Timeless Tawang

Breathing lowers, eyes get transfixed and soul flies off leaving the senses spellbound. Nothing seems breath taking as the 400 years old monastery looming across the horizon. Perched at a height above 12,155ft and having drenched in quintessential aura of Buddhism, this land of Monpa Tribe is nestled in the knolls of dawn-lit mountains. Nuzzled in the icy folds of higher Himalayan foothills of North Easthern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, Tawang is scarcely populated mountainous track lying roughly on the northwest extreme. Mesmerising lofty mountains, clear sparkling lakes, deep gorges, exquisite Gompas and quaint villages shade this tinsel town as the basket of adventure. The high altitude bare mountains, uninhabited hilly belt ranging from 6000 ft to 11,000.ft comprising of plateau and sparsely populated narrow valleys graduates Tawang as the Mecca of trekkers and hikers.

The magnanimous monastery offers an inebriating & picturesque view of the Tawang Chu river valley. The monastery appears like a humongous fortress as if guarding the votaries of Mahayana Buddhism in the wide valley below. Fondly known as Galden Namgyal Lhatse, which translates to “celestial paradise in a clear night” in Tibetan dialect, has a tale to tell.  And the tale is indeed captivating with the thundering waterfalls, bursting bubbles of hot water spring and the flirtatious temperate breeze playing the role of percussionists in the background. The legend goes that the site on which the Gompa stands is considered extremely pious and divine. It’s said that when Merag Lama wasn’t able to locate the place for the construction of the monastery, he intended to seek divine guidance. He was praying inside a cave and when he returned post finishing the prayers, he found that his horse was missing. On searching, he saw that horse was standing on a hilltop.  Considering this as a sign of divine blessing, the location was then finalized for construction of the monastery. The foundation stone of this celestial monastery was laid by Merag Lama; the monk of the time of 5th Dalai Lama. The whole structure was brought from Tibet, piece by piece; on horseback and it was assembled here. The monastery was founded in 1681 by Merag Lama Lodre Gyatso in compliance with the desires of 5th Dalai Lama, Nagwang Lobsang Gyatso.
Having witnessed the quest for survival of Tibetans and harsh weather conditions since centuries, the 3 storey fortified monastery spans across 150 square meters having 65 residential structures, lanes and by lanes inside. With the capacity of accommodating 750 monks, the three storied assembly hall of the monastery houses a colossal 28 ft high golden statue of Buddha, striking deity idols, Thangkas and murals. Abundant with spiritual treasures it has preserved holy Buddhist scriptures, pictographs and an exceptional collection of ancient Tibetian Thangkas along with the renowned Buddhist scriptures Kangyur & Tangyur those are inscribed in gold since centuries.  The main assembly hall or Duknang is a house to an array of Buddha statues in various poses. Bejeweled with sacred knowledge, Parkhang hall is actually a library with a wealth of Thangka-manuscripts and sacred books. Waking up to the sound of gongs and prayer bells is blissful enough for a spiritual beginning. Watching maroon-robed monks chanting, praying & meditating near the 28-feet high golden Buddha decked with horns and incense braziers pacifies the soul. Being synonymous to a peaceful and solitary retreat, the gompa buzzes of religious activity, while its craft center produces intricately woven carpets.

Bustling bazaar, fluttering prayer flags, stone and timber houses of Monpas add to the charm of Tawang. These original inhabitants of Tawang are the descendants of Mongoloid stock. Their primary source of income is based on agriculture and animal husbandry.  As hearty as theirs yaks are, so are the Monpas who tend to their yaks and brew their own alcohol. Armed with a philosophy of living their lives to the fullest, they enjoy life and when spirits are high they often break into song & dance.  The local markets are dotted with shops selling woolen shawls, carpets and the wrap skirts worn by Monpa women. The Craft Center of the Tawang Monastery produces fine woolen carpets in an array of colorful designs. Also there Serdukpen shawls Apatani jackets and scarves, Adi skirts, Mishmi shawls, blouses and jackets, wancho bags. Craft- Centers at Bomdila and Tawang offer very fine carpets in multiple shades and patterns. Carpets of ethnic Tibetan designs are way too popular and are made of pure wool. Couples of souvenir shops in the Old Market and the Tibetan settlement showcase an array of wood items carved by the locals. Hand carved special bowls, spoons; masks those are sported in religious dances and ethnic Monpa & Tibetan utensils used for cooking can are up for sale. The renowned Buddhist prayer wheels, flags and statues carved out of wood as well as brassware are even sold in the market.

Urgelling Monastery:  A few miles from Tawang to the south is the birthplace of His Holi Highness the sixth Dalai Lama; Ngawang Gyamtso, the sacred Urgelling monastery. The 6th Dalai Lama is the only Indian to have risen to such a high position in Gelupka Sect of Buddhism so far. Urgelling monastery traces backs its roots to the 15th century CE, i.e. around 1489. Established by Urgen Sangpo as a Buddhist spiritual center  the monastery had faced invasion and resurrection. Today it houses a single temple and shelters some of the monks who lead a simple life, practice meditation and other Buddhist practices.

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Taktsang Monastery:  Nestled amidst serenity and dense coniferous forest with snow capped peaks in the background is the Taktsang Monastery. Well known as “Tiger’s Den” this is an ideal setting for those who have chosen the path of Nirvana and the monastery have been by Guru Padmasambhava in the 8th century CE. The quest to begin the inner journey and solace ends here, The monastery offers a perfect place to seat, meditate and lets one’s unite with celestial universe.

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Tawang War Memorial:  Every land has its hero and India has a history of its numerous heroes. Namgyal Chorten is proof about Indian Army’s extraordinarily trained and unequaled men. They were the heroes who ferociously fought till their last droplet of blood shaded the ground red and their last round of bullets silenced the hordes of Chinese. Standing tall, commanding respect and overlooking the Tawang Chu valley is the 40 ft. Multi hued Tawang War Memorial. Commemorating the bravery of the Indian heroes of the Indo-Shino war of 1962, the memorial has names of 2,420 dead soldiers etched in gold on around 32 black granite plagues. The war memorial has two halls. One of them houses the priceless collection of personal articles of martyrs, while the other is used for sound and light shows, depicting their heroic deeds. Dalai Lama has blessed the entire memorial and in addition, the Holy Scriptures, an idol of Lord Buddha and Arya Avlokiteshwara were also sent by Dalai Lama to this memorial. These idols have been kept in the vaults of the stupa.

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Tawang is not just a house to several other monasteries and nunneries but boasts of several adventure sports too. The rivers Tawang-Chu and Namjang-Chu are a hot spot for river-rafting activities leaving other options too for rock-climbing, paragliding, skating and other winter sport activities.

Food for feast: And yes, Tawang cooks up some scrumptious delicacies for the ardent foodies and those who are interested to gamble a bit with their taste buds. The infamous Tibetan delicacies like Thupka, or momos are available at every roadside corner. But the appetizing Paratha- Sabzi is a must try and can be eaten hot from the roadside eateries. A tiny shack named Annapurna serves flavorsome “Alu Chips”. Tasting a traditional Monpa cuisine needs a tongue of steel and an iron heart as they tend to use a generous amount of chilies and fermented cheese that gives a strong flavor which not recommend for the weakhearted. One can try “Zan”, the staple dish of the Monpas which is made of Millet flour with ingredient including vegetables or meat to which fermented cheese, soya bean or other herbs are added too. If this isn’t filling then “Gyapa Khazi” is the hunger cruncher. It’s a Monpa version of Pulao made of rice, fermented cheese and tossed with small dried fishes or shrimps, chilies ginger and other spices. One can also try “Khura”, the Monpa Pancake which is generally served with tea. Apart from Apong which is a local drink made of rice and millet, Butter Tea too is famous beverage. It is smooth and shooting too. Monpas being mostly non-vegetarians are fond of these delicacies. Apart from these there are many mount-watering Monpa recipes like Khatzi, Pua, Kyola, Kharang.Bak-Tza Margu. Those with the street food fixation can hunt for local eateries to explore the appetizing side of Tawang.

Fascinating Festivities: Losar &Torgya

As enchanting as this paradisaical destination is so are the vibrant festivities of this land. Considered as the most important of all Buddhist festivals, Festival of Losar commemorates the Tibetan New Year in accordance with the lunar calendar. It falls in the end of February or early March and is celebrated for 8 – 15 days. It’s marked with ancient rituals, stage fights between good and evil, chanting and passing through the crowds with fire torches. Amplifying the spirit of festivity, the dance of the Ibex deer and the dramatic battles between the King & his ministers are phenomena to be witnessed. For the ones who follow Buddhism, Losar is a sacred time of feasting and celebrations. Exquisitely shaded homes with flour paintings of the Sun & moon and the tungsten light shimmering of the small lamps illuminated in the houses are worth capturing in the camera lens. Glistening lamps, holy chants and hoisting prayer flags leverage the piousness of the sacred festival of Losar.

Another major festival celebrated only by the Lamas of the monastery is Torgya. Being one of the most colorful festivals of Arunachal Pradesh, the celebration continues for three days commencing from the 28th day of the eleventh month of the lunar calendar. Amidst the traditional Tibetan music, Chham; a sacred dance is performed by monks dressed in mythological attires and masks during the festival. The dance depicts numerous holy, earthly characters and it is performed for three days. Commencing the festival on its 1st day, monks offer a sacrificial cake known as Torma which is offered to the fire ignited in the courtyard of the monastery which is then accompanied by the reading of Holy Scriptures by the beating of drums. On the last day of Torgya a ritual of worship is performed known as Wang. Here an assembly is organized and every individual is then allowed to participate in the holy rituals under the guidance of the monk. A long procession at the end is taken out and the large Thangka is kept outside for public view. On the onset of this festival, a pyramidal structure of Torgya is made by the Lamas, who offer prayers, lighten every corner of the monastery with colourful lights and perform dance to signify the victory of good over the evil spirits.

Even in the advanced world of zillion technologies, there do exists the creed those remind every traveler of the days when Man loved to live in the laps of Mother Nature. And this unexplored celestial land is no exception to it. The voyagers will always find the spirituality of Tibet in the air. No matter how the world advances, the tribal culture, tradition, the Gompas, monks’ prayers and chanting will always emanate for the divine cause of peace and well being of the whole cosmos.

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