A mighty gash in the earth fringed by hulking mountains, Tawang Valley works a special magic on the minds of travellers. The valley is a gorgeous patchwork of mountain ridges, vast fields and clusters of Buddhist monasteries and Monpa villages. The setting is more beautiful than the town itself, and murals of auspicious Buddhist emblems and colourful prayer wheels add interest to the central Old Market area. It’s best to take a bike trip or set on foot to explore the valley, the highlights of which are mentioned below.
Tawang’s biggest attraction is the magical Tawang Gompa, founded in 1681. Reputedly the world’s second-largest Buddhist-monastery complex after Drepung Monastery (in Lhasa, Tibet), Tawang is famed in Buddhist circles for its priceless library. Within its fortified walls, narrow alleys lead to the magnificently decorated prayer hall, containing an 8m-high Buddha statue. Spectacular masked chaam dances are held in the courtyard during the Torgya, Losar and Buddha Mahotsava festivals.
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The ancient Urgelling Gompa is where the sixth Dalai Lama was born. Before he left for Lhasa, it’s said that he stuck his walking stick into the ground and it eventually grew into a giant oak tree that flanks the entrance to the monastery. Within the main hall are hand-painted portraits of all the Dalai Lamas, and imprints of the forehead and feet of the sixth Dalai Lama.
There is a small but interesting museum which contains images, robes, telescopic trumpets and ancient manuscripts, along with some personal items of the sixth Dalai Lama.
The cosy Dragon Restaurant is Tawang’s best eatery, serving freshly made local dishes such as churpa (delicious fermented-cheese broth with fungi and vegetables), momos (Tibetan dumplings), fiery chilli chicken and salted Tibetan yak-butter tea.
Orange Restaurant & Lounge Bar
Located along Tawang’s main drag, this convivial bar comes alive in the evenings with chilled beers, pleasant company, fairy lights on the walls, loud music and TV. This is Tawang’s only place to enjoy alcohol and nightlife.