Jhamtse Gatsal is located in northeastern India in the state of Arunachal Pradesh. The nearest town is Lumla, less than half an hour away by car, or an hour or two by foot. Lumla is in the district of Tawang, which is also the name of the district’s main city, about two hours away by car. Tawang district is the northwestern most district of Arunachal Pradesh, positioned on the border between Bhutan to the southwest, and Tibet to the north.
The Community sits on a remote mountain ridge, defined by two powerful rivers, the Tawang Chu and the Namjang Chu, and is surrounded on all sides by a dramatic landscape of higher Himalayan peaks, green in the warm months, and sparkling white in the winter. These rugged mountains are covered in grasses, shrubbery and large trees. The Tawang district ranges in elevation from about 1,066 to 6,705 m (3,500 to 22,000 ft). Jhamtse Gatsal is at an elevation of 2,011 m (6,600 ft), where it does not generally snow in the winter.
This district covers an area of about 2,172 sq km (839 sq miles) with a population of 49,950 (as of 2011). The approximately 160 villages in the area are inhabited by the Monpa tribe. These villages consist of primitive stone structures situated on the mountain sides, surrounded by small, steep terraces where crops are cultivated.¹
The mountainous region around Jhamtse Gatsal is unique and beautiful.
Monpa is the local tribe of the Tawang region. The culture is fundamentally Tibetan. The Monpa language is a dialect of Tibetan, having no written form. It has its own cultural identity with distinct traditions in song, dance, handicrafts, and dress.
Agriculture is the major occupation in the region. The majority of the inhabitants depend on subsistence farming and bartering to feed their families. Cash income for villagers is limited almost exclusively to the manual labor of road construction and maintenance.
Many people in the region, particularly women, work for the government’s Border Roads Organization (BRO), doing hard manual labor in the hot sun, cold, or pouring rain, moving large rocks and pounding them into gravel to build and repair the roads of the region. Repair work is especially available in the summer monsoon months, during which roadblocks due to landslides are a common occurrence.
Arunachal Pradesh is one of the linguistically richest and most diverse regions in all of Asia, home to an estimated 30-50 different languages. There are about 20 major tribes in the state with a number of sub-tribes. In an effort to protect the cultural diversity from outside influence and for security reasons, foreigners and Indian citizens are required to obtain a permit to be allowed into the state.