Himachali locals say that I should be given a permanent citizenship in Himachal Pradesh! And when it comes to Lahaul & Spiti, my love knows no bounds. I’ve been guilty of not making individual blog posts on the high altitude villages of Spiti Valley but its never too late to start and I begin with Komic village. This post has taken a long time to pen down, chiefly because it meant rolling back the years and going down memory lane. In the end, it is an amalgamation of three visits to Komic village and Komic Monastery; with the last visit in October 2017 when I spent a night in the ‘highest motorable village in the world.’
On the first trip which goes back to the days when Spiti was pure wilderness and the road was actually the ‘most treacherous road in the world!’; I was in Kungri in Pin Valley and had randomly met three guys from Bombay, Shimla and Germany respectively. We stayed a night in one of the newly opened homestays in Langza and the German guy had got off somewhere to teach english to the kids in a school.
Komic felt like a dream and I was adamant that I wanted to be there next day. The charm of seeing the highest monastery in the world, Tangyud (Tangguid) Monastery was not lost on me and within no time we were standing outside Komic Monastery with the monks. Solar panels were visible on top of the monastery building which also houses the monks quarters’. I remember wondering how the monks lived at such a godforsaken place (at over 4500m) where we were finding even breathing difficult.
After spending some time in the prayer hall (dukhang), we were joined by some lamas who gave us cups of tea. I spotted a kitchen room nearby and a door opened from the side to show more construction work going on. The monks’ residences indicated that Tangyud Monastery housed around 40-50 monks. My inquisitive mind wandered and I asked if this was a newly built monastery; to which the monks said yes. One of them indicated to us to follow him to a nearby building.
I was speechless. There was a stuffed snow leopard right behind the door and a signboard indicated that women are not allowed inside. The others were happy to click landscapes outside; we were surrounded by snow capped peaks and a few clouds were slowly coming in to say hi.
A monk ushered us inside the Mahakala room full of tantric masks and fearsome statues; it was very dark without any light and anyway clicking pictures was not allowed. I was overjoyed on being able to see the Tantric inner prayer hall (many monasteries do not allow visits for outsiders) of this ancient Tangyud monastery in Komic that was originally built in the 12th – 14th Century AD.
The other side of the same building was also used as monk’s residences and had been painted in dark red. It stood out in the background of a dark blue sky. There was another small structure to the right of the monks’ residences; a signboard indicated that it was run as a school.
One of the lamas said that we are welcome to stay in the rooms for the night and can pay whatever we wanted. My eyes lit up but we knew we had to go to Demul too and passed this opportunity. I wondered how it would feel to stay at the highest village in the world connected by a motorable road and then realised it would not be very different than staying in Korzok – on the banks of Tso Moriri in Changthang, Ladakh. The wind blew stronger while the sun shined brightly and I felt strangely cold and hot at the same time.
Komic village itself was a tiny village located on a lower elevation (Komic village altitude around 4450m) than the monastery and had 8-10 houses. Green barley fields occupied center-stage and it was a stunning sight to see white washed houses surrounded by clouds floating around towering mountains; and a sprinkling of snow was thought to be a complimentary topping on a dessert. The monks had been really kind to show us around; I asked about homestays in Komic and someone said that it is possible to request for a homestay at one of the homes.
Just after we began our drive for Demul there was another surprise in store! A Tibetan Red fox with that unmistakable red bushy tail had just wandered across the road. It was quick and there was no possibility of even trying to click it with an 18-55 lens. We gasped in delight at the sighting and consistently looked outside the window for the rest of the drive to Demul.
Fast forward to a couple of years later; I was very happy to be breathing happily in the high altitude lands of Kinnaur and Spiti – away from the asthma troubles. The skies had not been kind at all and after cloudy days in Sangla Valley there I was, wishing for blue skies in Spiti valley but it was not to be. After a chilly night in Kaza; we ‘d made it to Langza almost in darkness (at noon) and a 5 minute drizzle brought us to Komic Monastery.
The weather gods seemed to have changed the monks’ mood too and none of them offered us tea this time around. There were a few tourist vehicles in the huge open air parking and the visitors to the monastery were all clutching their jackets as it was simply too cold as the sun had decided to have an uncharacteristic holiday in the Spitian summer. The temperature in Komic had dropped considerably and must have been in single digits.
This time I aimed at perusing the prayer halls of Komic monastery in a detailed manner but the light had other ideas and there was no possibility of seeing anything inside the monastery. In fact, the weather had worsened so much that the monks huddled inside one of the newly built structures to the left of the monastery building in blue. The tourists had left hurriedly without bothering to check the tantric room of the monastery and for good reason too…
In case it rained heavily, there was a possibility that the slender Langza-Komic-Demul road would close due to a landslide or something and people may get stuck here. In my mind, I began dreaming if it was heaven’s way of fulfilling my wishes! The skies kept getting darker and darker until the clouds could bear it no more. Komic village had disappeared among the clouds and even the green barley fields were nowhere to be seen.
I’d not had lunch and the monks were kind enough(thanks!) to serve some potatoes and wheat balls (wheat dumplings) sprinkled with some masala. When it stopped raining, we set off on our way to Demul again and again the same thing repeated. There was a herd of ibex to our left and they were so swift in their retreat that there was no chance of clicking. Someone else saw a Tibetan Red fox too but I didn’t see it. The visit to Demul village turned out to be a disaster as it began drizzling as soon as we reached the village and the poor light meant not even one photograph came out right.
We returned to Kaza for the night. I was a bit dismayed with the proceedings at Komic Monastery but the vagaries of weather can’t be controlled. I remember noticing hardly any snow on the mountains though, when the clouds had let me see them. Another change from the previous trip was that there were signboards indicating a homestay in Komic, multiple homestays in Langza; Demul had a evolved homestay system previously as well.
After that uneventful trip, I returned to Spiti Valley in the winter of February 2016 but did not visit Komic village or Komic Monastery. Spiti valley had become a very popular tourist destination and there were packages galore for it. I was happy to have explored it at my own pace when Spiti Valley had not gone commercial. I remember hearing only about Spiti Ecosphere in those days.
In autumn 2017, I was travelling to Kinnaur & Spiti Valley with friends who had driven their own SUV from Bombay. It was a 10 day trip, and like always totally unplanned. Every morning we would aim to stay in one of the villages, reach there before evening and look for a homestay. I would normally do that even on hitched rides and public transport, and this time there was a private car!
That day we were supposed to go to Komic Monastery, the thought was to stay at Langza and make a round to the Komic village & monastery. On this trip, I felt like I could make a good travel guide since I was in charge of everything for this journey in Kinnaur & Spiti Valley. The day started at Kaza to pick up basic supplies like ginger and cauliflower, tank-up on the fuel and we were on our way to Langza.
It was early afternoon by the time we reached the picturesque village of Langza flanked by the snowy peak of Chau Chau Kang Nilda. Langza (Langcha) village has plenty of homestays and some of them are really nice. Buses from Kaza to Langza run twice a week and thats another reason for the popularity of Langza for backpackers apart from the fossils and big statue of Medicine Buddha.
Door of Komic Monastery; murals and frescoes on the monastery walls.
We parked our vehicle at the parking spot where the grain was being winnowed. It seemed like barley crop in a golden brownish colour and the entire village had gathered to assist each other. I had heard in old accounts that ancient customs and practices included singing songs and whistling to make the wind blow faster to help in faster completion of winnowing work and it was quite incredible to see this in person. With increasing development, this traditional way of life is fast disappearing and Spiti Valley is no different. The sound of whistles carried far and wide with the wind and it indeed made the wind blow faster!
There were a handful of tourists in Langza and the home stay owners have become smart enough to charge premium rates for basic homestay rooms. One of the Langza homestays asked for 2500 Rupees for a homestay room and that was reason enough for me to look wide eyed and just get out of the village. The fields were all bare anyway and there was nothing to see by way of landscape in Langza. I had anyway stayed there earlier in July on one of my previous visits. (300 Rs. including food.)
We quickly took a decision to leave from Langza and head up to Demul. We were driving up to the highest motorable village in the world – Komic, which was enroute Demul. From past memories, I was aware that Komic monastery has a basic guest house to accommodate us for the night. We quickly reached Komic village and were surprised to see numerous tourist vehicles in the monastery compound even in the supposed off-season of October!
The sun had already started its downward journey and the altitude was making us dizzy, so the best option was to sit and soak in the beauty of the barren landscape. The day tourists were having their fill of maggi and chai and were busy clicking pictures around the signboard that claimed Komic to be the highest motorable village in the world. The Komic monastery guest house has been taken over by two enterprising youth from Langza and was being run as a restaurant and homestay / guest house.
We comforted ourselves with a cup of freshly brewed black coffee (thanks to the coffee powder we were carrying, we had amazing coffee in the remotest of places). I spoke to one of the café guys regarding the price of the room and at first he said 1000 per night (incl. food). After some negotiation and narrating old experiences of Spiti valley, he automatically said pay whatever you want and stay! We got ready to go wherever the road takes us, in the hope of seeing some wildlife on the way to Demul.
And as if on cue, we spotted a Tibetan red fox again and this time I did manage to click some shots. We just stopped our car even before reaching Demul and stood on different corners enjoying the solitude and listening to our own heartbeat. By the time we came back to our humble abode for the night, the day tourists had left and we had the entire place (as well as the café) to ourselves.
I think the two local kids were quite happy to have our company and also make some money before shutting down the place on 15th October for the season. They made the best chai in the whole world, using ginger and masala and cardamom! At the crazy altitude of 4587m, water takes a lot longer to boil and I couldn’t have been happier anywhere else than here.
After that we thought of checking out Komic village and quickly made our way to the homes of the village. Winnowing of barley crop was going on here as well and it was a pleasure to listen to the whistling and Spitian songs being sung. There were only 10 homes in total and Komic village is hardly a walk of around 500 meters from Komic monastery, but the altitude makes the walk quite strenuous. It was especially evident while climbing up!
Sipping chai, looking at the majestic mountains and soaking in the silence of the place with not even a single soul around was an indescribable experience. Places like Komic, time and again, make me understand my love for remote places. The meditative silence, the untouched beauty and beautiful food with intimate conversations are only some of the reasons to create this magic. We made the most of our evening in this remote corner of the world. It was spent listening to old soulful melodies, sipping arak and eating the local cheesy pasta made by our wonderful hosts.
Also, even though there was an attached bathroom in the room, the water pipes had already frozen and that meant a little struggle to go out and pee! We sat and walked away from the solar powered lights to see the stars (I wished for complete darkness!) but it was not to be. The homestay owners warned us to not go too far away just in case a wild animal was lurking around (hint. snow leopard). After listening to the wind and some aimless walks and talks in the incredibly windy night, we decided to call it a night.
About Tangyud Monastery, Komic Village
Tangyud Monastery (Also called Komic Monastery) is located at an altitude of 4587 meters. Komic village is a bit lower at around 4450m and this village is popularly known as the highest village in the world connected by a motorable road. I’m not sure if that is a valid claim but Komic village in Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh may be one of the highest villages in Asia.
Tangyud (Komic) gompa is one of only two monasteries belonging to the Sakya sect in Spiti; the other one is in Kaza. There is no evidence regarding the same but Hikkim monastery is believed to have been built by The Great Translator – Rinchen Zangpo. The monks said that morning prayers are held at 8 am in a newly built hall in the monastery, but when we were there it did not happen for some reason.
Tangyud Monastery was shifted from Hikkim to the present location in Komic in mid 1970s after the original 600 year old monastery of Hikkim was damaged in an earthquake. Ruins of the same can be seen while crossing Hikkim village. Old antiquities of the monastery like thangkas have been shifted to Kaza and some are kept in Komic as well. The masked dances at Tangyud monastery are a big attraction for local Spitians and are traditionally held around mid October each year.
For travellers looking to spend a night in Komic, make sure to carry plenty of woollens to manage the chill at night, irrespective of the month you are travelling in Spiti Valley. The recommend travel months for tourists are from June to September. Winters can be very harsh and the roads close down in case of heavy snowfall.
Liked reading this long summary of my consolidated experiences of Komic? Let me know in the comments. Thanks.