Tawang- a mystical land of war and peace
The spring season had just finished leaving a carpet of red leaves on the mountains. And the first snow of the season was indicating the arrival of winter. As the Buddhist flags of peace fluttered in the strong wind, I could already feel the chill in my bones. I was lost in observing the reflection of the flags in a crystal clear lake; suddenly my thoughts were interrupted by a convoy of military vehicles passing by.
Tawang, a rugged land of mountains is situated in the far North-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh in India; bordered by Bhutan in the west and Tibet in the North. It was here that the 6th Dalai Lama was born in the 17th century, when Tawang was part of Tibet. Tawang monastery is India’s biggest monastery, a three storied building surrounded by the majestic Himalayas. Thousands of young monks live and study Buddha Dharma here.
One of the holiest places for Buddhists, Tawang is now a constant reason for turf war between China and the current Dalai Lama. The root of the problem is Chinese claims of sovereignty over the entire historical Tibet. Dharamshala, a small hill-station in Himachal is at present, Dalai Lama’s home and base in India after his exile from Tibet; but Tawang is still an important learning centre of Buddhism supported by him.
Leaving the yellow tin roof of Tawang monastery behind, we started the bone-breaking journey to Bum La Pass. Both my neck and camera were sticking out of the car window lest I miss to capture any moment of the surreal view around us. The odd military camps seemed to have blended with the greens and browns of the rustic landscape. Among the new camps, there were also old bunkers from the Indo-Sino war of 1962. We covered this journey of 23 miles in 2-3 hours, after passing thorough many military check points, on the way. Another reason for delay was the fact that we couldn’t help but stop at the canteens run by the military to slurp the hot Maggi from bowls served at these canteens.
This dense green patch of land is blessed with umpteen number of lakes, most of them have no names or there were no sign boards to indicate it in any case. We were told there are a total of 108 lakes in Tawang region. The most famous among them is the Sangetsar lake, also known as Madhuri lake named after the Bollywood actress Madhuri Dixit ! A major part of the Bollywood movie, Koyla starring ‘Shah Rukh Khan’ and Madhuri was shot here in 1997.
I was spellbound by the beauty and the history of Bum La Pass, a mystical land indeed!! It was here that the current Dalai Lama and his entourage quietly crossed over into India way back in 1959. At an altitude of 5,000 feet, Bum La Pass also serves as the India-China border line of control. Far away, the snow-capped mountains were standing as an imaginary wall between the two countries. Despite all these controls, I could see a few cattle grazing without any sense of borders, which exist only for us; the humans.
A military person accompanied us to the border entrance and pointed out the Chinese territory to us and showed some of the important landmarks. A large heap of stones ‘rock of peace’ was marked with all the important events/skirmishes that occurred between India and China. Such an irony, that the Rock of peace also reminded me of the 1962 war when approximately 3,000 soldiers died serving this majestic land.
There was so much beauty around me, that it all seemed surreal and unbelievable, probably as my brain wasn’t fully functional affected by the nerve-freezing weather and dazed by the beauty of the surroundings. Yet, my heart was filled with a sense of pride and respect for the soldiers. I wished I could stay longer, to absorb the stunning beauty of that land around me but the days which end too early in that ‘land of rising sun’ curbed my enthusiasm.
Also, see some of my Incredible experiences in Arunachal in Pictures