Today I woke after hearing the knocking of door around 5 am. After opening door we saw our driver Rabi was standing. He told, as Tawang sightseeing & Boomla Pass tour should be done by local driver therefore within two days he would sent another driver because police found his wife and they wanted to deliver her to her husband. I told him passionately, after getting his wife not to forgot us. Then I went for a walk and to view the Tawang beauty in morning. Tawang is situated at an elevation of approximately 10,000 ft. The place is part of the long run dispute between India and China concerning Arunachal Pradesh and is claimed by China as a part of the Tibet Autonomous Council. Tawang was traditionally a part of Tibet colonized by the Monpa individuals. Today we kept our day for Tawang sightseeing.
Tawang Air Force Station had an already functional heliport. The nearest airports with scheduled flights were the Guwahati and Tezpur airports established at a distance of 450 and 325 kilometers, respectively.
Recently the proposed 166 km long rail link from the existing Bhalukpong railway station to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. This national project would boost tourism and enhance the national security with faster movement of troops. It would pass through elevations of over 10,000 feet, the 80% of the tracks will be through tunnels and the longest tunnel would be 29.48 km long (Ref: Swarajya, 23 Aug 2019).
This link would cut back the present 285 kilometreBhalukpong-Tawang road distance by 119 km, and to shorten the road distance further the railway would additionally develop a pair of lane road high ways along the rail line.
By road, Tawang is 448 kilometres from capital Itanagar and was connected with buses run by APSRTC and private services. Tawang received snowfall every year during December–January. Visitors to Tawang, as was the case with the entire Arunachal Pradesh, require special Inner Line Permit (ILP). After doing our breakfast we started our Tawang local sightseeing tour. First we went to-
1. Ani Gompa
Brama Dung Chung Ani Gompa (nunnery) was the oldest Ani Gompa (Nunnery) in Tawang District of Arunachal Pradesh. This nunnery was located in the slopes of a far off mountain enclosed by the untouched beauty of Mother Nature on all sides. A small Buddhist nunnery, Ani Gompa lied several miles farther up the mountains from the Tawang Monastery. Even a lot of remote and fewer visited than the Tawang monastery, the Ani Gompa, founded in 1816. Part of that was undoubtedly due to the drive up to Ani Gompa which was an experience in itself. The Ani Gompa presently housed around 50 nuns.
It was a common practice for families to send one child in each generation to become a Buddhist monk or nun. However, the tiny donations received by the nuns were usually insufficient for feeding, clothing, housing and educating them. Thus, the nuns should usually work in the fields owned by the villagers in exchange for corn, wheat and other basic goods. It could be a hard life.
2. Tawang Monastery
Tawang monastery, situated at Tawang of Arunachal Pradesh, is the largest monastery in India and second largest in the world after the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. It was set within the valley of the Tawang River in close proximity to the Tibetan and Bhutanese border. The monastery was three stories high. Within the complex there were 65 residential buildings. The library of the monastery had valuable old scriptures.
The full name of the monastery is Tawang Galdan Namgye Lhatse. ‘Ta’ means “horse”, ‘wang’ means “chosen”, which together formed the word ‘Tawang’, meaning “the location selected by horse”. Further, ‘Gadan’ means that “paradise”, ‘Namgyal’ means “celestial” and ‘Lhatse’ means “divine”. Thus, the full meaning of the ‘Tawang Galdan Namgye Lhatse’ was the “site chosen by the horse was the celestial divine paradise”.
The monastery was set close to the top of a mountain, at an elevation of about 10,000 feet (3,000 m), with a commanding view of the Tawang River valley, which comprises snow-capped mountains and coniferous forest. Three legends were narrated to the establishment of the monastery. In the first legend it was said that location of the present Monastery was selected by a horse which belonged to Merag Lama Lodre Gyatso who was on a mission appointed to him by the fifth lama to determine a monastery. After a strong search, when he failed to locate a suitable place, he retired into a cave to offer prayers seeking divine involvement to choose the site. When he came out of the cave, he found his horse was missing. He then went in search of the horse and eventually found it grazing at the top of a mountain known as Tana Mandekhang, which in the past was the palace of King Kala Wangpo. He took this as a divine and auspicious guidance and determined to determine the religious residence at that location. Seeking the assistance of the native individuals, Mera Lama established the monastery at that location in the latter a part of 1681.
The second legend of the deriving of the name Tawang was linked to Terton Pemalingpa, diviner of treasures. At this location, he was stated to have given “initiations” of Tamdin and Kagyad, which resulted in the name “Tawang”. ‘Ta’ is an abbreviated form for “Tamdin” and ‘Wang’ suggests that “initiation”.
According to the third legend, a white horse of the Prince of Lhasa had strolled into Monpa region. People, who went in search of the horse, found the horse grazing at the present site of the monastery. The people of the area then worshipped the horse and the location where it was found and adored it every year. Eventually, to honor the holy site, the Tawang Monastery was built at the site.
One more legend narrated was about the Goddess painted on a thangka in the monastery which was of Palden Lhamo. This female deity was compared to the Hindu Goddess Kali. Like Kali, Palden Lhamo’s thangka was drawn in black color, with flaming eyes, dressed in skirt made of tiger skin, and a garland of skulls around her neck. A moon disc adorned her hair, similar to the one seen on Lord Shiva. She was also associated with Goddess Saraswati and Ma Tara. Legend additionally states that in the past she had lived in Sri Lanka because the consort of a demon king who practiced human sacrifice. As she wasn’t supportive of this practice she fled from the dominion. As she was running away, the king shot her with an arrow, which hit the backside of the mule that she was riding. When she drew out the arrow, it left a opened hole within the mule’s back, and through this gap Palden Lhamo could watch the teachings of Lord Buddha.
At the entrance to the monastery there was colorful gate structure with side walls built of stone masonry. The interior walls had murals of divinities and saints painted on them. A distinguishing mural, the ninth mural from the southwest west corner of the southern wall, is of Ningmecahn, the protector deity of the Bon religion, who is considered the guardian deity of the Tawang region. Ahead of the main gate of the Kakaling, to its south, is another entry, an open gate.
The main entrance to the monastery, to the south of the open gate, had massive doors fitted on the northern wall. Apart from the main gate, the southern side of the monastery had another entry gate, which also had a massive door. Nearer to the gate, there were two small openings in the wall which provided the complete view of the exterior part of the eastern wall that connected to the Kakaling. The monastery had a school and its own water supply facility, and a Centre for Buddhist cultural studies.
The ground floor of the monastery was where ritual dances were performed. The walls of the monastery also had an abundance of thangkas of Buddhist deities and saints. Curtains were suspended over the balcony and these were painted with Buddhist symbols. Within the precincts of the monastery there were residential buildings to accommodate about 700 monks, which now houses 450 monks.
( Ref:1. Dalal, Roshen (2010). The Religions of India: A concise Guide to nine Major Faiths. Penguin Books India.
2. Kler, Gurdip Singh (1995). Unsung Battles of 1962. Lancer Publishers. )
A notable feature on the wall of the front entrance on the ground floor was a footprint on a stone slab. It was said that this footprint belonged to a resident of the monastery, who was a water carrier, known as Chitenpa. He served within the monastery for a long time and on one fine day he declared that he had completed his service to the monastery then stamped his left foot on the stone block that created a damaged formation of his step. This step was in view of a belief among the people of the region that such an imprint on a stone slab could only be created by a divine person who was a real devotee of the monastery.
The main Monpa festivals held in the monastery are the Choksar, Losar, Ajilamu, and Torgya. Choksar was the festival when the Lamas recite religious scriptures in the monasteries. Following the religious recitations, the villagers carried the Holy Scriptures on their back and walked all the way round their agricultural land seeking blessings for the good yield of crops without any infestations by pests and to shield against attack by wild animals. In the Losar competition, that marks the start of the Tibetan New Year, individuals visit the monastery and provide prayers.
Torgya, also known as Tawang-Torgya, was an annual festival that was exclusively held in the monastery. The objective of the festival was to ward off evil spirits and ushering all round prosperity and happiness to the people in the ensuing year. Then we went to
3. Giant Buddha statue
This superb statue of Gautam Buddha. Sacred by H.E. Thegtse Rinpoche, a Padma Shree Awardee on 20th June 2016. Huge and luxurious sculpture of Lord Buddha with twenty six feet high was situated near the Tawang monastery, the largest monastery in India and second largest in the world. My son dressed like Arunachal tribe and clicked few photographs there. For one dress they charged Rs. 100. Then we visited
4. Urgelling Monastery
Urgelling Gompa was at a distance of around 4 kms from Tawang Town and was counted to be the birthplace of the 6th Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Tashi. The monastery was built in 1487 AD here and His Holiness the 6th Dalai Lama, was born in 1683 and resided in Urgelling Village. It was a small monastery that holds great significance for the people of Buddhist faith. Royal mother experienced a couple of miracles before the birth of the sixth Dalai Lama Tsangyang Gyamtso. One day in the 1st month of her pregnancy she was removal paddy in the stone mortar and to her surprise water started gathering in the mortar. On another case, once she drank water at a nearby place, milk started running out in place of water. Since then, this stream came to called “Oma-Tsikang” (milk-water).
In the due course of time, she gave birth to a baby boy who was named Sangey Tenzin. It was said he would not drink his mother’s milk for these day after the birth. One day once his face began to swell with an infection and he may hardly open his eye, two native diviners were summoned. They performed their rituals and said his name should be changed to Ngawang Gyamtso.
It was also said that when the party from Tibet came to take him to Tibet, after establishing that he was the incarnation of the Dalai Lama, the boy was playing with his playmates at a place about a kilometre east of Urgelling Gompa. When he detected his mother shouting for his immediate come back he with his finger wrote on a stone block the words “Lama Kheno” (God Knows). These words got miraculously inscribed on the slab and were still standing on the slab.
After his coronation, Desi Sangye Gyamtso, the regent entrusted Chong-gye Gonpo Rabten with the work of restoring and enlargement of the monastery in the year 1699. The new structure included a double storied main temple, and eight pillared assembly hall, a four pillared altar room, residential quarters for the sixth Dalai Lama, a big courtyard with twenty pillars and twenty rooms for monks’ quarters.
Unfortunately Lajang Khan drum out the sixth Dalai Lama in 1706 in 1714 one of the Lajang Khan’s forces sent against Bhutan invaded from the direction of Tawang. During this campaign, they destroyed the Dalai Lama’s restored and enlarged monastery at Urgelling as an attempt to demolish his memory.
Another version same that the destruction of all Nyingnapa Gompas as well as Urgelling was administered by Sokpa Jomkhar, a Mongolian warrior who was opposed to non-Gelugpa sect. Whatever the reason may be for its devastation, all valued ownership of Urgelling monastery like scriptures, statues and other objects were transfered to Tawang Monastery. It was during this time that the Ka-gyur written out in gold and silver was received by Tawang monastery. Today there was only a modest temple present at the site. Then our driver told us to take lunch. We have taken our lunch at Maa Kali Hotel. Detail review of that restaurant given below-
5. Tawang War Memorial
After taking lunch we went to Tawang War Memorial. Also known as Namgyal Chorten, the structure was similar to the design of a huge stupa. Overlooking the Tawang valley, this memorial was constructed to remember the sacrifices made by the soldiers of the Indian Army in 1962. This memorial that was placed on a slope was visited by Dalai Lama in the year 1997. Visitors can spot the names of soldiers (on granite plates), who sacrificed their lives during the war at Kameng sector. Tawang War memorial was one of the most popular tourist attractions of Arunachal Pradesh.
The war memorial had two rooms in each side. While in room there were maps, photographs, artifacts etc. of the war heroes, the other was sound and light show, telling the tale of heroism of the Indian soldiers. There was a museum too that has display the items that were used at the time of the war, like pots, bullet, guns, helmet, mugs so on. There are newspaper cuttings and maps too, pin-pointing at the placements of the both the armies. It was raining also. We witnessed a huge crowd in front of the counter and gave up the idea of light and sound show. In evening we came back to our hotel.
Also read ARUNACHAL DIARY-PART II