On our way through Spiti, we stopped in Tabo. Right next to our hotel were steps leading up to some caves above the town—mostly natural caves, but one built up into a multi-room house. In that one, there was a locked door with the key tucked up in the rafters. The door opened into a dark room with a gold Buddha painted on the far wall. We walked in, and as our eyes adjusted to the darkness, hundreds of figures grew out of the walls at us—boddhisatvas, taras, demons, kings. Another cave featured 2 natural windows—one looking up to the mountains, one down over the flat roofs of the town, piled high with hay for the winter.
After breakfast, we went to Tabo Monastery. The oldest temple in the complex dates to the 11th century, and it’s kept in darkness to protect the paintings. There were some other tourists in there holding up torches* to see better, but I preferred seeing the paintings and statues in the darkness (which was not total, because there was a skylight). No pictures, because it’s not allowed and my camera couldn’t have gotten anything in the low light anyway.
Then we went to a school to meet a teacher there who published a study of Spitian agricultural songs and may be able to help us collect weaving songs. She was very sweet and kept insisting on giving us tea, and biscuits,** and guava juice, and soup, and more biscuits, and we had to protest quite vigorously for her not to cook lunch for us. She said that when school is out for the winter, she would ask around about weaving songs in her home village (Kibber—the highest-altitude settlement in Asia). She also gave us a copy of her article, so now I have some Hindi homework to try and read it.
As we were leaving, dozens of little guys came running past with metal bowls in hand, on their way to or from lunch, I’m not sure which. A few of them squeezed together on the stoop of their dorm building, and others stopped to “good afternoon” us solemnly. In the courtyard of the teachers’ quarters, a small garden bloomed, surrounded by mesh fencing on which wet clothes were plastered to dry in the sun. All this will be closed down soon, as the staff and students head back to their villages for the winter.
*uh-oh, I’m becoming Indian—I mean “flashlights.”
**I mean “cookies.”