Nestled in the north-western part of Arunachal Pradesh, Tawang is a land forgotten between the folds of mountains and lakes. Framed by an amphitheatre of snow-capped peaks, with passes too high even for the clouds to reach, it is a melange of the very best of nature.
Straddled by Tibet and Bhutan, this often overlooked land has historically come under the radar every time blood was shed in its vicinity. Passing through this magical place, with its lush greenery and gushing waterfalls that dot the entire landscape, it is difficult to believe that the Indo-China War of 1962 was fought so close to a place so surreal.
Perhaps it is more fitting that the 14th Dalai Lama chose to cross over into this region to escape the Chinese tyranny in 1959.
For all the drama it has witnessed, the landscape of Tawang remains quite the opposite. Like the sound of a gurgling stream, it is more soothing than imposing. Coloured in brilliant shades of green through the summer and a blanket of white in the winter, interrupted by placid lakes and gushing waterfalls, Tawang is the foggy dream that wanderlust is made of.
As we embark on our journey from Guwahati, we slowly leave behind the rushed city life and enter into Tezpur with its colonial buildings and green parks. As we cross Bomdila and arrive into Dirang, the reminders of war are scattered all through our route. Be it war memorials or cantonments, there is the distinct feeling of being in a border town – a land that is beautiful but marked with difficulties. We choose to stay in Dirang over Bomdila because of the relative peace and quietude that is missing in the latter town. From Dirang, we opt to take a detour into the scenic and charming Sangti Valley, a mere 20 km away. We spent a while close to the river here and crossed the prayer flags lined rickety bridge over it.
Sangti is definitely a village one should spend a day at, and we decide to come back very soon.
We take off the next day towards the popular Sela Pass, the gateway to Tawang. This is where the real climb starts, with Sela Pass being at an altitude of 13,828 ft – the highest motorable pass in the north-east. Once again, the regular army presence on the way unnerves us a little. But soon enough, we are distracted by the sight of dhabas on our route and we stop at one for lunch. What strikes us as unusual is that almost all the dhabas here are run and managed by women.
From cooking to serving, all tasks are carried out by women and we learn that this is a common feature in the north-east. This is a welcome departure from the patriarchal setup we are so accustomed to, especially in the north.
We reach the Sela Pass, with its snow laden mountains and azure Sela Lake, a sure sign that we are about to enter Tawang. The air has a decided nip once atop the pass. A giant war memorial greets us just on the outskirts of Tawang. Entering the mystical realm of Tawang feels a lot like stepping into the wardrobe that propels one into Narnia. Having travelled extensively through north India, it is definitely not just the sight of mountains that daze me. It is probably the entirety of it all – the verdant hills, the rolling clouds, the flowing Tawanchu river, and the most majestic sight of all – the yellow roofed fort-like Tawang Monastery.
The monastery, that came to be the largest in India, was actually built like a fort by an angry monk called Meera Lama.
Tired of the autocracy of the older Buddhist sects, he decided to build a fortress to protect the monks of the Gelugpa sect. The history behind this 17th Century monastery is fascinating, and includes skirmishes and conflicts. However, today, it is an oasis of peace and the monks here lead a life of isolation from the world.
This isolation is somehow slowly wearing off as the region faces the advent of tourism. Inhabited mainly by the nomadic Monpa tribe, the vagrant ways of its people are gradually giving way to stationery lives as they find employment in and around the monastery. The region is seeing an increased influx of tourists and the natives are turning towards modernization at a slow but steady pace. This is a fact that hits me as I sit in a restaurant in Tawang and witness the clandestine claws of westernization that has gripped its youth. As youngsters huddle behind bars to swig on beer and sway to the tunes of Pink Floyd, I experience a wave of emotions.
There is a misplaced sense of nostalgia – for a past that does not belong to me but this beautiful land, a land whose culture may soon be eroded.
There is also an exuberance – of seeing the youth finding the means to connect with the world in this remote part of the country. It is how life moves, I ruse – only forward.
I only consider my travels worthwhile, when they teach me something. And Tawang has plenty to teach me.
There are reminders of how privileged we are to be sleeping safe in our houses while Army men like Jaswant Singh protect our borders and die fighting for it, and the subsequent feeling of how futile war is – a feeling magnified when you spot how easily walkable it is into China if it weren’t for army outposts.
There are hundreds of lakes that facilitate reflection not just into its clear waters, but into one’s self. There is the beauty of the journey that takes you through one of the most picturesque paths in the country.
As I gaze at the formidable Tawang Monastery from a distance, imagining its maroon-robed monks hobnobbing on its steps, my spirits lift high. For Tawang is truly a land of cheer and happiness. It is impossible to find gloom here, whatever the circumstances. If numerous battles have not been able to change that disposition, I doubt that the trivial problems of the present day can.
Thank you very much to you and your team for arranging this fantastic tour. One of the best pick from this tour was your meticulous planning and promptness of service. All arrangements were fantastic, be it a delivery of vehicle at Chandigarh airport, hotels particularly at Chandigarh, Leh, Nubra, Pangong. However the best was at Jispa, Kargil and Srinagar for different reasons. Jispa was simple but authentic with very tasty food.
Rajesh & Gauri Natu
Graphic Designer, Apple
Sunil, after I ran 21k Marathon I bragged about it for years. The same is being repeated again, with my ambition to drive across the Himalayas, which was almost faded with Srinagar under curfew. You and Chetan were the spark to our fire that we could do this drive and without a single trouble. Driving is a passion but driving thru places where there are no roads is trouble, but your breakup of program and awesome car condition helped us actually sail thru. Three cheers and five stars.
Absolute Networks, Mumbai
Wow. wow, wow. What a experience! We took the route of Delhi - Jammu - Srinagar - Leh - Sarchu - Manali - Delhi. Sunil Kapoor gave us excellent service which includes his next to new 4WD in immaculate condition and all hotels were top class. Coming from Australia, we were bit nervous in start but when we met Sunil, we had full trust and all went very positive. Sunil gave us perfect instructions and everything was according to plan. Thank you Sunil and your team for our one of the best experience in life you have provided us.
Director, Webential, Australia
Eight of us from Sri Lanka got Sunil to arrange a self driven tour to Leh and we are very happy with our decision. He was punctual, trustworthy and met our expectations. The service provided was very professional. As foreigners it’s hard to arrange such a tour by ourselves and Unwind outdoor filled in the gap perfectly. All places we stayed were nice and decent. Should specifically mention about the two Scorpios which we instantly fell in love with. They were very well maintained ...
Friends from SriLanka
After days of research, we finally came across a facebook page called ‘Unwind Outdoors’. It seemed like our dream was going to be finally true. Very reasonably priced and Sunil from Unwind was like a know-it-all person.
The itinerary was so crisp and so very well laid out that there was no reason for us to worry other than coping up with nature’s fury.
Clifford Chance, Delhi
We did a SUV self drive trip from Chandigarh to Ladakh and back organized by Unwind Outdoor.
Highly recommend Unwind Outdoor as Sunil and Manpreet took care of everything we needed (car, hotel bookings, sightseeing and food recommendations, permits) and everything was organized seamlessly. Sunil was very patient with all our queries, giving suggestions and options to suit our preferences.
Ashish & Neha Thadani
Great to see the know-how of the Unwind Outdoor team regarding every aspect of the Srinagar - Leh - Chandigarh self drive trip. From weather conditions, to road conditions, to health/clothing requirements, and also driving instructions - Sunil and Manpreet are warm, meticulous and knowledgable. Villa Himalaya in Sonamarg surpassed all our expectations and ensured that our expected standards for the rest of the trip were extremely high.
Symbiosis Law School, Mumbai
Thanks Sunil for arranging a wonderful trip. Everything went well and we were in good hands with friendly and competent drivers. Accommodation was good and tents were comfortable beyond our expectations. We didn't have problem with food choices. It was a totally rejuvenating vacation and experience for us. Thanks from us in Singapore!
We had an amazing 9-day from Manali to Leh. Serene, breathless and picturesque. High altitude sickness was a big issue for us but we were in good hands.
Unwind Outdoor was superb in arranging and coordinating the trip. Taking care of all arrangements and checking-in on us. Kudos to Sunil and his team.
Assistant Director, Jurong Town Corporation, Singapore
We travelled as a couple & completed a self drive trip from Delhi-Jammu-Srinagar-Kargil-Leh-Nubra-Pangong-Tso Moriri-Sarchu-Manali-Delhi. Itinerary was meticulously designed to be a mix of adventure and comfort. Hotel choices were best. Support was available at all points in case of emergency.Vehicle provided was top notch. Thanks to Mr. Sunil Kapoor for personally putting in efforts to maintain such high standards.
Nikhil & Neha Mazumdar
Manager L&T, Mumbai
Six of us (two families) travelled to Leh in Jul / Aug 2015 and we had an excellent experience with Unwind Outdoor. From the very beginning of our excited planning phase, Sunil has been willingly suggesting us options, number of days, places to visit etc. He has all the knowledge of the terrain, passionate about trekking and traveling himself, so he understands travel-crazy people such as me and my quirks.
We landed in Leh in time for cloudbursts and flashfloods and landslides (along with mud and rocks sliding too). Despite Nature's fury, Sunil and Skarma made sure we were utmost safe and comfortable. These guys are just not into travel business, they help people fulfil their travel dreams. Truly! Go guys!!
Barclays Bank, Bangalore