Well if the hotel in Kaza was half way between camping and a hotel, the one in Tabo is more so. There are water heaters in the bathrooms and plenty of taps, but no hot water. In fact John’s water heater is connected to the wall by two bare wires pushed into socket, one of which has an interesting scorch mark round it! The pipe under my wash hand basin is not properly connected so, when you wash your hands, your feet get a shower too. The other problem is a chronic lack of electricity in Tabo and a generator which doesn’t work, though we do each have one solar powered light in our rooms. There are also a lot of flies – everywhere. Having said all that Tabo is a lovely, quiet spot, surrounded by apple orchards, and we were able to watch the full moon rise above the mountains through the clouds this evening with no competing light pollution – so not all bad!
We headed into Kaza after breakfast this morning to see Ramesh again. He is still waiting to get our Inner Line permits but has promised to bring them to us in Tabo – we’ll need them to leave the valley on Sunday as Sumdo is right next to the Chinese border. Ramesh was able to show us the new community centre built by Joan Pollock as part of the Spiti Projects initiative. It’s a fine looking building, with traditional rammed earth walls and a system for circulating warm air through the walls for insulation in winter. The interior is not quite ready yet but two carpenters were working inside today. Eventually it will have a library, craft rooms and clinic space and some guest rooms to help pay maintenance costs.
The new Kaza community centre
Ramesh talked at length about the advantages of mud bricks rather than concrete as a building material (much warmer and drier in winter).
The new and the old – a concrete extension to a traditional mud house
He also told us that the indigenous population of the whole valley is only around 15 000, though swollen by people from further south who come to work on the roads and to trade. He said that one son from most families becomes a monk and some of the girls also become nuns, which helps maintain a steady population.
From Kaza, Hotam drove us towards Tabo and then across the river at Attargo and up the Pin valley – although it’s not a long journey, the road is mostly very bumpy so it feels like a long drive. John has some good papers on the geology of this area. Structurally it is certainly amazing, with all kinds of spectacularly folded sediments lining the braided river.
Unfortunately the ecology looks less promising – every area of flat land (there are not many) seems to be terraced for growing barley or peas. We crossed the river just before Sagnam and followed it to the end of the road, to a village glorying in the name of Mud. The area around Sagnam looked very fertile and all hands were on deck harvesting barley with sickles as we drove past. As someone who spent school summer holidays using a scythe, John is itching to know why they are not doing the same – he explains it’s much more efficient.
We made a brief visit to the monastery near Gulling on the way back to the main road; a slightly strange place with an imposing glass façade to the new temple, opened by the Dalai Lama in 2004.
The steps have fallen to bits in the meantime and the whole place had something of an air of neglect. The walls of the temple are lined with glass-fronted shelves full of miniature Buddhas – hundreds of them – but it otherwise feels quite empty.
The drive back to the main road was as hair-raising and bumpy as on the way up and the 30 km or so along the ‘main road’ not much better. Looking out on the other side of the valley this time, I did see what looked like cave dwellings high up on the rock face. I don’t know whether they are still inhabited or whether they might be linked to the monastery in some way.
We were glad of the bananas we’d snaffled from breakfast this morning as it was around 3 pm by the time we arrived in Tabo. We dropped our stuff and headed off to find a late lunch. The first café we came to, Kunzum Top, looked promising and, indeed, the soup we had was good, though it did take a little while to persuade them we were sitting at a table because we wanted something to eat!
We went back to the hotel to do some essential washing then ambled round the village late afternoon. Tabo has two monasteries, the oldest (Chos Khor Gompa) founded in 996 AD by the king of western Tibet is the oldest continuously functioning Buddhist building in India. The temples were all closed but we sat enjoying the peaceful feel of the place for a while and will go back when it’s open tomorrow.
There are more cave dwellings above the village here, which apparently were used by the monks so we’ll take a look at these too. One aim for tomorrow is to spend as little time in the car as possible as we’ll be driving much of Sunday and Monday.
It’s a shame not to be able to communicate with Martyn and Helen before they set off but it’s clearly not going to happen – there was an internet café here but it’s long closed, apparently, because of the lack of electricity. We’ll just have to look forward to meeting them on Monday evening and hope we all get to the right hotel in Shimla at about the same time!
Dinner was better than expected in a rather ramshackle hotel – John was very pleased to find mashed potato on the menu as well as rice! We asked to share a beer, at which point the receptionist disappeared down the road to the dodgy looking off licence we’d seen earlier and reappeared with a large bottle of Tuborg, That went down very well, but did mean I kept falling asleep while playing Bananagrams, at all of about 8 pm!