If you’re looking for an ancient but stunning example of engineering and natural beauty, look no further than the Chakzam Bridge in Tawang (also spelt as Chagzam Bridge), Arunachal Pradesh. This breathtaking bridge spans the Tawang River, offering visitors a unique perspective on the surrounding landscape and a thrilling experience unlike any other.
Chakzam Bridge: A Must-Visit Destination
Introduction to Chakzam Bridge
The Chakzam Bridge in Tawang Arunachal Pradesh is a true engineering marvel that has become a popular tourist attraction in recent years. This suspension bridge spans the Tawang River and offers visitors stunning views of the surrounding landscape. The bridge is not only a feat of engineering, but it also holds significant cultural and historical importance for the local community.
Chakzam or Chagzam itself means an iron bridge in Tibetan language and it could mean any one of the hundreds of iron bridges in the Himalayan regions of India, Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal. However, we refer to the bridge in Tawang as ‘the’ Chagzam bridge as this one is an ancient, centuries old, special iron bridge.
Exploring the Chagzam Bridge, Tawang, an experience of a lifetime
Oh, how time flies! I can still vividly recall the day we visited the Chakzam Bridge, nestled in the breathtakingly beautiful Arunachal Pradesh, about 25 km from the Tawang Monastery. It was quite a journey, taking us over an hour and a quarter, although the distance as the crow flies was only 7.5 km! But the winding mountain roads made it seem like an eternity. The road was good for most part leading to unmetalled, gravel road for the last few kilometers.
Before we hit the gravel road, we passed by a quaint little village called Shernup. There were flowers of many hue blooming on both sides of the road. Our friend it was called the Cosmos Flowers (Scientific name – Cosmos bipinnatus) or the Mexican Aster. The local youngsters often call it “I Love You” flowers. Probably the Monpa boys woo the girls with these flowers! <3 🙂 🙂 We made a mental note to stop here on our way back.
Sange, our friend, said it was still not the season. During season, the fields and sides of hills are full of these pretty flowers. At Chug valley near Dirang, Ziro valley and many other valleys, these pop up magically.
As we got down from our vehicle we were greeted by the faint sound of river flowing nearby. It was indeed music to our ears. We were then directed to collect the keys to the bridge from the house of the village elder (Sarpanch). It was quite surprising to learn that the bridge was locked!
A few years back one of the villagers had noticed that some of the iron chain links from the bridge were found missing, probably stolen. These fetch a lot of money in the black market because of its historical value, so some thieves might have stolen the same for a quick buck. To prevent further pilferage, the bridge -was shuttered and locked.
We climbed down the steps on the side of the river bank and soon we could hear the river crashing against the rocks in a huge roar and soon we got our first view of the magnificent historic Chagzam Bridge. I had goosebumps, just imagining how this engineering marvel was accomplished 600 years ago.
We passed a short structure with a bunch of prayer stones, which may have held a few prayer wheels as was the norm in those days. You can see prayer wheels almost everywhere in Arunachal Pradesh. The housing wall had some stone inscriptions in Tibetan which we could not decipher. Chakzam bridge is about 60 Metres including the housings at both the ends. The iron chain links start at the beginning of the housing.
Excitement was building when we opened the lock and threw open the shutter. The 8-metre long housing or the rooms were neither too big nor impressive. It was purely functional. But what lay beyond them was what we had come to see. And there it was, the Chakzam Bridge in all its glory!
There it was. At first Chakzam bridge looked like a combination of bamboo, cane, straw and rattan bridge, the entire length of which was covered with long strips woven to form a kind of a mat. The bridge was swaying due to the wind. There were the ubiquitous prayer flags, strung along the length, fluttering noisily. These flags have Buddhist mantras printed on them and serve to protect the bridge.
At the first instance it did not look safe at all. No one wanted to step on the weak looking bamboo bridge. All the travelers around me were suddenly extremely polite saying ‘you first’ (pehle aap). 🙂 haha. On a closer look I could make out the steel chains and thick wire mesh peeking through gaps in the mat. My thoughts were “Wasn’t some chain links stolen from this bridge?” 🙂 , but I couldn’t resist the urge to cross it.
I opted to go first. Gingerly I stepped on to the bridge. My feet sank a bit and so did my heart! I took few more steps a bit more boldly now. It was not easy to walk as the bridge was like a hammock and the bottom was quite narrow, just enough for one foot at a time!
Soon I got the hang of it and walked length of the bridge to the other side which was also shuttered and probably locked. I even lay down on this huge ‘hammock’. The bridge was about 40 M above the river and when I looked down at the flowing river from the center, it had a dizzying effect on me.
The Chagzam Bridge offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. I am sure in winter these mountain peaks would snow capped. The view from the bridge is truly breathtaking and is a sight that you won’t forget.
As we made our way back, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of nostalgia, remembering the good old days when bridges like Chakzam were a symbol of human ingenuity and perseverance. Chagzam bridge may not be very long but its construction is a feat of engineering that will leave you in awe.
Construction of the Chakzam Bridge
The Chagzam Bridge is a suspension bridge located in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh. It was built in 1420 AD by Thangtong Gyalpo, a Buddhist monk and a renowned architect of his time. Chagzam bridge spanning over Tawang chu river, is almost 600 years old, making it the oldest bridge in Tawang region.
The bridge played a significant role in the history of Tawang, connecting the two important villages, Kitpi on the North and Mukto at South of Tawang River, facilitating travel and trade. This bridge apparently reduced the distance by many tens of kilometers! Despite facing numerous natural calamities and political turmoil, the bridge has stood strong and continues to be a symbol of resilience and endurance. It remains an awe-inspiring sight, reminding us of the power of human ingenuity and the importance of preserving our history.
The bridge has had regular maintenance and reinforcements made over the years to ensure that it’s stable and safe to walk over.
The Unique Design and Engineering Challenges Faced During Construction of Chakzam Bridge in Tawang
The construction of the Chakzam Bridge in Tawang posed unique design and engineering challenges that required innovative solutions and unwavering determination. For finances and resources, Lama Thangtong Gyalpo, created dance and music forms to be performed in various villages. The people were educated about the usefulness of the bridge. Money so collected was used for the bridge. Many people from surrounding villages agreed to work on the Chakzam bridge.
The harsh terrain, extreme weather conditions, and limited accessibility made the construction of this bridge a formidable task. However, Thangtong Gyalpo and builders involved in the project overcame these challenges with their perseverance, skill, and ingenuity. The completion of the Chaksam Bridge stands as a testament to the human spirit’s ability to conquer seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It serves as an inspiration to all those who face difficult challenges in their lives, reminding us that with hard work and dedication, anything is possible.
The Chagzam Bridge is an engineering marvel that has withstood the test of time. It is made of iron chains and bamboo, cane, rattan and straw and is suspended over the Tawang River. The bridge is 60 meters long and about 2 meters wide (at the west part), making it one of the unique suspension bridges of its time. The bridge, either by design or otherwise, has withstood strong winds and earthquakes, and it has survived many natural disasters over the centuries!
There are two iron chains at the bottom and a pair of iron chains on either side. Layers of bamboo mats are placed on it so that one can easily walk.
The Builder, the Architect, the Man – Lama Thangtong Gyalpo
Thangtong Gyalpo (Also spelt as Tangtong or Thang Tong), was a legendary figure in the history of Tibet and Bhutan and was said to be a disciple of the very first Dalai Lama. He was born in the 14th century in Tibet and spent most of his life traveling across the Himalayas, building bridges and monasteries, and spreading Buddhism. Thangtong Gyalpo was not only a great architect but also a spiritual leader and a social reformer. He is credited with introducing the art of iron chain bridge construction in Tibet and Bhutan, which revolutionized transportation in the region.
Thangtong Gyalpo was not only an architect but also a physician, a blacksmith, and a poet. He was a prolific builder. He is known for building 58 (some believe he built more than 100) iron-chain suspension bridges across Tibet, Bhutan, and India. The Chagzam Bridge is one of his most famous creations. Due to this reason he was fondly called Chakzampa (Iron Bridge Maker).
He is also credited with building many important Stupas with progressive designs, which are now in the Tibet and Bhutan region including Jangtsa Dumtseg Lhakhang in Paro, Bhutan.
Thangtong Gyalpo is also known for his founding of Ache Lhamo or Tibetan opera, which is a type of masked cham dance. This was then performed at various villages to raise resources to build bridges. I guess he must have been the most enterprising person of his era!
The Impact of Chagzam Bridge on the local community and Tourism
The Chakzam Bridge has had a significant impact on the local community and tourism in Tawang Arunachal Pradesh. The bridge has made it easier for locals to travel between villages and access essential services such as healthcare and education. Additionally, the bridge has become a popular tourist attraction, drawing visitors from all over the world to marvel at its engineering and take in the stunning views of the Tawang River.
The increased tourism has also brought economic benefits to the region, providing new opportunities for local businesses and creating jobs in the hospitality industry.
We hope in future there will be a lot of homestays available in the nearby villages.
Future plans for the bridge and its preservation
The Chakzam Bridge is a vital infrastructure for the local community and a significant tourist attraction. To ensure its preservation and safety, the government has plans to conduct regular maintenance and repairs. Additionally, there are plans to develop the surrounding area to enhance the tourism experience. The government is also working with local communities to promote sustainable tourism practices and protect the natural environment surrounding the bridge.
So Time to Plan!
The Chagzam Bridge is not just a bridge but a symbol of the rich cultural heritage of the Himalayan region. It is a tribute to the genius of Thangtong Gyalpo, who built it more than 500 years ago. The bridge is a must-visit for anyone who is interested in history, architecture, and adventure. So, if you’re planning a trip to Tawang, make sure to add the Chakzam Bridge to your itinerary.
Useful Information on Chakzam Bridge (Chagzam Bridge)
Safety Tips to follow while Visiting Chakzam Bridge
While visiting the Chagzam Bridge, it is important to follow safety guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Here are some safety tips that you should keep in mind:
- Wear comfortable shoes with good grip as the bridge can be slippery.
- Do not run or jump on the bridge as it can cause the bridge to sway dangerously.
- Do not lean over the railings as it can be dangerous.
- Do not carry heavy backpacks or luggage on the bridge as it can affect your balance.
- Do not visit the bridge during bad weather conditions such as heavy rain or snowfall or heavy winds.
- Follow the instructions of your guide at all times.
- Make sure there are not too many people on the bridge at a time.
- Walking on the gently swaying bridge does require some amount of mental strength. The bridge is suspended by cables, and it sways in the wind, making it a thrilling experience for adventure seekers.
- Chakzam is also spelt as Chagzam, Chaksham, Chakzam, Chagsam, Chaksam, Jagsam, Jagsham, Jaksham or Jaksam and means Iron Bridge
- Chu means river. So Tawang river would be referred to as Tawang Chu. Saying Tawang Chu river is technically wrong but you will find a lot of people using this term.
- Discover the remarkable legacy of Thang Tong Gyalpo, an esteemed Bhutanese lama widely recognized as Chakzampa, renowned for his incredible feat of constructing an impressive network of 58 iron bridges (some say more than 100 bridges). Learn more about this visionary figure and his unparalleled contributions to Bhutan’s rich cultural heritage.
How to Reach Chagzam Bridge
Discover the majestic beauty of Chaksam Bridge, located about 25 KM from Tawang Monastery, a stunning attraction located in the heart of the Tawang District in Arunachal Pradesh. While it’s not easily accessible, the breathtaking views and once-in-a-lifetime experience make it all worthwhile.
No public transport is available to this place, leaving you to either private taxis or your own vehicle. The cost of transportation can be high due to the mountain roads.
PRO-TIP – If you’re heading out of Tawang towards Dirang or Bomdila with your own transport or hired driver, start early and make sure to request a stop at Chakzam Bridge. That way you won’t have to spend specifically for the transportation cost.
Where to Stay Near Chakzam
There are no hotels are homestays near Chakzam (Chaksham) iron bridge. Tawang town is the nearest place having decent and reasonable accommodation including homestays. However do not expect 3, 4 or 5 star hotels, although some of the hotels could be quite good.
We totally recommend staying at homestays, like we did. We interacted with the family so much that at the end of our stay we got quite emotional and I am sure I saw a few pairs of moist eyes. We stayed in a homestay called “Pal-Mo homestay” very close to the Tawang Monastery.
FAQ on (Chagzam) Chakzam Bridge, Tawang
Is the Chagzam Bridge safe for pedestrians?
Yes, the Chagzam Bridge is safe for pedestrians. However, it is advisable to be careful while walking on the bridge, especially during monsoons when the bridge becomes slippery. Also do not run, jump or swing. You never know what can happen. It is also better not to overload the bridge by too many people. The Tawang Chu River underneath is quite far and ferocious here.
Can vehicles cross the Chakzam Bridge?
No, vehicles are not allowed on the Chagzam Bridge. It is only meant for pedestrians. In fact now it is only for tourists. There is a more recent bridge for public, animals and bicycles very close by.
Are there any other suspension bridges built by Thangtong Gyalpo?
Yes, Thangtong Gyalpo built 58 iron-chain suspension bridges across Tibet, Bhutan, and India. (In fact this region was part of Tibet during his time). Some of the other famous bridges built by him are the Maling Bridge in Bhutan, the Chushul Chakzam (destroyed now), the Lug Valley Bridge in Tibet, the Kupup Bridge in Sikkim and so many others.
Which is the oldest bridge in Arunachal Pradesh?
While some say that it is difficult to determine the oldest bridge in Arunachal Pradesh, due to the limited historical records, it is believed by the people that Chagzam (Chakzam) Bridge is the oldest bridge built between 1410 CE to 1420 CE.
Who can walk on the bridge?
Walking on the Chagzam Bridge is not for the faint-hearted. The bridge is suspended by cables, and it sways in the wind, making it a thrilling experience for adventure seekers. The narrow walkway is made of steel mesh covered with straw matting and offers a clear view of the gorge below from the sides. As you walk on the bridge, you can feel the wind blowing against you, and the bridge moving beneath your feet. The experience is both exhilarating and scary at the same time.
It is better to wear shoes or sandals that can be closed, as flip-flops or slippers may get stuck in the gaps making you unbalanced.
Which bridge is famous in Tawang?
Chakzam bridge is the oldest, most famous and most visited bridge in Tawang.
Do you know a trusted Tour Consultant, who can provide safe and enjoyable trip in Arunachal Pradesh?
We were in the able and safe hands of Holiday Scout, and we recommend them without hesitation. They had completely curated our 11 days in Western part of Arunachal Pradesh.
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