A Day In Tabo, Oldest functioning Monastery of India, Spiti Valley (Himachal Pradesh)

Tabo monastery, Himachal Pradesh
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Tabo monastery, Himachal Pradesh

Key Points

  • Town Population - 600 
  • Distance from Shimla - 375 km (11hours)
  • Distance From Reckong Peo - 165 km (5 hours)
  • Distance from Kaza - 48 km (1.5 hours)
  • Distance from Manali - 230 km (20 hours)
  • Network available - BSNL, Jio

About Tabo, Spiti Valley

  • Located on the banks of river Spiti, Tabo is a mini town in District Lahaul and Spiti of Himachal Pradesh. The aged and beautiful, tidy town is situated on the main road connecting Kaza and Reckong Peo.
  • Town reflects the ancient Himalyan Tibetian civilisation. Cold deserted town with apple plantation surrounded by scree slopes protected by snow capped mountains and the river flowing by the side of the town in Spiti Valley.
  • Tabo is the sub divisional headquarters of Spiti region. The houses made in local architecture with flat roofs are best suitable for the harsh environment of cold desert. The extremely scenic town becomes more attractive with the level of hygiene and cleanliness it has to offer.
  • With a millennium year old monastery in its lap, Tabo is a must see town for those who are seeking for an offbeat destination. This place has a peaceful vibe to offer which you will not get anywhere else. The Dalai Lama has a desire to retire in this town only.

How to reach Tabo?

  • Best way to reach Tabo is by car or bike, whichever route you take, the driving or riding experience on the roads surrounded by barren mountains is very soothing as well as adventurous at these heights. 
  • You will easily get Shimla and Manali, buses  from Delhi as well as Chandigarh.
  • Reaching Tabo via Shimla route-
    • Public Transport -  There are multiple buses from Shimla to Reckong Peo throughout the day and only one bus at 7.00 AM from Reckong Peo to Kaza which goes through Tabo. Reckong Peo itself is a wonderful transit place open throughout the year.
    • Taxi or Personal Vehicle - Taxis are  available for Spiti valley from Shimla. Distance between Shimla and Tabo is 375 km long, one can do an overnight stay at Chitkul (Last village on Hindustan Tibetan trade route) or Kalpa, a village with clear views of Kinner Kailash Mahadev.
  • Reaching Tabo via Manali route-
    • Public Transport - If you are travelling from Manali there is a bus from Kullu via Manali to Kaza which reaches Manali  around 7.00 a.m, next day you can take a bus in the morning from Kaza to Tabo. However, the Manali route is open from June to September only.
    • Taxi or Personal Vehicle - Taxis are  available for Spiti valley from Manali. It takes 20 hours to reach as it crosses the highest pass of Spiti valley, Kunzum pass( Altitude - 4550 m). 
  • A night halt at Chandra Taal offers the most splendid views of the Spiti region with a night full of stars like nowhere else .
    • Distance from-
      • Manali to Chandra taal - 130 km, Chandra taal to Tabo - 140 km
      • Manali to Tabo - 230 km
  • Airport - Nearest airport is the Kullu Manali airport located at Bhuntar, you will easily get a cab from Bhuntar to Tabo.
    • Distance between Bhuntar and Tabo is 280 km.
  • Railhead - There are no direct trains to Tabo. The nearest station is the Shimla railway station, which is connected by narrow gauge from Kalka railway station. (You will only get train to Shimla from Kalka railway station which is 96 km away)

Best time to Visit and Weather

  • Best weather for visiting Spiti valley is from May to October. It is neither too cold, nor hot during this time of the year. It is majorly cold and dry throughout the year.
  • Summer months (May to September) are pleasant with very bright and warm sunshine,  nights are cold even in summer though. Average temperature in summer ranges between 15 degrees in the day and 6 degrees in the night. Summers are  an unchallenging and trouble free time to visit with the best of views.
  • Winters (October to March) are extremely cold as the temperature drops to -15 degrees and the whole area is covered with snow which makes reaching Tabo very vigorous. Roads get shut usually during heavy snowfall making your journey unpredictable and tough. Snow in winters beautifies everything it covers, providing mesmerising views of the valley.
  • During winters hotels are closed, only few homestays function in these harsh conditions. Water freezes hence it is very challenging to maintain a good water supply. Toilets consumes a lot of water, during this time of the year tourists will have to use dry toilets.
  • As it is called cold desert it receives very little or no rainfall even during the monsoon season (July to September). Monsoon is mostly the same as summer in the valley. 
  • Heavy rainfall, landslides  makes the routes to the desert Spiti valley wet and slippery. So travelling in July and  August is not advisable.
Tabo, Himachal Pradesh
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Tabo, Himachal Pradesh

Things to do in Tabo

  • Old Monastery-
    • Visit the old monastery. The monastery is known as "the Ajanta of the Himalayas'' because of its frescoes and stucco paintings. Tabo Monastery (Tabo 'Chos-Khor') now has nine temples, four decorated stupas, and cave shrines.
    • ASI had also proposed this monastery, the only monolithic structure of its kind in North India, for recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its sanctity in Trans Himalyan Buddhism.
  • New Monastery-
    • The place is quiet and gives spiritual peace on visit. New monastery is located next door to the old monastery. Enjoy the aromatic herbal tea at the monastery
  • Tabo Caves-
    • As old as 500 years,  are the Tabo caves which are visible on the hillside from the whole Tabo town.. These are artificially built caves with old murals and clear views of tiny and beautiful Tabo.
    • In old times monks used these caves as accommodation to escape the harsh Himalyan winters. Caves are at a 15 minute hike from the town.
  • Exploring the Town-
    • Tabo is one of the major towns of Spiti valley but it is still reasonably small. So you can walk around in the town, observe and talk to the locals.
  • Cafe Times-
    • Visit the sweet little cafes and soak in the astonishing views, and interact with other travellers here. Cafe Kunzum Top, Tiger Den are some names of cafes that have good ambience and food to offer.
  • Monastery Museum-
    • Visit the monastery's museum and see the historical artifacts and antiquity.
  • Library-
    • Those who want to know more about the history of the monastery or the gravity of Buddhism can visit the library which is located at the monastery guest house.
  • Night Sky Gazing-
    • Spiti valley provides one of the best stargazing experiences in India. The beauty of the million stars can not be described in words, you have to experience it yourself. Best stars can be seen from the caves or helipad in Tabo.
Tabo Caves
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Tabo Caves

  • Visiting one of the major monasteries of Spiti valley, Tabo Gompa. It is locally known as Tabo Chos-Khor Monastery, is a Buddhist monastery.
  • The contrast between the simple mud brick exterior and the impressive ornate interiors of the Tabo monastery is spectacularly striking and a must see for every visitor.
  • The monastery is going under refurbishment as the wooden structures are aging and the scroll paintings are fading. After the earthquake of 1975, the monastery was rebuilt.
  • The monastery is protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) as a national historic treasure of India.
Tabo at night
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Tabo at night

History of Monastery

  • It was founded in 996 AD  by the Tibetan Buddhist Rinchen Zangpo (Mahauru Ramabhadra), on behalf of the king of western Himalayan Kingdom of Guge.
  • HH dalai Lama himself celebrated its 1000 year, a millennium in 1996 officially and some say it might be older than that too.
  • The paintings date to the 10th-11th centuries for the main temple, 13th-14th centuries for the stupas, and from the 15th to the 20th centuries for all the other temples.

Architecture and Fittings

  • The monastery has been built like a fort with very strong walls which are 3 feet in thickness and it is the reason for its survival over the centuries of depredations and natural calamities.
  • Must visit temple for people interested in old structures, paintings and history. Monastery also has one the best collections of Buddhist paintings done in temples and are equally old in age.
  • Some  paintings have faded over years but many are still clear, to prevent further damage any direct or indirect light is avoided on these paintings. You will not see any bulbs, tubelight or any artificial source of light inside the temple.

Best way to visit Monastery

  • You should do a guided tour, any monk inside the monastery will guide you. Get to know about each of the paintings and get detail about anything. You can carry a mobile phone inside  the temple area in silent mode  but photography is not allowed.

Activities at Monastery

  • Worship-
    • Daily worship starts with chantings at 6 AM, performed by the lamas.
    • The lamas also perform tantric rites and buddhists rituals here in the temples. 
  • Education-
    • Tabo is an important centre of learning in Spiti valley from the earliest centuries. There are students, from the age of 5 to 14 years, in classes 1-8.
    • The subjects covered are English, Hindi, Bhoti (A Tibetic language spoken in Ladakh), Social Science, Social Studies, Math, General Knowledge. Information technology, Sanskrit language and Art are also provided to students in higher grade levels.
  • Festivals-
    • Many festivals are held in the vicinity of the monastery. The Tibetan monks perform traditional Buddhist and regional songs and dances.
    • The most popular religious festival held here is the  Chakhar Festival, which is dedicated to the peace, compassion and  happiness of all. This is held every three years, usually during September or October.
  • Monastery Shop-
    • You can buy paintings, souvenirs and clothing which majorly has t-shirts from the monastery itself. Books on Buddhism and monastery history are also available at the shop. Prices are reasonable and support the monastery.

Where to stay in Tabo?

  • Monastery guest house - It is not just cheap but the firsthand experience of staying at this old and pure place is just overwhelming. Cost of staying in the monastery is Rs.300 per bed in dormitories  and Rs.600 per room with an attached bathroom for a day. Room with a non attached bathroom is also available for as low as Rs.350. 
  • Maitreya regency (09459483103), panama homestay (9882672464), sonam homestay are some names of places  from the large number of options available to stay, if you are travelling with family and seeking warm hospitality. You can book hotels online in advance.
  • Hostels are available in Tabo like Zostel Homes, Piggy hostel providing you company of many other travelers. You can book a bed or room online in these hostels.
  • Oyo rooms are also available in Tabo.

Explore more hotels in Tabo

What to eat in Tabo?

  • The village offers some good options to choose from when it comes to the basic north-Indian and Tibetan cuisine.
  • Spiti thali at Cafe Kunzum Top is a must try.
  • If you are non vegetarian, mutton momos are a must try at Tenzin Corner near the monastery. Momos are flavourful and juicy.
  • Other than Indian and Tibetan food, Israeli food is also available.
  • Experiencing the local food like Tingmo (a pillowy Tibetan bread), steamed chapatis, Tsampa (meal made from barley) is recommended. 
  • If you drink alcohol  you can taste locally made alcohol called Chhang of the region made from barley.

Culture and Livelihood of People

  • In these barren lands there is a way of life which is completely untouched by time. Buddhists flags fluttering, stars dancing at night will surely rejuvenate your mind and body. By visiting the monastery  you get a better understanding of the people and their faith.
  • There are public and private schools for students of Tabo to pursue their education.
  • You get an overall nice peek inside the Buddhist culture. It is the tradition in Buddhist families that the younger  son will become buddhist monk.
  • Major income in farming comes from Apple plantations. Barley, peas and potatoes are the main harvesting crops other than apples.

Tips for a trip to Tabo

  • Only BSNL and Jio sim will work in the town.
  • Monastery closes at 5.30 pm sharp. 
  • Photography is not allowed inside the main temple of the old monastery however, in the outer temples and stupas it is allowed.
  • ATMs are available in the town, keep some cash as the ATMs run out of cash very frequently.
  • Always wear sunscreen and stay hydrated, drink water on a regular basis even if you don’t feel thirsty as the sun gets extremely harsh in summers.
  • You may feel a lack of oxygen especially at night. Avoid sleeping on your back.
  • It is not advisable consuming any kind of tobacco, smoking and alcohol or other depressant drugs as it decreases the respiratory drive during sleep resulting in worsening the AMS (Acute mountain sickness) symptoms.
  • Visit hrtchp official website if you are travelling via bus for timings.
  • Plan to visit during summer months so that most of the attractions and places to eat remain open.

Places to visit near Tabo

  • Dhankar Monastery-
    • Dhankar used to be the capital of Spiti valley in the 17th century, a village and also s Gompa. Dhang means cliff and kar means fort, Hence Dhankar literally means fort on a cliff as it used to serve the purpose of its name. 
    • Distance of Dhankar from Tabo is 30 km (1 hr).
  • Pin Valley National park-
    • The Pin Valley National Park is a wildlife enthusiast's dream and  home to over 20 different species of birds and animals, but the main attraction is the endangered Snow Leopard
    • The park also houses around 12 big cats and other wild animals such as the Himalayan Black Bear, Himalayan Brown Bear, Himalayan Marmot, Tibetan Gazelle, Woolly Hare, Marten, Red Fox, Siberian Ibex and many more.
    • Distance of National Park and Tabo is 50 km (2 hrs ).
  • Nako village-
    • Situated on the banks of Nako Lake, this picturesque Himalayan village is situated in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh.
    • Surrounded by the snow-covered mountains, Nako looks like a painting made by God! 
    • Nako is 65 km away from Tabo.
  • Geu Mummy-
    • In this little village lays the perfectly well-preserved 650 year old mummy of Sangha Tenzing, he  was a Buddhist monk from Tibet. Mummy was found in a sitting position, with his skin and hair intact. 
    • The village is about 40 km (2 hrs) from Tabo town.
  • Kaza-
    • Currently the main town and central hub of Spiti valley. Surrounded by high mountains, Kaza is known for its barren landscapes, crystal clear streams, and patches of green meadows.
    • Distance between Tabo and Kaza is 48 km (1.5 hrs).