The road to Tawang through the Sela Pass is a beautiful but complex one. I can’t stress enough how much it’s about the journey and not the destination here.
You’ll be racing through bumpy winding roads, which reach up to 13,700 ft. through rain, ice, mud and snow.
You will gawp at the amazing Himalayan views, but won’t want to keep your eyes off the road, even if you’re not at the wheel.
There will be delays, struggles, tea houses and triumph as you try to reach Tawang…if you even make it at all. It took me two attempts to try and make it over the Sela Pass with Holiday Scout.
The first attempt was a gruelling 3 hour bumpy ride only to get stuck in the snow and have to head back down. But, thankfully, the second attempt was a success. But as a bonus, the snow storm had left the Sela Pass looking like a winter wonderland!
Despite the challenges, this car journey was one of my favourites. Not just for the views but for all the awesome places that we stopped off along the way.
Make sure you allow some time for a pitstop or two at these unbelievable places!
Where is the Sela Pass?
The Sela Pass is on the Tawang circuit of Arunachal Pradesh in North East India.
As a foreign tourist you will need a PAP (Protected Area Permit) to enter the state or as an Indian tourist you will need an ILP (Inner Line Permit).
The most popular tourist places within this circuit are Bomdilla, Dirang and then Tawang. These are ideal stop overs for the night before you attempt the Sela pass. I’m going to cover the journey starting from Dirang over to Tawang in this post.
Local transport options are available that are Sumo Jeeps which run from 5.30am until around 11am each morning. You can easily book these at the Sumo booking counters in most towns/villages.
But, with local transport, you won’t be able to stop off many places along the way. The best way to explore is to take a tour with the likes of Holiday Scout or hire your own transport.
Our swanky Scorpio that was provided with Holiday Scout.
1. The Sela Pass
Undoubtedly, the most awesome thing about this road trip is the feeling you get when you make it to the summit of the Sela Pass.
For me, it was an extra special celebration as the possibility of it seemed impossible when we got stuck. I felt so defeated when we had to turn back on the first attempt. So, I made the most of it and explored around.
You will definitely feel the altitude hit your legs and lungs when you get out of the car, but the views are so worth it! You can visit the frozen lakes, play in the snow and visit the tea shop which is here if you need a break.
This is also a great toilet stop but I wouldn’t hold your breath, it isn’t pretty.
There are options for walking, but I would be hesitant in going too far off the beaten path. There’s no phone signal or many people that live here so you don’t want to get stuck!
2. Meet the mountain yaks on the road
Ever since my trip to the Rohtang Pass in Himachal Pradesh, I have been obsessed with yaks. I don’t know what it is about them, but to me, they’re just so fluffy and cute!
If I had any doubts about meeting yaks here, they were quickly withdrawn. I saw not one, or ten, but around twenty to thirty fuzzballs. They were all grazing or basking in the sun.
Of course, I tried to get up close and personal with them, but they got scared and ran away. Sorry guys, but I just want to pet you!!
3. Jaswant Ghar War Memorial
You’ll notice that a lot of Arunachal Pradesh, especially along the Tawang circuit, has army camps and barracks which are set up to protect the Indian China border. This is because there is a running dispute between the territory lines of India and China (south Tibet).
One of the most notable border conflicts between the two countries was in the form of the Sino Indian war which took place in 1962.
This memorial is left to commemorate those who lost their lives in this conflict. Today, you can stop off at this area to pay your respects.
As a kind gesture to all who travel through, the army offer free cups of steaming chai to set you up for the journey ahead. You can sip on it while you enjoy the incredible views around you. Thanks fellas!
4. The first viewpoint of Tawang
So close, yet so far. Tawang is where you’re headed and it definitely has an air of mystery about it when you’re venturing on the roads.
If you want to stop and get a great view of the Himalayas and your end destination than ‘the first viewpoint of Tawang’ is the stop for you.
Covered in Himalayan flags and boasting a view point that could invoke even the most ardent traveller with wanderlust, you will not be disappointed.
When we reached this point, the sun was poking it’s rays through the clouds at just the right moment! It was like the heavens were making an arrow towards the monastery there.
5. Nuranang Waterfall
The road to Tawang is so effortlessly picturesque and is full of hidden gems that you can go off road to explore. One of those is the gorgeous Nuranang falls.
Reaching a height of 100 metres high, this waterfall is enough to make anyone’s problems feel small. What’s good about this is that it’s an easy stroll down to the viewpoint if you want to take a closer look.
Depending on what time of day and if the sun is shining, these falls refract into a rainbow! Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see it as it was too cloudy and was getting dark when we arrived at around 3pm (that’s right it gets dark that early in the North East!).
But, I highly enjoyed taking a closer look and seeing all the fluffy Himalayan monkeys causing trouble around here. Be careful of going to close in Monsoon season, the tide get’s high and you could be swept away!
6. Chaksam Bridge
This bridge is a remarkable architectural achievement. Chaksam bridge was constructed in the 14th century, by a disciple of the Dalai Lama Tangton Gyalpo. It was designed to provide safe crossing over the Tawang Chu river and the fact you can still cross it now is testament to it’s success.
What’s more amazing is that with this being the only one in India, you’re in for a really unique experience.
Of course there’s a safety net, but that doesn’t make it any less wobbly or scary!
If you don’t fancy braving the old bridge, there is a modern steel one to the side that’s more sturdy. But, where’s the fun in that? I jumped a fair few times on this bridge and there is no way it’s coming down, so you’re in safe hands.
7. Discover the beautifully remote villages of Arunachal Pradesh
Beyond the regular tourist stops, some of my favourite points lay in the beauty of the remote Arunachal villages.
A beautiful little stupa
Watching the villagers dancing and having a celebration picnic, seeing the cows grazing, visiting the temples and watching the locals place their stones as they circled the stupa really were the moments that stick with you.
Villagers having a party
We stopped at so many places that it’s not fair to name just one. You have to discover these places for yourself. There really is beauty to be found everywhere here.
This little boy got his foot stuck in the oil haha!
Not sure why she was laughing, but this photo makes me smile
Villagers in their daily prayers
Meeting this happy dude was awesome!
It’s about the journey, not the destination
The Tawang circuit is one of the most beautiful journeys I think I’ve ever undertaken. But, I would recommend taking some time to see it more in depth rather than rush through. There’s more to this journey than just the Sela Pass.
Take some time out from behind the wheel, look out of the window, enjoy chai with a view, meet new people, talk to the locals (or a yak), be exposed to new places and experiences. Arunachal is waiting to delight in you.
With thanks to Holiday Scout for hosting my tour around Arunachal Pradesh. Views, photos and opinions are completely my own. For a full review of my experience see here.
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