Unless you have a penchant for towns that begin with T, you visit Tabo for the gompa, established in 996AD. It’s the oldest continuously functioning Buddhist monument in India and it also happens to run the Millennium Monastery Guesthouse where you can stay in a dorm room for pretty bloody cheap, so that’s where we beelined to. There’s probably even hot showers if you’re brave or mental enough to switch on the boiler that listed precariously to the right and was attached to a socket hanging out of the wall. I stared at it for a few seconds. Yeah nah, I could probably wait til Kaza before showering hey. We’d made pretty good time getting here thanks to our saviour from Bangalore so we went in search of food, and that’s when the wind swept through. It was mesmerising.
It started so suddenly and dust clouds streamed down from the surrounding hill and swirled through town, this continued for just a few minutes then just as quickly as it had started, it just stopped. Weird, but pretty cool if you didn’t mind the fact you probably just breathed in half a mountain. This gompa then, it’s renowned for it’s artwork and murals but you’re not allowed to take photos inside so I just bought a bunch of postcards and photographed them for this blog instead. A lot of the murals have been restored but with what the guy called “chemical paint.” I guess that just means modern paint as opposed to traditional methods. The exterior is maintained the old way though, they just add more mud when it’s needed. It’s very fucking impressive though, there aren’t just paintings but one of the rooms, I think the main one, is surrounding by statues of what I assume are deities and Bodhisattvas, the latter I still can’t pronounce and is someone who’s perfectly capable of and entitled to reach enlightenment, but doesn’t because they’re really nice people and just want to hang around in this mortal coil and help the needy.
Other things to do in Tabo include wandering up to some caves. There’s fuck all to see once you’re there but it’s worth the climb just for the views over Tabo. We spent quite a bit of time just strolling around too with Jess taking lots of photos of kids. They’re still at that stage here where they just want their photo taken, that’s if they’re not too shy, but at least they don’t flock around you in hoards demanding chocolate and money and pens. Seriously, I’m pretty attached to all three of those things myself and I wouldn’t be parting with any of them. You don’t have that problem here though, but one boy did demand that I allow him to take photos with my camera so I let him before he drooled on me or otherwise lost control of his various head fluids in my vicinity, so now I have lots of photos of us taken from below which, let’s face it, isn’t the most flattering angle, and a picture of his friend chowing down on a delicious slab of polystyrene. Apart from that it was just lots of photos of his own nostrils. That was Tabo for us then really. We’d spoken to a few people about how to actually leave town and were assured that there would be a bus at 8am. Or maybe 9am. Or it could be 8am… But there would be a bus, definitely a bus, not speculation, or maybe a bus, there would be public transport out of Tabo the following morning and we’d be on it, regardless of the time it showed up.
Turned out it wasn’t just us hanging around Tabo that morning, waiting for the bus to Kaza. This was somewhat comforting. There were a couple of Indian tourists too and they always come in handy for gleaning information from locals. There were a couple of guys sat outside a shop who also assured us there’d be a bus, it just came at a different time every day, but we definitely hadn’t missed it. Then there were the drivers, who tried to convince us that the bus probably wasn’t coming and we should just hire them instead. It was quite a half arsed attempt to be honest, like they kinda wanted some custom, but would actually be just as happy chilling there for the day. But the bus did arrive.
Apparently it couldn’t take us all the way to Kaza, because reasons, a landslide I think, but it’d take us so far then we’d have to try and get a smaller vehicle that could get around the debris on the road. Fair enough. It was an expectedly uneventful journey anyway, the usual roads that always seem slightly too narrow for a bus and a driver that always seems to want to go slightly too fast and too close to the edge. Then we came to the roadblock and the driver turned the engine off. Well, that was the end of the road then. But the Indian lads chatted to the driver in what I assume was Hindi. A bit of back and forth later and they turned to us and said, “They will take us all the way to Kaza, they just want more money but don’t worry, we have sorted it.” So that was a relief because we’d not seen that much traffic on the road apart from us and the chances of something coming by and picking us up seemed slim. They still couldn’t get past the roadblock, that much was true, but they took the bus up a road winding up a mountain with the intention of bypassing the landslide.
Fair enough that they wanted more money for this, it was a bugger of a road for them to get around, and it was all very familiar… Yeah, we’d already walked these roads, this was the way we came to get from Lalung to Dhankar. As we crept along, stopping frequently for the road-workers laying the tarmac, I pointed to a village in the distance and told the Indian lads, “That’s Demul.” They looked at me with surprise and said I knew about Himachal than they did. I caved and told them we’d already been along here and it had already been pointed out to us because let’s face it, without granddad walking with us from Lalung I wouldn’t have had a fucking clue either. But eventually we did indeed roll into Kaza after a looooong old bus ride thanks to the negotiation skills of the Indian fellas, and made that little bit more bearable by the scenery along the way.
Tabo, Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India
Altitude: 3280 metres
Stayed at: Millennium Monastery Guesthouse