The Sela-Tawang Trek

This eastern-most state of India is the first to be kissed by the morning sun, therefore Arunachal Pradesh is also known as ‘the land of the rising sun’. Bordered by China to the north, Myanmar to the east, Bhutan to the west and the states of Nagaland and Assam to the south, this is one of the most verdant and lush hill states amidst the seven sisters of the North- East, and also the largest. With 80 per cent of the state under forest cover, splendid wildlife and a vast network of rivers and streams, Arunachal possesses an unmatched beauty.

 

Sela Pass (Photo courtesy of Yathin S Krishnappa)

 

Tribal culture and craft traditions crown the state’s generous riches. Trekking in this unspoilt and unique region offers the trekker an enchanting peep into an isolated and sparsely populated state where the ills of over-development and its consequent problems are nowhere in sight. The trek follows the old Buddhist trail through Monpa villages dotted with beautiful monasteries, chortens and Mani walls. The trek is done in stages, covering the long distance to Tawang by taking sensible road support options in between. You have the choice of hiring a vehicle to meet you at appointed places and times for INR 2,500 per day, or of just hopping on and off the many buses and shared taxis that ply the roads from sunrise to sunset.

 

The motorable road runs all the way to Tawang, which was constructed after the 1962 war with China. Still used by Buddhist monks as they travel from one village and monastery to the next, the trail one takes winds through verdant valleys of rhododendron, oak and pine. Water is never a problem on this trek as you will find streams everywhere. This is a land where Buddhism thrives in all its colours — vibrant, real and living. And the trek transports you back in time to another world, which the road has not touched. The trail is a well-marked old stone track, almost 1-11/2m wide all along, no matter where you get on or off it, making it extremely difficult to get lost on this trek. Water and campsites are mostly a non-issue unless otherwise mentioned

 

 

DAY ONE

BOMDILA-PANGAM

DISTANCE 8 KM TIME 2-3 HOURS

LEVEL MODERATE

 

The road winds its way up to the ridge, and just below the ridge, on the other side, lies the Bomdila Monastery, also known as the Gentse Gaden Rabgyel Ling Monastery, which is worth visiting. It’s a replica of the Tsona Gontse Monastery in South Tibet. Then drive on to Thembang (2,140m), the seat of the Gelugpa, or the Yellow Hat school of Tibetan Buddhism. The monastery is run down, though interesting, as the gompa houses some relics from Lhasa. Your walk starts here.

 

Bomdila Monastery (Photo courtesy of Arunachal tourism)

 

Catch the trail behind the monastery, which skirts below the ridge and gently descends to a cluster of farms. The broad trail cuts through the farms and gently descends for an hour through dense forest to Dhing Nongbo (2,050m). Watch out for the elusive red panda while walking through the forest. Dhing Nongbo is a tiny village with a landmark white building housing a large prayer wheel, which was made to ward off evil. The locals firmly believe that you should not travel on the trail in even numbers else one of you gets eaten by the evil spirit. If you are even in number, expect a porter to be thrust upon your group to make the numbers click. As you face the building, take a left towards the school building. Beside it lies a beautiful, well-maintained chorten called Ghumtung. You can stay in the school building or take the path down to Pangam Village, which occupies both sides of the river. Cross the village and pick a suitable spot to camp.

 

 

DAY TWO

PANGAM-SEMNAK-LANGAM

DISTANCE 14 KM TIME 5-6 HOURS

LEVEL MODERATE

 

Cross the wooden bridge at Pangam and go upstream along the left bank of the river. It’s an easy walk of about an hour to Semnak Village (1,995m). This unique village follows Drukpa Kunley, a famous Tibetan tantric master. Phallic symbols adorn entrances of home and the people are freespirited and open. From Semnak, it’s an easy descent through fields (about 30-40 mins) to a stream. Follow the path rising steeply for about a kilometre to the village of Langam (2,645m). Initially, the trail passes through a thick bamboo forest before coming out to the Panchsara Meadows, a great spot for birdwatching. From Panchsara, it is a tough climb of about 500m through mossy ground and lush forest cover to Langam, the next village. A colourful gompa here houses the statue of Chamba, the future Buddha, as well as some old manuscripts. There is a clearing near the monastery at Langam where you can camp.

 

 

DAY THREE

LANGAM-NAMSHU

DISTANCE 11 KM TIME 6 HOURS

LEVEL MODERATE

 

From Langam, walk on the non-jeepable road for 300m till you meet the main road going to Tawang. Walk on the road for one hour till you come across some tea shops. A signboard here announces the trek to Dhirang. Leave the road and take the trail to your left going to Chander Village, perched on the ridge top. It is a steep climb of about 2 hrs to the top. Situated at 2,930m, Chander is a small village with a lodge, a few tea houses and a dhaba.

 

Gorichen Peak (Photo courtesy of arunachalpra.desh.mobi)

 

From the ridge top above Chander, you can see spectacular views of Gorichen, Arunachal’s highest mountain, amidst other snowclad peaks. From Chander, follow the road, descending steeply for about 20 mins. At the first hairpin bend, you will notice a trail on your right. Take this trail, which descends gradually at first and then steeply over a series of switchbacks. An hour and a half into the descent, you will come upon a Mani wall with prayers inscribed on stones. Just a little ahead lies the village of Namshu (2,100m). The statue of Chamba dominates the monastery. Camp near the monastery in Namshu Village.

 

 

DAY FOUR

NAMSHU-SANGIT

DISTANCE: 10-12 KM TIME: 6 HOURS

LEVEL:  MODERATE-DIFFICULT

 

Leave the monastery behind, heading to the smaller monastery 30 mins away. The trail, heading down, is flanked by chortens on both sides. The monastery has a statue of Shakyamuni Buddha. There are beautiful murals of Tsongkhapa (founder of Gelugpa School of Tibetan Buddhism). From the chorten, the trail climbs gently on some stretches and very steeply at others. One passes through densely forested mountainsides to the top, which takes about 1 hr.

 

From the top, the trail descends on the other side for about 2 hrs, to the small village of Khalebok (2,215m). From here you can see Sangit Village below. Another tiring descent of about an hour brings you to Sangit (1,625m). At Sangit, cross the bridge to meet the Bomdila-Tawang Road. You may opt to stay in Sangit, which has a few eateries and a guest house, or drive one hour to Dhirang, which has better accommodation. Hotel Pemaling or Circuit House are popular overnight places here.

 

 

DAY FIVE

DHIRANG-MUKTO VIA SELA PASS AND SELA LAKE

DISTANCE: 8-10 KM TIME: 3-4 HOURS

LEVEL: EASY

 

Drive to Sela Pass (4,180m), getting off 3-5 km before the pass. The walk from here is amazing as you are above the tree line for the first time in the trek and the route affords spectacular views of the Gorichen Peak. At the top, there are few tea shops where you can take a break. Hike up on any side of the Sela Pass to have fantastic views of the snow-clad mountains. The landscape here is barren and devoid of any trees.

 

Sela Lake (Photo courtesy of Indrajit Chakraborty)

 

It’s windy and cold on the pass, so keep a jacket handy. From the pass, take the short-cut track which cuts through the winding main road. The track descends sharply for 30-40 mins to Sela Lake. There is a war memorial here at Jaswantgarh, dedicated to Jaswant Singh, the soldier who single-handedly held off the approaching Chinese troops from the pass during the 1962 Indo-China War. There are some army barracks here, from where you can get free tea and samosas. The jawans believe that the ghost of the dead Jaswant Singh visits them at night. They go to great lengths to prepare a bed, with food and water on it, to appease him. A crumpled bed in the morning bears testimony that the spirit did indeed occupy the dwelling!

 

From the lake, hop onto a taxi/ bus, descending steeply to the river at the bottom of the valley. Then watch out for a board announcing Mukto Village, at which you get off. Take the trail going left and walk for about 3 km to reach Mukto. Tawang is visible from here further up on the slope. Camp at Mukto for the night.

 

 

DAY SIX

MUKTO-KIPI

DISTANCE: 9 KM TIME: 5 HOURS

LEVEL: MODERATE-DIFFICULT

 

From Mukto, trace your way back to the river. Then, take the downhill trail on the other side of the spur, and walk for about 30 mins to Chakdajam. The trail meets with the road across the bridge. Cross the bridge and take off on your right on to the trail going uphill to Kipi. This is a 1-11/2 hrs steep climb. Kipi (2,225m) is a uniquely traditional village with women always dressed in colourful ethnic clothes and adorned with jewellery studded with turquoise, jade and amber. Adjoining the village is an orchidarium housing rare species of orchids, some of which are on the verge of extinction. Set up camp in or around Kipi.

 

The village children (Photo courtesy of Rita Willaert)

 

 

DAY SEVEN

KIPI-TAWANG

DISTANCE: 8-9 KM TIME: 5-6 HOURS

LEVEL: MODERATE

 

From Kipi, go ahead on the wellmarked trail that gently descends to the river to a bridge. En route you will come across a small Mani wall and a chorten with a beautiful painting of Chamba. The last bit is over landslides to the river below at Sehru Village. The trek from Kipi to Sehru takes about 2 hrs. Cross the river and climb steeply for 1 hr, towards the ridge. The following 6 km is a gradual uphill trail to Tawang, which is right on top of the ridge. The monastery you’ll find here is a centuries-old fortress, set against the dramatic setting of snow-mantled peaks. It is one of the largest living monasteries of the Gelugpa school, housing more than 200 monks. It closely resembles Lhasa’s Potala Palace. From Tawang, you have valley views to both sides of the town. You can take the helicopter service (Rs 3,000) and fly back to Guwahati, or bus or taxi back. On your return, Luit Hotel at Tezpur offers the best accommodation, and a sunset cruise on the Brahmaputra is simply a must.

 

Fast Facts

 

Time Required:  8-9 days
Trekking Level: Moderate
Ideal Season: Oct-Apr. For flowers, late-May to end-Aug
Location: West Kameng District of Arunachal Pradesh

 

How to Reach: From Tezpur, drive 160 km (5-6 hrs) to Bomdila, the headquarters of West Kameng District, from where you can arrange porters and pick up supplies. Porters will charge INR 225 per day plus one day return and bus fare. On the border of Arunachal, your permits will be checked. Most travel agents of Arunachal have their offices here in Bomdila.

 

Where to Stay: The best place to stay is Hotel Shiphyangphong. There are a few other guest houses and a tourist lodge.

 

Permits: Indians free, foreigners US$ 50 for a 10-day stay.

All tourists need permits to enter Arunachal, available (carry valid ID) from:

 

Deputy Resident Commissioner, Guwahati. Tel: +91-361-2412859

Tourist Information Centre Arunachal Bhavan, Kautilya Marg, New Delhi. Tel: +91-11-23013915. See Website: http://www.arunachaltourism.com/

● All visiting foreign nationals require a Restricted Area Permit (RAP), routed through state accredited tour operators (see website given above). Available against a valid passport and visa, the RAP (US$ 50) can be obtained from any Indian mission abroad, the Home Ministry in New Delhi, and the office of the Home Commissioner, Itanagar (Tel: +91-360-212339) for a period of 30 days only, for a minimum number of 2 people

 

 

 

Written by Mukul Azad

 

About the Author: Mukul Azad, an adventure tour planner and operator, has travelled extensively in India, and trekked and climbed all over the Himalayas. He also enjoys water sports, skiing and nature photography.