Travelling in the North-East in the summer of 2006
Guwahati >> Eaglenest >> Tawang >> Nameri >> Kaziranga >> Shillong >> Cherrapunjee
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Tawang is not very different from any town on a hill in the Himalayas. People are friendly, and everything you buy is expensive! My friend wanted to get some clothes washed and ironed in 24 hours, and expressed his shock when he heard the prices. The lady of the laundry laughed and replied – “Yeh Tawang hai saab..” – “This is Tawang sir!”
It is a small town with a small city center crowded with a few hotels, some military presence at one end of the town and the monastery at the other end. Petrol is not available in or anywhere a few 100 kilometers around Tawang. The only fuel station serves Diesel but don’t expect stocks to be available all the time. The 5-6 hotels that you find around the city center tend to be full most of the time during the tourist season. There are no upmarket hotels or resorts, so if you are used to comforts, be prepared to live without it while you are in Tawang.
Kids waiting for school bus in Tawang
We also took a short trip to a village near Tawang. Surprising, men are not to be seen anywhere in and around the villages and people you see are usually women and children. Agriculture seems to be the primary source of income for most families. Unlike in the rest of the high ranges, we did not see much of livestock though most people eat non-vegetarian food. Wood seems to be the primary source of fuel in the houses. Hardly anyone in the village seemed to own any automobiles.
A woman belonging to local Mumpa Tribe
Most businessmen in Tawang are outsiders. Like the tourists, these businessmen also need to get permits to be in Arunachal. A restaurateur said he is from Rajasthan and they need to renew their residential permits every year. There were many Bengalis too. Tourism, though is a happening thing in Tawang, doesn’t seem to be an organized industry and is not contributing much to the local economy yet, but things may change in the days to come. The few hotels and restaurants in the town were not exactly customer friendly. One night in a restaurant when we gave our orders, we were rudely told to order the same thing for everyone so that it is easy to prepare. Next morning, another guy told that us that sandwiches and parathas are available, and when we ordered parathas, he said it is a pain to make them and will serve sandwich for all instead!
Tawang is a faraway place by any standards. Bluntly speaking, unless you are very keen, you are better off travelling somewhere else instead of getting to Tawang. Not to deny the fact that the way is beautiful and so are the regions above Tawang. But the road is very long from Tezpur and feels monotonous at times. And you can’t move around freely in the region above Tawang, since it is controlled by army. You need permits, and then you can go only in the designated path. You don’t have any options of staying or camping in the higher regions as you are expected to be back in Tawang before sunset. Monastery is a nice place, but not really inspiring enough to travel that far.
To reach Tawang, you need to start from Tezpur, which is 5 hours by bus from Guwahati. Although I can’t recollect exactly how long does it take(we split it into two days), it should take more than 16 hours of driving between Tezpur and Tawang. People usually hire Tata Sumos for the journey. If you intend to split the journey, you can choose to stay in Tenga, Bomdila or Dirang. Book your accommodation in these places in advance, especially if you intend to stay in Dirang. You also have a limited number of buses plying between Tezpur and Tawang. It is better to plan your journey properly and book your bus tickets and hotels in advance.
The most important place to see in Tawang in the monastery. PTSO and surrounding high altitude region have some beautiful lakes. Sela pass on the way is a nice stop-over. I suggest skipping Madhuri falls near Jung.