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Anupriya Bedi Mar 21 2014

Which are the best places to visit in Tabo?

Benazir Khan Mar 21 2014
0 people found this answer useful Useful ?Yes

Here is a list of best places to visit in Tabo. Antiquity has a hypnotic aura about it, but more often than not, the secret of its hold on you is just that frail bridge across time, your inability to quite place it in its original context. But Tabo is not just a millennium-plus old. The prodigiousness, the exuberance, the refinement, the serenity of artistic expression within its deceptively austere exterior chokes description.

The early temples

The Tsuglakhang (the main temple) is the most poignant testimonial to this awesome creative energy. More than any of the other eight temples in the monastery complex (some created in more recent times), it is the Tsuglhakhang that announces the immense pious will of its founders.

A photo of Tabo (by Micheal Scalet)

Art historians have lavished high praise on the sophistication of the philosophical construct that underlies this iconographic programme, and the clarity and finesse of its visual expression. But even a philistine will not miss the presence of a gifted prime mover — someone who not only had the will to create a symbolically coherent space, but also the means to gather artists and material of the highest quality.

Tabo was founded by members of the royal dynasty of Purang-Guge in west Tibet. According to the most accepted stories of the foundation of this kingdom, upper Kinnaur, Spiti - Lahaul, Zanskar and Ladakh first came under the nominal rule of this Tibetan dynasty under its first two kings in the mid-10th century. In approximately the last quarter of the 10th century, the third king, Khorre — later known by his religious initiation name Yeshe Od — began an intensive missionary campaign throughout his realm to reverse the setbacks Tibetan Buddhism had suffered in the 9th century.

A photo of Spiti (by Peter Krimbacher)

Presumably as a result of its dramatic geographic isolation (cut off from the rest of civilisation by high mountains and inaccessible passes), the diffusion of Buddhist thought in these parts was weak at the time. Ritual practices, in particular, were heavily influenced by local cult traditions. Yeshe-Od wanted to purge local Buddhist practice of its fringe folk influences, and his cleansing drive saw him enlist the help of scholar monk Rinchen Tsangpo (958-1055), who had recently returned from Buddhist studies in Kashmir.

These two men and later Yeshe-Od’s grandnephewand successor Jangchub Od are the triumvirs associated with the founding of Tabo. While the first two are credited with the founding per se of the gompa in 996 CE, Jangchub Od was responsible for the extensive renovation that began 46 years later in 1042 CE.

A product of this purge in the Guge Kingdom, popularly known as the ‘Second Diffusion of Buddhism’, Tabo was set up at the crossroads of two ancient trade routes as a centre of high Buddhist learning. On Yeshe Od’s commission, Rinchen.

A photo of the landscape around the place (by Himalayan Trails)

Tsangpo travelled to India with students, scholars and artists in tow, and set about his colossal enterprise of founding many more monasteries (legend has it that he instituted as many as 108 temples and stupas in the Western Himalaya) and translating volume upon volume of Sanskrit texts into Tibetan. The latter earned him the sobriquet ‘The Great Translator’ and his later-day exalted station in the Mahayana Buddhist pantheon.

The early temples The Tsuglakhang awes and spoils and raises the bar. Nothing that you see next in the complex — and there is a lot — will match up to the creative energy on display here — be that in terms of scale or the more abstract, yet palpable, wound-up missionary zeal that sustained this colossal enterprise. But they have to be seen, if only to understand the mind-numbing magnitude of the ambition that could create such rich spillovers.

A photo of Ladakh (by babasteve)

Once believed to have been coated with a layer of gold dust, Ser-Khang (Golden Temple) was extensively renovated by Senge Namgyal, the then ruler of Ladakh, in the 16th century. The Green Tara and goddess Usnishvijaya deservedly hog attention among the murals here. Kyil-Khorkhang (‘The Mystic Mandala Temple’) has an enormous Vairochana mural surrounded by eight Bodhisattvas, on the wall opposite the entrance. It’s here that young monks are inducted into the order through ritual initiation.

Byampa Chenpo Lakhang (‘The Bodhisattva Maitreya Temple’) houses a 91/2-ft high statue of the Bodhisattva Maitreya (the future Buddha), symbolising the redefining of the Dharma in the next epoch. Dromton Lakhang lies on the northern edge of the complex, and is said to have been founded by Dromton-pa (1008-1064 CE), a disciple of Dipankar Sri Gyan Atisha (982-1054 CE), the pre-eminent Vajrayana Buddhist scholar from Vikramashila in Eastern India.

Cave Shrines

A photo of the monasteries, up close and personal (by Sourav1009)

To the north (on your left as you approach Tabo from Kaza) are the small natural caves above the road, which were an integral part of the 10th century monastic complex. Tabo is said to be the only Buddhist pilgrimage that has natural cave shrines at the same site as a man-made monastery. Pho Gompa, the only one that has surviving early murals, has been restored. Despite the somewhat belated conservation effort by the ASI, the paintings are in an advanced stage of disrepair. On open ground to the east, there are pre-Buddhist rock carvings showing swastikas, ibexes, panthers... the fascinating detritus of a shamanistic culture.

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