The Indian state of Himachal Pradesh has many wonders enveloped within the young fold mountains that traverse through its heart and one of those exquisite wonders is the alpine valley of Spiti. Situated at an average elevation of 12,000 feet above sea level, this cold desert is home to the snow leopard, Himalayan blue sheep and few of the toughest people on the planet who inhabit this dry, barren snow covered land and wear the warmest smiles on their faces. Maybe this was the reason that made Rudyard Kipling define Spiti as a ‘world within a world’ befitted for the Gods and Gods alone.
Spiti was a part of lesser Tibet in the 10th century and shares its eastern border with the Tibet Autonomous Region. Some of the nuances of the Tibetan culture and Tibetan Buddhism that are being sadly brushed off the face of Tibet have found a warm womb in this isolated valley which is still protected by external influences due to its geography. The earliest recorded travelers to Spiti were the Gerard brothers who made an expedition to this enchanting valley in 1817 and since then this land has attracted explorers and travelers who, despite the harsh climatic conditions have made journeys through the meandering folds of the region and have walked parallel to the Sutlej and Spiti rivers to taste with their eyes, the heaven that resides there.
The area houses the oldest continuously functioning monastery in the world – Tabo; a UNESCO world heritage site, to which His Holiness the Dalai Lama wishes to retire one day. Made completely out of adobe bricks, it is the oldest earthen structure in India and dons the honor of standing tall since 996 A.D. The monastery complex contains 9 temples and 23 chortens. The main temple, the temple of enlightened gods, is a place where the busiest of minds can come to an instant rest. Its walls are covered with some of the most elegant and refined Tibetan thangkas and stuccos.
Another marvel is the Dhankar Gompa, the fort monastery which lies at an elevation of 12,800 feet and stands on a dangerously formed cliff. In 2006, Dhankar was declared by UNESCO as one of the 100 most endangered sites in the world but despite these speculations the Spitian Buddhists believe that ‘Dhankar will stand tall when the world collapses.’ Another fort monastery of the region is the Key Gompa which contains within its walls a kitchen that is nearly 800 years old.