If Shangri-La conjures up images of earthly paradise isolated from the outside world, happy people, Buddhist chants floating in the air, mystical monks engrossed in prayers, then Tawang is India’s answer to the mythical place. Located at a height of near about 10,000 ft above mean sea level (MSL), 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 400-year-old Tawang monastery, one of the oldest and the largest monastery 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 centre for Gelug or Gelugpa, the pre-eminent Buddhist school in Tibet.
Tawang shares boundaries with Tibet in north, Bhutan in south west and Sela range of West Kameng in the East. Tawang holds strategic importance to India and is also the base of Parvat Ghatak School, the high-altitude
Origin of Tawang is obscure. It was part of Tibet in medieval times. Prior to the construction of the Tawang monastery, Tawang was traditionally inhabited by the Monpa people.
The spread of Buddhism in the area started with the arrival of Guru Padmasambhava, the great Indian Saint in 8th century. Tawang Monastery was founded by Mera Lama Lodre Gyasto in accordance with the wishes of the 5th Dalai Lama, Nagwang 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 chosen by a horse owned by Merag Lama Lodre Gyamtso. In search for an appropriate place to establish the monastery, Gyamtso failed to find a suitable place despite best efforts. Gyamtso decided to sit on prayer 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, Gyamtso decided to initiate work for building a monastery. The monastery was founded in late 1681.
According to another legend, the great treasure Revealer, Terton Pemalingpa gave initiation such as Tamdin and Ka-gyad and hence the place came to be known Tawang (Ta an abbreviation of Tamdin; Wang means initiatiton).
Tibetan and surrounding areas were ceded to the British by Tibet. The British hoped Tawang would be a centre of influence for them on the north-east frontier.
Tawang was under Chinese rule when the PLA invaded India in 1962. It became part of India again when the Chinese army withdrew.
WHERE TO STAY
Tawang is virgin and unexplored as a result of which finding good accomodation may be a challenge. Tawang 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.
WHERE TO EAT
Places to eat in Tawang are limited. Travelers might find rates of food slight costly than the other parts but it is because most of the things are imported from plains raising the cost of goods. 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 chillies.
The average minimum and maximum temperature of Tawang is as given below. The best time to visit Tawang is also specified.