Shashur and Kardang are two of the many ancient monasteries of Lahaul Vallley. Facing each other across the either side of the turbulent River Bhaga, both these monasteries are guarded by the colossal snow towers that add to the beauty of these monastic centers.
Shashur Gompa is popularly known as the Palace of the Blue Pines because the gompa is surrounded by beautiful pines on its three sides. The fourth side opens to the vast valley overseeing Keylang town and the Kardang Gompa across the muddy waters of Bhaga. The Drlbu Ri Mountain and the Rangcha Gali Pass are clearly visible from Shashur Gompa.
The beautiful Lady of Keylang peak was overloaded with snow during my visit and it all looked like a dreamscape. A three kilometre long kuchha road leads you to the gompa from the main town.
I”d recommend that you walk from Keylang because that’s when you actually get to see the sun and the clouds battling it out in the sky to get hold of the sleepy Keylang town. The trek is arduous but the exotic vistas and dreamy landscape will keep you engaged throughout the distance.
The masked dance of the Shashur Gompa deserves a special mention. In June when the winters have been chased away by the sun, and the crops have been sown, Lahauli’s celebrate the annual Chham denace festival.
Chhang, a locally made liquor, flows literally and the lamas tell tales of good and evil based on Jataka stories from the life of Shakyamuni Budhha.
This summers be ready to enjoy the festivities of Chang.
The Gompa of Kardang or Karding is perched on the ridge below the Drilbu Ri mountain.
As I stood at the Shashur courtyard catching a glimpse of the valley below, the smoke rising from the chimneys of Kardang was fascinating. The location of the gompa keeps it damp and cold even during the summers because it witnesses sun rays only after the sun has risen above the left shoulder of the Drilbu Ri mountain.
A wooden bridge built over a deep gorge across Bhaga River makes way to the Kardang Gompa. One can even approach the gompa via Tandi-Tupchiling Road which has come in recent years.
Kardang Gompa is just an half hour walk from Kardang Village, which was once the capital of the Lahaul Valley.
To describe the Gompa of Kardang, I’d mention Gill’s Himalayan Wnderland, a book written during author’s stay in the valley in 1960s.
The Kardang Monastery nestles in the coils of the Drilbu Ri, which rises above the valley likes a giant cobra standing on its tail with hood outspread. From its safe position, the monastery watches over the mundane activities of the mortals up and down the valley, like a benign presiding deity.
The monastery belongs to the Red Hat Sect of the Drukpa Lineage. It is believed that the Kardang Gompa was founded 800 years ago but nothing remains of the ancient gompa. The new building has come up, which was remodelled numerous times.
The most significant of those refurbishing works was the one carried by Lama Norbu in the late 1920s.
I was fortunate to meet the head of the gompa, Lama Paljor who was performing a pooja with his disciples in the Kardang Village. His physical appearance defied his biological age.
In 2009, lama was 92 years old but in 2014, he didn’t look like anywhere close to a 92 year old man.
Probably, that’s what Himalayas do to you.
The main temple has the statues of Shakyamuni Buddha in the centre, Padamsambhava on the right, and Vajradhara on the left. The day I arrived at Kardang, I couldn’t meet anyone but the only lady monk (called chomo) who couldn’t understand Hindi.
So, we kept talking in the sign language for quite some time until it became a pain for both of us. However, she guided me to the ceremony at Kardang Village, which is where I met the head lama and his team performing the annual pooja.
There are some ancient thangka paintings at the gompa but most of them have faded away with time. Some new paintings have come up too but the charm of the old is always fascinating.
There is a huge prayer wheel being put up at the gompa besides the main temple. It must be mentioned that the prayer wheel is said to weigh almost 20 quintals.
The wheel was 10 feet tall and I’m sure it must have been a tedious task to design and erect that wonder of a prayer wheel. There is a chorten about four feet high that contains ashes of the founder of this gompa.
Other than these two, there are many other gompas of historic and religious importance in the Lahaul Valley. During my trip to the valley, I figured out that there are at least 30 gompas in the entire valley, from Khokhsar to Darcha.
We shall talk about them in another post.
Suggested Reading: Himalayan Wonderland by MS Gill | Buddhist Monasteries of Himachal by OC Handa