Skip Tibet and visit Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, North East India instead.
I always longed to visit Tibet – just the name conjures up images of snow capped Himalayan mountains adorned with colourful, fluttering prayer flags, the roof of the world, serene Tibetan culture, the grandeur of the Potala Palace and the Dalai Lama and holds an almost mystical allure for most travellers.
But Tibet is not an easy destination to visit, permits and issues with China mean that this beautiful, peaceful culture is becoming increasingly repressed, not to mention that the Potala Palace is no longer in use and the Dalai Lama no longer lives in Tibet.
I found that there is an alternative for those seeking to immerse themselves in the Tibetan culture and stunning mountain scenery, a place where the Tibetan culture is still allowed to thrive, where monasteries drip with colour, young monks in saffron robes learn and practise this serene form of Buddhism.
Tibetan culture in India
But it’s not found in China, to really explore Tibetan culture follow in the Dalai Lama’s footsteps and go to India! In the 1960s the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government escaped Tibet and China’s oppression of their culture and came to India. I’m not an expert so I’m not going to go into the issues with Tibet and China too much but this article from the BBC provides a good overview if you want to learn more.
There are many places in India where you can feel like your in the Tibet of days gone by, most notably in the mountains of Himanchal Pradesh in McLeod Ganj, the home of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan government in exile, in Leh and also in the North East of India in Arunachal Pradesh – a little explored region known as the final frontier of India exploration and one of the last remaining ‘Shangri-la’s that I was lucky enough to explore with an amazing, local guide called Sange from Holiday Scout.
Tibetan influence in Arunachal Pradesh
Arunachal Pradesh is a state in the North East tribal region of India nestled between Bhutan and Tibet, and parts of this fascinating region actually used to be part of Tibet.
To experience Tibetan culture head into the West Kameng and Tawang regions of Arunachal Pradesh where you will be enchanted by soaring Himalayan mountains, spectacular scenery, valleys adorned with fluttering prayer flags, stupas and prayer wheels at every turn, tasty Tibetan food and handicrafts, vibrant festivals, wonderful people and more colourful Tibetan Buddhist monasteries than you can count. The most famous is Tawang Monastery, the largest Tibetan monastery in the world that is still in use (Potala Palace in Lhasa is the largest but is now only a museum)
Parts of Arunachal Pradesh are actually still contested by China, which means you need a special permit to visit and there is quite a military presence in the area but everything seemed very peaceful when I visited, the last trouble was in 1962 when China invaded briefly.
Mesmerizing Arunachal Pradesh
Arunachal Pradesh has a distinctive, diverse and truly captivating culture that makes it seem a world away from the rest of India. In these remote valleys you could easily believe that you have stepped back in time and it’s such a treat to witness the way the Tibetans practise their serene culture and how the many different unique tribal people live their life undisturbed and nestled in these largely unexplored mountains.
Now is the perfect time to visit as North East India is just opening up to tourism, yet still blissfully untouched and authentic– a perfect off the beaten track adventure and a unique cultural experience.
If you want to experience the beauty and serenity of Tibetan culture, if you want a real adventure, to step back in time or if you think you’ve seen everything there is to India, then come and explore Arunachal Pradesh!
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For more on Arunachal Pradesh see:
Photo Essay – An Adventure to the Last Shangri-La: The Mountains and Monasteries of Tawang
8 Reasons why North East should be on your bucket list.
My Review of Touring North East India with Holiday Scout