THE LARGEST Buddhist monastery in India Tawang is situated in Arunachal Pradesh at an altitude of 3,050 m (10,007 ft). As the road ascends from Bomdila, the scenery becomes alpine, lush with pine, oak and rhododendron forests, and a short, high-altitude bamboo which is the favourite food of the red panda . Past the Dirang Valley with its old dzong (fort), the road climbs sharply to the Sela Pass. At 4,249 in (13,940 ft), this is the second highest motorahle pass in the world; the highest is in Ladakh). This barren, desolate landscape is softened by a serene lake that lies below the Sela Pass. Beyond a memorial to a valiant Indian soldier who held up the advancing Chinese army during the India-China conflict of 1962, the road descends to a beautiful, wide valley. The monastery, dramatically located on a spur surrounded by snowcapped peaks, dominates the valley. When the Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959, his route into India was through Tawang, and he still visits the area regularly to hold special prayers. Founded in 1645 by a lama from Merak in neighbouring Bhutan, this Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) establishment over 500 resident monks.
It was also the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama. The three-storeyed dukhang (assembly hall) has a magnificent 8-m (26-ft) high statue of the Buddha. The ancient library, leading onto the main courtyard, has an excellent collection of thangkas and valuable Buddhist manuscripts. The Bramdungchung Nunnery, associated with Tawang Monastery, is located 12 km (7 miles) northwest of Tawang. The road to the monastery, which can be reached by jeep, reveals a stunning alpine landscape of anowpeaks , Monpa hamlets with stone houses, and juniper and dwarf rhododendron bushes. Fluttering prayer flags and a long prayer wall mark the approach to the nunnery, guarded, as are most of the monasteries in this region, by fierce Tibetan mastiffs.