The monastery hopping spree of Day 8 ended in Tabo monastery, situated in the village of the same name. Established in AD 996(No, there is no '1' to the left of that number), this series of mud structures spread over a large area is a splendid sight. Unfortunately for us, we never got to see the inside of each of those structures, as it closed by the time we reached there. In the small research that I did on this monastery, I learned that its known as the 'Ajanta of the Himalayas' because of the vast collection of paintings, scriptures and statues inside. Its a great learning centre. Overlooking the monastery are caves carved out of mountains, where the monks used to stay. The weird mud like structures makes this entirely different in design to all other Buddhist monasteries.
the entry to Tabo monastery
Dinner time was a disaster as we decided to try Spitian cuisine. The blandness of the food(the complex name of which I forgot) turned us off bigtime. We didn't have the heart to try out the other varieties. The night at the guest house, at the foot of a hill was a nightmare, one of our own creation. Around 12 AM, a big rumbling sound was heard and we two imagined it to be the wrath of the mountains, the landslides. We were preparing ourselves to be buried. Still we went outside to check what exactly it was. In the dark, we realised its not a landslide because it was coming from the next building. But that only increased our fear as we spent the night in terror. In the morning, we realised that the sound came from the hotel's kitchen, the sound of some stupid machine!
Day 9-Aug 15- One of the best days of our lives..
As we had another long trip to do today, we started early at 6. We had to reach Kalpa in Kinnaur district before nightfall through a road which was closed for most part of the last week owing to landslides. The first 2 hours went smoothly and we went past Sumdo checkpost. Thats when we came face to face with a big landslide. A big mountain of stones and rocks had come down on the road, perhaps some minutes back. We had no other way but to return back to the Sumdo checkpost and wait for it to be cleared. Sumdo is almost nearer to the Indo-chinese/Tibetan border and is the last inhabited village in the border.
map of the Indo-Tibetan/chinese border...Sumdo at the edge..
Opposite to the checkpost was a base of the Indo-Tibetan border police force(ITBP), a paramilitary force deployed on India's borders with Tibet. We saw the Indian tricolour fluttering inside the base. As the day progressed, we realised the wait for the road to clear up will be a long one because it being as well as Independence day, the men who are supposed to operate the bulldozers were on leave. A soldier from the ITBP distributed us sweets from the temple inside the base. We saw another soldier waiting at the gates with his big bags. He was waiting to go home after a long time. The landslide meant that his long awaited holidays will be delayed by many hours. The sun was at its peak and we thought of going back to Tabo. But something made us stay back, maybe a faint hope that the road might clear up any minute. A biker gang also joined us in the long wait. After sometime, the soldiers from the base invited us inside to have lunch there. Stranded in that lonely place, under the hot sun, with no hope of the road clearing up, this sounded like a message from heaven. And to have lunch inside an Indian military camp on Independence day was a dream come true. They served us smilingly and offered us more and more. And in the end, they didn't even allow us to clean our plates as they grabbed it and did it themselves. The only sore thumbs were 2 foreigners from the biker gang who refused to join the lunch. As an officer there told, maybe they were feeling guilty for their forefather's wrongdoings. It was a proud feeling to see the Indian flag fluttering there in these remote place amidst mountains. I clicked the Tiranga with the officer's permission. This place is covered with snow for most part of the year. And it is in these conditions that these brave men guard us. And they still manage to smile at us and have fun among themselves. I wonder, why are we, sitting in comfortable chairs in this conditioned atmosphere cribbing round the clock! This was truely an eye opener. After 10 hours of spending time there, we realised we just had one of the best days of our lives...
the tricolour hoisted inside the Indo Tibetan Border Police force(ITBP) base at Sumdo
the cute Punjabi kid who was among the few who were stuck at Sumdo
clearing up the mess...the road almost cleared up..
The landslide was cleared by evening. Now, it was over to Manoj Bhai again as he sped along the dangeroues border roads and took us to Kalpa before nightfall. In between, we passed Nako village and monastery. But lack of time meant, we couldn't stop here. Special mention must be made of the Border Roads Organisation(BRO) who made roads in these difficult conditions and is maintaining it to the best of their abilities. Not only in Himalayas, they've built roads in all difficult terrains in the Indian borders...More from Kalpa and Sangla in the coming post...
your crusader Praveen