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Kibber Monastery, Himachal Pradesh
Welcome to Kibber, Himachal Pradesh
The small town of Kibber, roughly 80 homes, lies deep in the heart of the Buddhist monastery circuit of Himachal Pradesh. At 14,200 ft, this isn’t a destination for the faint of heart or anyone requiring 1000 thread count sheets for their overnight sleep. The single-lane road connecting Kibber with Kye, and further down, Kaza, stops here. Small villages and the Parang Pass lie beyond this remote settlement, accessed only by foot traffic.
This is Inner Line territory, sensitive border land patrolled by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police ITBP; Jammu/Kashmir lies just North of here, and to the East, Tibet/China. Tourists must have the Inner Line Permit to reach the Spiti Valley where Kibber finds itself. But you won’t notice any tensions here. Driving into town comes with no attention paid by the locals. The foreign tourist trade brings enough visitors annually to have them accustomed to yellow number plated vehicles.
Identical looking Tibetan style houses dot the hillside where you quickly notice, there is no vegetation. A few random trees sprout from the rocky soil offering little safe harbor from the sum blasting onto the peaks of the Himalayas. Snowcaps were abundant in every direction except the Kibber peak. I was told in a short time this town would be covered for the winter making road accessibility even more challenging.
Kibber’s monastery is very discreet, blending into the khaki-colored scenery. Fortunately, some locals pointed me in the right direction, up a short flight of cement stairs, and then along a pathway leading right to the building. Tattered from the winds that whip through here, the two-story monastery was covered in faded paint. A chorten followed by the ubiquitous cairn greets visitors and as I inched closer, the familiar prayer wheels on top of the structure could be seen. Inside the front courtyard, a man and two women were busy mass-producing cement blocks for building. Heedless, they didn’t break a stride as I walked by to explore the building up close.
My hopes were to find a local or guests that could explain more of the workings here but no sounds were audible as I walked around the grounds. No movements other than the brick makers were present, except for some kids playing just under the balcony, jutting out from the hillside offering views of the town below. Townspeople talked between houses, random domestic animals called out to each other, laundry squishing against the cement floors seemed to be a popular chore at this time, but yet no life could be found at the monastery. My mind told me I had snooped more than was acceptable.
There is no comparing the opulent monastery of Kaza, just 19 km down-road, to the understated, simple construction found at Kibber. Any tourists adventurous enough to brave the seemingly endless switchbacks needed to climb the elevation are treated to sights that boggle the mind. While Kaza is beautifully painted in vibrant shades of red and yellow, Kibber’s location is the real draw. A vista of India’s highest peaks is accompanied by a triumphant sense of accomplishment. This is a layer of India so far removed from any glossy advertisement that even I didn’t know existed, and still almost don’t believe it was real.
Visitors should plan several hours to see Kibber Monastery. More than anything, the travel time up, and of course back down, requires extra planning and a skillful driver. Bus service is provided in the summer and fall months, once the snow has melted. Trekkers will delight in the steep grades between switchbacks but be mindful of traffic on the narrow roads. No guardrails are in place and landslides are always a concern.
A day trip is easily done (adding in the monasteries at Kye and Kaza) by basing oneself in Tabo or Kaza the night before. Numerous guest houses are open from May to mid-October but food options can be limited.