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Day 7-8: More Gompas in Tawang

For the next one-and-a-half days I walked around Tawang and visited a number of places while spending time with the kids at my hotel.

I was not able to notice the Gompa that one spots in the Old Market the day I had arrived. It was too dark to notice anything. It is one of those places that is hard to miss in broad daylight as it is adjacent to the bus and the Sumo stand. The previous day I had spent some time watching people light lamps and candles on the occasion of Nobel Peace Prize day. Had I known earlier about the celebration, I would have walked to Tawang Monastery to observe the lights.

A sculpture of dancing Tara on the Old Market Gompa
Guru Padmasambhava’s idol inside the Old Market Gompa

Nehru Market gets its name from Nehru Gompa. It was constructed to commemorate Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit to Tawang after the Sino-Indian war of 1962. His visit was aimed at strengthening the relations between a devastated state and the central administration of a newly-independent India that was still struggling to absorb a number of princely states and define its international borders. Judging from the way Tawang has developed post its fall in 1962 and the way the locals in Tawang have integrated with the rest of the country—from movies to music to food and the diaspora of merchant communities who have established a bustling economy whose shadow was visible even during the less than ideal economic activities during the pandemic—we have come a long way.

Busts of the three prime ministers from the Nehru-Gandhi lineage is on display in Nehru Gompa. There were a number of photographs that depicted activities carried out by Jawaharlal Nehru but they weren’t specific to the work he had done in the region.
Nehru Gompa. Monks live of the first floor.

I ventured out towards north of Tawang. I wanted to visit two nunneries—or as the locals called it, ani-gompas. Just as male monks are called lamas, female monks are called anis.

Bramadungchung Ani Gompa

My destination was a village called Bramadungchng. (Google Maps doesn’t list the place, so here it is: 27°36’43.2″N 91°51’18.4″E [1].) I hiked through the beautiful terrain of meadows, settlements and the occasional patches of rhododendron plants. There were places where I had pass through barbed-wire fences that had convenient cuts made by locals to facilitate movement. En route, I met Ramchandran—a jawan patrolling the area. He was happy to see someone from South India pass through the trails. His job was to prevent any local from building a shelter or a house in military lands. Since the area is vast, largely uninhabited, and obscured behind foliage, it was possible for someone to build a house in a couple of days without anyone else noticing. There is an official survey map that clearly demarcates civilian and military land. I also saw a number of bunkers that are no longer used by the military. Locals prefer these places for picnics with their friends with roast meat and beer as evident from the burnt ash-marks on the floors and the empty beer bottles lying around.

A village before Bramadungchung.
I crossed these makeshift shelters in an otherwise barren meadow. The one on the right has a a camping tent underneath the plastic sheet. There was also a wristwatch on the poles that supported the corrugated sheets indicating that it was inhabited.

After crossing a stream and climbing up, I reached the Bramadungchung nunnery. Three nuns were decorating the prayer hall of which only one of them agreed to be photographed. The other two were camera shy even though they were very jovial and were not at all shy when it came to chatting up with a visitor like me.

Bramadungchung Ani Gompa and a chorten. To the right is an army barrack with their trademark green roofs.
The chorten near the gompa.
The gate of the gompa.
Idol of many Buddhas inside the prayer hall.
With Ani Thema

I also met three ladies from Guwahati who had hired a tourist SUV from there and had followed the paved road from Tawang to reach Bramadungchung. They were also the first proper tourists I had met during the trip. The next day, I met them at the Old Market and they offered me a ride to Sangestar Lake. I had to decline as I was headed south.

Gyangong Ani Gompa

The other ani gompa could be reached only through a slightly longer path that was motorable for most of the part. I walked past Bramadungchung’s valley, its hydel power station, and climbed against hills that reminded me of those on Parvati valley to reach to a point where the only option was to descend via narrow trails to Gyangong Ani Gompa—also known as the Jangchup Choeling Nunnery. (Again, here is the location: 27°36’01.5″N 91°51’08.8″E [2].) It is a beautiful place nestled in the lap of the hills. Earlier it was possible to hitch a ride on a cable-car from Tawang Monastery but it was not operational.

Bramadungchung Hydro-electric power station that I crossed on my way.
Gyangong Ani Gompa nestled in the mountains. This one is not fully accessible via motorable roads. The lower building is the non-operational cable-car station.

A young ani—Themzing Thket, about 11- or 12-years old—invited me to the kitchen and offered me tea. I asked her about her routine. Anis of her age woke up at 6, did her morning chores, attended school (right behind the gompa) from 8 to 2, had meal, went back to philosophy studies in the evening (the ones she regularly skipped because she wasn’t interested), had dinner and went to sleep. In between, they are also expected help the elder anis with cooking and cleaning. I asked her about how was she chosen for a life in monastery. She said that it was decided by her parents back in Khyamdong village. For female children, it is often the decision of parents unlike the male children where the second son is send to become a monk. This practice is largely changing as I have met monks who are the eldest or the youngest of their siblings. Phurpa—who helped me out with the trip—was the fourth son of his parents. No matter how much I asked, Ani Themzing refused to have her picture taken. I spent so much time talking with her that I wanted to at least keep a memento.

Inside the kitchen with the cup of tea Ani Themzing had offered me. If there is one principle I live by, it has to be this: “Never refuse a cup of tea.”
The school behind the main prayer-hall building.
An idol of Mayitreya Budhha. Ani Themzing showed me around and told me the names of many other idols—especially those that did not have nameplates.

I climbed down the stairs that led towards Tawang Town. Construction labourers were working on extending the motorable road from Tawang that would reduce the amount of hiking required to reach the Nunnery.

Descending to Jang

The next day, I bid goodbye to Akash and Amit. I had spent a significant amount of time with the kids in the past few days. I wasn’t able meet Lobsang. He had gone to his village and wouldn’t be back until spring.

This is how the sunset looked from my hotel on that day.
Akash and Amit from Hotel Samdrupling. They were painting the balcony walls and preparing for the owner’s inspection who usually came once a month.

I wanted to buy some fridge-magnets as souvenirs. Most shops in Old Market and Nehru Market had little to no stock left. At least, they didn’t have any left that appealed to me. The shops hadn’t restocked in 2020 due to the lockdown and the lack of tourists during the pandemic.

I caught a shared Sumo from the Old Market at 1:00 pm. For INR 150, it dropped me at Jang SSB Chowk in 45 minutes. There are only two lodges at Jang. I had to walk for a couple of minutes to reach the nearest one—Hotel Gombu where I rested for the night.

Day 9: Jang [3]
Day 6: Hitchhiking a trip to Bumla [4]