Tabo (47 Kms from Kaza, 3050 m) - At first glance, Tabo seems nothing more than a cluster of large mud huts. But inside, a series of amazing galleries of wall paintings and stucco statues emerge. Founded in 996 AD, it is often called the 'Ajanta of the Himalaya', after the almost legendary art-treasure site in Maharashtra. In terms of area, this is the largest monastic complex in Spiti and the old section has nine temples, 23 chortens, a monks chamber and a nuns chamber. There are several caves and contemporary structures that form a part of the Tabo complex. In Trans Himalayan Buddhism, Tabo’s sanctity is next only to Tibet’s Tholing monastery. It has been declared as the World Heritage site by UNESCO.
Tabo is a small town in the Lahaul-Spiti district on the banks of the Spiti River in Himachal. This village is situated at an altitude of 3,280m. The town lies on the road between Rekong Peo and Kaza. The town surrounds a Buddhist monastery which, according to legend, is said to be over a thousand years old. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has expressed his desire to retire to Tabo, since he maintains that the Tabo Monastery is one of the holiest. This monastery was founded by the great scholar, Richen Zangpo, in the year 960 AD. Tabo Gompa, located in India, was meant to serve as an institution for advanced learning. Infact, it saw tremendous growth in the Tibetan art between 11th century and 20th century. Tabo Monastery is adorned with a number of exquisite ancient murals, some of them dating back to the 11th century.
The entire complex of the monastery consists of nine structures, out of which the most popular one is the Duwang Lakhang. The huge Chaitya Hall boasts of magnificent architecture as well as a few splendid Buddhist sculptures. Apart from these, there is the four-faced magnificent Buddha idol, the Amitay Buddha (in seated position), a stucco idol of Bodhisattva Maitreya etc. Because of its beautiful murals and stucco images, Tabo has been given the name of 'The Ajanta of the Himalayas'.
The monastery serves as the residence of approximately sixty monks. The main shrine inside the monastery is that of Tsug Lhakang and it is situated at the heart of the complex. Tabo Monastery also has a rich collection of clay statues of the Buddha, painted in the Kashmiri style.
How to Reach
Air : The nearest airport of Kullu Manali is situated at a distance of 250 km from Tabo.
Rail : The nearest railheads are those of Shimla (More Closer) and Pathankot.
Road : One can reach Tabo through the following three gateways:
From Shimla, via the Spiti Valley
From Manali, via the Rohtang Pass
From Ladakh, via the Sing-O-la passes
The Nine Temples
This is also known as the assembly hall (
The Temple of the Enlightened Gods (gTug-Lha-khang) : du-khang) and is quite the core of the complex. This has a vestibule, an assembly hall and a sanctum. The central figure of this hall is the four-fold figure of Vairocana. In Vajrayana Buddhism, he is regarded as one of the five spiritual sons of Adibuddha- who was the self-created primordial Buddha. With awesome majesty he sits larger than life about two meters above the floor. He is depicted in a posture turning the wheel of law. On brackets arrayed along the walls and with stylized flaming circles around them are life sized stucco images of what are commonly called the Vajradhatu Mandala. Thirty-three in all these are other deities of the pantheon, for example Vajrasattva (rDo-re-dSems-pa) the 'soul of the thunderbolt'.
With 5 Bodhisattvas of the Good Age placed within, the sanctum is immediately behind the assembly hall. The walls around the stuccoes are richly adorned with wall paintings that depict the life of the Buddha. These have a purely Indian artistic style as it is said that the artists were specially summoned from Kashmir.
The Golden Temple (gSer-khang) : Once said to have been layered with gold, this temple was exhaustively renovated in the 16th century by Senge Namgyal, ruler of Ladakh. The walls and ceilings are covered with outstanding murals.
The Bodhisattva Maitreya Temple (Byams-Pa Chen-po Lha-khang) : This has an image of the Bodhisattva Maitreya that is over six meters high. The temple has a hall, vestibule and sanctum. The array of murals within also depicts the monastery of Tashi-Chunpo and Lhasa's Potala palace.
The Mystic Mandala Temple / Initiation Temple (dKyil-kHor- khang) : The wall facing the door has a huge painting of Vairocana who is surrounded by eight Bodhisattvas. Mystic Mandalas cover the other areas. Here the initiation to monkhood takes place.
The Temple of Dromton (Brom-ston Lha khang) : A small portico and long passage leads to its hall. The doorway is intricately carved and the inner walls are covered with murals. It lies on the northern edge of the complex and is regarded to have been founded by Dromton (1008-1064 AD) an important disciple of Atisha.
The above are accepted as the earliest temples of the Tabo complex and the following are later additions.
The Chamber of Picture Treasures (Z'al-ma) : This is a kind of an ante room attached to the Enlightened Gods temple. It is covered with beautiful paintings of the Tibetan style.
The Mahakala Vajra Bhairava Temple (Gon-khang) : This enshrines the protective deity of the Galuk-pa sect. Fierce deities fill the room and it is only entered after protective meditation. At times it is called the 'temple of horror'.
The Large Temple of Dromton (Brom-ston Lha khang) : The second largest temple in the complex, this has a floor area of over 70 sq m, while the portico and niche add another 42 sq m. The front wall has the figure of Sakyamuni flanked by Sariputra and Maha Maugdalayana. The outer walls depict the eight Medicine Buddhas and Guardian Kings. The wooden planks of the ceiling are also painted.
The White Temple (dKar-abyum Lha-Khang) : The walls of this temple are also adorned leaving a low dado for the monks or nuns to lean against.
Other Interesting Places in Lahaul Spiti