Tawang Stories and Tips

The Seven Sisters

ASSAM
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Guwahati, Assam capital, on the banks of the Brahmaputra River, was a pleasant town.
I walked until the Brahmaputra River and noticed on the top of a hill a striking religious construction. I took a rickshaw and headed to that place that was called Kamakhya Mandir (temple) and was an ancient seat of Tantric and Shakti cults of Hinduism.

There were hundreds of sadhues and faithful people following the ceremonies. Musicians played drums and cymbals and the shops were selling souvenirs and food to be offered to the gods as prasad.
After Guwahati I left to my second Sister: Meghalaya.

MEGHALAYA
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Shillong, Meghalaya capital, is a pretty town situated at about 1500 meters of altitude over the sea level. They are an interesting bazaar called Bara and a pedestrian street in the Police Bazaar full of life during the night with stalls of food everywhere.

Meghalaya is inhabited by three tribal groups (Khassis, Jaintias and Bhois) that follow the matrilineal system society where the lineage and property pass down from mother to daughter and nothing is left for the sons.

In every Indian town you can find travel agencies offering one day excursions very cheap, for about 120 rupees (2 euro) showing you the main attractions of the town and surroundings. I bought such a cheap tour that lasted from 8 AM to 5 PM and admired the fourth highest water fall in the world. I also visited Don Bosco museum, Ramakrishna Mission, grottoes with stalactites symbolising the lingam of Shiva, and Cherranpunjee, famous for being the heaviest rainfall area in the world, near to Bangla Desh.

One night I took a bus to Agartala, the capital of Tripura, the third Sister.

TRIPURA
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The way from Shillomg to Agartala took me twenty hours by bus. I saw soldiers everywhere. They took positions in every hill. Many of them were Sikhs. They were protecting us from terrorists and bandits and all the buses travelled in convoys with the Indian Army as escorts.

From Agartala I traveled to Udaipur (not to be confused with the other Udaipur town in Rajasthan) where I would spend a whole day.

The main tourist attraction in Udaipur is one of the 51 “pithas” or holiest pilgrimage centres on India: Tripura Sundari Temple, also known as Matabari. It consists of a square type sanctum of a typical hut construction. I took my shoes off and walked inside during the time of the sacrifices, where for 10 rupees a man with a sword cut the throats of young goats to be offered to the Hindu gods. They also cut buffalos heads for 25 rupees.

Some metres ahead I descended to a lake where the people fed thousands of enormous tortoises with puffed rice and biscuits.

After Tripura I tried to visit the four forbidden states of the Seven Sisters. I studied a map, talked with the local people and headed to a village at the border with Mizoram. There I observed during a whole day the soldiers’ movements and the change of guards from a cafeteria drinking chai, then, at dark, when the soldiers lessened their duty, crossed a bridge across a river and entered unnoticed to Mizoram, the fourth Sister.

MIZORAM
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While crossing the bridge I heard two girls taking and looking at me. I only understood the word “foreigner”. I followed my way faster and, Dios mio, que emocion! There were no soldiers at the other side of the bridge; I had entered in Mizoram!

I slept in the patio of a school and next day, at 4.30 AM, I asked a driver of a minibus going somewhere in the direction to Aizwal to take me with him. When we arrived at his village he invited me to be his guest. I cheerfully accepted and spent two days with his family, who had a shop selling beetle nuts.

After two days I proceeded to Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram.

The minibus took the whole day to reach Aizwal through endless bamboo jungles. Most of Mizoram is mountainous.
Aizawl is a lovely vertical town; there are no rickshaws because of the hills, but taxis charge 50 rupees for ride.

People lived in a sort of palafitos, with half of the house built in the hill land plus the rest protracted with long wooden pillars. During the night the hills of Aizawl looked illuminated Christmas trees.

I was accepted to spend the night in the Catholic Cathedral, in the Bishop House.
Next day I left to Manipur.

MANIPUR
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I reached Silchar, in Assam, and instantly took a bus to the border with Manipur, my fifth Sister.

I selected the company of the passengers in the minibuses and chose one with only Indian businessmen heading to Imphal. The border was OK; nobody noticed that I was a foreigner.

We crossed Jirigat and Jiribam. We wanted to reach Nungba to make a break for lunch, but before that an Indian officer stopped our car and asked the driver: What is the purpose of you journey?

We then were told that there was curfew in Imphal, the capital of Manipur. During Indian Independence Day, the 15th of August, the terrorists had thrown a bomb into a Hindu temple and as consequence of that two Indians died.

We all were “invited” to go back to Silchar, back in Assam, from where I took a night train to my sixth Sister: Nagaland.

NAGALAND
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I saw in a map that the train would penetrate a small fragment of Nagaland, the commercial town of Dimapur.

Once I arrived there I went to the bus station, boarded a minibus and left to Kohima, Nagaland capital. After a few kilometres there was a control. A soldier looked inside and not noticing anything strange gave orders to open the barrier to let us continue to Kohima. Hurrah!

Afterwards I was told that for my aspect, with black hair and brown eyes, I looked like a Kashmiri from Srinagar.

I visited the cemetery, the main tourist attraction of Kohima, which was in the same centre of the town.

Kohima is surnamed the Asiatic Stalingrad. The battle fought there during WWII was horrible and many thousands of lives, Japanese, British and Indians, were lost.

After that visit I continued by taxi through the same road up to the hill where was located the imposing Catholic Cathedral.

Fearing to be caught if I registered in a hotel I opted to go back to Dimapur during the night. Next day I took a bus to Tezpur, back in Assam, then another one to Bhalukpong, on the border with Arunachal Pradesh, my seventh Sister.

ARUNACHAL PRADESH
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During the bus journey from Tezpur I made friendship with a native of Arunachal, a Monpa, ethno that is like the Tibetans, including the language. I expressed him my intention to enter Arunachal Pradesh. When we arrived to Bhalukpong, the border with Arunachal, we crossed together the border line, to Bhalukpong arunachali, because it was a divided city, like Nicosia. The Indian soldier looked at us but since my friend was covering me, they only saw a black hair man accompanying a local Monpa and did not stop me.

Finally I had entered my seventh Sister!

Next day, at 5 AM, I boarded the first minibus with direction to Tawang.

Arriving to Bomdila a soldier looked inside the minibus where I was. I made as if sleeping. He touched my shoulder and asked me something in Hindi that I did not understand. With cold blood I replied: “Acha” and he went away!
Acha is a very useful Hindi word, it can mean yes, OK, I understand, oh I see, but also: yes but please leave me in peace.

I arrived about 6 PM to Tawang and at once headed to the Buddhist monastery on the top of a hill dominating the town. I was accepted immediately by the monks to live there.

The monastery belongs to the Gelugpa and was even more stunning that the Potala of Lhasa. There lived about 500 monks, and also some workers in the houses in the middle of the monastery. It was founded in the XVII century by the 5th Dalai Lama, and precisely there was born the 6th Dalai Lama.

The 14th Dalai Lama will visit Tawang Monastery again in 2007 during the Padmasambhava dances in the full moon of May.

The views from that monastery were superb! Tawang is the second largest monastery in Asia, only behind of Potala, in Tibet.

One morning at 5 AM I embarked in a minibus and at about 6 PM I reached Tezpur, back in Assam, from where I travelled in a night bus to Guwahati. There I took a night train straight to Kolkata and a few days later I flew back to Barcelona, in my dear Spain.

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