to behold. There seemed to be no end to the mountains; it goes on and on as if you are driving into an unknown abyss covered by fog.
It was beginning to get cold even inside the Sumo. All windows were shut and the vehicle was stuffy but we feared the chill more than the discomfort. Snow continued to fall and the road was covered with fresh snow. The jeep swerved at a slow pace for almost 45minutes like that until we crossed Sela Pass and emerge out in the sunshine once again. Sela Lake is a grand sight chiseled out between rock jagged-mountains. The lake water frozen even at noon looked azure and it was a wonderful treat after a cold ride. Altitude sickness doubled with the cold and insufficient fresh air had stirred my head and made it heavy but a little bit of sunshine and the amazing view did wonders to my body and mind. The ride down towards Jung and up towards Tawang was considerably easier.
Jung is a small town 25km before reaching Tawang and is known for the Jung waterfall which was popularized as a set of Shah Rukh Khan starred film Koyla. Though the beautiful waterfall is a great view, it alone is not enough to stop travelers but occasionally people do stop at Jung. I met a French couple who did just that.
Every turn I was amazed by the exotic landscapes that looked like another world. The mist at Sela Pass makes it more mystic; like a gateway to another world.