Vagabond in Spiti Valley : Tabo
Just 48 kms before Kaza is Tabo. Tabo village houses one of the biggest and rare monasteries in Spiti. It is also considered to be one of the holiest. Tabo is right on the left banks of the Spiti river. It is a big valley down there and so much so that you tend to forget that you are at an altitude of 3280 metres and already deep inside the cold desert of Spiti.
Tabo is just before Kaza. So adventure drivers and riders going to Kaza are often in hurry to reach Kaza as it is the final destination in the Spiti. They are also tired of long journey during the day. That prevents them from spending ample time at Tabo. The other problem is that there travel itinerary is so prepared that they mostly move towards Kunjam Pass and Manali on way back or spend a day at Kaza visiting Ki (Kye or Kee) Gompa, Kibber and Lanza, as I did. One needs time to see Tabo monastery and best way is to come back the next day. It might also be ideal to come back and spend a day visiting Tabo and Dhankar monasteries.
Tabo monastery is said to hide some of the finest of all Indo-Tibetan art. Few people also refer it as Ajanta of the Himalayas for its sheer treasure of art. Tabo monastery has nine temples, stupas and cave shrines. All the ancient temples are made of mud and wood. Due to arid and dry weather of this region, they have survived for so long. Founded in 996 AD Tabo is said to be the oldest Buddhist complex which has been continuously operative since its inception.
Above the monastery there are number of caves carved into cliff face. Having seen such caves in many films, it was adventurous to visit them. These caves are being used for meditation for centuries. There is also a assembly hall in the caves and some paintings, chants on the rock face. These caves look astonishing. They were also used as shelter by monks during the winter. Even today monks will use few of them for meditation. Few other are abandoned and are decaying. Its a small trek from the Tabo village to the caves. While caves look narrow from outside, but many of them have ample space inside. Few also have different rooms inside and have properly laid down walls and smoothened floors.
Tabo monastery has huge collection of frescoes, thankas, manuscripts, murals, paintings depicting Buddhist pantheon, principles, life and teachings. The manuscripts and inscriptions tell in detail about the idea, history and life of this monastery. This monastery is also unique in this manner that while all other monasteries in the himalayas are perched on hills and cliffs, this Tabo monastery is located at the bottom of the valley on the banks of the river. The monastery still has around 50 monks living there. Dalai Lama has himself visited this place twice for Kalachakra festivals.
Once you are here, this place seems to be from different world. While coming from big metros, one will not believe that life still exists in these areas. But its very enriching and needs to be visited with time in hand. Its a heritage like no other.