Backpacking and Road-Tripping to the Himalayan hamlets of Nako-Tabo-Dankar, Himachal Pradesh, India

It was a beautiful misty morning in Kalpa when we started the descent  after a sumptuous breakfast, as the vastly disappearing clouds slowly paved the way for the spellbinding view of “Kinnur Kailash”. The mountain aroma filled my soul and rejuvenated us down to the last cell in our bodies. After a certain distance, we started to climb through some unfamiliar terrains and drove on a highway that was marked as the “World’s deadliest road “. In certain stretches, the road was terrible but what made up for this was the gorgeous landscape that as we drove through the lush green mountains of Kinnaur Valley and crossed into the rugged moonscape of Tabo with few villages in between. We were all driven with just one thing pumping in our veins which got us going- PASSION FOR TRAVELING and we have had that in abundance

Most of the stretches were filled with stones and coarse sand that made the drive a huge ordeal. We crossed over from the left side of the gigantic Sutlej to right banks at Akpa over a wooden bridge adorned with a prayer flag. We halted a little further at Spillo. A stiff four hours road trip ended in Naku, a beautiful remote village surrounded by snow clad mountains and few kilometers away from the China territory. It is a small village with few houses, some hotels and a lake. We strolled around the lake and indulged in the moment, admiring the reflection of the  towering peaks on the pristine waters of the lake. Vegetation was limited to peas, which the villagers had sown in patches near lake. Stone slabs carved with Buddhist prayers and symbols dotted the lakeshore making it more picturesque.

The trail path from there, climbed steeper, over precarious mountains, followed by a lot many loops and it’s one of the highest points on the road. We made sure to keep ourselves well hydrated and prepared for the heights. After, another two hours’ drive through the rough terrains, we concluded the trip in a magnificently beautiful village which was far secluded from the mountains named Tabo! Often referred to as the ‘Ajanta of the Himalayas’, the Tabo Monastery was founded more than a thousand years ago in 996. Untouched by the trials and tribulations of humanity, it has preserved its glorious heritage, traditions and culture of Buddhism through the centuries. Standing serenely in the cold and rocky Tabo Valley, this ancient monastery shows amazing architectural integrity and spiritual richness! We stayed there for a night and on the following day, we left to conquer the mountains to reach the caves and cliffs, which were once used by the monks for meditation. The monastery’s complex includes 9 temples, 23 cave shrines, a monks’ chamber and an extension that houses the nuns’ chamber – each one marked with a different name based on their use.

We started our drive to Dhankar, located between Tabo and Kaza. Placed at an altitude of approximately 13,000 feet, the Dhankar village was the erstwhile capital of the Spiti Valley kingdom. During the 17th century, it had seen some of the early rulers of Spiti, the Nonos. The name Dhankar directly translates to ‘a place placed in the far reaches of the mountains and unreachable by strangers’. Surrounded by nothing but plenty of barren mountains, Dhankar is the place to be for those of you seeking peace and tranquility. Atop the village, sits the famous Dhankar Gompa, an ancient monastery belonging to the Gelugpa sect of Buddhism. The view from the Dhankar monastery was awe inspiring since the complex is built on a high spur overlooking the confluence of the Spiti and Pin rivers.

An hour of breathless hiking from the Dhankar monastery, on a narrow trail takes one to the top of the hill, where one is treated with a splendid view of the Dhankar Lake. Crystal clear water, against snowcapped mountains and with flurrying clouds, all captured on the clear waters of the lake – It was a photographer’s dream come true!


After a while, we began trekking from the guest house, at the base of the hills. We geared up all our camera accessories and started the steady ascent. Tt was a good climb till a certain point, where in we encountered a small narrow trail leading towards the top of the hill. It disappeared after a point and the place was left with loose pebbles scattered all around. The steep climb was one of the most thrilling experiences, leaving us utterly speechless, since despite the spellbinding view of confluence of Pin and Spiti rivers, one could easily slip if you weren’t careful enough. It was too risky to walk on the loose pebbles but we were not interested to go down to the village to take the next best route. So, after strolling around the top of a plateau, we ventured a little further inside the hills and came upon a lake, whose path was all strewn with a distinct kind of vegetation. Upon reaching there, we were entrusted upon us, a breath-taking view of the lake. The water was so transparent, that we could spot fishes swimming about in the clear waters. We let ourselves soak in as much of the lake view, as possible. Since, it is surrounded by barren hills from all sides, there is an abundance of opportunities for camping on the banks of the river. Beyond the river and the valley, snow clad peaks of the Himalayas were visible and their reflection on the lake water, allowed us to frame some of the most picturesque pictures.

The beautiful kitchen of local home stay with amazing mountain view.

This narrow trail lead us to Nako lake and entire stretch was filled with Buddish stone slab

The beauty of Nako Lake

The land of Light – Tabo

Meditation cave – one of the oldest caves in Tabo

We couldn’t spot anyone else nearby as it was completely desolated, thereby giving it an eerie feel. I was overwhelmed as well as tired, by the time we were done capturing our surroundings in our cameras. My mind warned about returning but heart was right here, yearning for the moment to last forever. There were mountains all around and I could see the Dhankar fort far below the hills and beyond that, the stunning view of the confluence of the Spiti and Pin River. One cannot possibly imagine a landscape more beautiful than this in this wide cold desert of a place. As much as we wanted to stay back, we had to return Dhankar before the dark. With a heavy heart, and a camera and mind, loaded with beautiful memories of the place, we headed down towards the village, as the growing sun began its descent over the mountains.

The picturesque view of Dankar lake

Dankar trek- Trails

Activities in Dankar monastery – one of the most fascinating life experiences

An article and photography by Srivatsan Sankaran. This Content is edited by Pavitraa Swaminathan. All images are copy right protected.

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