Into little Tibet

Kinnaur – a Himalayan abode

Kalpa village with stunning Kinner Kailash range in backdrops

Kalpa village with stunning Kinner Kailash range in backdrops

Kinnaur covers an area of about 6,553 square kilometers. To the east lies the Ngari region of Tibet; the Dhauladhar range forms its southern boundary, separating it from Uttarkashi and the Shimla District of Himachal Pradesh. In the west, the Srikhand Dhar marks the boundary between Kinnaur and Kulu. Spiti is on the northern border of Kinnaur — the boundary being formed by the rivers Spiti and Pare near the Indo-Tibetan border.

Kinnaur consists of very high mountains, deep valleys or gorges, glaciers and rivers. Upper Kinnaur is an arid Trans Himalayan region. Three roughly parallel ranges run in Kinnaur. The Zanskar range is present along the northeast and its crest forms the eastern international border of Kinnaur with Tibet. The main Great Himalayan range runs from northwest to south.

Finally, the Dhauladhar range forms the southern boundary of Kinnaur, merging with the main Himalayan range in southeastern Kinnaur. The mountain ranges are full of craggy rocks of enormous heights and spurs having perilous gradients. In northwestern Kinnaur the mountains are remarkably precipitous and present huge boulders, rocks and cliffs of various forms.

The elevations of Kinnaur range from 1,220 m to 3,050 m. The mountains with elevations greater than 5,500 m have high peaks which remain covered with snow and ice throughout the year. The highest peaks in Kinnaur are Leo Pargial (6,770 m) and Manirang (6,593 m).

Almost every mountain range in India has its own Kailash. Kinnaur also has one, namely the Kinner Kailash, which rises from the base of the Satluj River to a spectacular height of 6,437 m. The yatra (pilgrimage) around the Kinner Kailash is considered holy by both the Hindus and the Buddhists. The trek takes about 3 to 4 days and thousands of pilgrims go around this peak every year.

Into little Tibet – Lahaul & Spiti

From Dhankar, confluence of River Pin with Spiti.

From Dhankar, confluence of River Pin with Spiti.

The districts of Lahaul & Spiti Valley are desert mountain valleys, located high in the Himalaya Mountains in the north-eastern part of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Topographically, these regions are the intrusion of Tibetan plateau towards Indian side. The name “Spiti” means “The Middle Land”, i.e. the land between Tibet and India.

Lahaul & Spiti possesses a distinctive Buddhist culture, similar to that found in the nearby Tibet Autonomous Region and the Ladakh region of India. One of the least populated regions in India these regions are the gateway to the northernmost reaches of the nation.

Lahaul and Spiti are surrounded by high mountain ranges. The Rohtang Pass, at 13,054 feet (3,979 m), separates Lahul and Spiti from the Kulu Valley. Lahul and Spiti are cut off from each other by the higher Kunzum Pass, at 15,059 feet (4,590 m) Road connects the two divisions, but is cut off frequently in winter and spring due to heavy snow. The valley is likewise cut off from the north up to eight months of the year by heavy snowfall and thick icing conditions. However, from June to September these areas becomes accessible by roads and trekking over high

Trans – Himalayan Buddhism

Twelve centuries after the Buddha attained ‘nirvana’, the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo  who ruled from 618 – 649 A.D. married Wen Cheng from the court of China’s Tang dynasty and Bkrikuti Devi, a Napalese princess. Under their influence, Buddhism slowly developed in the Central Himalayan regions of Tibet, Spiti, Lahaul and Ladakh till it became the predominant faith.

A great impetus came when King Trison Detsen (755-797 A.D.) of Tibet embraced the teachings of the Buddha. He sent to India for great masters Santarakshita, famous teacher and tantric, Padmasambhava. Under Padmasambhava’s influence, Mahayana Buddhism, the ‘Greater Vehicle’ fanned over the world’s highest plateau.

Known to the Tibetans as Guru or Origin Rimpoche, the precious Master, Padmasambhava began the synthesis of Mahayana practices, yogic tantricism, and the native Bon religion-retaining a large measure of its nature worship and demonolatry. The combine of ritual, faith and philosophic content created what we recognize today as Vajrayana Buddhism, the “Thunderbolt Vehicle”.

The ninth century brought a break in the speed of Buddhist learning when the king, Lang Darma rejected it and began supporting the Bon faith. He was murdered by a Buddhist monk, Pal Dorje, and the tenth and eleventh centuries witnessed the grand revival of Buddhist learning. It was an age of great teachers- Atisha, Marpa, Rinchensang-po and Milarepa.

In 1357 A.D., the towering reformer Tsong Khapa began the religious renewal that emphasized Atisha’s teachings and a purity of doctrine. He founded the Geluk – pa sect, the ‘Yellow Hats’, who grew to hold considerable sway – and from which the Dalai Lamas were to come.

In 1578 AD a descendant of Chengis (Ghengis) Khan and ruler of China, Altan Khan, had given Sonam Gyatso the title of Ta – le, now written as Dalai – and which means the ‘Master of the Ocean of Wisdom’. When the kingdom of Guge rose in western Tibet after the assassination of Lang Darma, it encompassed the present day tracts of Spiti, Lahaul, Zanskar and upper Kinnaur. The strong cultural and religious identity of the regions dates back to those years.

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