Tawang and the Mon in their Borderlands: A Historical Overview

  • Neeru NandaEmail author


The Monpas of Tawang share a common socio-economic structure, culture and language as the “Mon” with Monpas of West Kameng and Eastern Bhutan. Also, they share with significant linguistic and cultural affinities of the Buddhist tribes in Ladakh to Sikkim. Amongst the Monpas, the Tibetan monks of all sects commanded profound respect in addition to conducting lucrative trade through this area, up to Assam, but with no political control. In the seventeenth-century, sectarian rivalries between Gelukpa and Drukpa sects of Tibet effectively divided this region. Later, Bhutan was unified under the Drukpa rule but it closed its borders to Tibet. On the other hand, the Tawang Monpas chose to join the Dalai Lama of Lhasa, thus forestalling Drukpa expansion further north. The Tawang monastery (gompa) was established around 1680 and the Tibetan lamas opened the Tawang-Se La route for trade and access to Assam plains. Dissatisfied with excessive burden of taxes, porterage and extractions by these Tibetan lamas and officials, Tawang and Kameng Monpas welcomed the British administration which culminated in the establishment of the Tawang outpost in 1951. With maintaining independence of choice, time and again the Monpas of Tawang and Kameng have scripted their own political and religious affinities. Today, the Monpas have contributed three chief ministers to elected governments of Arunachal Pradesh. The present leadership currently faces challenges from the Buddhist monks who have historically placed themselves as protectors of the Monpa culture and eco-systems. New identities and discourse are also evolving in the borderland as Monpas participate in wider platforms, religious and cultural, across the Himalayas.


Monpas Monyul Druk Yul Tawang NEFA Arunachal Pradesh India–China 


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.TawangIndia

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