“A world within a world” was how Rudyard Kipling once described Spiti Valley. Aptly so, as this lesser known neighbour of Ladakh has a lot to offer! From its snow capped peaks to the scenic village tucked away in the lap of the Himalayas, its ancient monasteries, inimitable wildlife and of course a captivating culture and a delicious cuisine, Spiti Valley has something for everyone.
Situated at an altitude of around 12,500 feet it is bordered by Tibet in the east, Ladakh to the north, Kinnaur to the south east. Spiti,Tibert & Ladakh exist on one plateau. Landscape,culture , realign is almost same of these three places, yes on the other hand this region is influenced by Bhuddhism, but different different sects follow over there.
There are two routes to reach Spiti. From Shimla onwards we will approach Spiti 12 months via Kinnaur. From Manali onwards route will open from June to October, its short window of travel due to high passes, while we travel from Manali to Kaza we need to cross Rohtang Pass which is situated on 3978 Meter & another pass called Kunzum Pass which is situated on 4590 Meter. From October onwards both passes will cover with snow and road will close. Again its short travel window for Spiti. Spiti people frequently travel from this sector to other parts of country.
Winter in Spiti being a harsh affair, the summer months from June to September are considered to be ideal for visiting Spiti from Manali onwards. From March to May tourist travel from Shimla to Shimla only. The average temperatures in Spiti during the summer months range from 18° C to 25° C during the day and from 2° C to 8° C during the night.
Important Places of Spiti:
Lhalung Monastery: Also known as the Golden Temple, Lhalung Monastery is situated in Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh. It also holds the distinction of being one of the earliest monasteries to be founded in Himachal Pradesh. The temple was founded by the great Rinchen Zangpo, who ruled the western Himalayan kingdoms of Zanskar, Guge, Spiti and Kinnaur during the late tenth century.
The temple is believed to have been constructed overnight by the gods after Lotsava Rinchen Zangpo planted a willow tree here, promising that if it lived through the year, a temple would be built next to it. The tree still stands outside the Gompa to this day.
The area was formerly a complex of nine shrines enclosed within a dilapidated wall with the main chapel richly decorated. The monastery is considered an ancient centre of learning and debate.
The name Lhalung literally means ‘land of the gods’, lha meaning deities and lung meaning land. It is believed that the deity Lhalung is the head of all the deities of the valley and emerges from the Tangmar Mountain beyond the village. Legend has it, that the mountain changes color from time to time, in conformity with the god’s mood; for example, red for anger or yellow for joy.
The monastery is also known as Golden Temple because of various gold leaf deities kept in its shrine. The shrine is known as Serkhang and it is an exquisite chamber with beautifully adorned walls of studded images of more than 50 deities. Lhalung Monastery was modeled along the lines of the Tabo monastery as a place of learning.
There is a dark passage around the temple meant for circumambulation of the inner sanctum. The passage walls were previously decorated with beautiful paintings which have withered with time. Outside the shrine, stands the lang-carpo (White temple), upon which four stucco images of Buddha are displayed in the four cardinal directions. The statues are known to be as old as the monastery.
Key Monastery: The biggest centre of Buddhist learning in Spiti Valley, Key Monastery is over 1000-year-old. It is the oldest training centre for Lamas. It is located at a height of 13,668 feet above mean sea level in Lahaul Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh in north India.
Founded by Dromton, a famous disciple of teacher Atisha in the 11th century, the monastery used to house about 350 lamas at one time. The number of inmates at the monastery has come down.
The monastery is famous for its architecture called Pasada style. Pasada style is characterised by two or more stories and often plays the role of a fort-monastery. The monastery is spread over three floors – underground, ground and first floor. Underground is mainly utilized for storage; ground floor is used as assembly hall, called Du-Khang. The ground floor also has small rooms for monks.
The rooms with murals called Tangyur is a must see. The monastery is known for its ancient murals, rare thangkas and ancient weapons. The images of Gautam Buddha in dhyana (meditation) position are a must see. The monastery also has a sizeable collection of musical instruments like trumpets, cymbals and drums.
Key Monastery was destroyed by invaders and rebuilt several times. In 1840 it caught fire and in 1975, it suffered extensive damage due to an earthquake. Having been rebuilt several times, temples and other buildings appear to have been stacked haphazardly. The monastery appears like a fortress.
Key Gompa, belongs to the Gelugpa sect also called the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Key is among the three monasteries of the Gelugpa sect in Spiti valley, the other being Tabo and Drangtse Monastery. In 2000, the Kalachakra ceremony was held at the monastery in the presence of His Holiness, The Dalai Lama. Over 1500 lamas attended the ceremony.
The scenic landscape which forms the backdrop for Key Monastery is also a factor in the large number of tourists making a beeline for the remote monastery. Surrounded by snow capped mountains and glaciers, the beauty of the valley is breathtaking. The route to Key Monastery is also beautiful.
The culture of Key, like the rest of Spiti, closely resembles that of Tibet. It is hardly surprising then that the whole of Spiti is known as Little Tibet. Chham (mask dance) by monks are very popular and an integral part of festivities. The themes of the dance emphasize the victory of good over evil.
Some of the scenes of Bollywood movie Paap, starring John Abraham and Udita Goswami, were shot at Key Monastery.
There are no accommodation options at the monastery. Tourists who visit the monastery, prefer to stay at Kaza. Kaza offers a wide range in terms of hotels, resorts and homestays.
There are no restaurants or eateries at the Key Monastery. It is advisable to carry food while visiting the monastery. The monks at the monastery serve tea to all visitors.
Dhankar Monastery: Strategically built at highest location in Spiti Valley, Dhankar Monastery was once the capital of Spiti in 17th century. It is one of the five main Buddhist centres and tourist destinations in Spiti region.
Centrally located in Spiti region, Dhankar Monastery offers panoramic view of the Spiti valley. It is situated in Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh in north India.
Even in ancient times, it was chosen by the Nonos to have better control and safety from its enemy. The Dhankar fort was traditional home for the Nonos, the royals of Spiti.
Remote and cut off from other parts of the country, modernization has bypassed Dhankar. Dhankar is situated at the confluence of Spiti and Pin Rivers.
The seventh century Buddhist monastery is the second highest in the world after Ki Monastery and an important centre of Buddhist learning since the seventh century. The new monastery has been constructed at Shichilling Village and houses about 150 Lamas.
The monasteries belong to Gelugpa Order of Tibetan Buddhism. The statue of Vairochana or Meditating Buddha’s idol forms the centre of the monastery. Monastery has ancient murals, thankas, Buddhist scriptures that are worth seeing.
Besides the Dhankar Monastery, there are several other tourist places to see. Dhankar is also popular with tourists.
Just 2.5 km from the monastery, is the Dhankar lake which is surrounded by glacier mountains. Surrounded by mountains and due to its remote location, only trekkers prefer to go to the site.
From Dhankar, one can also head to Tabo Monastery, 26 km away and Pin Valley National Park, home to the rare ibex and snow leopard.
Tabo Monastery: Tabo Monastery was founded by the buddhist king (and royal lama) Yeshe O’d in 996 A.D. A renovation inscription says it was renovated 46 years later by Yeshe O’d’s grandnephew, the royal priest Jangchub O’d. These royal patrons, the kings of the Purang-Guge kingdom, were descended from the ancient Tibetan monarchy. Their ancestors migrated to west Tibet in the 10th century. By the end of the 10th century their territory stretched from Ladakh to Purang and included all of western Tibet (ancient Zhang Zhung). Successive members of this dynasty built many monasteries along the trade routes linking the far corners of their kingdom.
The intimate connection between trade and religious establishments is a well known phenomenon in the history of Indian Buddhism.The kingdom of the kings of Purang-Guge, from Ladakh to Mustang, was connected by a dense network of trade routes facilitated by the strategic placement of a large number of temples directly controlled by the royal family and their noble supporters. Tabo was a ‘daughter’ monastery of Tholing Monastery in Ngari West Tibet.
The contribution of this dynasty to the re-establishment of Indian Mahayana Buddhism in Tibet was so great it is known as the chi-dar, the second spreading of buddhism and the principal personalities are well recognized in Tibetan history.
They so skillfully integrated political, religious and economic institutions that throughout the 11th century these monasteries were unparalleled for their artistic, literary and philosophical achievements.
The themes of political legitimacy and cultural integration are written large on the walls of the Tabo main temple. An analysis of the names and costumes of the monastic community (in the entry hall on the north wall) and the aristocracy (on the south wall) demonstrates the importance of the local culture at the time Tabo was founded.
The main temple at Tabo was a and its decorative program was based on the ideology of its patrons : legitimacy, status and piety.
Here i have mentioned some of the important sights of Spiti Valley. We will mention more places in our next posts.