May 13, 2009

Elevated at a height of about 2,217 meters above sea level, the town of Bomdila is the headquarters of the district of West Kameng, in Arunachal Pradesh. It is small, having only a total population of 6,685 as per the 2001 census, but this does not take away from the fact that it is beautiful, perched on such a high elevation with a panoramic view of the Himalayan ranges serving as its backdrop. It is located in the northwestern part of the state, some 100 kilometers west of Bhalukpong. Like some other Indian towns, Bomdila is a remote destination, which makes it still virtually unspoiled by tourists who have been coming to India recently. The place is famous for its scenic and beautiful environments, Buddhist monasteries that have been erected since ancient times, and wide stretches of apple orchards. Most of the population of Bomdila come from the Monpa and Sherdukpen tribes.

Bomdila’s ancient history is not recorded, but it is generally accepted that during the medieval period, it was part of the kingdom of Tibet. The tribal leaders of Bhutan in the west also ruled the place from time to time, as well as the local tribal rulers; the rulers of Assam did not generally interfere with the local leaders’ rule unless there was a retaliatory raid into the tribal territory which happened from time to time. When the British came and colonized India, they declared this part of Arunachal Pradesh as off-limits in 1873. When India finally gained its independence in 1947, the area became an object of dispute between India and China. In 1962, China invaded the area around the town but they later withdrew, leaving the town still under the rule of the Indian government.

Aside from the already picturesque and beautiful vista afforded by the town to its visitors, there are other places that may attract the interest of tourists. There are the gompas, or Buddhist monasteries, that show a strong influence of Buddhist and Tibetan culture – an existing testament of the time when Bomdila was still under Tibetan rule. The most famous of these gompas is the GRL Gompa, more properly known as Gentse Gaden Rabgyel Ling Monastery. It was built in 1965 by the 12th reincarnate of Tsona Gontse Rinpoche. The monastery was built to resemble the Tsona Gontse Monastery in South Tibet, which was established during the 15th century. Trekkers and adventurers will also find that the area around the town has a number hiking and trekking trails that is perfect for such an activity. Going from Bomdila to another nearby town, Tawang, will also reward the traveler with some breathtaking mountain terrain, which is perfect for those who want to see the unspoiled richness of the east.

Souvenir hunters and shoppers will be glad to know that Bomdila is also known for its exquisite handicrafts. The town’s main craft center is known for producing wonderful and beautiful woollen carpets and traditional masks. These can be bought either from the main center or through the various shops all around town.


May 12, 2009

Itanagar is located in the Arunachal Pradesh district of Papum Pare. It also happens to be the Indian state’s capital. It is situated at the foothills of the Himalayan mountain range, sitting at an altitude of 350 meters above sea level. It is known as the “Land of Dawn-lit Mountains,” referencing the fact that it is near the Himalayas, which takes in the dawn as the sun rises. Itanagar is the most populated city in the state, and it is also a major tourist base. It is also historic, as it was the capital of the Jltri dynasty which flourished in the 11th century, when it was still going under the name of Mayapur. Itanagar finally got its present name from a historical fort that was constructed during the 14th or 15th century, named Ita Fort. As of the 2001 census, the city has a total population of 34,970, with males constituting 53% of the population. The city has a literacy rate that is higher than the national average: 69% compared to 59.5%. The major tribe living in the Itanagar area is the Nishis or Nishings.

The city has been Arunachal Pradesh’s capital since it was declared as such on April 20, 1974. As the state’s capital, it is well-connected with the rest of the country by air and road communications. In fact, it was Itanagar’s convenient location placed near the state’s roads and rail arteries, and its location alongside the Brahmaputra River that made the city as the choice for Arunachal Pradesh’s capital. Although there is no airport in the city itself (the nearest ones are at Lilabari and Tezpur in Assam, some 71 kilometers away), there is a helicopter supplied by Pawan Hans Helicopters Limited that services between Itanagar and Guwahati three times a week. The nearest railway station is located in Assam, which is the Harmuti Railway Station, 32 kilometers away. The National Highway 52A passes through the city, though, and is usually the route most take for a direct connection to Itanagar.

Tourists who want to visit Itanagar (or anywhere in Arunachal Pradesh) need to obtain a clearance from the Home Ministry of New Delhi, as well as a Restricted Area Permit. Tourists must have a minimum number of four and a maximum of 14 in their group on a tour arranged through an approved travel agent in order to visit the city’s attractions. For Indian tourists, it is easier; they just need an Inner Line Permit issued by the Liaison Officer of the state government.

Itanagar showcases several wonderful and interesting tourist attractions. First of these is the Ita Fort, situated at the heart of the city. It has an irregular shape, built mainly with bricks, which comprises about 16,200 cubic meters in length. It is estimated that no less than 46,300 days were required to build it. There is also the Buddhist Temple, a beautiful, yellow-roofed shrine that overlooks the whole of the city. It stands behind a stupo tree planted by the Dalai Lama himself. Finally, the Ganga Lake is a forest lake surrounded by primeval vegetation, tall trees and orchids which make it the perfect spot for outings, boating and picnics.

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.