Arunachal Pradesh is a place which had always enamored me, even though i had never set foot there before. I always pictured it like a mythical land, snow clad, and with monasteries hidden in the mists. Eventually I grew tired of hearing stories from the few who had ventured. Not that it was a secret, but as with all of northeast, it wasn’t well trodden. So last year, when most of the world was welcoming the New Year with a hangover, i decided to take the arduous road trip to Tawang, the land of the rising sun.
True to my numerous dreams, it did turn out to be the remote fairytale land that i had imagined. And gladly, i was the only one around to experience it.
Here is a comprehensive 7 day Itinerary that i followed for my Tawang Trip.
1. Day 1: Arrive in Guwahati
If you are traveling to this side of Northeast, chances are, you will land mostly in Guwahati. It is well connected to Tawang via roadways.
From the airport you should go to Paltan Bazaar, from where you can get shared cabs to Tawang. Remember that these cabs leave early morning, almost by 6.30. So ensure you book them the day before.
A shared cab is probably the cheapest way to get to Tawang. But if you have a group of 8-10 people, then you can opt for a private cab. Otherwise they can turn out to be pretty expensive.
But before you even start the journey to anywhere in Arunachal Pradesh, you need to get an inner line permit (ILP). You will get it at Arunachal Bhawan in Guwahati. You can refer to the website for the documents needed. It’s a hassle-free process for Indians.
Note: Ensure you don’t land in Guwahati on a day Arunachal Bhawan is closed. I did that and had to wait for an extra day to get the permit.
Where to stay: Hotel SJ International
2. Day 2: Guwahati to Bomdila
Doing 500 kms on the mountains in a single day is no easy task. So it’s better to break the journey to Tawang in 2 phases.
On the first day, the cab takes you half way to Bomdila. But even to reach half-way, you have to start pretty early in the morning. In fact throughout your Tawang trip, be prepared to sacrifice on sleep.
The drive for the first part is pretty smooth, from the outskirts of Guwahati till you reach Tezpur. Once you cross Tezpur and start the ascent up the mountains, progress is slow and painful.
The terrain is rugged and your backside is going to get clobbered like anything. The views enroute are beautiful though.
The journey can take up to 10 hours. So you will reach Bomdila by around 4-5 in the evening, assuming you start at 6-6.30 in the morning.
Although most travelers look at Bomdila as a pit-stop, I would urge you to stay for a day here. 20 kms away from Bomdila lies Chillipam monastery, a hidden jewel, which only the locals know of. It takes a good 2 hours to reach, but its worth every effort.
The Chillipam Gompa is as breathtaking as the views around it. There is a lawn leading into the monastery with pine trees on both sides.
A colourful prayer wheel adorns the entrance on one side while a golden coloured one with inscriptions lies on the other side. There is a certain grandeur about the whole monastery.
For one, it looks newly constructed. There is an artistic appeal to it. It has some exquisite Buddhist art work both on the outside as well as the inside. The chortens built next to the main monastery are splendid. There were stairways that allowed you to go to a higher platform.
The highlight though, are the views. The monastery is positioned in a place which offers a panoramic view of the valleys surrounding it. And once you go to the higher levels, the views get better. We could see Bomdila perched on the mountain opposite ours.
We went in the afternoon when the sun was in mood for some hide and seek. Greyish clouds flirted with the mountains nearby. It was a perfect natural setting. And views aside, it was a place that exuded a certain calm and luckily, we were the only one’s soaking in this experience.
Trust me after this experience, every other monastery that I saw later on this trip paled in comparison to Chillipam.
Where to stay: Lungta Residency
3. Day 3: Bomdila To Tawang
Early morning, you will start the journey to Tawang. The journey is pretty uneventful till you start climbing Sela Pass.
Sela pass located at 4170 m (13700 feet) above sea level acts as the sentinel who guards the eastern Himalayan ranges. It connects Tawang to the rest of India.
Being at such high altitudes, it is covered in snow for most part of the year. So pray that the weather gods are in your favor, for Sela Pass can sometimes be inaccessible when the roads get deluged in snow.
I went in winter and as we moved higher, it started getting misty and the visibility dropped to a few 100 feet. Patches of snow started appearing on the road. Icy winds blew outside and our fingers froze as we tried to take quick photographs. The change in weather was quite drastic.
A massive gate at the Sela top welcomes you into Tawang region. Nearby lies Sela Lake, also known as Paradise Lake for its ethereal beauty.
From Sela Pass, Tawang is just 40 kms, which is another 2 hours’ drive. So you should reach Tawang by afternoon.
Note: If you take a shared cab, they will not stop at the lake. They tend to stop at least km ahead. So if you want to take photographs of the lake or walk around it, just check with the cab driver before, or else take a private cab.
Jaswant Garh Memorial
Having a private cab means you can visit the Jaswant Garh Memorial also the same day. It is one of the popular attractions in Tawang, and rightfully so.
It’s a memorial dedicated to Jaswant Singh Rawat, a rifleman who displayed extraordinary bravery while fighting the Chinese.
Where to stay in Tawang: Hotel Dekyi Pelbar
4. Day 4: Tawang Local Sightseeing
Today you can do sightseeing around Tawang. But before you start anything, arrange for permits for Bum La Pass and Sangetsar Lake, which you will be doing the next day.
Note: There are two permits needed for this region. One is the ILP (Inner Line Permit) to enter Tawang. The second one is the special permit to travel from Tawang to Sangetsar Lake and Bum La pass (The Indo – China border). But don’t worry, any travel operator in Tawang can get it done for you in a jiffy.
Places to see in Tawang
This is the second largest monastery in the world, if you need any convincing. Perched on the edge of a cliff, from afar, it looks beautiful. Though personally, I din’t find it that great, especially since I had seen Chillipam monastery earlier.
It is a memorial constructed in honor of soldiers who gave up their lives in the Indo-China war. I got goose bumps, just reading their stories. It’s definitely worth a visit.
In the evening, they also have a light and sound show. I wouldn’t recommend it though. They could have done a much better job of telling the story.
Also known as Jung Falls, Nuranang is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Arunachal Pradesh. Surrounded by lush greenery, the sight of the powerful cascade of water tumbling down the cliffs is a breathtaking one.
If you are a nature lover, or not, you should add Nuranang falls to your bucket list.
Tawang has a cable car ride across the mountains. It wasn’t working when I went, but the views looked stunning.
There is also a statue of massive golden Buddha at the centre of the town.
5. Day 5: Trip to Bum La pass and Sangetsar Lake
If you ever think of taking this arduous road trip to Tawang, then it should be for the trip to Bum La Pass and Sangetsar Lake. Not that the journey to Tawang is not beautiful, but these two destinations are journey’s themselves.
Bum La Pass:
Bum La Pass is the Indo- China border, located at a staggering 15,000 feet. A remote army-post surrounded by snow-clad peaks, it seems like a world away from Tawang. Although just 2-3 hours away, the landscape is starkly different, with green mountains and greyish clouds giving way to a land of snow.
Yes, everything from roads, to rocks to mountains are draped in snow. And on a clear day, fluffy clouds float above your heads.
From the border-zone at Bum La pass, with the help of binoculars, you can see the Chinese radar system. Near the border lies a rock symbolizing peace between India and China, and there is a point where you can actually stand on the Chinese end.
In my years of traveling, I have seen my fair share of high altitude lakes, but none as unique as Sangetsar.
Wedged between two mountains, with pine trees half submerged in the water, it is just sublime. When I went, it was winter and the lake was completely frozen. You can imagine my delight when I set my eyes on this sheet of ice.
If you have acclimatized to the high altitude (12000 feet), take a walk around this lake. If not, then you can sit by the army owned tea-stall and gape in awe while munching on some steaming momos.
Note: The trip to both these places will take the entire day. So leave early in the morning, so that you can return by early evening.
6. Day 6: Tawang to Bomdila
The next day you again catch a shared cab from Tawang. On the way lies a picturesque town called Dirang. You can choose to break your trip here. Or else, you can continue all the way till Bomdila.
7. Day 7: Bomdila to Guwahati
From Bomdila, it’s again a drive back the same way to Guwahati.
Ensure that you don’t have a flight or train to catch the same day. Since you’re traveling in the mountains, it’s better to keep a buffer of at least a day.
Best time to visit Tawang:
Recommended: April – May and September – October
My personal recommendation: Dec – Jan (It will be cold, but trust me you will be the only traveler at this time of the year, and you will get amazing deals)