Brief Visit to the Tabo Monastery

From Dhankar, we were picked up within a few hours by a monk traveling to Tabo in the "Monastery Jeep". Antonia and I loaded into the trunk and James and Yann got the back seat, it was a rare comfort in comparison to the other rides we'd lived through on this trip. The village of Tabo is home to a thousand-year old monastery, with vast collections of well-preserved frescoes. The monastery also houses a beautiful guesthouse were we slept, just a few steps away from the mud brick walls that surround the dozens of chortens and buildings that make up the monastery complex. Attached to the monastery guesthouse was a tasty restaurant where we ate every meal and socialized with a sweet teenage migrant worker from south India who had found people with whom to discuss his Christianity.

Our stay in Tabo was brief. We had a private tour of the thankas in the monastery buildings by a surly novice monk. We studied the walls by flashlight and contented ourselves with a booklet of postcards as a souvenir of the hundreds of images wonderfully-preserved in the monastery. The dusty alleys around the monastery are filled with souvenir stands and a few western-style restaurants and cafes. We were treated to real espressos by James and Antonia in honour of our seven year anniversary. This was a real treat, our first and only real coffee on the trip. We sat in a small village square sipping our coffees among the stray dogs and playing children as dusk crept up. As the sun set, so did much of the village activity.

Dhankar Village - Worth the Hike

After five days in Kaza we were eager to move onwards down the Spiti Valley. James was still recovering from his allergic reaction, but felt strong enough to make the trip to the next village. The trip involved a short bus ride, and a longer hike, to the village of Dhankar. We had received instructions from a Kaza local as to where to debark from the bus in order to take the foot path up to the village. Other than hiring a private driver, walking was the only way to reach our destination. Even considering the local tradition of impressive monastery locations, Dhankar seemed to be particularly impractically situated, especially when lugging backpacks up the side of a mountain. The two hour climb was made more difficult by the high altitude, with the sun beating down on us feeling that much closer, and the trail getting narrower and steeper as we approached the village. The farm houses along the road turned into tiny specks against the backdrop of the Spiti and Pin Rivers winding through the valley. By mid-afternoon the footpath had snaked its way into the village and we climbed even further up the side of the mountain, to where the crumbling 1000 year old monastery sat overlooking the homes below. The tiny village was completely empty, other than a few stray sheep. The first person we met was a solo tourist who had been driven to the monastery, where he sat waiting to get in. I put my bag down and climbed the stairs into the monastery tower. We were planning on spending the night in the monastery, and we were exhausted and eager to secure accommodation. I finally met a young monk who didn't really know how to deal with me. I inquired about sleeping which he seemed to tell me was impossible. This, being contrary to what our guidebook said, had the effect of annoying me. When he entered his small chambers I followed him to the door from where I could see another older monk lying on a bed. When I inquired about him, the younger monk gave me a solemn look and said in his broken English: "he is dead". Shocked, I responded with "when?" to which the young monk replied "this morning". I apologized for my intrusion and went back to relay my discovery to Yann, James and Antonia. They had meanwhile concluded that we would have to descend into the village in order to find a place to sleep. We didn't have any solutions to the dead monk problem so we headed to the village confusedly. From the road we spotted the hand-painted sign of the "Manirang Family Guest Homestay" which we followed. We were greeted by an elderly man who settled us into our own rooms, showed us the pit toilet and offered to make us lunch. We eagerly settled into the comfortable family room where we waited to be fed. After a few minutes the elderly man came out with the pressure cooker which he sat in front of us. He was eager to get back out to the fields and asked for us to finish cooking. He seemed utterly unimpressed when we explained that none of us knew how to operate the pressure cooker. After re-fueling, we set out once again to climb even higher into the surrounding hills where we were told we would find a high altitude lake. There was considerable debate among the four of us as to whether or not we had the energy to undertake another hike that day. Yann was definitely the keenest to head out again, and somehow managed to convince the three of us to follow him.

The more we climbed without spotting a lake, the grumpier James got. At one point he exclaimed "I'm from Manitoba, we've got 100 000 lakes in Manitoba, you want to see lakes, I'll show you lakes". I then fell way behind the three others silently and not so silently cursing Yann as I dragged myself along the trail. All was forgiven though when we reached the lake. We all sat quietly in admiration. In the evening, the family had returned to the house and we ate dinner watching the villagers return from the high altitude pastures. The sight of thousands of goats streaming down the sides of the mountain into the village was spectacular. As the sun set the voice of the town crier announcing an upcoming meeting echoed through Dhankar. We were warm, well-fed and completely mesmerized by our surroundings. The next morning we returned to the monastery in an attempt to buy tickets and visit. We were greeted by the young monk from the previous day as well as his dead companion. We now were wondering if the monk had misused the word dead in order to get rid of a pesky tourist or whether it had been an honest mistake. Yann, James and Antonia were convinced that I had been purposefully duped and couldn't contain their laughter. The young monk atoned for his bad behaviour however, by feeding us tea and cookies. He explained that the old monastery was now closed and that all but two monks (himself and his dead companion) lived in the new modern complex on the other end of the village. We spent the rest of the morning exploring the monastery and the village fort before making our way back to the road where we hoped to catch onward transportation. We didn't wait too long before being picked up by a monk from the Tabo monastery, our next destination.