STORIES FROM SPITI – Lama Kanpo: The Gyu Mummy – TRAVEL PHOTO ESSAY

The view from the starting point of the Gyu Village in Spiti. You can see the yellow speck on the mountain where the Gyu Mummy resides.
The view from the Gyu Village in Spiti. You can see the yellow speck on the mountain where the Mummy resides.

 

The quaint little village of Gyu does not attract many tourists. Being the village closest to the India-Tibet border, foreigners require a special inner-line permit to visit Gyu. Should you take the effort? Definitely, because this village is home not just to the living, for eere resides, since centuries, Lama Kanpo aka The Gyu Mummy, which brings with it a very interesting story.

The residence / temple of Lama Kanpo - The Gyu Mummy

The residence / temple of Lama Kanpo – The Gyu Mummy

 

So let me take you through my journey to Gyu…

Probably the most exciting part of my hitch-hiking experience in Spiti – my journey from Tabo to Gyu in a truck, and back on an Indian Army water tanker!

I woke up at the crack of dawn, I was out by the main street at 5 AM, and it was deserted barring the one truck that was just getting ready to leave. A little hesitant at first, the Alia fever in me caught up quite easily, and I ran to get what I had, and well – luckily for me they were heading in the right direction. The fact that the truck driver is still stalking me even after almost a month since that ride, is a story for another time.

My Highway experience, tinted brown when the truck driver started stalking me!
My Highway experience, tinted brown when the truck driver started stalking me!

 

The truck dropped me off at the junction marking the start of Gyu village, where stood before me the haunting 8 km uphill walk to the village.

The 8 km walk to Gyu, although tiresome, is insanely beautiful!
The 8 km walk to Gyu, although tiresome, is insanely beautiful!

 

Touch-base: the Indian-Tibet Border Police camp, where the cops directed me to the trek route to the Gyu Mummy! And what a beautiful walk this was.

While you can directly take your car / jeep right to the doorstep of the Gyu Mummy, walking up from the ITBP post is another alternative. Hardly a 10 minute walk, mainly steps.
While you can directly take your car / jeep right to the doorstep of the Gyu Mummy, walking up from the ITBP post is another alternative. Hardly a 10 minute walk, mainly steps.

 

I didn’t know what to expect from this visit, I just knew my trip would’ve been incomplete if I didn’t. What should you expect from a mummy? Maybe a dark dingy room that smells of the dead? But I was surprised at entering the room, the sight of the mummy was anything but creepy. The room was very nicely maintained, well lit with butter lamps lining up the walls and incense sticks working their magic. However, you won’t notice any of this at first, because the moment you step inside, the first thing that greets you is a withered cadaver, neatly tucked inside a glass case.

Lama Kanpo - The Gyu Mummy, Spiti
Lama Kanpo – The Gyu Mummy, Spiti

 

A shriveled torso with blackened skin, said to still be in meditating position though you can’t see the whole body as it’s covered with yellow silk, hollow eye sockets that hauntingly stare back at you, and one visible hand, with bony fingers curled as if rolling invisible prayer beads of a rosary.

The skin blackened over time and exposure to burning candles, the eye sockets of the Gyu Mummy stare back at you.
The skin blackened over time and exposure to burning lamps.

 

Fingers curled around invisible prayer beads.
Fingers of the corpse curled around invisible prayer beads.

 

I stopped over at the ITBP (India-Tibet Border Police) camp later, where the officer in charge – Nanak Chand Thakur went all out with his hospitality, too surprised to meet an Indian girl traveling alone! We sat together for almost an hour, he sipping chai and me having aaloo gobhi and paranthas very graciously cooked by the jawans, when he started reciting local tales about the mummy – some facts, some fiction.

So as the story goes, back in 1976 during an excavation project by the ITBP, an axe hit something that wasn’t earth and drew out blood. On further digging, the body of a Lama was discovered, still sitting in meditation position, in monk clothes, long hair and nails.

The site where Lama Kanpo's corpse was found by ITBP, under the white chhorten you see in the distance. These have been reconstructed after the earthquake of 1975.
The site where Lama Kanpo’s corpse was found by ITBP, under the white chhorten you see in the distance. These have been reconstructed after the earthquake of 1975.

 

Guessing from the maroon color of robes and yellow belt that was found on the body during excavation, it is believed that Lama Kanpo was a monk of the Gelugpa order. Recent reports have confirmed that the body is easily 400-500 years old. The mummy was shifted to the newly constructed temple later in 2006, where it now peacefully meditates, albeit a few noisy visitors with cameras, some even trying to take selfies 🙂

Meditate in Peace, Lama Kanpo!
Meditate in peace, Lama Kanpo!