Into the Time-Warp of Tabo

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June 22nd 2017
Published: June 22nd 2017
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Himachal Pradesh June 2017

“Since death alone is certain and the time of death uncertain, what should I do?”

Stephen Batchelor: Meditation on 'resolve', 'Buddhism Without Belief'

“Because you are alive, everything is possible.”

Thic Nhat Hanh

Gladys the wonder bike (my Royal Enfield) hums and purrs as I glyde down a remarkably good sealed winding Himalayan road.... as if on a groomed ski-slope.

On a clear crisp morning, this is one of the things that takes me to bliss. I momentarily think “it does not get better than this” in between remaining very focused on the road ahead, the possibility of approaching traffic around blind corners, and of potholes or other obstacles. At times too, I imagine myself coming to grief and falling into the deep abyss below... but this then becomes a 'death' meditation. While aware and careful, I can smile at the possibility (albeit I pray for no pain).

I am on my way to Tabo (64 km from Nako), a place I had been before (2010) but only for about an hour on the way through Spiti Valley coming the other way. The road first climbs high to about 4,000 metres from Nako (3600 metres) and then winds around up there (very narrow roads with very sheer a bus or truck does these roads I don't know), and then gently winds down 700 metres to the Spiti Valley floor for about 10 km.

I failed to realise that Airtel (phone/data provider) did not work at all in Spiti. I was 'alone' then which is quite unusual … nice.... but also a hassle in not being able to let loved ones know where I am and that I am safe. I just did not organise it to use a stranger's alternative company connection... I did ask a few people but they said that too was not working.

Stupidly (I do many stupid things on these trips even as I know I am doing them) I did not fill up on petrol back in Rekong Peo... I just assumed there would be more petrol pumps before Nako... wrong). So I found this place past the next check-post selling petrol for 100 rps a litre... at least 25 rps surcharge... but no big deal.. so I got a few litres that I calculated would get me to Pin Valley and back to Kaza (where the only petrol bowser in Spiti is).

There I met four guys (3 Scots and one South African) on bicycles... I had passed them on the road the day before just before Nako). They had come all the way from Shimla and were taking about 10 days to cycle all the way back there via Manali and then over Jalorie Pass (6 km above the house I rent there). I would pass them several times in the next days. I felt good about being on a motorbike, but wondered about this experience of really traveling slow in this amazing countryside. But slow and tiring.

The Buddhist Tabo Chos-Khor Monastery, the oldest continuously operating Buddhist monument (currently about 45 monks) in both India and the Himalayas, was completed in 996 AD. It holds priceless thankas(scroll paintings), manuscripts, well-preserved statues, frescoes (depicting tales from the Buddhist pantheon) and extensive murals which cover almost every wall. The monastery is protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) as a national historic treasure of India. The monastery was built as a 'daughter' monastery of the Tholing Monastery in western Tibet, and is part of the spread of Indian Mahayana Buddhism in Tibet.

The place has amazing ambience... stepping back in time. I only stayed in Tabo one night... but the distance from Nako and my next destination (also about 65 km) meant I had plenty of time both afternoon and next morning. As a working monastery (even with a modern building now operating next door), entry is free and I went inside about 4 or 5 times.

Up the hill from Tabo is another little temple next to some meditation caves.... I guess just as old... and again with some amazing wall frescoes.

Unlike in 2010, Tabo is now also full of guest houses and hotels mainly for the Indian tourists. They are very expensive (for me). So I walked around and found this house with a handwritten 'homestay'. It cost me (after negotiation) 500 rps (about US$8) including dinner. They were a very nice family ... with a little cute 2 year old kid who was great fun. Both daughters were there on college break.. one studying Pharmacy and the other Arts, and their brother and father worked in the fields (not many fields here... Tabo is like a small oasis) tending apple and other fruit trees and some crops.

I talked to some locals and soon discovered that many people are called Tenzing. In my short stay in Tabo, I met 6 Tenzings, including one of the sisters at the homestay. Easy for remembering names at least.

Note: photography inside the monastery is forbidden, partly for the damage a flash can do to the art work, and partly to protect the monastery's 'property' pictures are sold to generate income. Pictures displayed here are photographs of post-cards bought at the monastery.

Additional photos below
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24th June 2017

Focused on the road ahead
Finding bliss on the Royal Enfield (my brother used to have one - he was killed in Vietnam ) so when I read your stories of this bike it brings a smile to my face. He would have loved reading your adventure...or taking your adventure. I am enjoying your trip.
6th April 2018

Incredible India
Beautiful India. Himachal Pradesh is a must visit.

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