4/15/2009 to 4/23/2009 | Arunachal Pradesh , India


Tawang is the most visited region of the little visited state of Arunachal Pradesh. A state which is seldom visited not because it lacks attractions, but more for the bureaucratic hurtles involved in visiting the state. A very sensitive area for the Indians, ever since the Chinese routed them in the war of 1962, in which they pushed the Indian forces nearly all the way into Assam before voluntarily withdrawing. Despite the withdrawal the Chinese still lay claim to large parts of the state including Tawang, birthplace of the 5th Dali Lama and home to a very important Tibetan Monastery. The Indian government figured the security of the region would be better ensured by restricting access to foreigners allowing them only a 10-day permit (hardly enough time to see more than a glimpse of the state) and only issuing it to groups of 4 or more. If that wasn’t enough, a fee of $50 per person extracted for the permit. This had the effect of limiting tourism for the most part to high end jeep tours, and excluding people like myself who had no interest in traveling in that fashion. However the rules had recently changed, requiring only 2 people to get the permit and furthermore the permit was now valid for an entire month opening up the possibility of independently traveling around the state. So when May said she was interested in exploring the state it offered the perfect opportunity, making the requisite pair to obtain the permit. Though the well organized and neat Singaporean may have had some regrets about accepting the offer, after spending a month with this American slob.

Our first destination was Tawang. Unfortunately the timing of our visit was somewhat ill-conceived. The primary means of transportation in the region is shared “Sumo,” the Indian make Tata’s equivalent, or perhaps more accurately phrased, “approximation,” of a Landcruiser or jeep. Ordinarily these Sumos ply regularly the routes between various towns and villages in Arunachal. Unfortunately we had chosen to travel during the state elections. Nearly all the vehicles in the state were commandeered by the government to ferry around election workers and carry ballots and other election materials between towns. Furthermore in an effort to try to reduce fraud the government had forbidden the use of any private vehicles on the day of the election. I doubt the effectiveness of this policy, I was told by a man in one Arunachal district, plainly that Congress would win his district since they were paying 150 rupees per vote while the competing BJP was only paying 100. Nevertheless the result of all this was that we ended up being stuck in Dirang, a pleasant enough village about halfway between Assam and Tawang, but one we were anxious to get out of. We might have been stuck there longer had we not managed to get a ride with a group of Bengali tourists who managed to book a vehicle from another town the day after the election as there were still, as of yet, no public shared Sumos plying the roads.

We had reached Tawang, overcome the vehicle shortage, but we were losing the battle with the weather. Unfortunately, our entire time in Tawang only offered occasional glimpses through the mist and rain of surrounding snow clad peaks. Nevertheless, we were able to still appreciate the cultural aspects of the region, visiting several monasteries, a nunnery, and a few villages. The culinary sights were not hampered by the weather either, and I thoroughly enjoyed numerous plates of Yak meat momos during my stay.

On our last full day in Tawang a very nice man and local government employee invited us to visit his village, a mall cluster of picturesque houses in the middle of green fields. We drank lots of home-brewed alcohol something we would grow quite familiar with in Arunachal. He also showed us the villages prized sword an antique sword which had been handed down though the generations and was revered by the villagers who claimed it had killed many Bhutanese.

The following day, we arrived in Bomdilla in the mid afternoon from Tawang with tickets on the evening night bus to Itanagar the capital of Arunachal Pradesh. With several hours to kill, and frequent blasts of horns and chanting emanating form the monastery it was a logical place to pass some time. It turned out that this was a special day for the monastery and they were conducting a yearly day long prayer ceremony. With several photogenic monks around it wasn’t hard to pass the time.

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