Tawang District

May 11, 2009

The district of Tawang is found in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. China’s Tibet Autonomous Region borders it to the north while Bhutan bounds it to the west. Its fellow Arunachal Pradesh district of West Kameng adjoins it to the south and the east. The district has a total area of 2,085 square kilometers, but the population is only about 38,924, based from the 2001 census. This puts the district’s population density at a very low 16 people per square kilometer. Almost 75% of the population are considered tribal, with the majority belonging to the Monpa tribe. The elevations found in the district range from 6,000 to 22,000 feet (about 1,828 to 6,705 meters), with the inhabitants living in the lower altitude where the climate is temperately cool. The district’s administrative headquarters is the town of Tawang.

The district has a rather obscure history. During the medieval period, it was part of the kingdom of Tibet. It got its name from the majestic Tawang Monastery that perches atop a ridge and is surrounded by thick clouds and mists, giving it a mystic air that can’t help but draw the breath of everyone who sees it; the mist makes the temple seem as if it is suspended from heaven. Legend has it that the site of the monastery was chosen by the horse of Merag Lama, who was asked by the fifth Dalai Lama, Nagwang Lobsang Gyatso. Unable to find a place, he was praying in a cave one day to ask for divine guidance. After praying, he found his horse was missing. After a search, he found the horse standing quietly on a hilltop. Considering this as the sign he was praying for, he had the monastery built upon the very spot where the horse was found.

Tawang was a part of Tibet until February 12, 1951 when Major R. Kathing led the Indian Army troops to relocate Chinese squatters. In order to end the oppression of the Monpa tribe, India assumed sovereignty of Tawang and established a democratic rule. During the Sino-Indian war in 1962, Tawang was returned to Tibet’s rule but with the voluntary withdrawal of the Chinese troops, the district went back under Indian administration, and it became part of the West Kameng district. In 1984, Tawang broke off from its mother district to establish its own claim for districthood.

The people of the district are mostly Monpa, who inhabit 162 of the 163 villages. There are also Tibetans although they are mostly concentrated in the village of Shyo. The remainder is made up of the Takpa tribe, who are found in small, scattered numbers in the north and west. Most of the people, regardless of tribe, are Tibetan Buddhist by religion, although Shamanist and Bön influence can also be found. Agriculture is the primary means of living for the tribes with potato, maize, and millet being the primary crops. Due to the cold weather, yak breeding and sheep herding are also practiced.

The main tourist attraction is, of course, the majestic and beautiful Tawang Monastery. It is the largest Buddhist monastery in India, and is home to some 600 Lamas. It also contains the Parkhang library, which is a collection of the 400-year-old Kagyurs consisting of 110 volumes with about 400 to 500 pages each. Other invaluable manuscripts and old books are also found there. Aside from the monastery, other attractions include the Handicrafts Center as well as the Sela Top Pass, which is snowy for most of the year.

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