Although this wasn’t my first trip to Lahaul; this was turning out to be the first time I was really focused on exploring the ancient monasteries dotted on hilltops. Since the travel industry seems to have an affinity for numbers, it was my fourth or fifth trip to Lahaul in July 2015 (I have made one more after that). After the great experience at Kardang Monastery, there was a spring in my stride.
I had made a little map of the whereabouts of the gompas after speaking to old men in Keylong bazaar. They narrated a tale specific to Tayul monastery (Ta-Yul means – the chosen place in Tibetan).
It went like this :
‘Once upon a time there was a monk at the old Tayul Gompa. He was a good lama but became too proud and egoistic. One day he insulted the Rinpoche : They expelled him and also put a curse on him. He wandered like a lunatic for many years and finally threw himself in Tandi river when he couldn’t bear the insult.
His spirit remained in the valley and joined the other spirit people. He started harassing passersby and even pushed men and their donkeys in the nallah (water stream). The locals were afraid of his terror and performed a big ceremony with lamas of all the monasteries in Lahaul. After that the spirit has stayed away and doesn’t trouble anyone.’
The hills and their folk tales. Simple hearts and simple stories of the gods.
After a relaxed morning and a lazy breakfast of fried momos at the dhaba on the main road in Keylong (Also Kyelang), I was lucky to find a ride to the nearby village of Stingri (Satingri). The local storytellers had instructed me to look for a white chorten above the left side of the road around 5 kms after Keylong. The trail to the monastery would begin from here, they said.
I got down in the middle of nowhere and there wasn’t a soul around. There was a solitary house on the opposite side of the road, that was locked too. The Chandra river flowed below the gaze of the sacred mountain Drilbu Ri. I climbed to the chorten and immediately spotted a trail going up.
After walking for five minutes, the path abruptly disappeared among the trees and I was stuck. The simple fact of all monasteries being located on hillocks and higher plains meant I continued huffing and puffing while making the arduous climb through the shade of the trees. There were some men harvesting peas in a field, I rushed toward them – they confirm that I am on the right track. ‘It has only started and the climb will get steeper,’ they say.
After all, Tayul is perched at an altitude of 3900m which is much higher than Keylong’s 3300m. It is a Drukpa monastery and is said to have been founded in the 17th Century by a lama from Tibet.
Mani stones are scattered among juniper shrubs, signs for me to know I am closer to the monastery. The path finally flattens out and a string of old mud chortens greets me at a turning. There are fabulous views of the sacred Drilbu Ri mountain on the other side.
The sun is out with full force while the clouds are in a fierce battle for supremacy, for currently it is the wind that reigns supreme.
I am sweaty one moment and clutching my flimsy jacket in the next instant. After an hour’s walk from the main road, I approach the first building and say ‘Jullay’; a female monk comes out. I happily let my eyes feast on the variety and colours of wildflowers growing outside the structure.
I am ushered to the monastery; Tayul monastery isn’t huge by any standards. The door is pretty with various paintings of Drukpa order. Once inside, the 12 foot statue of Padmasambhava towers above everything. On one side is the statue of the Dakhini and on the other, the wrathful manifestation of the guru. Guru Padmasambhava is revered as a great sage by Tibetans for introducing Buddhism to Tibet in the 8th century.
There is a full library of Kangyur (religious Tibetan texts). All the walls inside the monastery are full of murals, the colour is a garish red. There are many thangkas in the gompa depicting various episodes from the life of Lord Buddha. The monastery seems to have been extensively rebuilt and everything seems new here. The djomo isn’t really helpful and is more interested in a baksheesh(donation).
I spend some time looking at the surroundings and spotting an old chorten near the monastery compound. There is an old crumbling house made of mud that fascinates me. Nearby is an entire complex that may have been the residence for the monks, it looks tattered and is nearly destroyed.
The clouds hold the upper hand now, the weather is worsening – the sane part of my brain asks me to make my way back. I make the downward journey quickly until I come to the part that was the most difficult point of the relentless uphill climb. There is no support and I slip and steady myself and somehow make it to the field. The villagers have taken a break and are happy to present peas. I hungrily stuff them into the big pockets of my jacket.
Anyway, I should not be hanging out here alone. Who knows if the folk tale does come alive.
This was a also a part of my acclimatisation process before I made the life changing Solo Trek to Zanskar across the 5090m high Shingo La / Shinkun La.