I grew up dreaming of Shangri-La. Last night, I stumbled upon a frozen waterfall of deep turquoise surrounded by Himalayan peaks while the sun was shining down on me from an azure sky. Tawang is probably the closest I have come to finding this earthly paradise described by James Hilton.
In Part I, we had made our way from Guwahati to Sela Pass (the border between West Kameng and Tawang District) and had crossed over to see the lovely waters of the lake referred to as the Paradise Lake. This post is the story of our travels in Tawang District.
There is a descent beyond Sela Pass with road worsening and the view improving, progressively. I spent most of the drive rather awestruck.
About 20 km beyond Sela, lies Jaswant Garh. It is a memorial erected in the name of Veer Jaswant Singh of the 4th Garhwal Rifles who received the Mahavir Chakra, posthumously, for holding up the Chinese Army, single-handedly, for 72 hours during Battle of Nuranang. His story would make a patriot out of the most indifferent Indian.
Fifteen more kilometers beyond Jaswant Garh lies the sleepy town of Jang. I remember we had our evening meal here, which was reminiscent of our ‘fooding’ in Hotel Saiddle (which you can read about in Part I) sans the spectacular chili chutney. What is remarkable about this town, however, is its proximity to the Nuranang Falls (also known as the Jang Falls). If you have seen the 90s Bollywood film Koyla, starring Madhuri Dixit and Shah Rukh Khan, you would recall Madhuri Dixit dancing around this place singing “Tanhai, Tanhai” (youtube link in case anyone is interested!). If you ever want to sing and dance away your tanhai (loneliness), this would probably be the place to do it. Nuranang Falls are absolutely spectacular and unknown to most travellers. In the monsoons, the falls are a thundering sheet of water and the spray will drench you even if you are standing 100 feet away.
The rest of the year, the sun shines through the spray making countless rainbows. Its like something out of a fairytale, really! I’m sure there are such falls in Shangri-La.
If you can drag yourself away from the Jang Falls, drive on to Tawang Town, home to the largest Gompa (Monastery) in India, ‘Galden Namgey Lhatse’ (meaning celestial paradise in a clear night).
Tawang Monastery was founded by Mera Lama Lodre Gyatso. It is said that he had been unable to decide on a site for the monastery and was seeking divine guidance in a nearby cave. When he stepped out of the cave, he found his horse missing. After searching for a while, he found the horse standing on a nearby hilltop. It was at this location that he decided to establish the Gompa, thereby giving Tawang (Horse-chosen) its name.
The library of the monastery has many old and valuable scriptures.
The Gompa is an important part of the everyday life of the residents of Tawang.
The Urgelling Monastery 5 km away is also famous as the birthplace of the 6th Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso.
There are no fancy hotels in Tawang so if you’re expecting fantastic showers, decent TV reception and wifi, you’re in the wrong town. In fact, if you’re looking for cell phone reception (except MTNL), you are in the wrong state. We stayed at a small lodge called Hotel Dawa, which was surprisingly clean and I got an excellent cup of tea early next morning so bonus points for that!
After that excellent cup of tea, and some breakfast (yak momos for the adventurous), drive on to Shungatser Lake. Shungatser Lake (also known as Madhuri Lake) is the second spot featured in Tanhai, Tanhai (if you actually watched that video link). The lake is situated at an altitude of 12,467 feet above sea level and was formed in a violent earthquake about 60 years ago. The Indo-China border is very close to the lake and there is a small army outpost in the area. There is a cafe next to the lake (called Shungatser Cafe of course) which is run by the army. Here you will get pretty decent chhole bhature, maggi and hot coffee that you will be extremely grateful for. Even in peak summer (I visited in June), it was incredibly cold. I now have added respect for Madhuri Dixit for being able to dance in a sleeveless top; I put on an extra jacket (fluffy and warm) as soon as I got out of the car.
There are countless other mirror-like mountain lakes on the road between Tawang Town and Shungatser Lake.
However, be wary of drinking the crystal clear water since it is extremely poisonous. The roots of a certain beautiful and beguiling pink-flower plant reach all the way into the water making it toxic. Its probably a good idea to stay away from the flowers as well.
The rest of the scenery around the area is pretty breathtaking as well.
However, given its proximity to China, there is considerable military presence in Tawang. It is true that the many bunkers dotting the landscape mar the unspoiled natural beauty of Tawang but it is important to remember that without them, we probably would not have access to Arunachal at all.
So, I have found my Shangri-La. Till I travel deeper into the Himalayas anyway!
For more on Tawang (how to get there, travel requirements etc.):