The Secret of Gheun

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The only Buddhist Mummy in the world and that too in a sitting position. There were other Buddhist mummies also in Tibet but were buried after the Chinese invasion of Tibet

Ghuen in Spiti Valley, about 40 km from the Tabo monastery, has a mummified monk, Sangha Tenzin, who had given up his life while meditating and is more than 500 years. It is the only Buddhist Mummy in the world that too in a sitting position. There were other mummies also in Tibet which were buried by Tibetans just after the Chinese invasion. This mummy was discovered by the villagers in 1975 when an earthquake struck the region. Gheun village is a restricted area and under the control of ITBP and very few people knew about the mummy until Anuj Singh (A freelance photographer) and his fellow biker Shahwar Hussain (An auto and travel magazine writer) first photographed it way back in the 90’s.

The mummy is remarkably well preserved for its age. Its skin is unbroken and the hair is still on the head. The process of mummification of this mummy is natural and no chemicals have been used to preserve it.

Ghuen also straddles an ancient trading route over which spices, wool, salt, precious stones and sugar moved between India and Tibet. Monks and high lamas frequented this route.

Homestay is the only of stay here.

Connectivity:- There is no mobile network nor an internet cafe as of now.

Info:-  IncredibleSpiti.com

The Tnagyud or Komic Monastery and the Highest Motorable Village

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The Tnagyud or Komic Monastery

The Tnagyud or Komic Monastery

Komic monastery also known as the Tnagyud Monastery has the honor of being the world’s highest motorable monastery at 4587 mts overlooking the Komic Village and mountain peaks. There are a few stories behind the existence of this monastery and they go like this:-

a) As per the sacred ‘Gum Maro’ (Red Box) kept in the monastery, it was foretold in Tibet that a monastery would be built in Spiti in the backdrop of a mountain with the shape of a snow lion on the left and a beheaded eagle on the right hand side with 4 springs in the vicinity. The area in between these mountains was to be in the shape of the eye of a snow cock, which was foretold as the exact location where the Monastery would be built. On the basis of this, the area was to be named Komic (‘Ko’– Snow Cock, ‘Mic’– Eye). The monastery is known as the Komic Lundup Tsemo Gompa and dates to the early 14th century built like a fortified castle with massive slanted mud walls and battlements with vertical red ochre and white vertical stripes.

Prayer flags and mountain ranges from Komic

b) Due to a drought, the monks of Komic decided to shift the Komic monastery to the nearby, relatively lower-lying village of Hikkim. The Mahakal statue, believed to symbolize the Protector of Dharma, however, refused to move from its foundation in the ground of Komic, despite numerous chipping and lifting efforts by the monks. When the entire monastery moved to Hikkim, the statue remained adamant at Komic, together with one monk who would continue to pray before it. In 1975 or earlier, an earthquake rocked the high altitude villages of Spiti, reducing the Hikkim monastery to ruins, still visible atop a small hill. The Mahakala statue in Komic held its ground even amid the devastating tremors. Convinced that Komic was the holiest place for a monastery, the monks decided to move back to Komic, where the monastery stands to this day. Females are not allowed in the section where the statue of Mahakala is kept.

c) Legend has it that many hundreds of years ago, robbers tried to steal the main deity from the Komic Gompa. The deity although not more than 3 feet in height became so heavy once taken out from the gompa, that the robbers had to abandoned the deity and it was brought back to the gompa. It remains here till this date in the old prayer hall.

The gompa also has some hidden treasures which due to security reasons are made public once every 60 years. These are the egg of a dragon, the horn of a unicorn, the upper tooth of a sheep, the ribcage of a gaint demon and the tail of a prehistoric man. The monastery is part of of the Sakya sect of Buddhism. The Sakya Monastery in Kaza is part of the Komic Monastery and made many years after Komic.

In Komic, there are only 13-14 houses with 50-60 as the population. Other than this are the Lamas staying the monastery across the year. The most interesting part is to imagine people living at such an altitude where mobile phones don’t work, harsh climate, no source of basic amenities and cut- off from the rest of the world in winters due to snow from November to March. Winters characterizes harsh winds and heavy snow where temperatures fall to -30 degrees. Oxygen levels are low due to altitude and travelers normally face problems in breathing.

Sunset from Komic and rays falling on Kaza

Next to the monastery is a small hill with prayer flags on it. The prayer flags are clearly visible from the monastery area. I suggest that everyone should spend an afternoon sitting on this hill and see the sunset. I wonder if there is any better sunset than this.

If you want to stay in Komic, then homestay and 2-3 rooms in the Gompa guesthouse is the only option here and booking it first in Kaza should be preferred.

Connectivity:- There is no mobile network nor an internet cafe as of now.

Info:-  IncredibleSpiti.com

Chandrataal Lake- Gem in the Crown of Spiti Valley

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Chandrataal Lake- The Moon Lake

Chandrataal lake is a beautiful lake in the heart of Peerpanjal mountain range at an altitude of about 4,300 metres in Himalayas. This lake looks specially beautiful on a full moon night which is why is it is call “Chandra” (meaning Moon) and “Taal” (meaning lake). During the day, the lake appears  blue in color, and a greenish tinge appears towards the evening. The lake is situated on a plateau (Samudra Tapu) overlooking the Chandra River which originates from a glacier near Bara-lacha-la. Chandra Taal is a popular destination for trekkers and campers. The lake is accessible on foot only for few months in a year, from May to September.

Night Shot from Camping area of Chandrataal Lake

Just 2 kms from Batal towards Kunzum La Pass is a diversion to Chandrataal Lake. The lake is 12 kms from that diversion. The Forest Department banned camping next to the lake in the year 2010 to keep it clean and a barricade has been put 2 kms before the lake to avoid parking of vehicles at the lake. This is the approved camping area and you can find accommodation here in some fixed camps during the season.

Another route to reach the lake is also a hike from the Kunzum La Pass (4551 metres).

Chandrataal Lake- The Moon Lake

Connectivity:- There is no mobile connectivity in this area, no STD/ISD/PCO booth etc.

Info:- IncredibleSpiti.com

Kye Monastery- The Centre of Buddhist Learning in Spiti Valley

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Kye Monastery

Kye Monastery was established by a Buddha’s Disciple named Drompton in the 11th century and is one of the main training centres for lamas in this region. Situated at an altitude of 4115 metres and is also known as the ‘Little Tibet’. The Monastery specializes in certain specific subjects like sadhana, Buddha hood, Cosmology and Physiology and is the most frequented religious destinations for the Buddhists in the state along with the Tabo Monastery. The monastery is around 12 km north of Kaza in the Spiti valley above Kye village and you can also hike it easily.

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Numerous invasions, natural calamities and patch-work as reconstruction has given it a box-like structures giving it a look of a fort with temples built on top of one another. There are low rooms and narrow corridors, not so well lit passages, difficult staircases and small doors lead to prayer rooms which themselves do not conform to a single design. There are three floors, the first one is mainly underground and used for storage. One room, called the Tangyur is richly painted with murals. The ground floor has the beautifully decorated Assembly Hall and cells for many monks.

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Kye Monastery has Thangkas (a painted or embroidered Tibetan banner), valuable manuscripts of high aesthetic value, images, unique wind instruments and on the top of all this a collection of weapons which were probably made use of to defend the monastery from the attackers. The wind instruments are still put to use in summers during Chaam. Around the month of June and July, the Kye Monastery celebrates a festival wherein Chaam dances are followed by a procession that reaches the ritual ground below the monastery. Here, a large butter sculpture of a demon is set on fire.

Locals here also run an old age home for people looking for salvation in their old age.

Places to Stay:- Monastery guesthouse is the only place here where you can stay

Connectivity:- There is mobile network/ connectivity in this area. There is no internet facility or STD/ISD/PCO booth.

Info:- IncredibleSpiti.com

Dhankar- The Ancient Capital of Spiti

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Dhankar Monastery and Fort

Dhankar Monastery situated at an elevation of 3,894 metres (12,774 feet) is at the perfect setting for any monument in this world. The monastery complex is built on a 1000-foot (300-metre) high spur overlooking the confluence of the Spiti and Pin Rivers – one of the world’s most spectacular settings for a gompa. The monastery was built approximately one thousand years ago and now belongs to the Gelugspa School of order since the 1450s. Prior to this Dhankar Monastery is also known to have been Nyingma-pa, Sakya-pa and Kagyu-pa, depending upon the religious allegiance of the King’s family. One of the major attractions of Dhankar Monastery is statue of Vairochana (Dhayan Buddha), consisting of 4 figures seated back to back. It also houses a collection of various centuries old thankas.

Spiti and Pin River Confluence and Dhankar on the right

Dhankar was the traditional capital of the Spiti Valley Kingdom during the 17th century and has some features dating back to the 12th century. Dhang or dang means cliff, and kar or khar means fort. Hence Dhankar means fort on a cliff. It was the place of the early ruler of Spiti, the Nonos, who has the right to promote the government lands nearby and were necessary to keep the fort in repair. They also give justice to the people and were famous for their harsh penalties until the British replaced them.

A section of Dhankar Monastery overlooking the Spiti River

In recent years, due to the deterioration of the building, some sections of the gompa have been abandoned and a new gompa has been built further down. Meanwhile, the fort of Dhangkar, destroyed by an earthquake in 1975, now lies in ruins, but is still a place worthy of a visit. From the remnants of the fort one can see vast expanses of the Spiti valley.  Dhangkar is also of art historical importance.Dhankar Monastery is recognized by the World Monuments Fund as one of the Hundred Most Endangered Sites in the world (http://www.wmf.org/project/dhangkar-gompa).

Dhankar Lake

Above Dhankar is a fresh water lake about 1.5 km from the village at a height of 13500 ft acting as the source of water supply for Dhankar and for the same reason camping is not allowed next to the lake. Set amidst lush green pastures, the lake offers a perfect idyllic camping site but locals do not allow camping at the lake anymore.

Places to Stay:- There is a Monastery Guesthouse which has good rooms. Other than that there are homestay options in the village and you can easily find one.

Connectivity:- There is no mobile network/ connectivity in this area. There is no internet facility or STD/ISD/PCO booth.

Info:- IncredibleSpiti.com

Tabo Monastery- Ajanta of the Himalayas

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Tabo Monastery- The Himalayan Ajanta

Tabo monastery, founded in 996 AD, is one of the most pious, biggest and oldest surviving Buddhist establishment in the Trans-Himalayas with its original decoration and iconographic program intact. Tabo Monastery is also referred to as the Ajanta of the Himalayas with a complex that holds nine temples, 23 chortens, a monks’ chamber and an extension that houses the nuns chamber. The monastery’s importance can be judged from the fact that its significance is second only to the Tholing Gompa in Tibet in the entire Himalayan region.

Entrance to Tabo Monastery

The monastery’s complex has nine temples built between the late 10th and the 17th century. The monastery has temples of Tug-Lha-Khang (The Temple of the Enlightened Gods), Ser-Khang (The Golden Temple), Dkyil-Khor-Khang (The Mystic Mandala Temple) and Brom-ston Lha khang (The Temple of Dromton) are the few very important to name. Tabo is famous for its exquisite murals and stucco sculptures which bear a striking resemblance with the paintings and sculpture in the Ajanta caves. The monastery also treasures some centuries old paintings which are not allowed to be photographed. Above the monastery, there are a number of caves carved into the cliff face used by monks for meditation.

The unique beauty of its art and its pivotal historical role in the transmission of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism and culture in the 10th and 11th century makes Tabo Monastery an historically significant site. The main temple preserves an extraordinary wealth of documentation of the history and culture of the period.

Chortens and Temples- Tabo Monastery Complex

In 1996, Tabo attracted national and international attention when His Holiness the Dalai Lama celebrated Tabo Monastery’s millenium anniversary with a two week event of teachings and the Kalachakra initiation. His Holiness the Dalai Lama occupied the throne in the Main Temple for the opening ritual of the Kalachakra initiation. Attended by 26,000 pilgrims, the event transformed the village Tabo into a tourist destination.

The Serkong School was established by Tabo Monastery on 29 May 1999 (Serkong Tsenshap Rinpoche’s 15th birthday). On that day each year, the students and teachers celebrate both the school’s anniversary and Rinpoche’s birthday. Tabo Monastery is involved in the management of Serkong School.

Info:- IncredibleSpiti.com

Spiti Valley- The Middle Land

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Spiti, a sub division of Lahaul & Spiti district, with Kaza as its headquarters is also known as “Little Tibet” as it has almost the same terrain, vegetation & climate. Spiti also means “Middle Country” but still remains as the most remote and untouched region in this country. The district share its boundaries with Tibet, Ladakh, Kinnaur, Lahaul & Kullu. The entry to this valley is either from Shimla via Kinnaur through a motorable road which remains open upto Kaza for 8 to 9 months. The other entry to the valley is through Manali via the disturbed Rohtang La and mighty Kunzum La passes which remains for only 4  to 5 months around the year. The Spiti Valley expands from Sumdo from the south to Lohsar in the north with an area of 4800 sq. kms. Some inhabitants have adopted Budhism as there faith and Bhoti is the spoken language. The people are simple and honest. The main Spiti valley is split into eastern and western valleys. They are connected with Ladakh & Tibet on eastern side through Parangla pass & Kinnaur and Kulu on western side through high passes like Pin Parvati and Hamta Pass.

Spiti Valley has a lot of treasures for the explorers like some 1000 year old monasteries and thankas belonging to various sects of Buddhism, a mummy of a Buddhist monk as old as 500 years old, homestays in some of the most remote villages to understand the culture and get a feeling of life at an altitude of 4000 meters, snow leopard in parts of Pin Valley and Khibber and some very spell bounding treks through the villages and wilderness. Its a different world in itself.

Places to Visit:-

1) Tabo Monastery and Caves,

2) Buddhist Mummy at Ghuen,

3) Dhankar Monastery and Lake,

4) Sherkhang Monastery at Lahlung

5) Khungri Monastery, Sangam and Mudh Village in Pin Valley (might sight a Snow Leopard, if lucky)

6) Kye Monastery

7) Khibber Village (Use to be the highest motorable village)

8 ) Demul Village

9) Lanza Village for Fossils

10) Tnagyud Monastery in Komic ( highest motorable village)

11) Chandrataal Lake

Mobile Network:- Only BSNL numbers work in Spiti Valley and that too in limited places like Kaza, Tabo, Lohsar and surrounding areas.

Internet availability:- Internet cafe are available in Kaza, Tabo, Lohsar, Khibber and Mudh as of now

ATM availability:- There is only one SBI ATM in Kaza Market.

Info:- IncredibleSpiti.com