The culture of Tawang is highly influenced by the Tibetans and the Buddhist way of life. With a number of monasteries, known as Gompas, Tawang has a serene and pacifying ambience. The natives celebrate three main festivals namely, Torgya, Lossar and Choekhor harvest. The Monpas dance pan and are pantomime dances and celebrate the festivals with gaiety. The place is dependent on tourism and their occupation is basically shifting and permanent cultivation. The staple food of Tawang is Zan, a flat bread served with meat or vegetables. Popular dishes include Gyapa Khazi, momo and thukpa. The Monpas are a creative lot and are skilled in wood carving, Thangka painting, carpet making and weaving. The Buddhist Lamas are known for making wooden bowls and bamboo woven products.
In the magnificent highlands of the high-eastern Himalayas, Tibetan Buddhism has for ages survived and progressed true to its essence. Once contingent to that glorious free Tibet and ruled from Lhasa, the region today forms the western part of the forested state of Arunachal Pradesh. This land is proverbially beautiful; where the forests are massive, where plentiful fruits and flowers, high mountains, large rivers and humble cultures come alive in their awe and simplicity.
Old as the land, the region has its earliest inhabitants in the Monyul Kingdom which ruled over the land for over a thousand years till the 6th century. The Monpa people of this kingdom eventually adopted Buddhist practices over the later centuries and in 17th century the mesmerizing Galden Namgey Lhatse Monastery that translates as ‘celestial paradise in a clear night’ was built in the settlement of Tawang as per the wishes of his holiness the 5th Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, and belongs to the Gelug school of Mahayana Buddhism. Ever since, the landscape of the region has shined further gloriously, as a center of deep Buddhist studies and thriving cultural practices. In some essence, the region is also an example of Buddhism’s ability to absorb and integrate native faiths to create prosperity and unity. As such, Monpas and other tribes such as Aka and Serdukpen who reside in the western cultural sphere of Arunachal Pradesh follow a culture which has integrated Buddhism with some of their pre-Buddhist Bon and animist elements of faith.
You will drive as far as the holy lands of Tawang and even beyond to paradisiacal landscapes of the mysterious high eastern Himalayas. In the verdant village of Thembang, you will come across and participate in the village life of the Monpa people and be introduced to their Bon-Buddhist culture. A responsible tourism project in the village ensures visitors get to stay in homestays and benefits remain at a grassroots level. In medieval era the village was a headquarter of a large territory ruled by the powerful Thembang Bapu, a direct descendant of the king of Tibet, and remains of fortification of this kingdom is still found in the village. Moving further high in the mountains towards the frontier borderlands with Tibet, the tour will reach the holy town of Tawang where the Galden Namgey Lhatse Monastery sits overlooking atop the hill and appears radiant, like a beckon of higher consciousnesses. The town is both a cultural and commercial hub in this remote region. Numerous important monasteries and nunneries have been established in and around. Such as the 15th century Urgelling Monastery which is the birthplace of his holiness the 6th Dalai Lama Gyalwa Tsangyang Gyatso. The Anni Gompa is the oldest nunnery in the vast area with several quarters housing many Buddhist nuns, built around five hundred years ago by a Tibetan lama. The newly opened ropeway between Tawang Monastery and Anni Gompa is an enjoyable ride. The large and artistic Khinmey monastery is the only major shrine of the Nyingmapa sect (red hat) of Tawang region, where according to legend, the great hermit Kudun Sangey Rinpoche tamed several barking hunting dogs while meditating. The Nyingmapas were the majority sect in Tawang region in the earlier times before the emergence of Gelugpa sect (yellow hat) of Tawang monastery, and are known to incorporate local religious practices, local deities and elements of shamanism.
Lastly, as you travel near the borderlands, the geography opens up into spectacular high-altitude peaks, pastures and wetlands, like nature’s eye-candy. While Indian travelers can go on a day trip towards Bum La pass to enjoy the scenic beauty of breathtaking lakes, foreign nationals get to spend a day traveling towards Bhutan to visit Zemithang village to see the traditional lifestyle of people living in the secluded frontiers and visit the large Gorsam Stupa which is a sacred pilgrimage site resembling the colossal Boudhanath Stupa of Nepal.
There will also be a visit to two community projects which are engaging in social work. The Manjushree Vidyapeeth is an orphanage run by the Buddhist monks and is on the way to Lhou. It is open for visitors and many even offer help for the welfare of this institution. Jhamtse Gatsal is another project – a community, home and school for about 90 children who come from nearby villages. Coming from various problems, the school’s goal is to provide the children with a better future and enable them in reaching their fullest potential. The community focuses on the wholesome development of a child by activities such as education, cultural preservation, family bonds, community outreach, food & gardening, healthcare and sustainable living. Volunteering here is highly recommended and the school assists interested individuals find a temporary vocation which will benefit the children.
A revealing journey through one of the planet’s last thriving natural paradise, this tour provides a simple insight into distant lifestyles and cultures, all the while traversing a diversity of pretty landscapes. A quote by the great anthropologist Dr.Verrier Elwin aptly describes “Gentle, friendly, courteous, industrious, good to animals, good to children, you see in the Monpas the influence of the compassionate Lord Buddha on the ordinary man.”