Where the Buddha Smiles

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Have you ever been to a place where it is so peaceful that it spooks you? I have. At first glance, Tawang gives you the impression of a town caught in the wrong side of geopolitical conflict. Even as we drive along the sorry excuse of a road from Tenga to Tawang, we get the feeling of driving into the elaborate sets of a second world war movie put up somewhere perhaps in the Alps. Army convoys and camps seem to be the norm so much so that I gave up counting the army vehicles and started counting the civilian vehicles to pass the time. The few moments I took my eyes off the picturesque landscape passing by and looked ahead, I ended up looking straight at bored men in green riding at the back of sluggish army trucks. For two women from a costal city, the whole ride up to Tawang felt like a roller coaster ride minus the safety belts.

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But for all the presence of the men in green, Tawang is the most peaceful place I had ever been to. Presided over by the Buddha in the middle of the town, it screams peace and harmony at every turn. To add to the effect, the snow clad mountains surrounding Tawang on all sides seem to muffle the hustle and bustle of the external world. Life seemed to be slow with natives chopping fire wood or stopping on their way to markets to chat with their neighbours. I say this on good authority because Minduji, our driver is a native of Tawang and he seemed to know everyone in the entire town. To our bemusement, he used to slow down at every turn to greet some friend or family.

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Walking down the market place was a strange experience in itself. The term painting the town red takes on a literal meaning here with the number of monks one would encounter. They are as many as the men in green I suppose. With the market being the most happening place in town, it was were we landed to sate our curiosity of the locals. Local food was awesome and being a place where Buddhism is actually practiced, for once, my friend and I didn’t have a problem finding vegetarian food.

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The only annoying thing about the market was that most of the shops were left unmanned thus making it difficult for us to buy anything. Even when the shopkeepers turn up, they seemed to be unconcerned about shoppers wandering around their shop unattended. Was that faith in humanity? We suspicious lot from the cities will never know.

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It will be criminal of me to talk about Tawang without mentioning Tawang monastery. Although the monastery was undergoing renovation, it had the feeling of an active Buddhist center. Unlike the other monasteries we visited, it was not quiet. Instead it had the feeling of a thriving Buddhist community. Monks were scurrying about busily directing workers cleaning up every nook and corner of the monastery, some of them were engaged in discussions with the locals and tiny cute monks in training were reading up on their scriptures. Maybe it was because we were there just a week before the Dalai Lama’s much anticipated visit, but I am quiet sure these monks took their work seriously.

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Something I truly admire about the monks was their welcoming nature. I hated going to temples back home because I never did understand what the priest was up to. There was usually a lot of mumbling accompanied by grand gestures at the end of which you are sent away with pulisadham or pongal. Here they smile and stop to explain if we ask them something. We went to a nunnery where the nuns even allowed us to sit with them in their prayer. They didn’t mind us walking around gapping at every small thing they did and that I should say was kindness in itself. We even met a nun from Burma who took us to her home and fed us Bori.

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The silent snow clad mountains, the faint laughter of people from houses adorned with wild sakura trees, the bold call of the wild birds, the yipping of fluffy puppies, the rhythmic gushing of the river and the soring chants of the monks somehow manage to drown out the loud rumble of the Indian army here. Even the men in uniform were friendly and warm in their own way. Their biggest concern seems to be the unpredictable weather and even that was more in acceptance than annoyance. Be it Minduji who took us to his home and fed us butter tea or the soldier from Thirunelveli who said, “Vangalaen, sapittutu pogalaam (come, have a meal with us)” I have never felt more welcome anywhere else in India.

In case you are planning to visit Tawang and hire a taxi, here are the details of Minduji. He is reliable and a local who knew his way around. He was also the inside man who got us access to the secrets of the far flung lesser known monasteries in Tawang.

DSC_0187 My Tawang (minduphuntsok1962@gmail.com)

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