A Road Trip to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh

After planning for a Mumbai to Tawang road trip for several years, we finally managed to do it this year in early May. In this travelogue, I would like to share my experience of the trip. Since I did not take notes during the trip, there may be some errors in the distance, timing mentioned in this travelogue. I hope members won’t mind that.

The team consisted of eight members – three members from Mumbai (me, my wife, and daughter), one member from Delhi (my sister-in-law from Delhi), and four members from Kolkata (my parents, my father-in-law, and my brother-in-law). My parents are above 70 and my father-in-Law is above 60. Though I have read at many places that it is a bit risky to take senior citizens to a high-altitude place like Tawang. But fortunately, they did not face any difficulty during the trip. A few years back, I took my parents to Spiti, and there also they did not face any problem. So Spiti trip experience gave me the confidence to take them to Tawang also.

Typically, for a trip of this nature, I do proper planning and book everything well before the trip. But his time, other than booking air tickets of Mumbai-Kolkata-Guwahati and return ticket from Guwahati to Kolkata to Mumbai (combination of Rail and Air) and arranging ILP, I could not do anything upfront. So even seven days before the trip, the exact route to be taken, places to stay and see, vehicle and hotels were uncertain.

We got our ILP from Kolkata. A couple of months before the trip, I was in Kolkata. During that time, I went to Arunachal Bhavan at Salt Lake. They gave a form. The form was pretty simple. After submitting the form along with photos and identity documents, I came back to Mumbai. I gave the receipt of submission of the form to my brother-in-law and he collected the ILP after a couple of weeks. If I am not wrong, it cost Rs. 10/- per person. It was a pretty simple, inexpensive, and efficient process.

The initial itinerary prepared by me was as follows:

Day 1: Guwahati to Tejpur/Bhalukpong

Day 2: Tejpur/Bhalukpong to Bomdila

Day 3: Bomdila to Tawang

Day 4: Obtaining necessary permission for Bumla pass and Tawang local sightseeing

Day 5: Day trip from Tawang to Bum La Pass, Pengateng Tso Lake (PT Tso Lake) and Shonga-tser Lake (Madhuri Lake)

Day 6: Day trip to Lumla and Zemithang from Tawang

Day 7: Tawang to Dirang

Day 8: Dirang to Guwahati

Day 9: Local sightseeing at Guwahati

Day 10: Commencement of return journey

Our scheduled start day from Guwahati was 28th April and the return date from Guwahati was 7th May.
One of my cousins stays at Itanagar. When he came to know about the trip plan, he advised to change it and to undertake the trip latest by mid-April because rain starts by May in Arunachal Pradesh. But by the time the tickets have been booked so date change was not possible. It was also not possible otherwise because the summer vacation of my daughter was scheduled to start from 28th April. So, we stuck to our original travel dates. During the trip, my cousin’s prediction proved true. We encountered moderate to severe rain during the trip. The sky was always cloudy. We rarely got sunny days. So, the dream of clicking ice-clad picks and blue water lake on sunny days remains unfulfilled. But the brighter side is we experienced abundant snowfall at Sela Pass and Bumla. And for the people from the plains, experiencing snowfall is second to none.

Initially, it was planned that we would take two Sumo/Innova from Guwahati for the entire trip. For the Bumla day trip from Tawang, we would take local vehicles because the local taxi union does not allow outside vehicles to go to Bumla. Over a while, the plan of taking two Sumo/Innova from Guwahati changed to taking one Tempo Traveller from Guwahati.

I discussed this matter with my cousin who stays at Itanagar and he told me that he would arrange the tempo traveler.

But it took quite a long time to arrange the tempo traveler. It got finalized only 15 days before the trip and the charge was Rs. 50000/-, all-inclusive, for the entire trip, from Guwahati to Guwahati. I was fine with that. But when that fellow that the entire amount has to be given him in advance through net banking, I became a bit hesitant. After giving him the entire money, if I cannot trace him at Guwahati Airport, that would be a huge problem. And my cousin stays at Itanagar and therefore, he cannot be of any help in that eventuality.

So, I started looking for alternate options over the net and came across three companies (not zoom car) that offer self-driven vehicles on rent and immediately contacted them. My requirement was an Innova because eight people with luggage will not fit in a Scorpio and Ertiga. But it proved to be difficult to get an Innova on such short notice. Finally, one of the agencies, which ranks at the bottom as per customer review, offered an Innova. Their charge was Rs. 25000/- for 9 days. I knew that they were charging more than the market rate, which is Rs. 2500 per day, but I did not have any option other than taking Innova from them despite the higher charge and pathetic reputation. So I confirmed my booking with them. They told me that the car will be delivered to a place within 2 kms from the airport so we can straightway head to our destination from Guwahati airport.
As the tour plan took the shape of traveling through a self-driven vehicle, we started looking at the routes in more detail. And then I came across an alternate route to Bomdila from Guwahati via Kalaktang.

As per a few trip reports available on the internet, the road condition is very good in most of the parts of the Kalaktang road and there will be very little traffic. Guwahati to Bomdila is very much possible in a day. So, we decided to take this route. Further, I read from the Internet that the road condition of the Bhalukpong-Bomdila stretch of the traditional route is very pathetic. That also prompted me to try this newfound route.

However, there was a word of caution about the Kalaktang route. This route is primarily used by the army. Very few local vehicles and tourist vehicles ply on this route. No support system in form of food stalls, a car mechanic is available along this route. We understood the ramification of the same a very hard way while returning along the same route.

Since we were saving one day in this new route, the itinerary changed a bit and the new itinerary was as follows:

Day 1: Guwahati to Bomdila

Day 2: Bomdila to Tawang

Day 3: Obtaining necessary permission for Bumla pass and Tawang local sightseeing

Day 4: Day trip from Tawang to Bum La Pass, Pengateng Tso Lake (PT Tso Lake) and Sangetsar Lake (Madhuri Lake)

Day 5: Day trip to Lumla and Zemithang from Tawang

Day 6: Tawang to Dirang

Day 7: Dirang Local Sightseeing

Day 8: Dirang to Guwahati

Day 9: Local sightseeing at Guwahati

Day 10: Commencement of return journey

While booking the self-driven vehicle, I came to know that these vehicles do not have overhead carriers because that is not permitted. That gave me another headache about how to fit the luggage. So, we decided to carry clothes and foodstuff in Rucksacks and Kitbags and not to carry any hard body Suitcase because it is easy to fit Rucksacks and Kitbags because of the flexible shape.

After finalizing the vehicle and the route, I started the process of booking accommodation only 7 days before the commencement of the trip. Then I realized that it is high season and no rooms were available in the hotels (which are listed on the internet) at Bomdila and Tawang. At Dirang, rooms were available at the hotel ‘Snow Lion’ so booked that immediately because Dirang has few staying options. For Bomdila and Tawang, I started hoping that since those two places have plenty of hotels, we would get something after reaching there. For Guwahati, we booked Tranqville Guesthouse.

Just two days before the commencement of the journey, the car agency informed us that they could not deliver the vehicle to the airport. We will be required to pick up the Innova from the city office which is good ~ 25 km away from the airport. So, it would take precious 2-3 hours of the morning.

All of us were very excited about the trip to Tawang and Bumla. At the same time, there were few apprehensions in my mind on account of the decision of self-driving on a route where few have gone by driving themselves (compared to Ladakh, Spiti, or elsewhere), accommodation not confirmed, the chance of rain, etc. But then “Sochna Keya, Jo Bhi Hoga Dekha Jayega” spirit prevailed and the trip took off. On the 27th evening, we started for Mumbai airport from Goregaon for catching the 11.10 pm Go Air flight to Kolkata.

In the subsequent posts, I will give day-to-day updates. But as mentioned earlier, I did not do any noting during the trip.

Day 1 (28th April)​

Our flight from Mumbai was delayed by ~ 1hrs. But that did not become an issue because the connecting flight from Kolkata to Guwahati was at 5.20 am. It was an Indigo flight.

By the time we landed at Kolkata airport, Sister-in-Law had already reached there from Delhi, and Parents and In-Laws also were at the airport. So, we spent a few hours at Kolkata airport by chitchatting and having some early morning snacks. I was a bit worried about the sleepless night because a long drive was waiting for the day but did not have any option.

The flight took off on time from Kolkata.


It reached Guwahati 15-20 minutes before the scheduled time. It was a sunny morning at Guwahati.

We took two cabs to reach the office of the car rental company. First, we tried Ola/Uber and then finally opted for a normal taxi. In the process, we lost almost 30 minutes. Then it took around 45 minutes to reach their office.

Since it was Saturday, their office was not fully operational. There was only one fellow for completing the paper works and delivering the car. When we reached there, he was busy delivering a bike to an adventurist who was heading for a bike tour of Mizoram. After that process got over, then he took our papers, security deposit and gave the key to the Innova. The car was quite old and already covered ~ 78000 km. It did not have any GPS, charging point, and the music system was not fully functioning. But as we were running late, we did not have the time to get into an argument on these matters. Because of the paucity of time, we also could not check the overall condition of the vehicle properly for which we faced trouble later.

Somehow, we managed to fit all living and non-living objects participating in the trip in Innova and finally started from Guwahati around 9.30 am.

From the car rental office, we drove back towards the airport and from the mid-way took the right turn to cross the mighty Brahmaputra via Saraighat Bridge. Initially, we had plans to take some photos of might Brahmaputra but abandoned that pal because we were running late.

After crossing the Brahmaputra, the road was good. It was a two-lane highway and the surface was smooth. Though the road condition was good, I was driving at a speed slower than 80 kms/hr because it was a new vehicle to me and I was trying to get a hang of it. This was the first time I was driving an Innova.

We did not have anything since morning and therefore started feeling hungry and started looking for a decent roadside food joint for having something. Finally, we found a decent food joint and had our brunch with Puri-Sabji. The place was most probably Mangaldoi, though I am not quite sure. After this place, the road became a single lane so our speed came down. But the road condition was good. Our next stoppage was a petrol pump. Immediately after that Google Map advised us to leave NH and take a left turn. We obliged.

From there single-lane village road started. The road condition was good. So driving was not a hassle. Sometimes we were moving northward and sometimes eastward. The road was through green agricultural land dotted by villages, markets, and schools. After 45-60 minutes, the landscape started changing. Rocky uneven surfaces started emerging and the Great Himalayas became visible.

We entered Arunachal Pradesh at a place called Balemu.

Hill road started from Balemu. It is called Trans-Himalayan Highway.

The condition of the road matched exactly to its description available on the Internet. The surface was good. The road was quite wide. Driving on this road was an absolute pleasure.

There was almost no traffic. There were absolutely no passenger vehicles plying on this road. On the entire journey along this route, we encountered very few vehicles and all those were army ones. We also crossed a couple of army convoys.
There was no locality in the vicinity of the road and there were no shops too. Around 1.30/2 pm we gave a stop for having some dry snacks which we were carrying.



After a 10-15 minutes' break, the wheels started to roll again. By that time clouds started ringing the closing bell for the bright sunny day experienced by us till that time. The surrounding started getting dark. We also started getting worried about whether we would be able to reach Bomdila before evening.

We finally managed a get a food stall after non-stop driving for 2 hours. By that time, we had crossed Kalaktang. In between, we encountered a few spells of drizzle. The Sun also came out a few times making the lush green of surroundings brighter.



Only Thukpa was available in the food stall. So, we had that. For the next few days, Momo and Thukpa became our staple diet. In the stall, we asked local people about how long it would take to reach Bomdila. They said that the road was in good condition and we would be able to reach Bomdila in 2 hours – one hour to Rupa from that place and another hour from Rupa to Bomdila. After finishing Thukpa followed by hot tea, we started driving towards Rupa.

After a 15-20 minutes’ drive, the road opened up to a beautiful valley. The road surface became smoother. The surroundings were lush green. The sun also came out. It was a mesmerizing experience. We were crossing the beautiful Shergaon valley.




Once we crossed the valley, again the narrow mountain road started with high peaks on one side and a deep gorge on the other side. Here the mountains were completely barren and the rocks were multi-colored. A closer look at the rocks revealed that it was a landslide-prone area. So, we did not take the chance of stopping the vehicle there and took photographs from the moving vehicle.





We were approaching Rupa.

There was a diversion from the main road. In all probability, it was for Silipaung Monastery. But we did not take the detour and continued our progress toward Rupa along the main road. The objective was to reach Bomdila before evening especially given the fact that we had not booked our accommodation.

When we are 3 /4 kms away from Rupa, we found a stoppage signal. There was a boom barrier blocking the road. An army personnel was sitting there. We got down from the car and enquired the army man whether we can move ahead. The reply was ‘no’. So, we started wondering how we would reach Bomdila. We started thinking about whether we should go back to take the diversion and reach Bomdila via the Silipaung Monastery route. In the meantime, we heard the army man was talking to someone over the phone and could make out from the conversation that an army convoy was approaching that stretch from Kalaktang's side. Once the telephonic conversion got over, the boom barrier got lifted and we were allowed to move ahead. I guess that army allows civilians to cross this stretch along with army vehicles only because of slide prone nature of this area.

After some time, we reached Rupa and joined the Bhalukpong-Bomdila-Dirang-Tawang road, and took a left turn towards Bomdila. Immediately after taking the left turn, we crossed a small river and the welcome gate of Rupa.



The road started ascending after crossing the army cantonment at Rupa. We reached Bomdila around 6 pm.


After checking a couple of hotels there, we finally got a hotel where rooms were available as well as a parking slot. We booked 4 rooms – 3 valley views and one road/hill view.

The temperature was ~ 8 degrees. We were shivering. But I guess that was not because of the absolute level of the temperature. That was the effect of a change of temperature from above 30 degrees to sub-10 degrees in just 8 hours.

Since it was a long day, we had an early dinner and retired.

Day 2 (29th April)​

The Sun rises early in this part of the country. By nature, I am an early riser so got up around 5 am. The sky was overcast.



It was a long drive yesterday. The morning was pretty cold. There were few senior citizens in the group. So, we could not start before 9.30 am.

We had our breakfast at the hotel where we did a night stay. It was part of the package. They charged us Rs. 1500/- per double bedroom. It had good facilities. Unfortunately, I could not recall the name of the Hotel.

Our first destination for the day was Bomdila Monastery. You need to take a left turn from the market and drive uphill to reach there. Though the road goes up to Bomdila Monastery, the last 500 meters were blocked for road repairing. So, we parked our Innova and covered the rest of the distance by walking.

The monastery is truly magnificent.





We spent around 45 minutes there and then started our journey towards Dirang. The final destination for the day was Tawang. The moment we started the car, the rain started.

At Bomdila Monastery, we met a group who returned from Tawang to Bomdila the previous day. They said that they got heavy snowfall at Sela Pass yesterday and Sela Pass was full of ice.

Dirang is at a lower elevation compared to Bomdila. So, the road was downhill. The condition of the road was good. It was a comfortable drive. There is a fuel pump just before entering Dirang. We got our tank filled up there. Surprisingly, they accepted a credit card. We reached Dirang around 11.30 am.


Dirang is the only place where we pre-booked our accommodation at a hotel named Snow Lion. The booking was for the return leg. We were supposed to pay some advance. So, we stopped there to pay that advance. We enquired there whether we can get something for lunch. They said that there was no arrangement for lunch. They recommended a place called ‘Padma Dhaba’ around 10 km from Dirang towards Sela Pass for lunch.

From the hotel Snow Lion, the Dirang market starts. There are several shops in the market for clothes, medicines, mobile accessories, foodstuffs, and liquor. We stopped at one of the liquor shops to pick up some stuff. The price quoted made me grin. An Old Monk 750 ml bottle costs Rs. 140.

Dirang market is on a junction. Bomdila-Dirang-Tawang road has been perpendicularly cut by another road, which in one direction goes uphill to Dirang Monastery and in the opposite direction, goes downhill towards Dirang valley and the river.

After the market, the army camp area starts. In this route, we saw innumerable army camps. That might be because this area is one of the highly sensitive areas along the entire India-China Border.

After some time we reached Padma Dhaba. On the way, we have crossed the river and came to the other Bank. The Dhaba is on the bank of the river, on the narrow stretch of land between the road and the river. It is a simple, neat, and clean facility for food. It also provides a toilet facility which is of immense help for people making a long drive. The same owner also runs a small cigarette shop alongside the Dhaba.


The food was good. They charged Rs. 80/- for Vegetarian Thali. For non-vegetarian Thali, the rate was Rs. 140/-. I guess. On inquiry, I came to know that their cook is Bengali. In all probability, that’s why the taste of the food was compatible with our taste buds. During this entire trip, I found many Bengali-speaking people at Dirang and Tawang. They migrated primarily from Assam and ran small stationery shops, food stalls, Pan-Bidi shops, etc.

In Padma Dhaba, we met with a family returning on that day from Tawang. Their destination for the day was Dirang. They informed us that Tawang is fairly crowded and advised us to check Hotel Menda-La and Hotel White House for accommodation. Another important piece of advice they gave to me was to start as early as possible for Bumla from Tawang. Though the local drivers take full charge for Bumla Pass and Shangetsar Lake (Madhuri Lake) trip from Tawang, they deliberately start late and in most of the cases, tourists like us had to skip Shangetsar Lake (Madhuri Lake) because the army did not allow to venture to that side in the late afternoon. They also confirmed that yes, it was snowing at Sela.

We started from Padma Dhaba around 1 pm. We noticed a few other eating places after Padma Dhaba and drove for 45 minutes – 1hour without any hassle. Both the sides of the road were completely green. The ascent was gradual without many loops. The condition of the road was generally good and it was decently wide. There were a few muddy patches where the driving was a bit difficult but on an overall basis, it was a gentle and pleasant drive.

Thereafter, the steep ascent for Sela Pass commenced and so did the rains. What made driving more difficult are the innumerable number of loops. The intensity of rains was increasing in proportion to the height we were gaining. And the visibility was decreasing in inverse proportion. Managing the sharp curves with a steep incline in heavy rain and very poor visibility was too challenging.




Earlier, I drove at Kinnaur, Spiti, Kumaon, and Ghats of Western and Southern India. But drive to Sela Pass was of a different class. It is because of prolonged steep ascent, unending loops, strong wind, heavy rainfall/snowfall, and low visibility. Though I am not sure whether the weather we faced during our trip is a permanent feature of the Sela Pass.

The Innova was primarily on 1st gear and occasionally on 2nd gear. The headlights were on. The Horn did not get any respite. We finally reached Sela Pass around 3 pm.





When we reached Sela Pass, there was another tram. They were returning from Tawang. They left after 5-10 minutes. The army canteen was closed. It typically closes by 2 pm. In all probability, there were few people inside the canteen. But no one was visible from outside. So we were all alone at Sela Pass, completely cut off from the rest of the world. In whatever direction we looked, it was all white. It was snowing profusely. But we did not have any complaints about that. We were letting the feeling sink into us.

We spent around 10-15 minutes there. From the place of the Welcome Gate, Sela Lake was faintly visible. But we decided not to venture closer to the lake and kept it for the return leg.

The road condition became very poor immediately after Sela Pass. Stones of various sizes and shapes were scattered on the road surface we were navigating carefully through those stones. After some time, the surface itself disappeared. We were driving through thick slush of mud and had no idea about what was there beneath the mud. This stretch continued for 2-3 kms, I guess. Then the road condition improved somewhat. Crossing this stretch with a Hatchback of Sedan will be a nightmarish effort.


The road condition improved considerably when we reached Jung. By that time rain had also stopped. On the way, we have crossed Jaswant Garh War Memorial deciding to keep that for the return leg. We also skipped Nuranang Waterfall at Jung deciding to visit that on the return journey.

Nuranang Waterfall is not exactly on the main road. When coming back from Tawang, you have to cross a bridge just before entering Jung, and immediately after crossing the bridge, you have to take a left turn. Similarly, while coming from Sela Pass, if you have to take a right turn just before the bridge. I will post more about Nuranang Waterfall later.

The idea was to reach Tawang as early as possible because we had not booked our accommodation at Tawang and already got an understanding that Tawang was pretty filled up with tourists.

But we had to take a few unplanned stops at no man’s land. Few team members were feeling uneasy and started vomiting. So we took a couple of breaks of 15 minutes each. It became dark before we reached Tawang. But the road condition was good. It was decently wide with very little traffic. The rain had stopped because we have come down to lower heights. So we were navigating smoothly. After some time, the lights of Tawang town became visible. We were delighted.

What I observed about Google Map is that it guides you through the entire journey very efficiently but always fumbles just when you are about to reach the destination. The same thing happened here. When we were 5-7 kms away from Tawang, we encountered a fork and Google Map advised us to take left. So did we. Because it was dark, we couldn't see where that branch was leading to and where the other prong was. There were some shops there and we should have gone down and enquired with them. But Humans are supposed to commit mistakes.

After driving for 5-10 minutes, we realized that we were going downhill, we were moving away from the cluster of lights, the locality is getting thinner and the surroundings are becoming darker. We understood that we took a wrong turn. So we backtracked and came back to the fork. The shopkeepers confirmed that we took the wrong prong and we took the right one.

We decided to give Hotel Menda-La the first shot. It was at the Northern end of the Tawang Market. When we reached there, it was around 8 pm. The shops in the market were shutting down. Fortunately, rooms were available there. We took 3 rooms on the 3rd floor – 2 triple rooms and 1 double room. They charged Rs. 1400/- per night for the double room and Rs. 1700/- night for the triple room. The rooms were quite spacious and cozy. Room Heaters were available for an extra payment of Rs. 300/- per room heater. Breakfast was not covered in the room tariff. Overall, we were happy with what we got at that time of the day. The only irritation was that rooms were available only for the first 2 days of our planned 4 days’ stay at Tawang which meant that we had to find some other place for the 3rd and 4th days.

We ordered dinner there. We found the charges a bit expensive. But we were in no mood to venture out. It was cold, it was drizzling and we were damn tired. It was well past 9 pm so all the shops were expected to be shut.

Day 3 (30th April)​

Getting up, I immediately went to the balcony to check the weather condition. It was cloudy.


Since we were continuously driving for the previous two days, we decided to keep this days' plan a little light. Getting permission for Bumla Pass, arranging accommodation for the 3rd and 4th day at Tawang and local sightseeing was the agenda.

We checked Booking.com and found that rooms were available. So after finishing tea and giving copies of ILP and other necessary papers to the Hotel Manager for permission for Bumla Pass, we went to Hotel White House. By that time, cloud cover has moved and the Sun has come out. Tawang was looking really beautiful.




Fortunately, we got rooms at Hotel White House for the 3rd and 4th night. The rate was Rs. 1500/- per room per night including breakfast. We booked 4 rooms.

By the time we came back to our hotel, everyone was ready. So, we had our breakfast immediately and started for Tawang Monastery.


Tawang Monastery is a three-storied building. It is a part of quite a big complex. It is located on a ridge north of Tawang town. The entire complex is guarded by a compound wall.



Other than the main monastery, there are many residential buildings in the complex. All the buildings are white. The roofs are colored bright yellow. Narrow alleys separate the buildings. The overall atmosphere has a mystic tinge.




We spent around 90 minutes at Tawang Monastery. Our next destination was Urgeling Gompa. Google Map was not being able to see the location correctly. So, we were trying to reach there by trial and error method by taking the help of local. This resulted in some aimless driving through Tawang Town. But given the panoramic view Tawang offers, we did not mind that.





We reached Urgelling Gompa around 1 pm. It is a bit cut-off from the main town, a bit secluded.