It was a warm early spring morning in Raison at Yuthok homestay. And an impromptu winter trip to Lahaul was going to be a perfect end to my 2-month long stint in Himachal. We quickly have our breakfast and head to the south portal of Atal tunnel in Solang. A series of delays results in us getting stuck in Solang for more than 2 hours.
Finally, we have been allowed to go towards the south portal of Atal Tunnel. The Drive to South portal has to be one of the most picturesque drives I have ever been to. The famous Friendship peak, Ladakhi peak, Shikar Beh and others have been a constant companion. Finally, The Gargantuan Hanuman Tibba, reveals itself and now I am just blown away by the vistas.
We make it to the south portal, and we know we are inside the Atal Tunnel. The 10 km drive in the tunnel feels like an eternity. The tunnel is world-class and truly a marvel thanks to BRO and several others who made this possible. I can see light at the end of the tunnel and we have now made it to Garsha – The land of Dakinis. The thought of Lahaul in winters would have been preposterous a few years back, but thanks to Atal Tunnel Lahaul in winters has become a reality.
Apart from a brief stoppage near Raja Ghepang temple in Sissu, we are now racing towards the Gundla village, the native village of Rajeshwar Thakur the host of Yuthok House. Without whom this trip would not be possible. Marveling at the white vistas of Lahaul, we finally make it Gondhla village by around 2 in the afternoon. First, we witness the beautiful Tinan Khar or more popularly known as Gondhala Fort. The fort is quite like Chehni Kothi and other tower temples of Kullu. It used to be a watchtower back in the day.
Then we head to Rajesh Ji’s home in Gundla who is a friend and relative of Rajeshwar Thakur. He offers us tea and snacks and after a few moments, we leave finally leave for the Si Lha. Rajesh Ji’s has managed to get the keys of the Gompa and is also accompanying us. Now we are on the link to the Gompa, but unfortunately due to a bit of snow on the road, we decide to walk instead and keep the Gypsy parked at the start of the link road.
We finally reach the trail to Si Lha. And it is a brief but steep hike to the Gompa, with Patches of a good amount of snow. But nothing is not traversable. As we gained altitude, I could see the Sacred and the most of important Ghepang peak of Lahaul. The birds eye view of Dalang and the Incredible blue color of Chandra River was just ethereal.
Rajesh Ji said, that at this time of the year even most of the locals do not dare to visit Si Lha Gompa, but thanks to very little snowball this winter. This was a rare winter where one could easily make it to the Gompa during winters. We eventually made it to the Gompa. As it is an important site of meditation a big complex is built just below the Gompa, for all the Lamas to stay. The landscapes were even better from the Gompa. We could see the snow-covered high mountains of Pir Panjal ranges, beautiful Chandra river flow calmly with pretty villages of Lahaul which don a modern look these days.
The Si-Lha Gompa is quite small unlike let’s say Shashur or Kardang. But the unique thing about Si Lha Gompa are the meditation caves around it. There are a lot of caves around Shi Lha where Lamas, Yogis, scholars have meditated since ancient times. Shi Lha Gompa like the majority of Gompas of Lahaul is Drukpa Sect Gompa. Back in the day it was also known as Duphug Gompa, Cave Temple. The great Gyalpa Gotshanga Pa had meditated in the caves around this area. The main statue at Si Lha Gompa is of Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche with Sakya Muni Budhha alongside. There are also a couple of statues that I could not identify. Most probably they are statues of the local lamas who must have founded the Gompa. There were beautiful murals just behind the statues of Padmasambhava and Budhha as well.
After spending a good time inside the Gompa., Rajesh Ji suggested that we go to the caves nearby. It was just a 30-minute uphill hike from the Gompa. Well, Initially I was quite hesitant to climb a steep slope and looked really tough. But actually, it was quite manageable to be fair. But there came a point which was really scary. Once we reached the top of the steep slope, there came point of the trail where it was kind of broken. And a slip there would certainly mean death. And I am really a coward when it comes to scary situations like these, so I just backed off.
Rajeshwar Ji, Rajesh and other travelers continued. Rajeshwar Ji, Rajesh and both helped the other travelers to cross that scary section. As far as I was concerned, I just stood there waiting for them to return. Eventually, It got too windy and I started to descend. Meanwhile, they returned safely, and I was quite happy to see them. Before starting the descend back to where the gypsy was parked, Rajesh Ji showed as a room which actually built inside a cave. And was to be used Lamas to meditate. That was quite unique and interesting to see. Eventually, we descend and make our back to Gundla village. I decide to stay in Gundla at Rajesh Ji’s newly built homestay.
How To Reach Si Lha Gompa.
You need to get to Gundla or Gondhla village in Tinan Valley which is just 20 km from North portal of Atal Tunnel. You do not need to actually go to Gundla. Just stay on the main road. Once you reach there you can ask a local about the link road to Si Lha Gompa. At one point on the link road you’ll see a lot of stones, that is where the trail begins to the Gompa. The trail is cemented for most of the part and is marked so there is no danger as such. There is no chance of getting lost here. So, you can easily go all by yourself. If you want to go to the caves, then make sure you have a local company. The trail might not be in a good condition. Also, make sure you confirm with the locals whether the Gompa is open or not, and if it’s not then ask them to help you arrange for keys.
How much is the distance and Time taken?
If you have your own vehicle and are able to take it all the way to the start point of the trail, then probably it will take around 15 to 30 minutes to reach the Gompa.
If not, then from the link road for Gompa up until Gompa will take you around 45 minutes to reach.
Where to stay?
The best place to stay will be at Gundla or Gondhla village. Rajesh Ji has opened his home to the travellers and you can’t contact him if you want to stay in Gundla. He will also accompany you to the monastery and the caves.