It was the summer of 2015 and seemingly I could go anywhere I wished for. No destination seemed too far and even though I had set my sights on trekking to Zanskar, I was keen on visiting as many monasteries as possible in Lahaul Valley. I decided to stay in Keylong as it was a convenient base for exploring Lahaul as Keylong is the district headquarters and the bus hub of Lahaul Valley. I was quite happy breathing the clean and rarified high-altitude air since this region in Lahaul Valley is largely situated at altitudes of over 3000m. After hiking to various other monasteries in Lahaul Valley like Tayul, Gemur, Yordong, Kardang, Tupchiling and noticing the holy footprints (Jabjes) in the field near Beeling – it was time to visit Shashur Monastery.
Shashur in the local language literally translates to – ‘in the blue pines’. I would come to know about the adage when I reached there; Shashur Monastery is indeed surrounded by a small forest of blue pine trees and is reachable by a 3 km uphill walk from Keylong – which is preferred by the locals. For folks travelling by car, there is also a 5 km long motorable road to reach Shashur Monastery.
It was afternoon and clouds had just started gathering in the sky, and since there was a road that led to Shashur Monastery – I was more or less confident (or rather, hopeful) of being able to hitch a ride. I began my day in Keylong and opted to head to Tandi Bridge and Beeling village in the morning after a quick breakfast at one of the eateries in the bazaar.
Over the last 2-3 days, one thing had led to another and as I visited one monastery, I was being guided by the locals for exploring other monasteries in Lahaul. I climbed to visit the Yardong / Yordong Monastery in Beeling near the HRTC workshop close to the Tandi bridge but was mildly disappointed when the doors were closed and there was nobody to show me around the cave-sort of monastery. However, I felt a tad unlucky when I met a monk while climbing down who said that he had the key to open the doors.
Anyhow, I started walking back to Keylong and someone in Beeling village suggested that I take a quick look at the ‘Jabjes‘ in the fields. Jabjes are the holy footsteps of the lama embedded in rock and I was happily surprised to be shown a rock with a clear foot imprint. Since it was the month of July, we were roughly in the middle of the summer in Lahaul Valley and the fields were awash with potato blooms. I enjoyed clicking the surreal landscapes and thanked the gentleman for bringing me to the fields.
After a few minutes of excitement of clicking Lahaul Valley’s rich summer landscapes with Keylong in the background, I decided to resume my walk back to Keylong.
It was around 2 pm in the afternoon and I went to the room to rest for a while and perhaps eat something (can’t really remember). At about 3-30 in the afternoon, I was unsure of what I wanted to do and once I got back to the road I saw the signboard of Shashur Monastery directly in front of me! It seemed to be a cue; since Shashur Monastery was one of the prominent monasteries in Lahaul Valley and there was a motorable road (dirt road) that went all the way to the top. I had decided about visiting it on one of the days when I was in Keylong and not exploring the other monasteries.
I made sure of refilling my water bottle before beginning the hike and asked the passersby for the best directions to reach Shashur monastery. Some locals told me that even though the motorable road would lead me to Shashur Monastery, the distance would be about 5-6 kms while there was a shortcut that would take about 1.5 hours for the 3 km distance on foot.
I was keen on hearing more about the shortcut and they told me that the shortcut would be a sharp ascent and I would keep meeting the road after every few bends. The trail itself was well defined and I was told to find the next shortcut very close to where the previous shortcut had ended.
I started on the path and within a few minutes lost my way because I was unable to find the shortcut. Nevertheless I continued walking on the road till I came across the next shortcut and was able to follow the aforementioned trail. After covering some distance, the path duly came in the midst of blue pine trees.
The shortcuts were quite steep and sometimes had a water canal flowing past and it so happened that I slipped and ended up falling near one of the canals. Thankfully, only my jeans was soiled and the camera had been saved. I felt a little cold with the fall but thankfully Lahaul’s arid air meant that I would be dry in no time. I was hoping to get a ride in one of the cars headed to the monastery since I was always in vicinity of the road but funnily enough no car came and I continued walking along the uphill trail.
Like all other things in life, I began to enjoy the hike and the views as I climbed higher; the sun didn’t seem harsh anymore and the yellow roofed Shashur Monastery started peeping from among the blue pines. I crossed an ethereal looking patch of ‘sia’ (or wild roses) that clearly stood out with the tantalising pink blooms.
A sort of storm seemed to be brewing in the distance and the Chandra river (or was it Bhaga!) shined whenever a sliver of sunshine fell on it. The green fields lit up and it presented a sight as bucolic as it could be. I reached Shashur Monastery after walking through a large stretch among the juniper trees and had all but forgotten about my soiled jeans that was dirty but drying rapidly at that time.
There was some sort of construction work going on near the chorten outside the monastery and one of the labours from Bihar indicated to me the entrance to the main monastery and I was glad when a young lama offered to show me around the different structures.
There was a signboard placed right in front of the monastery noting that : Shashur Gompa was founded by Lama Deva Gyatsho of Zanskar in the 17th Century and belongs to the Drukpa Sect. He was a missionary of Nawang Namgyal, who was the king of Bhutan. There was a small gompa here at the same spot before the bigger monastery was established by Deva Gyatso. Deva Gyatso stayed at the monastery till his death.
Shashur Monastery is quite big with a number of rooms and has a number of valuable thangkas with one thangka over fifteen feet in length. There are also well-preserved wall paintings depicting all the 84 mahasiddhas of Buddhism. In the month of July, Cham (masked dances) are performed by the monks in the monastery and the festival is called Tsechu, which is the most popular Cham festival in Lahaul.
The lama was kind and interesting and we ended up chatting and he allowed me to go to the different parts of the monastery and also opened a number of doors that were locked. The weather had started worsening and I was glad when he offered tea. The extra time had enabled me to notice the intricate bells (dorje) and I was able to click a few pictures with the mountains in the background.
The carvings on the door of the monastery are intricate and a nice breeze started blowing as soon as we had finished the tea. I noticed that a number of threatening dark clouds had gathered in the horizon and was hoping that the rain would stay away, at least until I had made it back to Keylong.
One of the doors of Shashur Monastery was incredibly beautiful with a delightful colour pattern along-with Buddhist designs. The lama and I made conversations in the open air balcony that had a vantage view of both sides of the valley. If memory serves me right, the lama was from Bhutan and I was quite surprised to know that it is customary for all serving lamas at Shashur Monastery to be from Bhutan. I was ecstatic when the sun peeked out from among the clouds lending a glorious light to the proceedings. He told me to try and attend the masked dance festival Tsechu at Shashur Monastery someday.
Just when I had thought I would encounter no other visitors, a lady tourist came in a taxi / cab and since there was no harm in asking for a ride back, I did and to my astonishment the car sped with the local Lahauli driver even before I could blink. I had a good laugh about this with the young lama and he said that human beings on earth are not alike and on this note, I took his leave since I would take an hour to make the long trudge back to Keylong.