Saturday, 20 September 2014

Dhankar – Destnation on Hill Slope - Spiti, Himachal Pradesh




Hopping through Himachal in a bid to spend at least one night at all the Spiti Valley destinations, on 1st May, we had late morning start from Tabo for our second destination Dhankar, some 32 km way. Initial drive took us to the elevation slightly above the valley. At some distance but very clearly visible, the rivers Spiti and Pin encompassing a small island with cottages,  were making an early summer effort to mingle with each other carrying very low volume of snow-melt. The sand bed carried the impressions of flow of water taking place on numerous occasions through the season when the course of river varies depending on water volume. The water depth at the moment was not even ankle deep. The backdrop the snow – splattered hills cradling the valley looked great. On right hand side, a section of hill with sheer dark brown vertical cliffs appeared to be of strength and character. Amidst those cliffs, Dhankar monastery looked conspicuous because of the red and white structure clutching the hill side.

Spiti Valley View
Dhankar - A Distant View
                  
The remaining part of the drive to Dhankar was going uphill and watching the grand vista of Spiti valley. The best place to take a picture of confluence of rivers Spiti and Pin was at the 3 km milestone. Moments later, reaching the arched gate of Dhankar dwelling, we were bang in front of New Dhankar Monastery complex. It has a Monastery and a Monastery managed guest house - where we were planning to stay. The place appeared to be desolate and closed like many other places in Spiti valley at this time of the year. Inquiry with a lone villager revealed that accommodation can be had at a home stay facility with waterless toilet. This not being acceptable for us, we decided to change our itinerary and move on with our sightseeing trip to Lalung and then proceed to Kaza.
                         
3 km Mark - Spiti & Pin river Confluence
Entering Dhankar

The drive to Lalung turned out to be mesmerizing with some of the finest views of the valley. The confluence region of Pin and Spiti rivers were visible directly from top. Nearing Lalung we were above the snow-line; on the right side the freshly accumulated snow was at the scooping distance from our seated position in car and on the left astounding visual of snow covered terrain. Lalung is a typical collection of cottages on hill slope. Facing the onslaught of the cold winds was not a very promising thing to do at this site – so, Sachin quickly left for a sightseeing visit to Lalung Gompa and myself just content to lazing seated in the car.
                                   
On Way to Lalung
Above Snow - line

On way back to Dhanakar, we were contemplating of giving one more shot for locating the elusive accommodation for the night’s stay. Alternately we could proceed to Kaza, throwing our entire itinerary to toss. As we passed by the New Dhankar complex and proceeded towards the old Dhankar monastery, we halted near a two storied Guest House named Tanzin - depicted on a hardly noticeable weather battered signage. I do not remember how we confronted the owner of the Guest House, it was a coincidence none the less. The person told us that the property owned by him is run by another fellow on out-sourcing basis and being early season he has not yet arrived. Fortunately, he opened a room for us costing Rs. 500/- per night. It was encouraging to get a decent room with attached bath with proper fittings but the water had to be carried from a huge PVC tank located downstairs as the piped water was not available. 
                
Lalung Gompa
Tanzin Guest House

Once we settled down, we were supplied with water through jerry can, which could be used for our washroom needs. The cold and windy conditions in evenings discomforting us, we welcomed invitation for a cup of tea in the warm kitchen. Over a cup of tea, the owner gave us a surprise, which got us thinking once again. Shortly, he was to leave Dhankar for his work site somewhere down-hill. None the less, we were told to make ourselves comfortable. The dinner was to be cooked by us with whatever provision available in the kitchen. It seems only Rajma was available. Our driver was happy to get a chance to try his cooking skills and promised of cooking Rajma curry, Roti and Rice. The kitchen, a medium size room has a gas oven and utensils on one side and on the three sides were bordered with cushions for seating. At the center was located an elliptical shaped drum having a firewood burning arrangement, a pipe for leading out the flue gas and three openings for keeping utensils for heating water. The hot water is used for cooking and other needs. The room itself is kept warm by radiating heat from a metallic outer cover. It took quite some time for our driver to complete the cooking as in high altitudes food takes more time to cook fully. The simple food tasted heavenly to our famished souls.
                                             
View from Guest House verandah
New Dhankar Monastery Complex

Morning of 2nd May saw Sachin taking off for 3 km uphill trek to Dhankar lake along with a local guide. Meanwhile I had kept myself busy shooting some landscapes from comfort of guest house verandah. On right hand side, the the old Dhankar monestary nestled amidst some vertical cliffs, looked daunting enough for a sightseeing. Down the slope in the vegetation – less brown colored mud-stone terrain, the habitation was sprawling with almost identical two storied cottages. Some unmelted snow looked as if valiantly holding on to it’s pristine glory, defying the strong sunlight it was exposed to. It was a matter of time before they also succumbed to the melting process of early summer.
                                     
Dhankar Village View
Old Dhankar Gompa & Landscape

I had a walk upto the Gompa gate, not venturing inside.  The space to squeeze through did not seem to have a safe and sure footing and looked somewhat scary. Our driver Sohan Singh was content to wash the car near Gompa with a piped water outlet constantly emptying out the snow-melt from higher reaches. I was waiting for Sachin to join me after his trek to Dhankar lake. We had another important journey to do, traveling via the picturesque Pin valley. 

Way to Dhankar Lake*
Dhankar Lake*
                   On his return, Sachin narrated his 3 km Dhankar lake trek details. Content to have a guide who helped him going across through some snow-laden areas, they reached on hill top to see a frozen lake, only expected at this time of the year. The Chorten or Buddhist stupa by the lake side looked elegant. The circumambulation of the lake was not possible because of the scattered snow in all possible directions. Their hasty retreat was to have a brief visit to Old Dhankar Gompa and to pack up for the further journey.
                                                            
Dhankar Lake View Full*
Loading our luggage on the car, once again, we had a problem in our hand. In the desolate guest house with absence of any staff, We did not know how to pay the room rent the food expenses. On driver’s suggestion we kept the money Rs. 800/- in all on the cooking platform of the kitchen room and heaved a sigh of relief, hoping the owner will receive it when he returned to hotel. Thus we left the guest house all empty for the next group of tourists to hop in. Hoping they do find some soul taking care of the place.

Dhankar Visuals can be accessed by taking the following captioned link:


Important Info:
Tourists will do well to visit Dhankar after 7th of May in early summer so that accommodation is not an issue. The Monastery guest house will be possibly a cheap alternative. We discovered the Tanzin guest house, which happened to be a decent accommodation. With piped water in it may cost about Rs. 800/- per night. Sightseeing would be 5 km drive to Lalung Gompa, 3 km trek to Dhankar Lake and visit to Old as well as new monastery. The Spti valley view with confluence of rivers Spiti and Pin will keep one glued to the site. The Dhankar dwelling being located on hill slope, a lot of walk will be ups and downs. Nature lovers will none the less find this place a worthwhile visit.

* Images by Sachin Vaidya
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