The Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh is a unique place. Seriously, throw out your mental picture of India because it doesn’t apply here.
Old Dirang, the village I am highlighting here, is found on the road to Tawang and I feel it serves well as a representative sampling of the villages one will find on this route winding up through the Himalayas. Aside from giving you a feel for what this part of Arunachal Pradesh is like (Hint: heavy Tibetan influences), I also hope to generate some interest in you for Arunachal Pradesh in general. So, when I discuss it more in the future, you’ll hopefully feel more connected to what I am discussing.
Old Dirang is populated almost entirely by the Monpa people who are Mahayana Buddhists and live in the high valleys on the Bhutanese and Tibetan borders. Mahayana Buddhism is the form followed in Tibet, Bhutan and Mongolia.
And I have to say that I found the whole place to be quite photogenic:
Corn is a significant crop in the Himalayan foothills and you’ll thus see scenes like this one quite often:
As with everywhere else we went in the Northeast of India, the people were very warm and welcoming:
This kid liked having his picture taken… I thought his boot/pant suit (pants attached to the boots to make it sort of like those footed pajamas we had when we were kids) was awesome and told him so, but I don’t think he understood me:
This woman’s friend thought it was hilarious that I wanted to take a picture of them. It is funny because what is boring and commonplace to them is unique and interesting to us (Well, at least to me):
A view of Old Dirang from one of the hills overlooking the town:
Also on the hill from which the above picture was taken is an attractive gompa. What the hell is a gompa? Well, a gompa is simply a Buddhist center – I suppose our Western equivalent would be some sort of church complex.
Climbing the hill to the gompa… Prayer flags are in the foreground:
The Buddhist temple in Old Dirang:
A view of the temple from the side:
And out behind the temple where myriad trails lead up into the mountains:
Just to the right of the temple are the living quarters for those affiliated with the gompa:
As with all of the Buddhist temples we visited, we were immediately accepted as guests and invited into the living quarters. This is the entrance:
A bedroom inside… These double as living rooms since people can sit on the beds:
Once inside the living quarters, we were presented with tea and food. Now, of course, before we leave we make a donation as a gesture of thanks, but this is not compulsory or expected. In other words, it isn’t like going to a restaurant. It is a gesture of hospitality on the part of the Buddhists rather than a commercial transaction.
At this juncture, I must clarify something. When I mentioned above that we were presented with “tea”, I am not referring to the dried and processed leaves of Camellia sinensis that form the Early Grey or English Breakfast Tea so many of us are used to. Instead, in this part of the world, the “tea” is made from salted yak butter. When I was first presented with yak butter tea, I was told to think of it as a soup and to expel all thoughts of tea from my mind. That helped, but it is still definitely an acquired taste (a taste I never did quite manage to acquire).
And I’m sorry to say that the yak butter tea we were presented with in Old Dirang was just a little too much for us. It had the greasy, gray appearance of dirty dish water and tasted, well, not very good. So we politely pretended to sip our tea until at an opportune time my Italian, who was seated next to an open window, swiftly emptied the cups of tea out the window and then placed the empty cups down in front of us.
This had the unfortunate effect of creating the impression that we really, really liked the yak butter tea since we had apparently guzzled it down so quickly. And so for the duration of our visit, the kind monks kept trying to provide us with more yak butter tea.
Our host inside the living quarters… He was designated as our host since he spoke a little bit of English:
Some of the kids in the gompa that came to check out the Westerners:
As we said our goodbyes and started to make our way back down the hill, this big boy that had been following us around the grounds of the gompa elected to escort us down the narrow path on the hill as well. You just can’t beat Buddhist hospitality: