Tawang- The Road to Paradise

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Tawang- The Road to Paradise

We had been on the road long enough to realize that schedules meant nothing; that they were made to be broken. The landscape on the road to Tawang, in the far reaches Arunachal Pradesh in North-East India, was so arrestingly beautiful that we were compelled to stop frequently, to gape, muse and pay homage to this ultimate wide open space.

We stopped on the banks of a pine-studded river, even as glacier-etched peaks rose menacingly above us. We cruised past snow-bound hamlets, cliffs painted with icicles and frozen waterfalls wedged in gaping chasms. Mountains blushed with apple blossoms. Suspension bridges with fluttering prayer flags swayed over fast running rivers…


The scenic journey started at Bhalukpong on the border between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh and, almost immediately, the road that arrowed across the plains of Assam started to twist and turn as it climbed up the foothills of the eastern Himalayas. Road signs cautioned us in clever, ingenious, philosophical and sometimes downright amusing ways to drive carefully. (This is a highway, not a runway, one read)

As we pushed deeper into the state, we had our first glimpse of the Monpa tribals, sporting curious five-point yak wigs that drained melting snow and rain away from their faces. As dusk cast its mantle over the mountains (the sun sets early in these parts as it is one hour ahead of IST), we pulled into Hotel Pemaling overlooking Dirang valley.


Early next morning, we were on the road again and it draped itself across the mountain terrain like a fluttering ribbon of asphalt. At Sela Pass (which at 14,000ft is one of the highest motorable passes in the world), we were showered with a confetti of snowflakes. A lonely temple stood like an unanswered prayer on the banks of frozen Paradise Lake at the head of the Pass.

Beyond the pass, we pulled up at the foot of a waterfall, cast simple fishing lines in the rushing blue-green water (with little success we might add) and munched through the contents of our packed lunch boxes. We lingered in this pristine setting till twilight swept across the valley and pulled into the sleepy town of Tawang just as darkness asserted its authority in the sky above.

Come morning, we got our first glimpse of the gilded pagoda roofs of Tawang Monastery, the largest in India, sprawled out on a hill overlooking the waking town. After browsing the monastery and the remote frontier town it presides over, we set off for the lake district of Tawang near the Tibetan border.

Higher up the trail, these lakes were covered with thin sheets of ice that reflected the surrounding snow-capped peaks in their mirror-like surfaces. We pulled up in the middle of the road and listened to the sounds of complete silence. Nature seemed to be holding its breath, amazed by its own brilliance. When we finally released the brakes, the crunch of tyres biting into the thin film of snow on the road filled the pregnant silence like crackling gunshots.


At Y-Junction, on the border with Tibet, we had reached the farthest point of our incredible journey. On our drive back to Tawang, we pulled up for a cup of tea (which we made by melting snow over a wood fire) by the banks of a lower lake that seemed to hang at the edge of a cliff. Puffs of white clouds had set the stage for a dramatic sunset and as the fiery orb dipped below the snowy peaks that etched the horizon, they burst into a brilliant symphony of colors.


Fact File

Jorhat in Assam is the closest airport to the border town of Bhalukpong on the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border.

The road from Bhalukpong to Tawang is surprisingly good as it is maintained by the Indian army. A 4WD vehicle is preferable though not necessary to negotiate this mountainous terrain. In winter, one may have to use chains near Sella Pass. However, bulldozers are permanently located at the head of the pass to make sure that the road remains clear for army vehicles and as a result civilian traffic.

By way of accommodation, there is the WelcomHeritage Elephant Point Retreat near the Assam border, Hotel Pemaling in Dirang Valley, about half way to Tawang and a few private hotels and circuit houses in Tawang.

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Gustasp & Jeroo Irani

Gustasp & Jeroo Irani are a husband and wife team of travel writers/photographers, more accurately, travel junkies always on the lookout for the next fix, the next trip... They have travelled across India and the world. But eventually they return to the city they call home: Mumbai The footloose couple have edited Indian travel magazines, researched and written two guides for South African Tourism in India. Gustasp is the author of the book Once Upon a Raj