My first introduction to Spiti Valley and it's wonders was in 2015. Back then with minimal preparation I managed to hitchhike through the route from Manali to Shimla via Spiti and Kinnaur. Pit stops on the route were not clear and we just drove through Tabo plucking a few apples on the way. It was only after coming back and reading more about Tabo that I realised that this little town was indeed worth stopping by and exploring.
Spiti called again in 2018 and this time there was no way I could have missed Tabo. Sambit and I started our journey from Shimla this time. We travelled by HRTC buses and an afternoon bus from Nako dropped us at Tabo town gate in two hours. We walked through road that runs across the settlements in Tabo and at the far end of it lies the 3000 year old monastery. We dropped the bags off at the Monastery Guest House immediately and set out to explore this beautiful town. Here are some notes from our journey.
The last town of apple orchards
We started our journey to Spiti from Kinnaur and throughout the way the apple orchards were a treat to the eyes. On this route, Tabo is the last town were you'd witness surreal apple orchards. Ahead on this route is only desert landscape of Spiti. The views in Tabo become all the more mesmerising because of the backdrop of the desert landscape in this town and it almost seems unreal to see apple trees growing in a desert.
A Historical Town of Translators
Much of what you read about this town on the internet or otherwise centres around the 3000 year old monastery. It is hardly known that Tabo was one of the many cultural hotspots on the Indo-tibetan trade route and the king of the Guge Kingdom (which is now Western Tibet), Yeshe O in 996BC built this structure as a hub for cultural exchange between Hindus, Buddhists in India and Tibet. They encouraged Hindu Brahmin translators to understand and translate Buddhist scriptures while staying in this monastery. This monastery was in fact built by a translator Rinchen Zangpo who translated Sanskrit Buddhist texts into Tibetan.
Artwork within the Tabo Monastery
Interestingly, the artwork within the Tabo Monastery which dates back to 996 BC not only has influences from Tibet but also from India and parts of Central Asia. Iconographic representations of non-buddhist cultures are also present. A Vajradhatu Mandala is painted in the central hall hails from the Trantra and Mantra tradition of Buddhism which originated in India and later spread to Tibet, Bhutan and East Asia.
The Caves of Tabo
If I get to pick one magical spot in the town where I can spend the entire day, it's the caves in Tabo. The caves on the craggy massifs above the town of Tabo are home to several monks who spend months and even years meditating. As a visitor this could be an ideal spot to enjoy the view of the town which appears like a verdant green patch with perfect contrast to the cold desert landscape surrounding it. Spiti river borders the town on one side and on the other side of the Tabo are these mysterious caves. Is it worth to travel the distance for this view? Of course, yes!