Vagabond in Spiti Valley : Dhankar

One of those places which one has to see to believe. In such a fragile ecosystem are preserved some miracles of the nature. Dhankar and its surrounding areas are one of them. On the left bank of the Spiti river at a distance of 32 kms downstream from Kaza, near Shichling at an altitude of 3870 m, nestles the citadel of Dhankar, the erstwhile official capital of Spiti. Needless to say that Spiti valley makes you speechless with its sheer beauty at every step.

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Way to Dhankar
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Working hard in tough terrains

Dhankar has a fort and a monastery. The citadel is built on a spur which projects into the main valley and ends in a precipice. The location of this fort is strategic as Spiti always had to suffer innumerable aggressions by its neighbours.

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First look of Dhankar on the way up

The location allowed the Spitian to keep vigil on the approaches and to submit messages to surrounding inhabitations in case of danger. Whenever the Spitians were attacked, they built huge fires to signal meeting in the safe sanctuary of rocks, i.e., Dhankars. In the meeting all men and women decided the course of action to be taken against the aggressors.

Spiti river flowing down!
Spiti river flowing down!
Spiti valley in its full glory
Spiti valley in its full glory

According to the State Gazetteer, “(The fort) became notorious for housing a cavernous dungeon which the Nono used as prison. It contained a cell without doors having only a small opening at the top through which the condemned person was lowered and received his meals.” The fort of Dhankar now lies in ruins, but still is a place worthy of visit. From the remnants of the fort one can see vast expanses of the Spiti valley.

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Dhankar is also of art historical importance. Founded between 7th and the 9th centuries, Dhankar’s old temple complex occupies the southern part of the steep mountain slope of the village. It is known by the name of Lha-O-pa Gompa (monastery of the followers of Lha-O). The monastery consists of a number of multi-storeyed buildings perched together, giving a fortress like impression.

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The fort and the gompa on the left edge
How the earth holds up there!
How the earth holds up there!

The whole of Dhankar seems to be based on different spurs. One can just wonder how this structure continues like this for more than thousand years!

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There are five different halls including Kanjur, Lhakhang, and Dukhang where a life size silver statue of Vajradhara, the Diamond Being, is placed in a glass altar embellished with scarves and flowers. Most interesting at the Lha-O-pa gompa is the small chapel on the uppermost peak above the main monastery – Lhakhang Gongma. The building is decorated with depictions of Shakyamuni, Tsongkhapa and Lama Chodrag on the central wall.

Dhankar (somewhere it is also written as Dhangkar) is one of the five major monasteries of Spiti. But it looks like in imminent danger of collapsing. Built on a 300 metre high spur overlooking the Spiti-Pin confluence, this 1000 year old gompa has been recognised by the World Monuments Fund as one of the 100 most endangered sites in the world. There is even a restoration initiative being taken to preserve the gompa.

How to reach: Dhankar’s main attraction, although least publicised, is said to be a fresh water lake about 2.5 km from the village at a height of 13500 ft. Dhankar is 9 kms from Schichling which is on Tabo-Kaza road. Once you move ahead from Tabo towards Kaza, there is diversion towards Dhankar at Schichling. From that point it is 9 kms. Lake is further 2.5 kms ahead uphill.

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A place worth seeing but agreeably not many normal tourists are able to reach there. Its for those with mighty will and a penchant for adventure. Go ahead!

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