Spiti Tales- High altitude Villages

Finally, we are in Kaza- the district headquarter of Spiti.  We ended up spending two days here and explored the nearby villages. Kaza is the biggest town and commercial center in Spiti.  It has the only fuel station in the entire Spiti valley,  a cyber cafe, and erratic mobile network. After spending days in the remote, serene Himalayas it was like coming back to the chaotic city life.

We started early and went on the now familiar road.  Spiti river, our delightful companion also joined and took us through the valley to the villages.

Spiti Valley and Spiti River

 

Spiti River – shimmering and tinkling like a silver anklet

Along the way, there are interesting artworks curated by nature.

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Our first stop was Dhankar village which was the erstwhile capital of Spiti. The main attraction here is the magnificent Dhankar Gompa perched high on top of a hill. At a staggering height of 3,894 meters,  Dhankar gompa is awe inspiring. From a distance, the entire complex looks fragile and in fact, this is one of the 100 most endangered sites in the world.

 

Is this for real?

Dhankar Fort is the tallest structure and Dhankar Gompa is seen below

Dhankar Fort

 

Dhankar means fort on a cliff and this monastery is more than 1000 years old. I can’t imagine how they managed to build such a  gravity_defying structure in that period. You have to leave the vehicle and walk up to the monastery.

That day it was closed for repairs. So we missed the trek and the dizzying views from the top.   Why is it that most revered places of worship are at such heights and terrains?

After a long stretch of barren mountains, we came upon green patches and a cluster of houses.

Desolate and remote

Compact houses and farmlands

The Spitian villages are sparsely populated.( The 2011 census says  33,224  is the total population).  They all have a monastery, traditional mud houses, and farmlands.   Agriculture, livestock, and tourism are their main source of income. Barley, potato, and peas are the main cash crops.  Summer months are for farming and preparing food and fodder for the harsh winter. In winter everything comes to a standstill and people are confined to their homes.  It is hard to imagine how they are coping with their limited resources.   Apart from the motorable roads, there is hardly any signs of development.

Whitewashed mud houses with prayer flags

Traditional houses and new concrete buildings in Kibber Village.  Some have converted to Homestays where you can stay with a local family.

 

Langza is another picturesque village.  It is known for the fossils of marine animals and plants.   We saw two young girls trying to sell the fossils they have collected. Though it is illegal, there are no stringent laws to regulate this.  A huge statue of Buddha is seen overlooking the valley.  Ideal spot for the obligatory group photo!

Buddha at Langza Village

From Langza the road climbed higher and now we are in Komic Village.

I don’t dispute the altitude!

 

Komic Monastery is relatively small.  A few monks were in the prayer hall chanting.

 

Komic Monastery

The post office in Hikkim is claimed to be the highest post office in the world. Having read about it in travel journals, I was keen to go there.   A steep trek through loose gravel takes you to a nondescript house.  Nobody was seen outside. We took some photos and went in.  The small dark room was teeming with tourists.  Mr. Rinchen Cherring,  the branch postmaster was at the center of the melee handing out postcards, stamps, envelopes and patiently answering queries.  I also bought postcards and deposited them with reverence. One was addressed to myself and I  received it after one month.What an exciting journey for a postcard!

Mr.Rinchen Cherring and his charming post office. It remains closed for 6 months in winter.

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On the way back from the successful Mission Postcard, I met a group of children.  Their school was closed and they were out to play.   It was refreshing to see them making do with what they have.They don’t have fancy toys or the latest gizmos.  We bartered smiles. I like children who don’t live in a fantasy world with superheroes.

Pick up the sticks.

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Kee Monastery was the last stop.  Imposing structure and spectacular setting but I decided to skip it.

Kee Monastery- The biggest monastery in Spiti

A school was seen nearby.  After the morning dose of extreme solitude, the school seemed the perfect getaway. And I wasn’t disappointed. It was a riot of colors and laughter out there.

The School near Kee Monastery.

Running amok

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Zen and the motorcycle.

That night I dreamt of a boy zooming down the mountain on a motorbike with his red robes billowing around.

 

 

Dragon Tales,Paro-A Dzong ,monks and movies.

Dzongs [pronounced as zong] are fine examples of the traditional Bhutanese architecture. Each district has a dzong which serves as administrative and monastic centres.  They also have temples and living quarters for the monks. Most of them were built during the 17th century. I was surprised to know that they are built without nails or iron bars and without any blueprints. Then how were they made? A high ranking lama will be calling the shots and he would be guided by spiritual inspiration.

Rinpung Dzong is a  majestic golden domed red and white building dominating the Paro skyline .  Rinpung means   a heap of jewels.This impressive  fortress/monastery    had  also seen massive   earthquake and fire and what we see now is the rebuilt structure. Most of the treasures were lost in the  mishaps except  a precious tapestry Thongdrel.This is unfurled  once a year  during the Paro Festival and it is believed that seeing it can cleanse  you of all  your sins.Festival season is the best time to visit Bhutan and  the next festival will be from April 7-11.

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Rinpung Dzong

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Bhutanese people have to be in  their national dress to get inside  and they also have to wear a  silk scarf known as Kabney [for men]  and Rachu[for women].I must say they look very elegant in this attire.There is no such dress code for the visitors. We just have to be dressed appropriately-long sleeves, no shorts, no caps.

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Men in gho and kabney and lady in kira and rachu

I was in no hurry to get inside and spent time admiring the vibrant colours and the intricate woodworks.

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After going through the imposing  main door you will see  the    huge courtyards, winding corridors,central tower ,temples and living quarters for the monks.The entire structure is   breathtaking.For me Rinpung Dzong was the jewel in the crown of Paro.

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COURTYARD

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CENTRAL TOWER

 

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MONASTIC QUARTERS

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We have to climb a lot of stairs and some of them can be quite challenging.The ascent is fairly easy but the descent needs  lot of caution.Photography is not permitted inside the temple complex.

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A VERTICAL NIGHTMARE-What goes up must come down !

Saw these student monks playing in the courtyard. They seemed  to be having  a good time and   I wondered  how many of them will go on to becoming lamas. Do they miss home? Is their curriculum tough?What if they can’t cope? What if they want to leave? I was very keen to talk to them.They are not shy and are quite used to  visitors.But this was their  recess and I did not want to disturb them.

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YOU NEED A HAIR CUT,BUDDY

Seeing these young  lively monks     I was reminded of  a delightful  Tibetan movie Phorpa [The Cup]. It is  about a  mischievous kid monk who is obsessed with football  and is set against   the 1998 Football  World Cup. It was made by a Lama and I think this could  be his own experience. It takes you to  the  unknown world of young monks and they are shown as they are- free spirited and natural. Another one I remember is  ‘Spring,Summer,Fall,Winter and Spring’-a Korean movie on the life of a monk with each season signifying a  stage in his life.

Paro Dzong and movies? Yes, few scenes from  ‘Little Buddha’ were shot here.