Tabo is a small village, situated on the left bank of river Spiti in the Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh. It is 50 kms short of Kaza, major town in Spiti Valley, while travelling from Reckong Peo to Kaza. Flanked on either side by hills, it houses one of the most important Buddhist monastery, that is regarded by many as only next to the Tholing Gompa in Tibet. This monastery is said to be over a thousand years old, founded back in 996 A.D.
Tabo is 337 kms away from Shimla and 149 kms away from Reckong Peo. Only one public bus runs between Reckong Peo and Tabo, the famous Kaza Bus. It departs from Reckong Peo Bus Stand at 06:30 AM and reaches Tabo at 16:00 PM. There is no flight or rail connectivity to Tabo. Hired Taxis are also available from Shimla and Manali.
Where to Stay:
Tabo has many small hotels as well as home stays. Monastery itself has a guesthouse. Near the old Tabo monastery, we found a good hotel named as Dekit Norphel Tiger Den Restaurant. The caretaker asked us INR 450 for one night double bed room, but we bargained it to INR 400. The room was in very good condition and hot water was available in the bathroom. Dining was also available in the hotel, but that day their LPG stock was emptied, so we did not get any food there.
Evening at Tabo:
We went to visit monastery by 17:15 PM, but it was too late for the day. The temples and assembly hall of monastery get closed by 17:30 PM every day. But the monastery complex remains open, so we shoot some pictures in the complex, while a small boy was locking the temples door. He informed us that the temples and assembly hall will be open by 5:00 AM in the next day morning.
There was still some time for the darkness, we moved further to explore Tabo Village. Near the welcome gate of Tabo village, we found Ajanta Restaurant. Restaurant was small, but we got very tasty chowmin and tea here. After getting something good inside the stomach, we went towards the main road and shoot some pictures of the apple garden. We returned back to the Tabo Helipad to click some more pictures. While shooting at helipad, I saw caves on a hill at the northern end of the village. Since it was getting dark, I made up my mind for a quick visit to the Tabo Caves, while Nidhi preferred to stay back at the hotel.
Next to the main road, NH-22 in Tabo, on the northern side, just opposite to the village, there is a rising hill containing caves. These caves are easily accessible from the village by 15 minutes gradual ascent on the hills. These caves were carved out in the hills for the purpose of meditation by monks. It is believed to be used as abode for the Buddhist monks during the winters of the Himalayas. There was a big cave that was originally utilized as an assembly hall by the Buddhist monks. Most other caves were mainly used for the purpose of lodging and dwelling. Even in the modern times, the caves are still used, and the presence of flags signifies that monks are using the caves for the purpose of meditation.
By the time, I came back to the hotel, it was completely dark outside. We went to Ajanta Restaurant for dinner, but it was being closed by then (20:30 PM). The owner suggested me another restaurant behind Monastery Guest House. It was a guest house cum restaurant (Meiterya Guest House and Restaurant, Mob:9459347509). We reached there and ordered our meals. The waitress said that they had to prepare for the meal, as they do not offer pre-cooked meal . She informed us that, they take the order and prepare the meal as per the order right after that. She asked us to wait for 30 minutes.We got dal and rice and it was indeed a very tasty meal, we got during this trip.
Tabo Monastery in the Morning:
Next day morning, we woke up early because we had to visit the monastery before catching the bus to Kaza at 08:30 AM. I went at 06:00 AM at the monastery and found one old lady and one old couple was already there. We visited the assembly hall of monastery with them. A local monk (Lama) guided us on the details of assembly hall, wall paintings, clay structure and other temples. This monastery is the largest monastic complex of Spiti and declared a protected monument under the aegis of Archaeological Survey of India. When I reached there, I thought this monastery is a UNESCO world heritage site, but two weeks later after completing my trip, I found that this is not in the UNESCO Heritage list, but in the tentative list from India.
At first glance this monastery seems nothing more than a cluster of large mud huts surrounded by a brick wall boundary. The monastery is built on a flat piece of land surrounded by high mountains in the barren, arid, snow covered, cold and rocky desert of the Tabo valley. This monastery is also known as Chos-Khor. It is the preserver of the Buddhists legacy and house a priceless collection of manuscripts, paintings, frescos, clay statues and murals depicting the tales from Mahayana Buddhism in Tibetan Style. Every inch of wall inside the assembly hall is covered with fine paintings in well preserved collection. There are nearly 36 clay statues attached on the wall of assembly hall and believed to be as old as the monastery.
Assembly hall is the core of the complex. At the one end of the hall, there is four-fold figure of Vairocana, one of the five spiritual sons of Adibuddha. This figure is depicted in a posture turning the wheel of law and placed two meters above the floor. Behind the assembly hall, there is a three-fold gallery again covered with the wall paintings that depict the life of Buddha. These paintings are in highly preserved conditions and always remain in dark. You need a torch to see these priceless paintings. The paintings are made from natural colours and said to be made by the artists from Kashmir. Photography is not allowed inside any temple to avoid any damage to the paintings.
Ajanta is famous worldwide for its cave paintings, but paintings at Ajanta are degrading with the time until the recent preservation work started there. But, the paintings in Tabo Monastery are in astonishingly preserved condition and there are amazing series of galleries. This is the main reason why this monastery is known as The Ajanta of Himalayas. Including the main temple there are nine temples at Tabo. These temple also contained the amazing paintings depicting the life of Buddha.Important temples are The Golden Temple (gSer-khang), The Temple of Dromton (Brom-ston Lha khang), The Chamber of Picture Treasures (Z’al-ma), The White Temple (dKar-abyum Lha-Khang) etc.
After more than 1000 years of existence, nothing has changed at Tabo Monastery. The monks still perform the rituals, offering prayers, lighting diyas ( lamps) of ghee in a traditional manner.
After the earthquake of 1975 a new monastery was built, and in 1983 a new Du-kang or Assembly Hall was constructed. It is here that H.H. the Dalai Lama held the Kalachakra ceremonies in 1983 and 1996. Above the monastery there are a number of caves carved into the cliff face and used by monks for meditation.
This ended our visit of Tabo Village. We went to catch the bus to Kaza at 8.30 AM, but the bus did not come till 9.30 AM. A nice person offered us the lift up to Schichling village, 24 kms before Kaza. When we were busy in shooting pictures around Schichling, we got our bus going to Kaza and reached Kaza by 11.30 AM.