Things to do in Tawang: A complete travel guide from a traveler!

Tawang is a beautiful land of the Monpas located in Western Arunachal Pradesh on the international borders with China and Bhutan. It is situated at the height of 3500 mtrs from the sea level on the mountainous range of the Northern Himalayas.  The Area of this District is approximately 2,172 Sq. Km and is bounded by Tibet (China) to the North, Bhutan to the South-West and Sela ranges separated from West Kameng  District in the East.

Tejpur tawang road trip arunachal pradesh highway photo
On the way to Tawang

Its snow capped peaks, pleasant lakes, congenial climate, friendly and hospitable people continue to entice the people who visit. This magical land evokes images of awesome mountain views, remote hamlets, quaint and sleepy villages, magical Gompas, tranquil lakes and mesmerizing mountains. At Tawang, one has a heavenly tryst with nature and there is a heady mixture of ancient history, mishmash religion and glorious legends.
- Ref.

My Tawang Dream

Visiting Tawang was a dream come true. It was a place I had not even heard of before visiting the North East, but once I was there I started dreaming about it after one Mosh’s friend described it to me. Lov and Mosh were my travel-mates, but the trip was too fantastic to be included in their itinerary. I was adamant and decided to go ahead alone, something I anyway enjoy more than travelling with a companion.

The drive to Tawang

This is how a typical journey to Tawang starts. You need to go to Tejpur and get the inner-line permit from a local govt. officer. Do not worry much about it, you would get help the moment you reach Tejpur. Sumos are the most popular means of transportation and the drivers generally fix their load in the night itself. Once you are in, they will even help you get the permit with a small bribe. I exactly followed what they said and had the permit within an hour.

The Sumos start around 4 in the morning and are filled to the brim, you have no scope for any movement. On this particle day, I was the only outsider and quite a fancy one for the locals travelling with me (long hair, beard, camera constantly in hand and hundreds of questions). The journey that followed was one of the most stunning journeys I ever made in my life. I can never ever forget the clouds covering the hills, followed by the hill-tops which were devoid of any clouds. We could the clouds at a lower level from top. It was a view that can never be described in words.

tawang arunanchal pradesh india lakes snow winters travel road-trip
On the way to Tawang
tawang arunanchal pradesh india lakes snow winters travel road-trip
On the way to Tawang
tawang arunanchal pradesh india lakes snow winters travel road-trip lunch
Our Lunch place
tawang arunanchal pradesh india lakes snow winters travel road-trip lunch
My vegetarian lunch :)
tawang arunanchal pradesh india lakes snow winters travel road-trip
On the way to Tawang
tawang arunanchal pradesh india lakes snow winters travel road-trip
On the way to Tawang

Sela Pass

Sela Pass is the most famous pass on the way and one of the scariest passes that I have crossed in the Himalayas. Bad roads, poor visibility due to fog and an overcrowded Sumo only added to the excitement. During the Indo-China war the Chinese army had reached up to this pass, their presence at Tejpur was imminent when ceasefire was declared. Once the pass gets over, the first lake comes in to view – pristine blue water and a half frozen surface, I wished for the driver to stop but we were late already for the day.

tawang arunanchal pradesh india lakes snow winters travel road-trip
Sela Pass...coming soon...
tawang arunanchal pradesh india lakes snow winters travel road-trip
On the way to Tawang
tawang arunanchal pradesh india lakes snow winters travel road-trip
The Lake just after the Pass
tawang arunanchal pradesh india lakes snow winters travel road-trip
On the way to Tawang
tawang arunanchal pradesh india lakes snow winters travel road-trip
Another Lake on the way

It was evening but felt like late night by the time we reached Tawang, I quickly found a place to stay right in the middle of the town – Hotel Shangrila. It was small room (as well as cheap, Rs. 100 per head) and I shared it with three other men, locals from a village close-by, in town for business. I had my own bed, while they shared one and were gone by the time I woke up the next morning.

tawang arunanchal pradesh india lakes snow winters travel hotel room
My humble hotel room

Apart from the famous Monastery (more details in my next post), Tawang’s natural surroundings (particularly lakes) are the major interest areas for any visitor. However, visiting these lakes isn’t easy, especially if you are on a budgeted trip like me. These are all outside the town, some as far as 40 km and there is hardly any public transport. Most people visit these places in their cars, or hire the local taxis to wander around, an option too expensive for me. So I made my strategy in the night itself to look for someone who can take me to these places, the problem being that it was the beginning of January and a time very cold time in Tawang. Most tourists do not venture in such cold conditions.

tawang arunanchal pradesh india lakes snow winters travel dog
Local doggie!

My first day 

As on my most trips, I started my day very early (6 am) but sun was already there. I became a vulture and looked around for a prey and soon found them - a bunch of young guys in two Sumos who had come to spend their winter break in Tawang, and surprisingly they were the only ones there. I approached them immediately and requested that they take me along, and of course I was willing to pay as well. But it was my lucky day and somehow we got along really well and they took me along. It was only later that we found a common friend as well (Arpit Agarwal from Dibrugarh), and they insisted that I leave my hotel and stay in their room (an offer I politely declined, though I gladly accepted the whisky in their room).

tawang arunanchal pradesh india lakes snow winters travel gate
Tawang on my first morning
tawang arunanchal pradesh india lakes snow winters travel morning
Tawang on my first morning
tawang arunanchal pradesh india lakes snow winters travel
Tawang on my first morning
tawang arunanchal pradesh india lakes snow winters travel january town morning
Tawang on my first morning

By far the most famous lake is Shonga-tser Lake, more commonly known locally as Madhuri lake (after Madhuri Dixit), as one of her songs from the Movie Koyala was shot here. It takes quite some time to reach it (about 42 km from the town), but the view is breathtaking. I thanked my new friends for their generosity, without them I could have never come to this stunning lake. Its also close to the China border, and hence a few army posts are on the way.

tawang arunanchal pradesh india lakes snow winters january madhuri shonga-tser
On the way to the Lakes
tawang arunanchal pradesh india lakes snow winters january madhuri shonga-tser
Shonga-tser Lake from top
tawang arunanchal pradesh india lakes snow winters january madhuri shonga-tser
Shonga-tser Lake
tawang arunanchal pradesh india lakes snow winters january china
Near Shonga-tser Lake, China is close!

We stopped at every lake on the way, especially because I wanted to get down wherever there was water. They gladly complied, and posed for many pictures that I took. Surprisingly I was the only one there with a camera (I later shared the pictures with them by mailing a CD of all images to one of them).

Some of the other lakes on the way include Banga Jang Lake and Pangang Teng Lake.

tawang arunanchal pradesh india lakes winters january
My new friends
tawang arunanchal pradesh india snow winters january
Some more friends, playing with the snow!
tawang arunanchal pradesh india lakes snow winters january
More lakes around Tawang
tawang arunanchal pradesh india lakes snow winters january
More lakes around Tawang

We came back before evening and had our evening snack at a local place, later I went with them to their hotel room (a nice, expensive room with wood panelling and clean toilet) and played cards with them. It was an amazing day and I felt blessed.

Night was falling fast and I came back to my own cozy little room, today I had no company. My plans were already set for the next day and it turned out to be an even more adventurous day!

If you are interested in exploring Arunachal Pradesh with your backpack, here's an excellent guide: A guide to backpacking in Arunachal Pradesh

Comments

  1. WOW! Wonderful place and landscape. Looks like a nice place for climbing too:-)
    Your picture is great!

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  2. Wonderful place..Good write-up Sridharan..!Feel like packing my bags..BTW, the lunch platter is enticing..

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  3. I too had same lunch at the same place last year.. feeling nostalgic. :)
    but when is this.. we went in April and had much much more snow!!

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  4. I have heard lot about Tawang.
    You have clicked some nice pictures.
    Looking forward to read your blog more often.

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  5. @spiderdama: it indeed is a great trekking place, though i couldn't really do much of it there.

    @dhiraj: thanks!

    @sridharan: thanks :) lunch was really good, especially because that was also the only cold thing around!

    @sidharth: this was immediately after the new year's eve, in early jan. there was quite a lot of snow, but none within the town.

    @abhishek: thanks a lot for your generous comment, would like to see here more often or sure :)

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  6. You meant the hot thing around?!.
    Seeing the monastery picture, I am reminded of a beautiful Tibetan Monastery near Coorg that I visited sometime back.

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  7. thanks for the correction sridharan, i did in fact meant 'hot' and certainly not 'cold' :)

    even i visited that monastery, its quite a nice one!

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  8. was nice reading and witnessing things through them.

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  9. Sometimes the best travels are those that rely on the kindness of strangers. I like your story.

    I do have a question. Do they (your new friends) live in Tawang? How come they stay in a hotel instead of a home? Wish I could visit that place. It would probably be more difficult for me as I am a "foreigner" thus getting permits would be doubly hard - and "expensive".

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  10. Very well documented...
    And the pics are fantastic!!
    Loved the lakes and yes those clouds below...

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  11. @eye: My new friends were not from Tawang, but from the neighbouring state of Assam, and hence the hotel stay.

    p.s. I still do not know your name 'eye' :)

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  12. @arti: thanks a lot :) I think I also got lucky with my timing (though I had little control over it), and hence the place was so empty and perhaps even more welcoming, despite the cold!

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  13. "I became a vulture and looked around for a prey and soon found them " lol.... :D

    Man, you are tempting me to go there. Place looks quite beautiful.. not much of snow though.

    You haven't mentioned anywhere when you took this trip then I went thru all the comments and now I know. :)

    Look fwd to next part.

    Nisha - Le Monde-A Poetic Travail

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  14. @nisha: :D

    its one of the most beautiful places i've ever visited for sure, but yes the snow was little within the town, lots more outside and on the way!

    would be posting the second part too soon...

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  15. You will like the COORG Tibetan Monastery pictures and videos in my blog post http://sridharan-s.blogspot.com/search/label/COORG

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  16. thanks sridharan, i completely enjoyed the images :)

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  17. Hi Siddhartha! Interesting story and fabulous pictures!! I would love to see it on the spot; actually I think a friend of mine made that road in the early 80s...

    Thanks for your comments at Blogtrotter Two. Have a great week!

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  18. @trotter: thanks a lot!

    am sure in the 80s the place would've been even more beautiful and serene...

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  19. Hi! Siddharth,
    A wonderful post.Traveling alone has its own advantages. We need not care for the likes and dislikes of the fellow accompanying us, even if are from your own family. Now I need not be sorry for not having seen Tawang as your post is exhaustive. I am happy that we get vegetarian dishes there. Thanks.

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  20. Thanks a lot Mr. Subramanian, coming from you, these words mean a lot to me :)

    And yes even the vegetarian food is also quite decent there!

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  21. very beautiful clicks and awesome post.

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  22. wonderful images and lovely narration..
    shall move on to your next now!

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  23. @dr.pratibha: thanks a lot!

    @magiceye: hope you enjoy the rest as well...

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  24. For a change this was not a dry travel account. The lakes look breathtakingly beautiful. And people are star stuck even in far off Tawang!! Jeejuzzz

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  25. thanks purba :)
    but what do u mean by 'star struck' people even in far off tawang?

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  26. What caught my eye about the post on the network wall was the word...Tawang....I don't know if a more beautiful place exists....Im from the N east & now having shifted..I so miss the pristine beauty of Arunachal Pradesh..places like Zero, Tawang, etc. Fortunately or unfortunately not many people know about these places. lovely posts & even lovelier pics. Thanks U brought back loads of memories :)

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  27. @Maitreyee: Thank you so much, I am glad I could revive the memories from your homeland :) What exactly is Zero?

    @Anuradha: Thanks a lot :)

    @Purba: Yes the lake is locally known as Madhuri Lake (because Madhuri Dixit shot here for Koyala). Quite charming where all Bollywood reaches :)

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  28. Siddhartha..Zero is the name of a place in Arunachal Pradesh..amazingly beautiful

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  29. @Maitreyee: I really need to visit Arunanchal again, there seems to be so much more to see there!

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  30. Sid.good one.specially i like all the snaps.carry on dude.you had described the experience nicely, but there r no snaps of urs,moush/love?..why?

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  31. thanks vivek...i went alone, no no pics have mosh and lov :)

    u will surely see them in other posts about NE later on!

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  32. I just read this very interesting article, some great photos! I'm now following your blog, keep it up.


    I've recently started up my own travel experience blog, and would be very grateful if you could check it out and follow it, thanks.



    chrissidhu.blogspot.com

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  33. Thanks Chris, I would surely check out your blog as well :)

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  34. That is some journey! The lake is gorgeous and the sky beautiful. Can't blame you for wanting to push on after your travel companions said no.

    Many thanks for your patience, and for visiting Norwich Daily Photo and leaving your comment. Come visit again tomorrow!

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  35. Hi Sir,

    Read your post and seems like Tawang is heaven on earth. Actly me and my 4 friends(5-girls) are planning to travel north east in first week of November. Please reply to me or add me on Facebook vasudha.jc@gmail.com
    I have loads of questions to ask.. Please reply.. Vasudha

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  36. Haha Vasudha, don't call me Sir, an easier word would be 'Sid' :)

    As for Tawang, it surely is heaven on earth and am sure your girls would love the place :)

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  37. cool man , replenished the memories of my trip

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  38. How much budget should one keep in mind, if starting from Delhi? I want to keep it as low as possible.

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  39. Tawang the name reminds snowfall, lovely place .

    http://www.yesmytrip.com/

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  40. Very lovely and interesting article....feels like heaven on earth 😍😍😍

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  41. if i have to pick one place Meghalaya or Tawang ...then which is best

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  42. "Things To in Tawang" Great post .. thanks for writing this article i am planning my next trip to Tawang and you have elaborate al the things in a great way thanks again

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