Tawang is a town situated at an elevation of approximately 3,048 metres (10,000 ft) in the northwestern part of Arunachal Pradesh in India. The area is administered by the Republic of India as a part of the North East state of Arunachal Pradesh and is claimed by People’s Republic of China as a part of South Tibet. The town once served as the district headquarters of West Kameng district, and became the district headquarters of Tawang district when it was formed from West Kameng.
Tawang was historically part of Tibet inhabited by the Monpa people. The Tawang Monastery was founded by the Merak Lama Lodre Gyatso in 1681 in accordance with the wishes of the 5th Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, and has an interesting legend surrounding its name, which means “Chosen by Horse”. The sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, was born in Tawang.
The 1914 Simla Accord defined the McMahon Line as the new boundary between British India and Tibet. By this treaty Tibet relinquished several hundred square miles of its territory, including Tawang, to the British, but it was not recognised by China. However, the British did not take possession of Tawang and Tibet continued to administer and collect taxes in Tawang. When the British botanist Frank Kingdon-Ward crossed the Sela Pass and entered Tawang in 1935 without permission from Tibet, he was briefly arrested. This drew the attention of the British, who reexamined the Indo-Tibetan border and rediscovered that Tibet had ceded Tawang to British India. Tibet did not repudiate the Simla Accord and the McMahon Line but refused to surrender Tawang, partly because of the importance attached to the Tawang Monastery. In 1938 the British made a cautious move to assert sovereignty over Tawang by sending a small military column under Capt. G.S. Lightfoot to Tawang.
Lightfoot’s brief visit elicited a strong diplomatic protest from Tibet but did not cause any territorial change. After the outbreak of the war with Japan in 1941 the government of Assam undertook a number of ‘forward policy’ measures to tighten their hold on the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) area, which later became Arunachal Pradesh. In 1944 administrative control was extended over the area of the Tawang tract lying South of the Sela Pass when J.P. Mills set up an Assam Rifles post at Dirang Dzong and sent the Tibetan tax-collectors packing. Tibetan protests were brushed aside. However, no steps were taken to evict the Tibetan from the area North of the pass which contained Tawang town.
The situation continued after India’s independence but underwent a decisive change in 1950 when Tibet lost its de facto independence and was incorporated into the newly established People’s Republic of China. In February 1951, Major Ralengnao ‘Bob’ Khathing led an Assam Rifles column to Tawang town and took control of the remainder of the Tawang tract from the Tibetans, removing the Tibetan administration. During the Sino-Indian war of 1962, Tawang fell briefly under Chinese control, but China voluntarily withdrew its troops at the end of the war. Tawang again came under Indian administration, but China has not relinquished its claims on most of Arunachal Pradesh including Tawang.
Tawang town is located approximately 555 kilometres (345 mi) from Guwahati and 320 kilometres (200 mi) from Tezpur. Tawang has an average elevation of 2,669 metres (8,757 ft).
Most of the tribes depend on agriculture for a living. Owing to Tawang’s cold climate, farmers breed yak and sheep, although in lower altitudes crops are also planted.
Tawang is a popular tourist destination thanks to the well-preserved Tawang Monastery. The Sela Pass rises steeply and is covered with snow for most of the year. Jang waterfall is a big tourist attraction.
Tawang district has a handicrafts centre that promotes the small-scale industries for local handicrafts.
Visitors to Tawang district require a special Inner Line Permit from the government which are available in Kolkata, Guwahati, Tezpur, and New Delhi. Most of the travel from the plains is on a steep hill road journey, crossing Sela Pass at 4,176 metres (13,701 ft). Tourists can travel to Tawang from Tezpur, Assam by road. Tezpur has direct flights from Kolkata. Guwahati, Assam, is 16 hours by road. In June 2008, a daily helicopter service from Guwahati was started by the Arunachal Pradesh government.
Road travel to Tawang from Tezpur, Assam, is by buses, private taxis and shared taxis. It is an arduous journey: most of the road is loose tarmac and gravel giving way to mud in many places. However, it is a scenic journey of nearly 12 hours, crossing Bomdila Pass 2,438 metres (8,000 feet), peaking at Sela Pass 4,176 metres (13,700 feet), Jaswant Garh and, finally, Tawang. Government buses often break down (usually on the way up) and passengers end up hitchhiking in private cars and taxis. En route, local food is available, especially meat and vegetarian momos and cream buns.
Tawang also hosted the 2nd International Tourism Mart in October 2013.