Tawang, the birthplace of the 6th Dalai Lama, is one of the most beautiful places in Arunachal Pradesh. Lying between the latitude 27º45N and the longitude 90º15E, the destination is located at a height of around 10,000 ft above sea level. Home to the Monpa tribe, Tawang shares its border with Tibet in the north, Bhutan in the south-west and the Sela range in the east.
It is believed that the place has derived its name from one of the oldest and largest Buddhist monasteries in India, Tawang Monastery. Perched on the edge of the ridge along the western part of this destination, Tawang Monastery is an important learning centre. About 400 years old, the monastery is believed to be home to more than 700 monks. Tawang Monastery was found in 1681 by Merag Lama Lodre Gyatso in compliance with the desires of 5th Dalai Lama, Nagwang Lobsang Gyatso.
'Ta' means Horse and 'Wang' means Chosen. It is believed that the site on which the monastery has been constructed was chosen by the horse, which was owned by Merag Lama Lodre Gyamtso. According a legend, Merag Lama was unable to decide a location to establish the monastery. In order to seek divine guidance for choosing the construction site for the monastery, he was praying inside a cave. When he came out after finishing prayers, he found that his horse was missing. On searching, he saw that horse was standing on a hilltop.
On seeing his horse on the hilltop, he considered this as a sign of divine blessing and finalised that location for construction of the monastery. The construction of this monastery was completed with the help of people residing in the neighbouring villages. At present, those same neighbouring villages are responsible for the upkeep of the monastery.
Tawang Monastery is also popularly known as Galden Namgey Lhatse, which means celestial paradise. Before the construction of this monastery, Tawang was inhabited by the Monpa tribe. At that time, the Monpa tribe was under the rule of the Mon kingdom, which had their kingdom stretching from Tawang up to Sikkim. However, later the entire kingdom went under the control of Tibet and Bhutan.
When India got its independence from Britain, Tawang was severed off from Tibet. In 1962, Tawang was conquered by the Chinese troops, who destroyed some portions of the monastery. For six months, the entire district was under the control of Chinese nationalist troops. However, after a retreat, it went under the control of India. Later in 1984, the district was separated from the West Kameng District.
Owing to beautiful mountains and monasteries along with 100 lakes, today Tawang is one of the most sought out tourist destinations in Arunachal Pradesh. The destination celebrates several festivals throughout the year, which are mostly associated with religion and agriculture of Monpas. Some of the important festivals celebrated in Tawang are Losar, Torgya, Choekor and Dupka Tse-She.
The Losar Festival, one of the most important festivals in Tawang, is celebrated by the Monpa community. It is celebrated for around two weeks, usually in February-March, to herald the Monpa New Year according to the lunar calendar. The Monpas belong to the Mongoloid stock and form a majority of the population of Arunachal Pradesh. The festival is marked by feasts and spending time with family and relatives.
Houses are cleaned, lamps are lit, prayers are offered and prayer flags are hoisted. Masked dances, known as chaam, are performed by Buddhist monks in gompas to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. The festival welcomes the new, ushering in good health, peace and prosperity.
Khapse, a Tibetan biscuit, is prepared during this time. It is made from a dough of flour, sugar and butter which is then shaped into different forms and sizes and deep fried. The most common shape is the twirled rectangular one which is shared with friends and relatives and offered to guests. Other shapes include discs coated in sugar and long hollow tubes.
Situated in the north eastern corner of the country, Tawang has limited connectivity to the rest of the country by air, rail and road. The nearest airport is at Tezpur in Assam, 365 km away, which has direct flights to Kolkata twice a week. The nearest railhead is at Guwahati, 555 km away, which is connected to major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bangalore. By road, Tawang can be reached from Bomdila (185 km), Tezpur (365 km) and Guwahati (555 km) through the Sila Pass.
The best time to visit Tawang is during summer, which extends from the months of July to October.