Adventure · Himalaya · India · Photography · Travel Writing

Times of Tabo and the purpose of a Khata


(continued from the last post about Dhankar).

It was mid afternoon on a clear May day when I commenced the descent from Dhankar (3900 meters) to Tabo (3000 meters) in the Spiti Valley – not far from the border with Tibet. The scenery on the way back, though it was the same road, perhaps due to the angle of the light and the direction we were traveling in, was equally spectacular.

Some of the signboards indicating a village in particular reminded us how remote a place this is, –seen below is shichling for example with a population of 87.

After the return, my jeep mates and I crashed a while and then were ready to go out again in the evening, about 5 pm. We walked towards the monastery and then left the main road to walk through walkways near the fields that at that time were being ploughed by a great many people with the help of only two buffaloes (or were these dzos?)

With the backdrop of the mountains it was a very scenic setting – black soil, colorfully clothed villagers, sandy sun lit mountains and the green on the boundaries of the fields. We shouted ‘’Juley’’ (hello in the local language) many time and got the same in return with genuine, heartfelt smiles.

We also got a warning that the path to the river has some thorns so we should be careful. We marched on anyhow on the banks of the narrow channels constructed to irrigate the fields.

I recall getting lost at-least twice – and then coming upon a water obstacle that appeared innocuous from a distance but in fact proved to be quite a challenge to cross. Once past that, we were at the edge from where a steep slope (seen below) – would take us down to the river. The problem was there was no clear path; the area that was enclosed within a wall gave way to open spaces that were covered with thorny bushes and scrub. The photo below was taken after I climbed that wall.

For a moment the score read: guests – 0: hosts – 1.

I looked around and A was behind me, struggling to hold onto something while R was nowhere to be found. Moments later, we heard him calling us loudly that we were to come down using a path that he had found – there was only one thorny bush obstacle in that path. It was tricky, but not insurmountable. This short video should show you the path that we followed –

Down at the river, the sight gave us a clue as to why tabo feels so good – the river and the mountains bounding it on either side bend here and thus create an obstruction to the blustery winds that one finds in spiti valley at places farther down.

We then went our separate ways – I wanted to walk even further along the river, to where I suspected there would be something else worth seeing. Indeed there was, not one but many wonderful sights. The river forms its own, small beach with fine sand – at a three thousand meter altitude – a beach, however small, is a bemusing sight.

On a rock were perched a pair of horns – of the Bharal – or the Himalayan blue sheep.

I continued to walk further, as the river pebbles turned to boulders and came across this – ice formations from the season before – still holding strong in the month of May.

I captured a small video from here.

It was freezing and we made our way back as the sun went down the mountains giving a play of light and shadow on the mountains around.
Some of the mountains, gigantic blocks of serrated rocks, their deep brown perfectly offset by the white snow were bathed in in the evening light.

Meanwhile, the light over the sandy mountains was sheer poetry.

As we went back, I noticed that the field had been tilled quite well already. We came across a symbol of the deeply religious nature of the place, bang in the middle of these fields, stood a chorten – an expensive donation from the landholder as every inch of cultivable land here is precious – only one crop per year is possible.

Over dinner (which was not substantial that day, as we were all too exhausted), we continued to ask the hosts – Mrs and Mr Bodh about how living is in these parts and got more evidence of the importance of religion – as what sustains the people – they never referred to His Holiness without the north Indian honorific ‘ji’. They had prostrated before him once, in Ladakh and had fond remembrance of the event. Better still, his holiness had blessed them and given them a Khata – made of handwoven white silk- symbolic of the pure heart of the giver. They treasured it very much.

The next morning, by dint of habit, I was downstairs at a quarter past seven in the morning. As I was in there first, that gave me a chance to speak with aunty (Mrs Bodh, who was happy being called thus), while she made tea. The Spiti stove had burning embers inside it, that on this crisp morning provided much needed warmth while a pot of water was sitting on top.

I smelt something faint but very nice, a woody scent. She told me it’s a kind of incense powder that is made of various materials including some Himalayan tree shaving and they (the locals of the area) use it for their prayer ceremonies. Without even asking, she packed up some for me.

After an hour, as I sipped my tea, R and A joined me as well and while we waited for our breakfast – Sonam – Mr Bodh’s nephew arranged dishes on the low tables. Sonam , a young lad, works very hard and supports Mr Bodh in the day to day affairs of the home-stay while they support his education – something he would not receive in his village (which is much smaller than Tabo). He’s seen in this photo taken during breakfast.

I tiptoed into the kitchen to check on what was cooking and it turned out to be a flat-bread – aunty told me it’s made of locally grown wheat and they just don’t expose it directly to the flame while making –there’s no other secret to it. I was genuinely surprised as to how good it tasted – it was very evenly cooked from the outside and the inside. Alongside was some onion chutney, jam and butter and a cup of tea.

My travel companions were on a stricter budget than I was and hence we agreed to ride the bus again between Tabo and Kaza and hence bid adieu to aunty and Sonam. Mr Bodh was to walk us to the bus stand. At that time, aunty made a heart-warming gesture which was very touching indeed. She tore up the khata (given back to them by his holiness the Dalai Lama) and gave three of us a strip each around our neck. This is a symbolic Tibetan Buddhist way of paying high regards to guests (the incense usually is given with the khata). We were genuinely stunned, overwhelmed and quite literally speechless.That moment for me distilled the purpose for which I had undertaken this trip – to visit a place where simplicity and good nature ruled over material pursuits and a place that would make me genuinely happy. In this simple but deeply symbolic gesture of giving us the khata, something that had taken this family months of waiting, arduous travel and a perfect moment to receive, I had found it.

I let it be around my neck for a while but later found a much better spot around the camera bag where this tiny strip of silken cloth, still is. In this parting shot taken with Mr Bodh – it’s around my neck.

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One thought on “Times of Tabo and the purpose of a Khata

  1. I follow your blog religiously. Your stories, adventures are so exciting – the people so nice!
    I haven’t even met the Bodh family, but I can tell you I love them.

    I’d really love to go backpacking through Ladakh someday. It’s too beautiful to be missed.

    Liked by 1 person

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