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Tawang and the Indo - China Border

16 min read • 10th November 2016
Sunrise along Kameng River, Bhalukpong, Assam - Arunachal border

This blog is our memories from North-east of India with the prime destination - Tawang, near the Indo - China border.

7 sister states as they are called  - the North-East of India - comprises of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Manipur. All of them can never be covered even in 6 months! Such is the beauty of these states and the amount of places you get to witness in person. As a result, we cut short our destinations and ended up choosing the ultimate destination as Bumla. Bumla is on the Indo-China Border and 37 km from Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh.

Despite all of us being travel enthusiasts ourselves, we had no clue where to start. We only knew one thing, to reach Tawang from Chennai, Guwahati is the place we land first. After booking our flight tickets we had to check within ourselves if we were really doing it! Unlike most of the trips that have a plan starting with Bangkok, and deciding to do a day trip to Mahabs, this one was something we did not want to fail.

Chennai to Tawang needs a lot of mental and physical preparation. Our goal had to be achieved in a phased manner since it involves 9 days with 1400+kms. This was the route with ~70% mountainous roads prone to landslides and covered with snow. Not to forget the high altitudes that could potentially cause AMS if you are not prepared well for it. The plan was to cover Shillong, Bhalukpong, Dirang, Tawang, Bomdilla and Nameri on the way. Ultimately, the final goal was to visit the Bumla - Indo-China border.

Link to this sectionDay 1 - Chennai - Guwahati - Shillong

Link to this sectionThe long flight

We flew from Chennai to Guwahati, arriving at Guwahati at around 8 AM. As we wanted to escape city-life, we decided not to stay in Guwahati and preferred Shillong for our overnight stay. After offering prayers at Kamakhya Temple, we headed over to Shillong, which is approximately a 100km drive. This would mean we do 2 states - Assam and Meghalaya.

Link to this sectionShillong for overnight stay

As we arrived in Shillong on Diwali evening, it was absolutely delightful. Groups of people conduct youth events and bring their kids to parks to play. Communication is never a problem here since everyone speaks English. Umiam lake is where you will find some good mountain views with serene backdrops. This is probably the first touchpoint where you get a glimpse of some of the mountains of North-East. This lake also offers a couple of paid water rides. A perfect dinner at Cafe Shillong was the conclusion to our night stay in this cold town!

Link to this sectionDay 2 - Shillong to Bhalukpong

We left Shillong early in the morning to Bhalukpong for an overnight stay. Our stay at Bhalukpong was along the banks of the West Kameng River at Prashanti Cottage. This location is on the Arunachal-Assam border. So that's again moving back to Assam on this day while crossing the wide Brahmaputra river! Beyond Bhalukpong, Hindi is a must know to communicate with people much better, though some speak English. Sunrise on the West Kameng river and the Tippi Orchidarium are a must-do.

Link to this sectionDay 3 - Bhalukpong - Dirang

After a mesmerizing sunrise along the coast of the West Kameng River and a sumptuous breakfast from our stay, we had to move forward to the next stop - Dirang. Perhaps, Bhalukpong is the first place where you get a clearer view of the Himalayas.

This drive will be the second-best route to drive en-route to Tawang. Roads are great at places and sometimes thrilling with bumps and that's what makes the entire journey feel awesome. Our plan was to visit Dirang Monastery on the way to our stay. And our stay was at Hotel Pemaling for the night. The view from Dirang Monastery overlooking the Dirang valley can never be explained in words. Don't forget to check Sangti Valley which is by far the best valley I have ever witnessed in my life. Cattle grazing, West Kameng river flowing at its full brim and the birds chirping are signs of welcoming you to this beautiful place. For the most part of this journey, we would have been following the West Kameng River.

2 children at the Dirang monastery
Children of North east at Dirang, Arunachal Pradesh

Link to this sectionDay 4 - Dirang - Sangti Valley - Sela Pass - Tawang

Link to this sectionSangti Valley

If you are a photography enthusiast, Sangti valley will add more colour to your pictures. It is around 12km from Dirang and the drive is through very narrow roads which are bumpy at places. In fact, you will get to drive along the West Kameng River up to the valley.

Link to this sectionSela Pass - Jaswanth Garh - Jang falls

After visiting Sangti valley, we visited the Hot Springs and moved towards Sela Pass. En-route to Sela Pass, there are plenty of halts you need to take otherwise you will never enjoy your trip. You will criss-cross a number of mountains and valleys on this stretch.

Kiwis and Walnuts are famous here and you get it at a lower price. Rotis, Dhal Chawal and Maggi are always available in abundance in any Dhaba on the way. Ah! never miss out on having tea in any of the Dhabas if you stop by. At times, we had almost 5 cups per person. Perhaps, our tea consumption would have gone to an average of 100 per person for the 9 days we were travelling.

This is the route that has the famous Sela lake, Jaswant Garg, and the Jang falls (Nuranang falls). Ensure you carry medications in case you are altitude sick. Our next halt would be Tawang for the overnight stay.

The reason you should halt at Dirang/Bomdilla on your way to Tawang is to get yourself acclimated to the altitude. Altitudes will vary from 6000ft to 13700ft. So staying precautionary is always advisable.

Link to this sectionDay 5 - Full day at Tawang

A day to spend exploring the Tawang markets, and the Tawang Monastery in the morning. And in the evening, it was dedicated for Tawang War Memorial. The Tawang Monastery is India's largest monastery and second largest in the world. The Museum inside has a large collection of historical events and objects that were used by the Kings and Monks. Remember to utilise this day for you to obtain the Army's permit to visit the Indo-China border (Bumla) for the next day. If you had hired a tourist cab as we did, he/she should be able to give you the required details.

Link to this sectionDay 6 - Bumla and back to Tawang

Ensure on Day 5 you get the Army's permit to visit the Bumla Pass near the Indo — China Border which is 37 km from Tawang. The route to Bumla is extremely rugged and is on high altitude range so ensure you are well hydrated and layered with proper clothing.

Located at 15,200ft, it is extremely cold (close to 2 deg Celcius) even despite the sun shining bright. After visiting Bumla, we had a halt at Shungatser Lake which is also called as Madhuri Lake after Madhuri Dixit's Koyla movie was shot here. Shungatser is 7km from the Y Junction and is a must visit place. It was formed by an earthquake and the wooden remains are of the pine trees that were destroyed by falling rocks. Also there is a PTSO Lake which is 10km from Shungatser on the way to Tawang, where we didn't spend much time as we were all completely tired due to the altitude. which is also called as Madhuri Lake after Madhuri Dixit's Koyla movie that was shot here. Shungatser is 7 km from the Y Junction and is a must-visit place. It was formed by an earthquake and the wooden remains are of the pine trees that were destroyed by the then falling rocks. Also, there is PTSO Lake which is 10 km from Shungatser on the way to Tawang, where we didn't spend much time as we were all completely tired due to the altitude.

Link to this sectionDay 7 - Tawang - Bomdilla

Couple of days in Tawang seem to be too less to learn about their culture. But, it was time to bid goodbye to Tawang early next morning and drive downhill to Bomdilla. We chose Bomdilla since we had already stayed at Dirang during our uphill direction and we also wanted to experience staying in a Monastery. Bomdilla is a bigger town compared to Tawang or Dirang and the people here are very helpful when you are in need. Fortunately, when we had arrived here, there was a cultural festival that takes place for 3 days and we got to witness the culture of Arunachal through stage performances, food, and art forms. When you are in Arunachal, never miss out their Butter tea, amazing momos and Thukpa!

One of our team mates offering his prayers using the prayer wheels for at Bomdilla Monastery, Arunachal Pradesh
Prayer wheels at Bomdilla Monastery, Arunachal Pradesh

Link to this sectionDay 8 - Bomdilla - Nameri Eco Camp

After visiting some delightful places in Arunachal, it was time to get back to Assam for a Jungle stay at Nameri. We reached a place 15 km ahead of Nameri and rafted to Nameri Eco Camp, Potasali. Rafting as it is called, but it isn't as exciting since the water is not that rapid-moving. The best part of this stay is that you get to reside one night amidst chirping birds and inside thatched tents. Food in the restaurant within the premises is good and spicy, so if you love the hot and chilly flavour, don't miss out their Chicken gravy.

A solo elephant that is seen hiding behind a bush at Nameri eco camp in Assam
Elephant at Nameri eco camp, Assam

Link to this sectionDay 9 - Nameri Eco Camp - Guwahati

Link to this sectionShopping

It is hard to say we are almost at the end of this journey, but we enjoyed the journey more than the destination. So, it's time to bid Goodbye to North-East as we move away from the splendid place back home. We moved from Nameri to Guwahati which took around 5 hours and reached at around 2:30 PM.

As we couldn't buy anything special of North-East like Tea, and sweets, we halted at Guwahati's Fancy Bazaar and strode into streets. Our return flight to Chennai was at 06:45 PM so we had enough time to walk leisurely and check things out. Unfortunately being a Sunday, most of the shops were closed and we had to walk into so many streets to find Tea sellers. When we were about to retire back to our cab at 03:30 PM we found a small outlet called 9 am tea. They sell some of the best tea from the gardens of Assam. After packing close to 8 kgs of Tea, at around 04:00 PM we started our cab to Guwahati Airport and that's when we had the best surprise of the trip.

Link to this sectionThe amazing traffic jam surprise

There was huge traffic in a 1 km stretch and we were made to move centimetre by centimetre like a snail. Time kept moving fast and we realised we just moved 100 meters at 04:30 PM. That's when we felt that this wouldn't work out and went out in the roads ahead to analyse what to do and we got ourselves into clearing traffic. We ensured vehicles didn't jam and kept moving at a slow pace and controlled junctions along with other locals, but it never worked out.

Trying our best until 05:15 PM to help ease traffic and failing to handle it, we decided to walk! Remember Fancy bazaar to Airport is 25 mins (according to Google Maps) by car in no traffic conditions. Around 05:30 PM, we had no choice but to unload all the bags from the cab and start walking the 1 km traffic stretch to another junction where we could get autos or cabs to the airport. Luckily we got a cab who offered us to drop and 4 guys left in it, the remaining 3 of us had to walk further 500 metres to find an auto and without bargains, we left that place before we meet another traffic bottleneck. At 05:59 PM we had our baggage checked-in and safely began our journey back home.

Link to this sectionMerci beaucoup

I'd like to thank each and everyone who we came across during our 9 days trip who helped us, advised us, gave us tips to visit places and food to try, who made us some extra-ordinary tea like the shop near Bomdila on the way to Tawang and being patient in answering our stupid queries. Thanks for making our stay an amazing one. I'd also like to apologise to making you prepare us food, again and again, it was just because we loved your preparations, be it maggie, rice, dhal chawal, rotis, or tea or whatnot. I'd definitely visit Tawang one more time when it gets to snow and not to miss playing with the snowballs. Thanks a million, North-East. I still have Cherrapunji and Naga-Mizo-Tripura in my list to cover next time.

Big thanks to Pranav Balasubramanian for organising this big trip and life wouldn't be easier if there was nothing like Travefy, Splitwise or Chillr apps that made our monetary and travel tracking easier.

If you are a person that throws away chewing gum papers, plastic and waste on the floor as you go, please* do not visit this place and spoil the nature here.

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