As a young girl I studied in a Christian convent school in Shillong run by a mix of Indian and Irish nuns. I was initially quite taken aback and then fascinated to hear about the Buddhist nunneries since I had at the age of ten assumed that only boys joined the monasteries. Arunachal Pradesh has a long tradition of nunneries called the Gompas i.e. monasteries attached with Buddhist temples that house young children to be trained as monks or nuns. As per age old tradition, the local villages send at least one child per family to be brought up as a monk or a nun. One of the places I would recommend to visit in Tawang is an Ani Gompa.
Ani (meaning girl) Gompa is a special type of Gompa meant only for young girls to be brought up as nuns. There are several such Ani Gompas in Tawang. The oldest amongst them is the Brahma-dung-chung Ani Gompa (also known as Thukje Chueling), located on a mountain about 10 km from Tawang town. The Nunnery was commissioned by Karchen Yeshi Gelek Lama from the Tsang province of Tibet in 1595 and houses about 60 nuns. It is the most easily approachable monastery in terms of transport.
Another such nunnery, nestled on a hillock is the Gyangong Ani Gompa, situated about 7 kms away in the north of Tawang. This nunnery was founded by Mera Lam Lodre Gyamtso, which he later offered to his elder sister and houses about 50 nuns in present times. Interesting fact about this nunnery is that, unlike the other nunneries it is under the control of the Tawang Monastery. The monastery provides for the daily expenses of the nuns.
One of the most scenically beautiful nunneries of Tawang district is the Singsur Ani Gompa. It is located at a distance of about 28 km towards the west from the Tawang district and houses about 40 nuns. This Gompa was built by previous Rev. Gonpatse Rimpoche in 1960.
It is interesting to see that despite modernism, the customs followed in this nunnery are that of the bygone years. Visitors can get a glimpse of Buddhism being practised in a clam and serene atmosphere under the green trees as it used to be in the olden times. A typical day as a nun in these nunneries involves daily chores of cooking, washing, cleaning, chopping firewood etc. Except the Gyangong Ani Gompa, which is supported by the Tawang Monastery, the other nunneries function on donations received.
If visited during the Buddhist holy month of Vesakha, one can witness the nunneries buzzing with pilgrims. It is definitely a sight to behold with the nunneries surrounded with lush greenery with the prayer flags fluttering in the wind. Visitors can also see the main prayer hall and the lamp room. As per tradition, when visitors light lamps in the lamp room of a monastery, they are expected to donate whatever amount they wish.
Tawang, with its topography, rhododendrons growing alongside the sweeping roads, colourful fluttering prayer flags and vibrant culture has a lot more to offer for travellers.
Best time to visit
October to April
How to reach Tawang and its Ani Gompas (nunneries)
Tawang is Accessible from Assam via road. The closest railway station is in Tezpur. Guwahati has the nearest airport, though there are occasional flights from Tezpur too. Government and private buses and taxis ply to Bomdila and Tawang. I recommend you hire a taxi from Bomdila or Tawang itself to get around as there are no public buses in Tawang.
Visit our website for more information on Tawang and our upcoming tour of the Tawang festival – http://curtaincalladventures.com/itinerary/the-mythical-tawang-festival-tour/
All the sketches are from my personal travel journal.