The word, ‘Mummy’ immediately teleports us to the land of pyramids, sand dunes, and the River Nile. However, mummy is not exclusive to Egypt only. Haven’t you heard of mummy in India? Well, if you haven’t, then let me tell you about India’s ‘Monk Mummy’, the mummy of a Tibetan Buddhist Monk, Lama Sangha Tenzin, at Gue Monastery in Spiti Valley. The photographs you see here are taken by my friend, Nupur Saha.
On the lap of Himalaya, at almost 10000 feet, stands the monastery at Gue Village in Lahaul and Spiti District of Himachal Pradesh. The little scenic hamlet, with a population of 200 people, is a few kilometers from Indo-China Border. It is 350 km away from Shimla, the state capital, and is located between Sumdo and Tabo. Tabo Monastery is a popular destination in the Lahaul Spiti circuit of Himachal. Gue Monastery is 40 kilometers from the Tabo Monastery. Generally, tourists visit Gue Monastery while traveling from Nako to Tabo or vice versa. The new monastery is being built in the Japanese pagoda style. The old one was a mud monastery. From the monastery the panoramic view is breathtaking.
The Mummy of Gue Monastery
Gue Monastery is popular with tourists because it houses the mummified body of a Buddhist monk from Tibet, Lama Sangha Tenzin. The mummy is 500-550 years old and is placed in a glass box in a small room in a sitting meditative posture. It was found in that yogic posture with intact skin, teeth, nails, and a few strands of hair. The natives claim to know of its existence since the 70s. Few locals apparently saw the mummy for the first time after the 1975’s earthquake disfigured its tomb but it was actually found and placed in its current location during an excavation by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP). Lama Sangha Tenzin underwent self-mummification to save his village from an infestation of locusts, as per local folklore.
What is Self-mummification?
This process of mummification that we see at Gue Monastery, called self-mummification, is different from that we see in Egypt. It is an art of natural self-preservation that was practiced by ancient Eastern Yogis and/or Tibetan Buddhist Monks and Sokushinbutsu, a segment of Japanese Buddhist Monks. This process involved deep meditation, strict discipline, and diet and was considered a method of attaining salvation/ moksha. Ideally, no external preservatives or techniques were used. The body prepared itself by reducing fats and fluids with strict diets which included nuts, berries, seeds, and roots only. This reduced the organ sizes too.
Poisonous tea was consumed to make the body bacteria and virus free. These monks lived in underground chambers with an air tube for breathing and a bell that they rang once a day to inform them that they were still alive. The day the bell didn’t ring anymore, the chamber was sealed and was later opened after 1000 days from that day. Not every monk was successful at the process of self-mummification. This is a lost art today and in Japan, it was declared illegal in the 19th century. The world has seen around 24 such mummies to date and Lama Sangha Tenzin’s mummy is one of them. Spiti’s fresh air and cold climate were an added advantage in its preservation.
When and How to Reach Gue Monastery
Spiti Valley is spectacular and can be visited all-round all year. April to June is extremely popular among tourists. Mid-September and October are for a colorful autumn vacation and November to March are for a white snowy experience.
One must pay a short visit to Gue Monastery on the way to Tabo or Kaza while traveling from Nako or vice versa. Traveling by car is the only option.
A versatile writer and travel freak, discovering the world in her own casual way. Loves to immerse into the core of Mother Nature and extract her inherent beauty.