In search of new stories and my soul, I went far this time. 800 kms, in the trans-himalayas, somewhere in the cold desert of the Spiti Valley. Spiti Valley is a cold desert in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. It was June of 2016 and the temperature during the day was around 15° C. Night used to cold with average temperature around 1° C. After relaxing and acclimatizing for 2 days, I started exploring the remote areas of this wonderful place. Spiti is the home to some of the kindest, friendliest people in India. Spiti is also the home to a number of significant monasteries of the country, and hence is also known as the ‘Valley of Monasteries’. Before going back to Kaza, I was staying in the Tabo village and so I started with the thousand year old and the largest, Tabo Monastery.
The Tabo Monastery (Tabo Chos-Khor Monastery) was founded in 996 AD and is one of the most pious, biggest and oldest surviving Buddhist establishment in the Trans-Himalayas. It was developed as an advanced center for learning and till date it has managed to preserve the Buddhist legacy with the same steadfastness. The location of the Tabo Monastery adds to its charm. Flanked on either side by hills, surrounded by high boundary walls made of mud bricks, the monastery stands at a secluded, barren ground in the bottom of the valley.
Time: While the Monastery is always open, the temples and assembly hall of monastery opens at 5 AM in the morning and gets closed by 5 PM in the evening.
I entered the monastery and found my new story and my soul. I entered the monastery at 6AM and was welcomed by the Buddhist chantings. It was prayer time and what could be better than that? Early morning, cold breeze and bliss. I headed toward the assembly hall from where the sound was coming. After the prayer was over, a lama explained me the significance of these chanting and then guided on the details of the assembly hall, wall paintings, clay structure and other temples.
The monastery complex comprises 9 temples, 23 chortens, a monk’s 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. Tabo is famous for its beautiful paintings 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. Tabo monastery is also known as the Ajanta of the Himalayas.
The unique beauty of Tabo’s art and its key historical role has played a significant role in the transmission of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism and culture in the 10th and 11th century. The main temple preserves an extraordinary wealth of documentation of the history and culture of the period.
Above the monastery, there are a number of caves carved into the cliff face used by monks for meditation. It is believed to be used as abode for the Buddhist monks during the winters of the Himalayas. There was a big cave that was originally utilized as an assembly hall by the Buddhist monks. Most other caves were mainly used for the purpose of lodging and dwelling. Prayer flags outside these caves signifies that these caves are still used by monks for meditation.
After clicking pictures of Tabo Caves, I next went to the Ajanta Restaurant (a restaurant near the gate of Tabo village) and filled my tummy. Later I went back to village to take some more pictures of the village, monks, kids and everything else.