On 30th April 2014, leaving behind Kalpa – the finest of destinations in Kinnaur valley, traveling along NH22, we were looking forward to stepping into Spiti valley at higher elevations and freezing weather in early summer. We had a short break at Rekong Peo for purchasing the essential food items for the journey – mostly fruits and biscuits and ready to eat snacks – one gets every commodity in this place. Crossing Poari, our car had a sudden halt behind a few cars overlooking a lot of activity on road ahead. Boulders and rocks of various sizes fallen from the hills cluttered on a large area were holding up traffic at both ends. A bulldozer was in action nudging loose rocks from the hill slope, making them fall and pushing them towards the road edge and giving them a shove. It was fascinating to watch them rolling down the hill slope, thousand feet deep down the gorge, raising a lot of dust, finally landing by the side of flowing Sutlej river.
|Road Clearing after Poari|
|Confluence - Sutlej & Spiti, Khab|
Post noon, we had a break near Khab at the confluence of rivers Sutlej & Spiti, with rivers carrying lot of silt had but still with a distinct identity of their own. A good half an hour later we were on the usual winding hill road and a break in early afternoon providing us with a good opportunity to stretch our legs and watch the serpentine roads at different elevations. The roaring Spiti river flowing down below in a deep gorge kept us glued at the spot for some moments.
|Spiti river view nearing Nako|
|Landscape nearing Nako|
Climbing higher, we were still in Kinnaur valley with none of its usual greenery – only stark mountains carrying snow from the previous winter. Watching the hills getting larger and covering almost the entire panorama; it was landscape at its best. Nearing Nako, the dark soil in agri-plots was being readied for potato cultivation. Nako potatoes are famous for their giant size and some of them weighing even up to 1 kg and having a good export market. Although Nako lake was only about one km away, as per our itinerary, we were to visit this destination during our return trip from Kaza.
|Potato fields nearing Nako|
|Potato fields Close-up|
By 5 pm we passed through the arched welcome gate of Gue village. Here the Tibetan Monk Mummy encased in a glass casket and installed inside single storied Bhavan is a tourist attraction. Normally the doors to the Bhavan are locked. When entering the village, our driver did not forget to inform the villagers our intention of seeing Gue Mummy from close proximity. A kid with the keys to the Bhavan accompanied us in car. He stayed put till our visit was over, to re-lock the doors of the Bhavan and we dropped him back to the village.
|Gue village entry gate|
|Tibetan Monk Mummy|
Tabo barely half an hour drive from Gue, we reached our destination in the evening, still some time in our hand before sunset. As planned we straightaway went near the Monastery area looking for accommodation in Millennium Guest house managed by Tabo monastery. The place was open but not a single soul was visible. That was disappointing. We could see one more hotel but to our dismay that was also closed. The only course left for us to go to Hotel Dewachen Retreat, a pricey hotel as found by us from net, who open up their property in April onwards. The rooms costing Rs. 4000/- plus per day was not what we ever imagined we would have to shell out. We had some difficulty in tracing this hotel, which we passed by earlier. One villager gave us a clue and told us to find it next to Theka (a country liquer joint )
We entered through the exquisitely carved doors of a wonderful looking single storied hotel, with a grand foyer. We were welcomed by the manager and he told us that rooms are available and he would charge Rs. 2000/- per day at a discounted rate, since the piped water supply was not available. Having no choice but to check in to spend the night, a final bargain price of Rs. 1600/- was agreed upon and we stepped into the room with good ambience – the only deficiency was piped water, which were offered through buckets. Sachin lost no time in preparing for our daily fruit break before dinner. The dinner at the basement dining hall was simple but tasty vegetarian fare.
|Hotel Dewachen Retreat|
|Rear view from Hotel|
Next morning we were woken up by constant chattering of sparrows on the tree in the compound. This town has too many of these birds. Every housetop having a layer of hay on roof, they find it easy to squeeze in for dwelling. The vista from rear verandah looked great with distant view of Monastery, temples and chortens (stupas) with a foreground having vast tract of cultivation plots. Early summer has its own beauty of splattered snow on distant hills not yet melted to reveal its rugged surface. The electricity being quite dependable in Himachal so far, I lost no time to get my electric kettle going to heat water for my cup of instant tea. A morning walk is lively in any Himalayan destination. This place was no exception. A short walk on main road and then a shortcut through mud-tracks behind the hotel landed us in no time in the monastery compound. There are several temples and mud plastered Chortens (stupas)depicting a mix of old and new architecture.
|Monastery Compound Gate|
|Mud plastered Chorten ( Stupa )|
After breakfast it was time for Sachin to trek to Cave shrine on top of the hill, visible from hotel gate. I had the alternate plan of visiting Tabo village for a leisurely walk and watch the village life from close proximity. Snow melting process starting in early summer, the villagers were found busy on agri-plots, shoveling or digging through the soil and also guiding bullocks in cultivating the field.
|Greenhouse - Tabo village|
A greenhouse had a woman filling the dark soil in plastic bags as a daily chore. The enclosed place has flowering plants, spinach saplings and tiny plants as a part of raising the plants in the initial days without getting the onslaught of cold weather and windy conditions outdoors and also not to get chewed by herbivores. The valley has a large watery area created out of snow melt and also serves as water for agri-plots and non-potable water requirements of habitants of Tabo.
|Villager at Work|
|Cultivation of plot|
Sachin returrning from his trek, narrates his experience of trek to cave shrine. In his words, “Tabo Monastery is famous all over the world for its sculptures and paintings. When Spiti was still closed for tourists in 1970s, there was a massive earthquake in Spiti. The earthquake severally damaged houses, temples, and monasteries in Spiti. We have no clue which part of Tabo Monastery is old and which is rebuilt. During old days due to severe winter, monks used to abandon the Monastery for many days and stay at the caves. However due to ‘modernization’ and availability of better facilities, the practice had been discontinued.
|*View from top|
|*Nearing cave shrine|
Tabo Caves are on left side of the road while travelling from Kinnaur. Cemented steps have been built to visit the caves. Some caves are very small with slippery path off the main cemented stepped road; hence I did not visit them. Other caves were approachable via cemented steps and I visited them. These caves had been converted into small shrines with doors and ceiling. Entry to these shrines was only up to the assembly / prayer hall; inside rooms were locked. As per printed travel guide, Pho Gompa was the major shrine; however, there was no indication at the site. Answer to many questions [(such as) how many days the monks used to stay at caves, how they used to live, remain unanswered.”
* Images by Sachin Vaidya
In Spiti valley, Tabo will rank as a destination, almost on flat ground without those going ups and downs and exerting oneself. Local village is a lively walk for observing the lifestyle of local villagers. Monastery, temples and Stupas are worthwhile spending some time. There are not too many accommodations for the tourists. The Millenium guest house managed by Monastery is perhaps cheapest with reasonable accommodation and simple food at a cost of around Rs. 400/- per day. It would in certainly be available in mid-May onwards. A few hotels managed privately owners will also be available around the same time. Only Dewachen Retreat – a top of the line accommodation is available from April. Piped water at Tabo will be available from 5th May onwards. The room costs Rs. 4000/- plus once piped water is available. Dewachen Retreat can be booked by contacting Mr. Rajinder Bodh on mobile no (0)9459566689, hotel mobile no. (0)94598 83443.