Tawang does not really need much of an introduction. It is one of the places in Arunachal that was always on the tourist map, while people had no clue about other parts of the state. Naturally, it is also the most developed area in terms of tourism. The nature of the terrain is such that you don’t just visit one place. When you plan for Tawang, you normally have a few days at hand and also make stops at either Bomdila or Dirang. However, there are dozens of underappreciated spots on the entire route and if you want, you can easily extend your trip for a couple of weeks.
Tawang Travel Guide
Understanding Bomdila Tawang Circuit
Things to do in and around Tawang
Tawang, bordering Tibet on the north-western corner of Arunachal Pradesh, is a major center of Tibetan Buddhism and it has played an important role in their history. The fact that the Sixth Dalai Lama was born in Tawang in the 17th century, tells us of the importance of the town in the Tibetan world. It is dominated by Monpa people.
The 400-year-old Tawang Monastery atop the hill dominates the landscape of Tawang and it is the largest monastery in India and second-largest in the world after the one in Lhasa, which itself makes it worth a visit.It is a massive complex that takes time to explore fully. You can also attend the morning payers for a spiritual experience, but you will have to wake up before 5 AM.
Se La Pass and Lake
Se La, often mistakenly called Sela Pass (because La means Pass), is a 4170 meter high pass that connects West Kameng and Tawang districts. So, it is basically the gateway to Tawang and at such a high altitude, you can expect to find snow during most of the year. There is a lake near the summit, called Sela Lake, which is considered sacred in Tibetan Buddhism.
Also Read: Se La Pass & Lake
The Bum La is a mountain pass is a border pass between Tibet’s Cona County and India’s Tawang district. It is 37 km away from the town of Tawang and 43 km from the town of Cona (Tsona Dzong). As it is a sensitive area, visiting it requires additional permission from DC Tawang. Bum La is one of the frontier passes that used to be a trading route connecting Tibet and India. When the current Dalai Lama escaped Tibet and entered India in 1959, this is the route his entourage took.
Sangester Tso (Madhuri Lake)
This lake is located near Bum La. It was created by the falling rocks of an earthquake and decaying trees can still be seen in the middle of the lake. After the shooting of Bollywood film Koyla, people started calling it Madhuri Lake after Madhuri Dixit but the original name is Sangester Tso. You will also come accross another lake called PT Tso en route.
A beautiful waterfall is located at a slight diversion from the town of Jang, which is at the midpoint between Se La and Tawang. The best views here are in the afternoon, on a sunny day, when the light falls directly and creates a rainbow.
Tawang War Memorial
The war memorial, as the name suggests, commemorates fallen heroes and is maintained by the Indian Army. There is a big chorten underneath which there is a small museum with maps, arms, and details from the war of 1962.
It is another war memorial just after Se La. It is located at a high altitude and commemorates the story of rifleman Jaswant Singh Rawat who fought bravely but lost his life in the 1962 war. His belongings can still be seen here. There are some local legends associated with him too.
Giant Buddha Statue
Just like any oher Buddhist town, Tawang has a huge Buddha statue overlooking the town. Views are good from here and there are some other interesting sculptures too.
It is a smaller but a very important monastery in Tawang. This 14th century gompa is even older than the main Tawang Monastery and the 6th Dalai Lama was born here. Do visit the ancient stupas inside one of the houses. It’s around 3 km from Tawang city centre.
Offbeat things to do around Tawang
Beyond the obvious attractions described above, there are many interesting things one can do in and around Tawang. Ani Gompas (Nunneries), Brokpa Yak Herders, Birding in Se La, Mokto Papermakers, Chakzam Bridge, Geshila Peak & much more unexplored delights from offbeat Tawang.
Here is a more comprehensive list of Offbeat Things to do in Tawang.
Top Places to Visit on the Tawang-Dirang-Bomdila Circuit
Bhalukpung is a small town on the Assam-Arunachal border, divided between both states. It is located on the banks of a beautiful blue river which is called Kameng in Arunachal and Jia Bhoroli in Assam. It is a regular stop for people going towards more famous Tawang and is a picnic spot for locals. However, Bhalukpung itself has enough to lure the visitors, especially for nature lovers and combined with nearby Seijosa, it is considered to be a circuit on its own by Arunachal Tourism. It is also known for adventure activities like river rafting.
Tipi Orchid Center
Tipi is a few KMs ahead of Bomdila. It is known for its orchidarium. The jungles behind Tipi is the Sessa Orchid Sanctuary. Especially the spring season is the best for orchids. In case you have not realized yet, Arunachal is one of the richest places for orchids with more than 600 recorded varieties.
Bomdila is the headquarter of West Kameng district. It is the biggesttown in the region with a huge monastery at the center and many smaller monasteries. There are many hotels and homestays here and the market is also worth a visit if you want to buy local products.
Dirang is a beautiful Monpa town 40 KMs ahead of Bomdila, with a famous monastery with an ethereal setting. There is also a hot water spring here which is very famous and you can take a dip here too if you have time. There is also an ancient gompa nearby and simply walking around the valley can be a delightful experience. Nearby Dirang Dzong is the original village here which was built around a fortress. You can go trekking over the valley and also visit some offbeat ares like Chugh Valley.
Tenga & Rupa
Tenga Valley is the region that you cross before Bomdila. This region has significant military presence and it is the gateway to the Eagle’s Nest Sanctuary. The alternative route via Shergaon also meets here. There are additional attractions ian and around such as the Chilipam Gompa. .
Eagle’s Nest Wildlife Sanctuary
Average travellers may not have heard of Eagle’s Nest Sanctuary but it is the holy grail for bird watchers. It is located on the western side of Bhalukpong to Bomdila route with an entry from Tenga. It boasts of an extensive array of flora and fauna. Some of the birds available here include rufous-bellied hawk-eagle, pied falconet, common hill-partridge, temminck’s tragopan, ashy wood-pigeon, rufous-necked hornbill, ward’s trogon, golden-throated barbet, crimson-breasted pied-woodpecker, pale-headed woodpecker, grey-chinned minivet, eye-browed thrush, gould’s shortwing, grey-sided laughing-thrush, red-faced liocichla, coral-billed scimitar-babbler, wren-babblers, red-tailed minla, tit-babblers/fulvettas, yuhinas, parrotbills, mountain tailorbird, tesias, flycatcher-warblers, rufous-bellied and grey-crested tits, brown-throated treecreeper, yellow-bellied flowerpecker, mrs gould’s and fire-tailed sunbird, gold-naped black-finch, bullfinch etc.
Mandala is the best-kept secret for bird watchers. Actually, serious birders know about it already, while no one else has even heard of it. It is a secluded high altitude spot around 25 KMs from Dirang with a lodge frequented by hardened birders and photographers. A Buddhist monument with 108 Manes have been built here too, which draws many visitors.
Thembang is a traditional village centered around a fortress (Thembang Dzong). It is an ancient village with centuries-old structures and a great place to experience Monpa history and culture.
Shergaon is a small diversion from Bomdila. It is a region dominated by the Buddhist Sherdukpen people. It was lesser-known until recently but it is beginning to grow its tourism of late. You can stay at the local homestay and experience the rustic charm and walk along the fruit orchards experiencing yet another exotic culture. The local Gompa as well as the Choskorong waterfall are worth visiting too. Nearby Morshing is a Monpa village higher up and from there you can drive or hike to Lagayla Gompa, yet another historical monastery with many stories associated with it.
Sangti Valley is a short diversion from Dirang. It is a beautiful secluded valley inhabited by the Monpas that is slowly beginning to get famous. During spring, these meadows get covered with colourful orchids and wildflowers.
Trekking in Tawang
There are many trek routes all over these mountains although not all have been properly explored. The most important long trek here is the Bailey’s Trail, which starts from somewhere near Thembang and ends near Mago, near the border. A lot of small hikes are possible, especially in the lower hills of West Kameng. I recently did a short hike around Dirang Valley and it was delightful. So, the potential of this field here needs to be explored.
Gorichen is the main range that dominates the horizons here and you will see the peaks, however, climbing the actual peak or even reaching the base camp may not be easy as it is a sensitive border region and permits are not easy for general tourists.
People, Culture & Festivals in Tawang & West Kameng
This region is dominated by the Monpas who are Buddhists and have close historical relations with nearby neighbouring Bhutan as well as Tibet. Monasteries, stupas and other Buddhist structures dominate the landscapes. The Shergaon region is inhabited by a different Buddhist group called the Sherdukpens while you will find another small group called Buguns near the Eagle’s Nest Sanctuary.
Local cuisines, culture, apparel, handicrafts etc are worth exploring too. If you are in the mood for shopping, you can always explore the local markets. The emporiums in Bomdila and Tawang also have a good collection of authentic handicrafts.
There are many festivals that take place throughout the year. For example, I attended the monastic festival of Torgya in January at Tawang Gompa. There are many others like Losar, Saga Dawa, Choe Kor, etc. Check this for a complete list. Ask the locals for dates if you want to attend them. Apart from them, a touristy Tawang Festival is also organized nowadays every October.
How to Reach Tawang?
By Bus or Shared Car (Timings & Rates from Tezpur & Guwahati)
Guwahati to Tawang is 445 KMs and generally, people do not cover it in one go and halt at either Bomdila or Dirang, as it is a very long and tedious journey that also involves crossing the 4100 meters high Sela Pass. If you are reliant on public transport, you can look for morning buses from ISBT Guwahati. It leaves at around 7 AM and reaches Bomdila by the evening. Next morning, you can find Tawang Bus from Bomdila. Guwahati to Bomdila bus costs around INR 500-550 and Bomdila to Tawang will cost around INR 350-400.
If you are already in Tezpur, you can look for shared cars (Sumos) going upwards in the morning. You can stop directly to Tawang to stop at Bomdila or Dirang. They generally leave very early in the morning around 5.30-6 AM.
Tezpur to Bomdila INR 500-600
Tezpur to Dirang INR 700
Tezpur to Tawang INR 1200-1400
Car or Bikes
If you have your own vehicle, still you will have to halt one night around Bomdila or Dirang as it will be a very tedious journey. Also, be careful about crossing the Sela Pass on the second day. As it happens with high passes, you are never sure when it snows or when the weather deteriorates.
Where to Stay in Tawang?
As a highly developed tourist area, Tawang has dozens of hotels, resorts, and homestays at various price points. For the best experience, look for a good homestay run by a local family, so that you can get an authentic Monpa experience.
Best Season to visit Tawang?
Personally, I feel the spring & early summer (March-May), as well as post-monsoon months (September-October), are the best time to visit the Tawang circuit. I visited in January, the peak of winter. You may like it if you have some fascination for snowfall but, to be honest, I prefer warmer weather when visibility is better and easier to roam around.
Mobile and Internet Connectivity in Tawang
Mobile and data connectivity was reasonably good all along the Tawang-Bomdila circuit on my Airtel connection. There is no problem at all in lower areas such as Bomdila & Dirang. Once you cross the Se La, I expected it to be weak in Tawang but it was still working. Tawang has electricity issues and so there are occasional power cuts and the network also goes down during those times but it works when the power is there.
Can you suggest someone to plan a trip for Tawang?
Visiting on your own is possible but can be difficult, especially to find the really offbeat stuff. If you need help, you can always contact someone like HolidayScout who can arrange everything for you.
Inner Line Permits (ILP) for Tawang
As you probably know, you need this permit to enter Arunachal. You can get it online or if you are going through a tour operator, you can get it through them. Check this post on Arunachal ILP for details.