Spiti Travelogue: Day 7

Tabo and Dankar Gom­pas: We vis­it the 1000-year-old Tabo Monastery

We had not bathed since arriv­ing in Kaza. It was unthink­able to remove warm cloth­ing and undress even inside our rooms. The water did not flow through the pipes in the morn­ing as it was frozen. How­ev­er, when I dis­cov­ered that our lodge care­tak­er had obtained water that he could heat by fire, I opt­ed for it. Undress­ing and bathing was an adven­ture in itself!

Spiti Mountains on way to Tabo

Moun­tains on the way to Tabo Monastery…

We were soon on our way to the Tabo monastery. The 10th cen­tu­ry Tabo monastery hous­es more than 60 Lamas, large num­ber of scrip­tures and art trea­sure like stuc­co wall paint­ings. Built in the year 996 AD, Tabo monastery is the old­est and arche­o­log­i­cal­ly most impor­tant monastery of Spi­ti. The wall-fres­coes of the monastery are said to be com­pa­ra­ble in their antiq­ui­ty and qual­i­ty to those of Ajan­ta Caves. Hence, Tabo is known as the Ajan­ta of the Himalayas.

Tabo Monastery

The monastery was a big com­plex con­tain­ing 9 tem­ples of dif­fer­ent sizes. Pho­tog­ra­phy inside the monastery was not per­mit­ted. The mil­len­ni­um cel­e­bra­tions had tak­en place in mid-1996, when the Dalai Lama con­duct­ed the rare Kalachakra Cer­e­mo­ny. All of us were speech­less as we wan­dered around the com­plex and inside the tem­ples. There was solem­ni­ty per­vad­ing all around that imbibed our spir­its.

There were ancient carved stones at sev­er­al places. The carv­ings were intri­cate fig­ures of gods and com­plex geo­met­ri­cal designs. Inside the tem­ples, there were huge stat­ues and fig­ures of the Bud­dha in var­i­ous mudras — pos­tures. I observed that the light arrange­ment was such that the head of the Bud­dha was hard­ly vis­i­ble, com­pared to the rest. I learnt that in all monas­ter­ies, they designed it that way because one is not sup­posed to look direct­ly at the Bud­dha.

At some dis­tance from us, in the mid­dle of a moun­tain­side, there was a string of caves. The monks used those caves for med­i­ta­tion. The Arche­o­log­i­cal depart­ment now pre­serves them.

Snow cov­ers the entire Spi­ti val­ley, all the region that we were vis­it­ing, in win­ter every year. Man-made roads and bridges can­not weath­er the harsh forces of nature in this part of the world. After see­ing muti­lat­ed bridges and trav­el­ing on a road that needs to be rede­vel­oped every year by the Indi­an mil­i­tary, I had not the faintest idea how a monastery could sur­vive 1000 years of severe weath­er, land­slides, snow, glac­i­ers, and storms. It was sim­ply mirac­u­lous.

Rock Formations

The red fig­ure on the left is our dri­ver!

Our final monastery vis­it was to the Dankar Gom­pa, locat­ed on top of a hill on the way back to Kaza. On our way, we passed the junc­tion of the Pin and Spi­ti rivers. The con­flu­ence of two rivers, with pure green-blue water was a mag­nif­i­cent sight.

Spiti MountainsWith no spe­cial guide or per­son knowl­edge­able about monastery cul­ture, it was rather mun­dane to vis­it yet anoth­er monastery with sim­i­lar stat­ues and paint­ings. I wished we had some­body with greater knowl­edge of the Bud­dhist cul­ture, so that we could have appre­ci­at­ed the cul­ture and art bet­ter.

One mar­vel I observed in this region was the puri­ty of light and shad­ow. At this high alti­tude, because the air is thin, there is hard­ly any dif­fu­sion of light. I had nev­er seen so sharp shad­ows before. Often shad­ows were in total dark­ness while there was ample light around. Anoth­er mar­vel was the col­or of the sky. Only our pho­tographs can describe the puri­ty of the sky; I can­not attempt it in words.

Final­ly, it was night and we were back at the lodge. The dri­vers nev­er slept out­side the vehi­cles, because they had to start the vehi­cles mul­ti­ple times in the night. If the vehi­cles were not start­ed every cou­ple of hours in the night, they would not start at all in the morn­ing! This was to be our last night at Kaza and in the evening, we stared and stared at all the grandeur around us, as if to etch the images in our mind per­ma­nent­ly, before we returned to our part of the world.

Next: Day 8

This entry was posted in himalayas, India, nature, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.