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Tawang is one of the westernmost districts of Arunachal Pradesh and shares its borders with the state of Assam. Till the state was opened up for tourism, the land had remained a mystery for outsiders. It had acquired the reputation of the fabled Shangri La – one whose borders hadn’t been breached, a land of pristine beauty and a people whose culture had not been corrupted by the civilizing influences of the outside world. A territory heavily protected by the state government – both from tourism and economic exploitation – the Arunachal Government began the process of allowing in Indian national and foreigners only in 1998.
The land of Tawang is located at the bone chilling altitude of 10,000 feet above sea level and is entered through the breath-taking Sela Pass. Though it is cold the year round, winters are especially ferocious. The best time to travel to Tawang is from April to October, though those who enjoy the beauty of snow brave the high mountains passes even in the winters.
One thing is true, the origins of this beautiful land lie in a legend – Tawang owes its name to the imposing 14th century Tawang Monastery. Merag Lama Lodre Gyamtso was told by the 5th Dalai Lama to find a site for a monastery. The Lama wandered widely but could not find any appropriate place. He finally fell into a prayer wishing for guidance in his search. When he opened his eyes, he found that his horse was missing and wearily set out in search for it. The horse was grazing atop the hillock of Tana Mandekhang. Believing it to be a good omen, Merag Lama initiated the building of the Tawang Monastery with the help of the local tribal people. ‘Ta’ means horse and ‘wang’ means chosen and thus ‘Tawang’.
The valley is a sight for those who revel in the beauty of the mighty Himalayas. Locally, the Tawang Monastery perched on a ridge overlooking the western edge of the town is one of the popular tourist attractions. Many other monasteries and nunneries litter the landscape and one of the easier treks winds its way through these. Tawang has lately acquired fame as a trekking destination and treks of various difficulty levels and altitude-climbing pass through or depart from the district. The Jaswantgarh Army Memorial located 15 km away from town pays homage to the 3 soldiers who halted the forward march of the advancing Chinese Army for 72 hours during the 1962 Indo-China war.
Part of the mystery of the land also derives from its remoteness. The nearest big airport is at Guwahati. You need to journey a further 5-6 hours by road to reach Tezpur which is the last Assamese town of any importance this side of the Assam-Arunachal border. Buses and taxis to Tawang depart from this point. Since the journey lasts a full 13 hours by road, it is advisable to halt overnight at Bomdila. The next day, make your way through the beautiful Sela Pass to reach Tawang.
Indian nationals need to acquire an Inner Line Permit (ILP) to enter the state. It is issued for a period of 15 days. Foreign nationals need to apply for a Restricted Area Permit which is now valid for a period of 30 days (up from the former 10 days) and has to come through a local tour operator.
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