After a couple of days in Guwahati we took the bus (180 inr) to Tezpur. The road was fairly well paved but the driver swerved constantly to avoid the goats and puppies. In Tezpur we found a decent room at the government run, Prashaanti Tourist Lodge (850 inr) and since we caught the first bus out of Guwahati we had most of the day to explore the town. It’s a fairly small place with a nice market and a couple of parks. The bus and sumo station is centrally located and south of town is a Ganesh Temple and the banks of the Bramaputra River where we discovered was a popular place for Indians to picnic.
The next morning we were up at 4:30 AM waiting for our Sumo driver from ASTC (450 inr each) to show up. He ended up being about two hours late but it was plenty of time to make it to Dirang, our first stop in Arunachal Pradesh. Leaving Tezpur the road was good and the topography relatively flat. When we reached the border of Arunachal Pradesh that changed instantly. At the border we stopped at a military check point where we had to provide a copy of our permit (5000 inr) to the guards. Over the course of the day this happened two more times. We made 5 copies of our permit and luckily we didn’t need more than that but every village had a copy shop we could have gotten more at.
The drive up to Dirang was scenic and very bumpy. The hills slowly lost their tropical vegetation and by the time we reached Bomdila there were no more banana trees. Bomdila is another place to stop on the way to or from Tawang. Dirang is another 50 km further down the road but it took an hour and a half to cover that distance. In Dirang we checked into the Pemaling Hotel (1800 inr) located 2 km out side of town. It was pricey but the views of the mountains were pretty stunning from our balcony.
The following day we discovered we could have stayed in town for considerably less (800 – 1100 inr) without a view or a 2km walk. We found a great place that served momos(Sange Hotel), Tibetan dumplings, and other Indian pastries. We took a walk to the monastery currently under construction and further up the hill to some residential Tibetan neighborhoods. Later in the day we purchased our Sumo tickets (450 inr each) to Tawang from the Dream Counter and arranged for the driver to pick us up at the hotel. Dirang is a nice low key place to spend a day at on the road to Tawang to let your bruised butt heal.
The next morning we began the accent to Se La, a pass over 4000 meters high, passing many military camps along the way. The road was only one and a half lanes wide and whenever we met another vehicle on the road one would have to nearly drive off the road to avoid collision. The pass had a light dusting of snow over it but it quickly disappeared as we descended. Once in Tawang we were dropped off in the city center. There are lots of budget accommodations there but we were looking for one with heat since it was quite cold at 3000 meters in January. We checked into the Tawang View Hotel (1100 for a double with heat) which had a nice view but only heat when the power was on. The power in Tawang is on from about 5-6 PM and then from 9 PM till about 3 or 4 AM. We felt a little duped and even with the heat on it was still incredibly cold.
Tawang is a town built on the side of a mountain and is very vertical and spread out. The city center is known as the Old Market and has an assortment of shops geared towards locals and tourists. There are also several restaurants, sumo counters, and hotels thrown into the mix. The New Market isn’t as touristy and would be a better place to pick up those souvenir prayer flags. The Nehru Market is a little southeast of the Old Market which is where we stayed. Avoid the sumo counters here, they’re untrustworthy and their prices are inflated.
Tawang is also home to several Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries including the famous Tawang Monastery founded in the 17th century. It is the largest in India and is second only to the Potala Palace in Tibet. Urgelling Monastery is another one worth checking out and is the birthplace of the 6th Dalai Lama. There are several other monasteries that make great day hikes around town and into the countryside.
After 3 days in Tawang we decided to head for some warmer temperatures. We wanted to press on further to Zemithang near the Tibet and Bhutan border but the weather was not looking favorable and we didn’t want to get stuck in the snow going over Se La, or worse. We arranged for a sumo to take us to Bomdila (550 inr in the end) and got scammed somehow by the booking agent outside our hotel who we didn’t even book our ticket through.
It was a pretty nerve racking ride due to the light snow that had fallen the night before and the realization that our sumo had two very bald tires. The lack of salt and sand on the road going over Se La didn’t make us feel any better about the situation but the driver pressed on. Despite the overall appearance of the sumo it never broke down either, which is quite a common event we found out talking with a couple other travelers.
By the time we got to Bomdila the sun had set and darkness was approaching quickly. We got our tickets to Tezpur (350 inr each) and checked into the Lungta Residency (1300 inr) near the sumo stands. Again, we wanted to stay in Bomdila for an extra day for some exploration but the approaching snow had us on the run. The next morning our reckless drive was the first one to hit the road and shortly after the first rays of sunlight were over the mountains we began to see the banana trees again.
Upon arriving in Tezpur we realized the last bus departing for Guwahati was on its way out. Rachel barely had enough time to use the restroom before we were rolling out of town towards Guwahati. The trip into Arunachal Pradesh was much colder than we thought for January and the notion of heat conservation seemed to be lost to the owners of most guesthouses and hotels, which is something to consider when planning a trip there during the winter months. Summer rains can also make for dangerous passages over the mountains leaving the best time of the year to visit Arunachal Pradesh to be fall and spring. The infrastructure is not as good as Sikkim and the accommodations for foreigners are a fair bit pricier making Arunachal Pradesh a far less touristy area to visit for those looking to get of the beaten track.