I looked anxiously at my driver, who seemed so confident with the roads, that he could drive with his eyes closed. I, on the other hand, could feel my heartbeat racing with every treacherous turn that he took. He was softly humming a soothing tune, and as I diverted my mind towards the rippling Spiti River, I could finally take a sigh of relief.
We were on our way to the famous Tabo. This sleepy lazy town is one of the largest hamlets in Spiti Valley. It has breathtaking views of the Himalayas and a perpetual snowy terrain. But, Tabo is most famous for the ancient monastery which is thousands of years old. The monastery is home to many pilgrims who visit this place annually to find inner peace.
I wasn’t going to this place to find the inner peace per se, I was more interested to see the popular wall paintings that the monastery is covered with.
My eyes jerked open, as the car screeched to a halt. I had unknowingly fallen into a deep slumber. The driver, who was clearly proud of his driving skills, looked at me smiling and informed me that we had reached. I adjusted my sleepy eyes. I got off the car, and the instantly the cold breeze hit me as if welcoming me. I stared at the structure in front of me. The exterior just seemed like a few blocks of mud places at different angles. It wasn’t much. But as I moved towards it, I watched in amazement as the beauty unfolded.
The Tabo Monastery is a UNESCO world heritage site. It was built in 996 AD and was resurrected by the archaeological department of India. As I went inside the complex, I realised these mud walls are actually series of temples, some of which are still used by the monks, as prayer halls.
Walking along the complex, I observed several murals and wall paintings that were aesthetically placed on the walls. These paintings depicted the life of Buddha. I, however, could not take any pictures of these elegant murals, as photography is forbidden. The paintings reflect much more than the life of Buddha, it also gives insights about the art culture of that time.
The first structure I visit was the Tsuglagkhang or the assembly hall. As I entered, I could see a lovely structure of Lord Ganesh, encouraging the confluence of faiths. The hall itself is a masterpiece. Each of the walls has 33 stucco work of Bodhisattvas sculptures. The little light coming from a small hole at the ceiling, heighten the atmosphere.
There are about eight temples, among others which are of main importance. These temples can only be viewed from inside if the monks allow it. One of the monks will have to come and open the temples. One of the temples had a magnificent painting of Green Tara and Ushnishvijaya with 8 arms and 3 faces.
There are about 23 stupas in the whole complex, with intricate wall paintings on and inside them. Unfortunately, many of the paintings are under severe restoration, and can only be viewed after permission from the ASI.
The monastery has often been dubbed as the ‘Ajanta of Himalayas’– owing to the fact that both these colossal structures of murals that rededicated to the Buddhist ideology.
Just roaming around the temples, and the complex, in general, is a very touching experience. The transition from one period to another is so vivid through the various architectures and temples, that it feels like one is walking through time. The mud walls and the wooden doors of the temples radiate a sense of peace and calmness. They talk of a simple life, which is all about introspection and find oneself.
I was truly engulfed by this. I managed to spend more two more hours in there. One of the monks also told me, that during monsoon months, the land dry and barren land around the monastery, turns all green with peas and barley growing on it. I could just imagine.
Another defining factor of the Tabo monastery is the adjoining caves. These caves are now in a really bad state, and hence cannot be visited. But, the Tabo monastery itself gives a pretty decent view of the caves. These caves were the living areas of the monks. They used this as their meditation centres and living quarters. I wondered if I could survive in a cave like this, and instantly realised how difficult it must have been. A monk told me, that if I see smoke coming out from any one of the caves, then there still might be someone living there. But, to my disappointment, I saw no smoke or even a whimper of smoke come out.
My curiosity led my sights to some rock carvings that I could see one few of the caves. I found some dark coloured rocks with animals craved on it. Most of the rocks had Swastikas or the Om symbol on them. The way to reach the rocks is a little dangerous and best be avoided.
After such an enlightening experience, I decided to explore the small village of Tabo. It wasn’t much, but the monastery itself lifted my spirits and I felt so much healed. The peace inside me accompanied by the simplicity of the town and the chilling breeze, made me feel that I was in paradise. I couldn’t wait to come back again here to live this feeling for one more time.
How To Reach
The road to Tabo from Shimla is about 365 km. It is easily accessible by road through Narkanda, Rampur, Jeori, Wantu, Karcham, Powari, Jangi, Puh, Khab, Chango and Hurling. You can also choose to stop and rest for overnight through this route.
The road to Tabo from Kullu is around 295 km, through Rohtang Pass, Gramphoo, Batal, Kunzam Pass and Kaza.