Art & Culture · Himalaya · Photography · Travel Writing

Artistic doors of the high Himalayas


Doors hide as much as they reveal  and I say so not because of what lies beyond them – but because of how they are shaped and constructed. Viewing a door from the standpoint of architecture, craft and belief is immensely absorbing. The carved doors of the high Himalayas belie, even when closed, their purpose. On a Voyage to the valleys of the rivers Sangla, Spiti and Pin, where the air is cool and sometimes rare, people are friendly I discover that each door has a mood of its own.

The Unsure door- The little village of Chitkul, that lies close to India’s border with Tibet, houses an interesting temple. The doors are wooden, intricately carved poplar, fusing Hindu beliefs with the animistic religion (possibly bon)- that predates Buddhism in the region). It reflected the patience of its creators – they’d have chipped away for hours on the soft wood, bringing out three dimensional reliefs.  An unsure door, it was closed, but not locked and I saw myself in. Details in this longer post – Life in Chitkul

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Every inch from the frame to the lintel, jambs and panels of this temple door in Chitkul are carved with floral design

A door to incite envy – at the new monastery of Kungri – the door reflected the high mountains of pin valley all around. It also was opened by the resident lama for me alone. till it was opened, i could still see inside and be tempted to view the fine artwork on the walls and ceiling -and that of course made me want to enter it even more. When I got inside, it was quite a treat. More here – A treasure called Kungri

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The door at Kungri monastery reflects the high himalayas around it while allowing the visitor a peek inside

A guardian door – on the morning that I walked inside the Sakya tengyuu monastery at Kaza, the shoes outside reminded me that I must take off mine. On the lintel stood tibetan guardian dragons and on the panels, large intricately carved brass rings that serve as door knockers. Straps of brass seem to ‘hold together’ the wood which is plain – reminiscent of an old scrapbook that was spiral-bound . Chants emanated from the inside and the closed red one , aided by darkness inside, gave nothing away as to what lay beyond.Details here – The miracle at Rangrik and the Tengyuu monastery

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Door of Sakya Tengyuu monastery- Kaza

The story-telling door – In the temple town of Sarahan, the doors of Bhimkali temple are ornate and fittingly deemed as works of art. The temple’s doors were built by king Pritam Singh and are now over eighty years old. They depict mythological tales from the lives of Hindu gods Krishna, Shiva and others. Each door is built by a silver repousse technique that I elaborated in this post.

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Door of Bhimkali temple – Sarahan. Note Krishna on top right dancing on the mythical serpent Kaliya

Not all doors are equally welcoming. ‘Authoritative’ doors are guarded when they are not locked. An imposing door, it allows visitors to pass only when there’s a guided tour and even then you cannot take photos except from a distance like the one below. The building itself, bearing the seal of the British Empire in India is magnificent. More here – A walking tour of Shimla

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My personal favorites from these visits were the doors to the thousand year monastery at Tabo (9,000 feet elevation). The lama in-charge of guests that day was very curios as to why did I ask for his photograph and not the place’s – well because he was so nice (and photos inside the monastery are not permitted). The building is mud, and the little locked doors are barely there wooden slats but they lead to chambers that house murals dating back to 996 AD and in a remarkably good state of preservation. More here – Journey to Tabo

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The ever-smiling lama at Tabo monastery

The last one has no artistic merit nor religious significance but it upstaged many on grounds of perspective for i looked out of it and not vice-versa. It was a simple home-stay door built out of cheap wood tied together by necessity. ‘The door to happiness’  was found in Kalpa, at an elevation of 10,000 feet. Peeling paint, creaking hinges and gaps that let the cold mountain air in at night, gave way in the morning to a splendid view of the mighty kinnaur massif. Mighty sentinels wearing coats of snow towering over 18000 feet surround the little village almost three quarters of a circle. More here – A very apple morning to you

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The door to happiness in Kalpa

That’s all for today, folks!

[Submitted in response to the Weekly discover challenge – The story of doors and the daily prompt Voyage]

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