India on the Road
Driving into the Land of the Monpas
Distance: 347 Kms
Driving Time: 11-12 hours with night halt at Bomdilla
Notes: The 347 Kms. drive covering the tourist circuit of Tezpur-Bhalukpung-Bomdilla-Tawang is one of the most incredible road journeys in the whole of North East India. The tour starts from Tezpur, the picturesque town of Assam located at 26.63 degree North and 92.8 degree East. From the flat plains of Tezpur (157 meters) you gradually start gaining height and by the time you reach Tawang you are at an elevation, which is all of 11,155 feet above sea level. In the initial stages the road is less demanding and the ride along NH 52 to Charduar and thereafter another 60 Kms. to Bhalukpung is a very pleasant drive indeed as you traverse in the midst foothills with the River Bhorali playing hide and seek.
The actual mountain rendezvous commences from Tippi as you start gaining height rapidly. After a strenuous 6-7 hours drive you have the option of an overnight halt at the quaint Eastern Himalayan town of Bomdilla, the headquarters of West Kameng at an altitude of 8,500. Thereafter, it is another uphill climb of 187 Kms. to Tawang via Dirang, Sapper, Sela Pass, Jang, Lahu and Bomdir. The drive commences from the foothills of Assam all the way to the high mountain passes of Arunachal Pradesh, considered to be one of the most beautiful parts of India. From high mountain passes to the exotic tribal culture, the region is truly stupendous in terms of grandeur and beauty. Assam and Arunachal Pradesh is quite unlike the rest of India. It is the chief tribal area of India with a great number of tribes who speak many different languages and dialects.
Tezpur is the headquarters of Sonitpur District and is located on the banks of the river Brahmaputra. It is an ancient town of Assam, which finds mention in the ancient Hindu Puranic texts as “City of Blood”. The town has numerous ancient temples and historical ruins and is well connected to the rest of Assam.
What to See:
Bamuni Hills, Hazara Pukhuri, Cole Park, bird watching at Nameri, Angling at River Jia Bhorolu, Agnigarh, Da Parbatia, Chitralekha Udyan, Padum Pukhuri, Auguri Hills, Mahabhairab Mandir and Halleswar.
Where to Stay:
Tezpur STD: 03712
Hotel Aniruddha (52590/52591), Hotel Dhruba (24276), Hotel International (20965), Hotel Kanyapur (20261, 22311), Hotel Luit (21220, 22083, 22084), Hotel Parijat (20565).
For those interested in government run accommodation, the Government of Assam, Department of Tourism runs a Tourist Lodge at Tezpur town. Telephone: 22101.
What to Eat:
Being a small town, Tezpur may not have the designer multi cuisine restaurants like its counterparts elsewhere, but make no mistake, the town is dotted with numerous “Desi” restaurants that offers mouthwatering Indian and Tandoori fare. The local Assamese cuisine, be it fish based, meat based or plain vegetarian can be found in a typical Tezpur food stall. There are plenty of small sized restaurants and in recent times a few Dhaba style eateries too have come up. However, for authentic Chinese and Continental fare, the upmarket hotels like Luit, Aniruddha and Dhruba are good options.
What to Buy:
While in Assam, can one ignore the magnetic pull of the world famous Assam Silk? For authentic Assam Silk Sarees and Mekhela Chadder, the central marketplace has a few good outlets that sell high quality Assam Silk along with indigenously manufactured Endi and Muga dress materials. Bamboo and cane products too are great take away home souvenirs.
From the tranquil surroundings of Tezpur to the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas – Bhalukpung, which is renowned for its rugged landscape and the swift flowing River Bhorolu. Many visitors even indulge in some angling on their way to Tawang. Bhalukpung falls on the exclusive Eco-Tourism zone and needless to say it is teeming with wildlife.
Bomdilla is located at a distance of 240 Kms. from Tezpur. It is perched at an altitude of 8,500 meters above sea level and happens to be the district headquarters of West Kameng.
Bomdilla is the bastion of colorful tribes like the Monpas, Aka, Shredukpen, Miji and Bogun tribes. From any of the vantage positions of this picturesque mountain town one can bask in uninterrupted views of snow clad Himalayan peaks. Bomdilla is strategically places with Tibet in the North and Bhutan to the West.
What to See:
Being a small town of Arunachal Pradesh, its not all that developed in terms of tourism landmarks. But nature has blessed Bomdilla and its surroundings with the choicest of bounties in the form of enchanting alpine forest, refreshing trekking trails, snow clad mountains and eye-catching apple orchids. The Buddhist monasteries too add a touch of exotica to Bomdilla.
Where to Stay:
Bomdilla STD: 03782
Hotel Siphiyang Phong (222286), Native Inn (222537), Hotel Elysium (223154), Hotel LA (222958), Pangchen Lodge (222374), Hotel Potola (222248), Hotel Himland (222323), Hotel Passang (222819), Hotel Samurai (222457), Hotel Korfoo (09436221302), Hotel Shangrila (222226), Khandroling Guest House (223607).
What to Buy:
Carpets and rugs. Tribal jewelry too is of a very high quality. There are numerous shops in the main marketplaces of Bomdilla town.
Bomdilla to Tawang
The 187 Kms. journey from Bomdilla to Tawang is an adventure in itself. As you proceed from Bomdilla on your onward journey to Tawang, you come across the stupendous Sela Pass, which is all of 13,828 feet above sea level. It is the highest motorable pass in the whole of North East India. As you cross the ominous Sela Pass and go past the Indian Army camps at Sangrila and Baisaki, you will come across Jaswant Garh, which is a memorial of Indian Army. At the Lahu crossing, you will come across two roads – one that goes all the way to the Indo-Chinese border of Bumla and the other extends all the way to Tawang.
Tawang is located at awesome height of 11,155 feet above sea level in close proximity to the Indo-Bhutan border. It is unspoilt, green and safe and offers a multiplicity of avenues in terms of tourism. Be it the swift flowing mountain streams or the fascinating Monpa tribes, Tawang is serenity personified. The Monpas are Buddhist by religion, Gelukpa sect of Mahayana Buddhism to be precise and are descendants of the Mongoloid race. Needless to say, the 400-year-old Tawang Monastery is the principal place of Buddhist congregation in Tawang and the whole of North East India. Buddhism as a religion was introduced in Tawang by the 8th century Indian saint – Guru Padmasambhava.
The mesmerizing sight of cozy double storied residential dwelling places of the Monpas constructed with the help of stone, bamboo and wood are a sight to behold. The Monpas practice Polygamy and Polyandry. Their fascinating lifestyle, custom and traditions have been attracting the attention of Anthropologists from the world over. People of Tawnag and its surroundings largely depend on agriculture to eke out a living. Due to extreme weather conditions, the Monpas breed Yaks and Sheeps. In the 1962 Sino-Indian war, Tawang was captured by the Chinese Red Army for a while but was ultimately returned to India. In recent times, due largely to Tawang’s ethereal mountain charm and endless vistas of breathtaking snow and mountain panorama, Bollywood blockbusters like “Koyla” starring Shah Rukh Khan has been shot in some of Tawang’s most picturesque locales.
What to See:
Tawang Monastery, Brahrna-dung-chung Ani Gonpa, Urgelling Gompa, traditional Buddhist nunneries, Gyangong Ani Gompa, Singsur Ani Gompa, Taktsang Gompa, Gorsam Chorten, Banga Jang Lake, Tsachu Hot Springs and numerous trekking trails ranging from soft, moderate and hard.
Where to Stay:
Tawang STD Code: 03794
Tawang Inn (224096), Tourist Hut (222738), Hotel NEFA (222419), Hotel Samdupling (224213), Hotel Dolma (224131 / 223271), Hotel Buddha (222954), Monyul Lodge (222196), Hotel Gourichen (224151l), Hotel Alpine (222515), Hotel Dungpho (223765), Hotel Rainbow (222348), Hotel Gangchin (224243).
Government Accommodation: Tourist Lodge (222359).
What to Eat:
It is always advisable to have your lunch and dinner at the hotel where you are a guest. Most good hotels offer the standard Indian and Tandoori fare. Some may also provide Chinese delicacies. Like all mountain destinations of India, the Momos and the traditional Butter Tea are really good. However, if you want to savor traditional Monpa cuisine, the Zan is the staple food of the Monpas, which is prepared of Millet in boiling water and later on stirred with a flat wooden appliance. Fermented Cheese is added to it. The Zan is eaten together with meat or cooked vegetable.
There is also the “Khura” which is the traditional pancake of the Monpa community and is usually taken with tea. While the “Gyapa Khazi” is the Monpa version of the mainland India’s “Pulao”. However, the most popular menu of Tawang is the “Thukpa”, which is a noodles based preparation in conjunction with minced meat, chili etc… It is always advisable to stick to the simple modest eateries while in Tawang.
What to Buy:
The Monpas are artistic by nature. The exquisitely hand embroidered woolen carpets are absolutely first rate. Woodcarving and Thangka paintings too are very popular with tourists. Other souvenir items like Agarbatti and a variety of wood based products like masks and traditional kitchen utensils can also be bought from the marketplace.