We are in Tabo, a remote village in the Spiti Valley with a very old monastery dating back to 996AD. Inside is surreal, everything perfectly preserved and still in use – dusty but ethereal.
Kamal, our guide, tells us that fifty monks are in residence here and people in the village must give their second-born child up to the monastery – either to become a nun or a monk – so that Buddhism will not die out. He also tells us that if the Dalai Lama retires, he wishes to do so here in Tabo.
The tiny town has a dramatic valley setting, hemmed in by scree slopes and less than 150 families (under 500 people). They store hay and firewood around the edges of their roofs for the winter. Indians must pay a land tax on the completion of their houses – one of the reasons there are so many unfinished buildings in the country!! The houses are starting to be a cross between Tibetan and Chinese and the food is also influenced as dishes have more heat to them now.
We ride along the river once more and head up the mountain to Dhanker Gopma, an old monastery high up the mountain. The village spills down the mountain, defying the location and we feel like we’re in China again. The houses are very familiar as are the people.
The 16th century old fort monastery is locked between rocky spurs at an elevation of over 3,800 meters and is connected to the rest of the valley through a motorable road which is good for small vehicles only.
The monastery and village cling precariously to the eroded cliff-edge rock pinnacle, high above the beautiful Spiti Valley.
Lunch in the town of Kaza is relatively busy to us now as we take in the shops and local sights. We are enjoying thukpa, a fragrant and hearty Tibetan noodle soup as well as momos, Chinese-inspired dumplings that have made their way to India from Nepal.
Our accommodation is out of the town of Kaza at Rangrik Village with a spectacular view of the valley and mountains and another truly unique location. We are staying at the Grand Dewachen Hotel which has a large atrium covering the four stories so the tiles on the ground-floor level are warm from the sun. As with the Spiti Valley Road, it is only open 3-5 months of the year depending on the weather. The final of the World Cup cricket is on and New Zealand is playing England…needless to say we don’t need any other entertainment! The Japanese guests tell everyone to be quiet so the nail-biting finish has to be watched with whispers!!
We head up to Komic monastery and Hikkum village, the highest village in the province. The road is hair-raising, goes up 4500 metres with precarious drop-offs and as usual, no safety barriers anywhere!
In India you say namaste for hello but up near Tibet you say julley (pronounced jew-lay). We are on a tourist track so there seems to be a few about – mostly Israelis and domestic Indians. Kamal tells us that tomorrows ride is long and hard…it’s been pretty challenging to date so we wonder what we’re in for!