Our next destination, Dhankar Monastery was a short 32km away from Tabo on the road towards Kaza. We heard about the area being one of a kind and also at the start of the week Sanjay suggested we have a “short” walk to the lake… 3 hours! Without going into too much detail I’m just a bit s**t at walking, especially trekking… In all honesty, it kind of actually bores me. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE nature and being outdoors, but there are thousands of other things I would rather do than walk… More on that to follow anyway.
So, Dhankar Lake, Dhankar Gompa/Monastery and Shichilling village are well-known, “famous” places in Spiti, and for good reason. The Gompa, (as you may have heard me mention in previous posts) is a Buddhist temple situated above Dhankar village at a height of approximately 12,500ft, which has breathtaking sights overlooking the meeting point of Spiti and Pin Rivers. A very majestic setting for a Gompa indeed! A certain points in the evening just before the sun sets, you can look out from a higher point and watch the rivers glistening silver while the clouds and sky changes colour across this lunar-like landscape. Beautiful.
“Dhang/dang” means cliff and “khar/kar” means fort so put it together and you get Dhankar, literally translating to fort on a cliff… Dhankar Gompa holds alot of history within its walls and is also considered to be one of the 100 most endangered sites in the World! Following traditional Tibetan Buddhism, It was built as a fort monastery and housed about 100 monks in 1855. During the 17th century Dhankhar was considered to be the traditional capital of the Spiti Valley, with features dating back to the 12th century and housing the early rulers of Spiti, its government and people until the British took over. You are able to visit the Gompa by foot where there is also a small museum which will cost you about RS 50. In the below village of Shichilling there is now a new Dhankar Monastery, which is home to approximately 150 learning monks belonging to the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddism. Our accommodation was located right next door to the new Monastery called Dhankar Monastery Guest House and you can read more about it here in my accommodation review.
So after settling in to our new accommodation, admiring the view and having some food at the small restaurant at Dhankar Monastery Guest House, it was time to explore to area some more. As I said earlier, trekking just isn’t really my thing, no matter how much I tryyyy to get excited about it, I just can’t. Infact, I actually get very anxious about it! Zak on the other hand absolutely loves it and he’s like a little mountain goat in action! I know that part of the “issue” here is that I lack confidence in my physical abilities after undergoing numerous treatments since the age of 15 (I’m 26 now…) for various problems with my knee and surrounding area. To cut a long story short, I’ve spent 3+ years on crutches, going to regular physio and hydro therapy aswell as having some experimental operations. I used to be super sporty but then everything just changed and I could no longer physically do these things anymore let alone just be able to put my own socks and shoes on… Safe to say, it is a great way to mess with your head when your brain is telling your body to do one thing but your body just doesn’t respond. Also, being told constantly by consultants that I should stop trying to live my life and just settle for a desk job and “be glad that you don’t have cancer”. Assholes. It feels great when I can prove them and myself otherwise. So anyway, enough about that for now… well, I bloody walked to Dhankar Lake and back didn’t I! It isn’t a big deal to anyone or Zak but for me, this is an accomplishment and later on in the day I did feel quite proud of myself!
We didn’t leave from Dhankar Monastery until approx 4/5pm, at this time the air was cooler than in the afternoon and so the trek was more pleasurable. Basically, you weren’t completely soaked through with sweat! The weather had been great all week so far, getting cooler as we entered further and higher into the valley. If Sanjay wasn’t with us, I think it would have maybe taken a little while longer as the pathway is well hidden and Sanjay (also a mountain goat) knows the route blindfolded after spending 45+ weeks a year in Spiti Valley! Also, because he walks so fast and so effortlessly, I tried to pace myself against him as best I could which in turn gave me some kind of motivational boost for the trek.
The path starts near the Dhankar Monastery and snakes around the mountainsides for quite a way until it opens up at the top… you then basically climb up a mountain and then go to the downside of said mountain, following all the white painted arrows along the way. In under 2 hours you will find yourself climbing over 1000ft which can have some affects to the body, including shortness of breath and dizziness…We were lucky to be building on our altitude every day to avoid getting sick. The trek can be pretty steep and is treacherous in places as there are so many sliding rocks under your feet and the path is narrow. Wearing suitable footwear and carrying enough water is ESSENTIAL!
We continued to follow what seemed to be never ending white painted arrows and I was getting confused… Where even is this lake?! It didn’t even look like a lake could be anywhere near here. It felt like we had been walking for SO long through wild desert flower bushes and along steep, narrow serpentine paths. Alas, we arrived… or so I thought! And rather bluntly, with no mental filter I just turned to Sanjay and said “THIIIS is the lake?! Really?!”, thankfully he found humour in it as he’d been talking about this lake all week and when we got there… THERE WAS NO BLOODY LAKE!! It had dried up with the summer weather! LITERALLY, like a desert. I was disappointed… I was super excited, pumped myself up ready for it, had taken Zak’s motivation words of “it’s all about the journey to a beautiful destination that makes a trek worthwhile” and then to be greeted with no lake and no beautiful destination. I felt cheated! All I could see was a sad cracked and dried up ground with a few cows dotted about with mountains surrounding us.
We continued to follow Sanjay and theeeen we arrived! Just over a small hill and further down was a beautiful blue placid lake. Now it was time to sit, admire the view and rehydrate. The water was calm with occasional ripples made by the fish, the clouds were mirrored in the lake as the breeze slowly waved them past, a stupa was sitting on the lakeside and we were surrounded by colourful mountains and what would be snowy peaks in the winter season. There are no trees in sight at all, the area is completely open so please be careful if you decide to start the trek earlier in the day while the sun is still beaming. You will want more water, sunscreen and perhaps an umbrella for shade!
I have a thing for sunsets… Who doesn’t?! But I particularly enjoy the golden hour where everything just exuberates that majestic fiery orange glow… For me, this is something really special and it just fills me with good positive vibes and feelings. Sunset in Spiti at this time was at about 7pm so I insisted that we stay here a little while and relax before leaving just in time for there still to be enough light for our descent. We all sat chatting away, skimming stones across the lake and Zak even went for a little dip in the water. After a while, it was time to start the journey back down to where we were to rest our heads that night. The sun was slowly setting as we got closer and closer to our end destination… It was beautiful actually. After getting our feet back on flat ground, we walked through Shichilling village back towards Dhankar Monastery Guest House to witness many local children all running about playing happily. There was a large group of locals all participating in a typical game of cricket (very famous in India… EVERYWHERE) whilst the monks overlooked with beaming smiles.
Please, just go!
Go and see the place for yourself… Experience it and admire it!