When conversations started about a potential trip to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, I was overjoyed. Not because I had heard or read about the beauty of the place or its famous tourist spots. On the contrary, it was because not a soul I knew had ever visited it and it certainly didn't rank on the average Indian traveller's wish list. This unknown factor worked in its favour as did the exotic name of cities en route -- Bomdila or Dhirang.
First things first, due to past (read Indo-China 1962 War) and current tensions (a border dispute remains till date), a permit is a necessity to enter the state. That done, there are constant checkpoints where you will be stopped and your IDs checked along a 413-km route from Guwahati to Tawang, often making you feel like an outsider in your own country.
If that's not enough, the only access road to the exotic cities mentioned above is in deplorable condition, causing a car to breakdown with no mechanic available for a good 50 km either way. And if you are still convinced about that trip, there's also changing weather conditions, ghats that go on forever, steep valleys and in winter, early nightfall at 4 pm, to deal with.
A trip to Tawang really tests your resolve, but you will be rewarded with beauty unparalleled. Take for instance, the PT Tso Lake. Close to the China border, it is a beautiful water body that often freezes in winter, the snow around it acting as a striking contrast on the brown mountains. The cold makes it difficult for fish to survive in water and trees too can't sustain. The fact that you are probably on a Chinese gunman's radar, due to their vantage points in the surrounding mountains, adds to one's discomfort.
Then there are the Jang waterfalls, where our guide was happy to show us the exact spot where certain scenes of the Shah Rukh- Madhuri starrer Koyla were shot. And for those interested in history, there's a 400-hundred-year-old monastery where the mind can find some peace in the constant chanting of the Buddhist monks.
And yes, of course, two war memorials (The Jaswant Garh Indo Chinese Memorial that lies en route or Tawang's War Memorial) can evoke patriotic feelings in you or cause for a sombre moment. Spend some time reading the names and tales of several jawans who laid down their lives for the country. Or bump into a soldier or two, and over a cup of tea discuss their day-to-day life. Or as in our case, just speak in Marathi to remind him of home.
A stay in Tawang is memorable, but be prepared for lack of hospitality from the natives. But considering the hostile conditions and the fact that this could easily be one of the most beautiful places on earth, the transgression can be easily overlooked. So do visit, please.
The Sela Pass is the second highest motorable road in the world, and is en route to Tawang. The pass stands at a height of 13,700 feet. The pass was named after a girl (Sela) who died a martyr. In winter, weather conditions change rapidly and cars engines are known to shut down due to the intense cold. Paradise Lake lies close to the pass and often freezes over in winter. The pass is a popular tourist spot.
From Guwahati, Tawang lies at a distance of 413 kms. The best time to visit is winter and an overnight stop at Dhirang or Bomdila is highly recommended. At Tawang, do not expect or look for five-star accommodation. A simple room with a heater should suffice. The local market offers several Chinese products but do visit several shops to get best price. Also, do not expct much hospitality from the locals. A car is a must the entire time you are the tourist spot since it is at a distance from the city centre.