Spiti is in India and not Tibet. The shared ethnicity, topography and geographical proximity has led many into mistaking it for Tibet.
- Monasteries that are over 1000 years old. The Tabo monastery was established in 996 A.D and not a day has gone by without prayers being offered there. It is the oldest continuously functioning Buddhist enclave in India.
- Fossils and Shales that are half a billion year old. They are remnants of a period when the Himalayas were submerged under the Tethys Sea.
- A 530 year old mummy of a Lama who passed away while in meditation. Inspite of no embalming, the mummy was so well preserved when it was accidentally found in 1975 that blood oozed out from where the spade had hit it. Even today no effort has been made to preserve it but the signs of the local's devotion are apparent in the darkening of the skin by the heat of the many lamps lit around it.
- 450 species of medicinal and aromatic plants. Touched only by the clouds and rooted in the purest of soil, they are naturally a class apart.
- Land of the endangered Snow Leopard and Himalayan Wolf (an ancient species), Spiti is also home to the Ibex, Blue Sheep, Red Fox, Marmots, Snow Cock & numerous migratory birds.
- An ecology so fragile that even what we do living thousands of kilometers away has an impact on its glaciers. The Bara Shigri and Samudra Tapu is melting. In Spiti every action has a distinct reaction. For example, a change in crop changes livestock population, which in turn impacts the wildlife.
These are some of the easier ones to list!
Spiti is not for the weak hearted. The rare oxygen, tough climatic and living conditions need a strong physical constitution to survive here. With temperatures dipping down to -35 during peak winter, the region is snow bound and cut off from the rest of the world for most part of the year. The long winter allows for only one cropping season. In such conditions, Spitian's seem to have perfected the art of content subsistence living. Perhaps that is why uptil now there has been nominal outbound migration.
Spiti is slowly changing.....development has touched it. The popularity of roasted barley as a snack is being usurped by kurkure; barley and black pea crops are being replaced by green pea (the cash crop); modernization of irrigation process has reduced the community's workload in kul (water) management; cement and stone are the new building materials for constructing city like hotels and restaurants with international cuisines for tourists and; every summer season many traders, businessmen, contractors and workers from other parts of the country come in to work on government projects and sell their products and services to tourists and the locals; these summer seasons have evolved it into a cash based market economy. The local resources are no longer sufficient....because consumption patterns and the way of life is changing.
Nestled between the mountains are divine water bodies like the Chandratal (Moon Lake), which create an illusion of two worlds (one over and the other inverted under the water). Maybe that is why Spiti is referred to as the middle land.
Today Spiti is truly a middle land, suspended between its past (how it has been) and its future (what it will be).
Standing at this junction, I am reminded of Thomas Friedman's book 'The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century' and his observation that "the dawning 'flat world' is a jungle pitting 'lions' and 'gazelles,' where 'economic stability is not going to be a feature' and 'the weak will fall farther behind'."
I take your leave for now but leave behind something to ponder – If Mr.Friedman is right, then considering the geographical, environmental and resource characteristics of Spiti, what are the implications of the flattening world on it? And whether what happens in Spiti will have any impact on the flat world we live in?
Links to perceptions of some people who have been to Spiti: