We left Nako a little after 7.00 am on 15th August 2021, Independence Day. We visited the Tabo and Dhankar Monasteries before reaching Kaza. Enroute we had breakfast at Sundo. The little dhaba was impressive. It was clean and served aloo parathas for all 13 of us and the 3 drivers in very quick time. They were geared to serve fairly large groups quickly, something that the hotel we were staying at was not able to.
The road to Kaza was not very good but in the context of what was to follow from Kumzun La to Gramphu, it was a reasonably motorable road.
Tabo monastery was founded in 996AD by the great translator Rinchen Zangpo and the ruling monarch of western Tibet. The monastery is known as the Ajantha and Ellora of the Himalayas because of it’s wall paintings. It is the oldest continuously running Buddhist monastery in India. It’s wood and mud construction gave it an ancient look.
The Dhankar monastery is situated in the Dhankar village surrounded by eight mountains in the form of a lotus flower. The monastery follows the Gelugpa order of Tibetan Buddhism.
The Key monastery which we visited a couple of days later also follows the Gelugpa order. The original monastery was built in the 11th century but later shifted to the present location after attacks and destruction. The road was motorable for most of the way and we just needed to walk a short distance. No high altitude and dangerous trekking involved here. The view all around was gorgeous with the Spiti River flowing down below. We were served herbal tea at the monastery in unforgettable and memorable surroundings and also listened to recitation of the scriptures from palm leaves at the prayer hall.
The Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism was founded in in the 15th century by Tsongkhapa. The sect achieved its peak power in the 17th century with the support of the Mongols and under the 5th Dalai Lama. The Gelugpa sect remained in power in the Central Tibetan plateau until the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950. Tsongkhapa was considered by his disciples to be the re-incarnation of Boddhisatva of Wisdom (Manjushri). The Gelugpa sect is also known as the Yellow Hat sect because of the distinct yellow headdress that they wear.
My interest in the origin and teachings of this sect arise from my practice of Nichiren Buddhism. A teaching established by the Japanese monk, Nichiren in the 13th century. Nichiren Buddhism is a vibrant form of Buddhism with a following of about 12 million in 192 countries across the globe. The growth and popularity of this form of Buddhism is largely because of the lay cultural and spiritual organisation Soka Gakkai International. The Indian arm of this organisation is Bharat Soka Gakkai.
A major difference in the teachings of the Gelugpa sect and Nichiren Buddhism is that the former emphasises strict observance of the monastic way of life. Nichiren Buddhism advocates a path to enlightenment by all people in the midst of the trials and tribulations of daily life. It focuses on the human revolution or inner change of each individual to become a better human being.