5 must-do things in Spiti Valley
Updated: Jan 15
Once part of the mighty Guge Kingdom, Spiti now is a sustainable alternative to the crowded Ladakh with scattered villages in serene moonscapes, ancient monasteries with their history going back to hundreds of years, scarce vegetation, the constant companionship of Turquoise-grey ribbon of Spiti river and occasional smile of local Spitian children's. Literally meaning "Middle Land' Spiti is another chunk Tibet marooned in India.
In less than 7,000 sq KM of snow-capped mountains and high-altitude deserts, punctuated by tiny patches of greenery and Clusters of Monastery you can experience Tibet Culturally, thus this place has also gained the title of "Mini-Tibet". From my past experience, I want to share the 5 things which I loved most in the tour of middle land...
1.The Monastery Hopping
What is better than hopping from one monastery to another in a region which was part of Western Tibet? During the 8th century, The great Buddhist teacher"Guru Rinpoche" also called "Padmasambhava" soiled the seeds of Buddhism in Spiti, Ladakh and Tibet. The spread of Buddhism laid to the establishment of many Monastries and cultural centres under the patronage of the Tibetan empire which resulted in a heavy influence of Tibetan culture on the Culture and lifestyle of this region.
But the story does not end here, by the end of 10 th century another great teacher "Rinchen Zangpo', the Great Translator of Sanskrit, introduced the second diffusion of Buddhism in Tibet, which led to the establishment of "Tabo Monastery" the oldest continuously functioning monastery Outside Tibet. By the arrival of 11 th century, the valley entered into the" golden age" which lasted for more than 300 years, which led to the evolution of monasteries in present form.
The most fascinating thing about the monasteries situated is that every monastery has its unique speciality. Some of them are known for the finest murals in the whole Himalayan region, whereas some of them are known for the huge collection of ancient manuscripts and Thangkas, some are known for their geographical features, while other are known for living mummies. Here are some of my personal favourites monasteries from the Spiti valley.
A. Ki Gompa: The Largest One
The largest monastery in the whole valley "Ki Gompa" is the perfect example of Tibetan architecture. This gompa is known for its huge collection of ancient manuscripts, Thangkas, Buddhist sculptures, murals which are a mix of Indian, Tibetan and Chinese styles and birdseye view of Spiti river and valley. The gompa dominating Ki village houses more than 300 monks is Situated on a hillock. Going back to 11 th century its history is full of destruction and reconstructions. As it was the premier monastery during 16 the century, also the centre of the historic trade between India and Tibet, it was attacked by the Mughal armies several times to gain the control of trade. They looted the treasury of Monastery and disfigured many sculptures. Later on, it became the centre of conflict between the mighty kingdoms of Ladakh on the north, Kullu on the south, Sikhs on west and Tibet on the east. During the British period, the monastery was ravaged by fires and earthquakes. Finally, the monastery is restored to its past glory by painstaking efforts by Archeological Survey Of India in 1970s.
B.Tabo Monastery: Ajanta of Himalayas
Established in 996 AD bu Rinchen Zangpo it is oldest Buddhist Monastery situated outside Tibet. This monastery is a must for all the travellers visiting Spiti. Known for its amazing Indo-Tibetan murals painted by the painters called from Kashmir, Rajasthan, Tibet and Central Asia the Gompa is also known as "Ajanta of Himalayas" due to extremely fine quality of paintings. The monastery has 4 temples of which the main assembly hall "Tsuglkang' is the most magnificent. Inside,near-life-size clay sculptures line the wall around of Statue of 4 headed Vairochana Buddha representing Vajradhatu Mandala in 3-D form. The Tibetan murals and reliefs cover every part of the chapel-The entrance, Assembly hall, The ambulatory and even ceilings. Even the compound is full of clay stupas and Chortens taking you in bygone ages. The modern Gompa outside the ancient compound has a sparking golden Chorten.
C.Dhankar Monastery: Castle on the Cliff
Literally meaning "Fort on a cliff", the monastery is situated at a 1000 feet cliff overlooking the confluence of Spiti and Pin rivers. The monastery-cum-fort is located between the towns of Kaza and Tabo at the height of 13,000 feet thus making it the highest fort of the world. It was also an ancient seat of power when Dhankar was capital of Spiti valley and was ruled by the Lamas, It is one of the three main oldest monasteries of Spiti, other two are Tabo and Ki Gompa built-in central Tibet pattern. The monastery is adorned with Tibetan motifs and paintings and you can also request the monks to show some of the Thangka paintings, The best thing in this monastery is phenomenal views of the valleys and snowcapped mountains. You can also climb to small mud fort located just above this monastery.
D.Gue Monastery: The living Mummy!!!
Yes, you read right! this monastery has 400 years old mummified remains of a Buddhist monk said to be living by locals. The mummy still grows its hairs and nails, have all 32 tooths and even sweats in summer. The story behind this mummy is also very interesting and intriguing. According to local lores, during 2004 the government agencies were constructing a road in the village, suddenly the shovel hit a soft thing and blood spurted out of it. After excavating the site the crew find a mummified body of a monk, after carbon dating the mummy was found to be 400 years old. When locals heard the news they constructed a monastery for the 400 years old living monk. Despite the credibility of local lores, this mysterious monastery is one of the best and most amazing places to visit In India.
2.Experience Nature's bliss
From its desolate landscape and snowcapped mountains to vast and serene moonscapes, the splendour which you will experience in Spiti is uncomparable. The Spiti is blessed to have a dozen of beautiful higher Himalayans lake, Snow-capped mountains and two beautiful river valleys and amazing moonscapes. You can literally walk on glaciers without trekking for miles; you have to only come out of your vehicle and climb the mountain slopes, only after climbing 15-20 feet the glacier will surround you. At, the night you can experience a magnificent vista of millions of stars and Milky way over your head, you have to do only one thing, you have to see up in the sky. I was quite unlucky as during my trip I cant able to experience the magnificent scene due to clouds, but the scenery which I witnessed next day morning from my bed compensated the loss. Let I show you what my eyes .witnessed...
You can also head for the Pin Valley National Park situated at Pin valley, starting from the place where the snaking Spiti river is joined by the Pin river, flowing out of wind scored but beautiful valley from the heights of greater Himalayas. You can see hundreds of black Tibetan Yaks Morning or evening time when they are eating the shrubs, fighting and playing with each other, also you can spot the footprints of Snow leopards on the soft ice. Be sure to visit the Kungri Monastery which houses more than 108 statues of Lord Budhha. You can also head to Mudh village which is basecamp for several trekking expeditions in the National Park.
You can also visit Fossil village of India"Langza" and collect the very rare ammonite fossils which you can find after an hour walk or experience the flow of cold waters of river Spiti by resuming for while on way to Kaza, but beware of running sands. I got stuck partially in one of such running sand and you can imagine the situation of my mind during that time!!!
3.The 5 Village Tour: A Must To Experience Spiti
To experience Spiti to its full extent, you have to make a long but beautiful day trip of 5 small, high altitude villages(all well above 4,000meters) situated on the eastern side of Spiti Valley. These villages have pristine, desolate beauty all their own-clusters of Whitewashed house and monasteries built in Tibetan style against a stark moonscape backdrop with minimal vegetation except carefully cultivated crops of barley and others.
The long day trip starts with Key Monastery which iS 12 KM North-West of Kaza on the road to Kibber. After experiencing the cultural side of Spiti in the magnificent Tibetan monastery, the trip is resumed and moves towards the Kibber village. The Kibber village doesn't have any significant site to explore except the village itself. You can get a glimpse of typical Spitian lifestyle here. The next village on our trail was the famous Fossil Village Of India"Langza".Besides fossils, the village is also known for its breathtaking scenery of a modern statue of lord Buddha staring towards the valley with colourful Tibetan flags fluttering in air and Chau Cha mountain peaks in the backdrop.
After jaw-dropping views of Langza, the journey continues to the highest motorable village in the World "Komic Village"(it is contested by a village in Brazil also) situated at the Altitude of 4453 Meters which is almost half the height of Mount Everest!!!! At the time when I visited the place, the beautiful Monastery situated here was close, but it was also amazing from outside also. The last point of our journey was the attraction for which I was excited most. It is highest post office in the world the "Hikkim Post Office "situated at the Altitude of 4440 m above sea level. I was satisfied to see that even in this digital age at least there is one Post office in India which has not lost its own charm. You can even buy stamps and Postcards from this post office with the stamp of Worlds highest postoffice and signature of "Rincham Chhering" the Postmaster of Worlds highest postoffice. Meeting Rincham was also one of the best and most unique moments of my life.
4. Shopping Souvenirs
The most enjoyable and interesting part of a journey is the shopping of souvenirs and handicrafts. But many people will ask that can such a remote and rugged area can also produce handicrafts? The answer will be yes because even after being remote the place was an ancient trade centre and also a small kingdom. Due to proximity to Tibet, you can found one of the best range of Tibetan handicrafts in Spiti. The towns like Tabo and Kaza have enough Souvenir shops to finish your thirst for shopping. You can found an amazing range of Tibetan bowls, Prayer Wheels, Buddha statues, Tibetan rugs, Tibetan shawls, Metal jewellery engraved with semi-precious stones. You can also buy the colourful showpieces or wall hangings of 8 auspicious signs of Buddhism, colourful ritual masks, Thangkas, T-shirts, Keyrings, Fridge magnets and everything from the tiny souvenir shops. My favourite was the Colourful Tibetan flags, the postcards, the Buddhist metal wall hanging and key rings shaped like a prayer wheel. You can also buy local organic products and replicas of fossils from ecosphere shops.
5.Interacting with Locals
The best part of any journey is to interact with locals, it helps you to know more about the culture, history and traditions which you cant ever find in any of the guide books. In our journey to Spiti, we had a lot of interactions with locals. We first encountered local women who were asking us for a lift from Gue to Tabo. We agreed and the journey between Gue to Tabo was full of stories, tales and traditions of the area. The chit-chat was not limited to to the local lores and anecdotes but also get extended to politics and border conflicts with China. During our exploration in Tabo monastery, an old lady guided and told about the history of Tabo. But the most interesting conversation took place on next day, during our visit to Ki Gompa the monks of the monastery took us to the ancient kitchen offered us the herbal green tea and a seat with them. During this duration, they talked with us about the history and traditions of the monastery, vipassana, politics, about our home state and local issues. As there were some other visitors(from Mumbai, Delhi, Paris and Amsterdam ) we also conversed with them. Such long conversations with new like-minded travellers and locals really satisfy your heart and calm your mind at the same time. We also have a conversation with the postmaster who told us the reason behind the prevalence of letters in the region. According to him, this is due to lack of telecommunication due to remoteness of the area. On the same day during the night, at our hotel Sakya Abode, I asked the manager for a book describing the history and culture of the region, after giving me the book he also described me about the history and culture of the region. Also, I would like to have an honourable mention for our driver Mr.Bisht who kept us engaged in chit-chat, also he suggested me to write a short book on my travel experience in Spiti. Due to the very busy schedule of studies in the last two years, I wasn't able to write a book, but the blogs gave an opportunity to work on his suggestion. Really interaction with locals helps s to get a sense of the lifestyle of their amazingly resilient people.
Hope you have enjoyed this Epic journey into the Middle land.......
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